07 September 2009

Alice Springs Desert Park

Before I get in to a description of the Park I must apologise for the lack of recent photos. This Internet cafe is very convenient and reasonably priced, but it doesn't have a DVD drive so I can't upload photos. Sorry.

We started our visit at 7:30 in the morning and stumbled out at 5:30 in the evening, utterly exhausted and exhilarated. The Park explains the natual history of the arid centre of Australia.

The early start was for a guided bird watching walk. The Park has many birds in aviaries, but this was all about wild birds that visit the park. Since we were the only tourists we had Anthony's undivided attention. Having someone who knows the birds was a great help. We would turn our binoculars on a small bid and Anthony would say "That's an inland thornbill. See the markings on the chest?" On our own we would not know what details to look for. often we don't even know which section of the field guide to look in.

Anthony was also able to indentify the bird calls we were hearing. He get really excited when he heard a particular song. "That's a grey honeyeater!" We gazed at the tree where the song appeared to be from and walked carefully towards it. The song stopped and almost immediately a small bird flew rapidly across our view and out of sight. Apparently most birdos in Australia hunt for a grey honeyeater all their lives and never see one. Wow.

Anthony knew the species well because a pair tried to nest in the Park last year. he even found the remains of the partly-built nest to show us. Unfortunately the birds gave up because other honeyeaters were stealing their material.

A little later we saw a family of splendid fairy-wrens. These are not rare, but they are very small birds and do not frequent campgrounds. The males in the breedng season are a dazzling blue and this male was in his courting suit. He was gorgeous. Because they are so small and active they are difficult to photograph, but I got a good picture of the female.

The stone-curlews were easy to photogaph. The pair are sitting on eggs and believe that their camoflage is good enough to protect them. And yes, we did walk right past them until they were pointed out to us.

The rest of the day was spent enjoying the many talks given by Park staff on various aspects of life in the Red Centre. It included a talk illustrated by free-flying birds of prey, a long discussion on the noctunal animals of the desert and a brief description on how the local aboriginal people survived.

There are many nocturnal animals, with a good selection in the nocturnal house. These included hopping mice and superficially similar marsupials, whose name I have forgotten. The mice eat seeds and apparently never drink, despite the low moisture content of their food. The little marsupials are carnivores and actually gallop rather than hop. They get plenty of moisture from their prey.

We have been educated in the various hunting techniques of snakes. Some even specialise in eating other snakes!

Then there are lots of aviaries, with examples of birds that don't conveniently just turn up. These were often good subjects for a photo. They included some nice princess parrots. I hope we find some wild ones to add to our list.

And ever visitor is given an audio guide so that, at the numbered points around the Park, we could listen to an explanation of, say, a plant's particular adaptation to the wildly irregular rainfall that occurs in central Australia.

Thus the Desert Park is the highlight of the holiday so far.

Today we leave Alice Springs and head for Uluru (Ayer's Rock or simply "The Rock"). The next Internet will probably not be until Coober Pedy. Will write again.

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