Ecologist Pat was in the Winton area last week, where recent rain has caused an explosion of life. The arid Australian environment oscillates between spectacular boom periods, when high rainfall results in periods of increased productivity and diversity, and the more common busts, which are characterised by drought and low diversity. Winton and much of the Queensland channel country are currently experiencing one of the region’s most productive recent booms, and the arid country specialists have moved in en masse.
One of the most common habitat types in the Winton area is low open woodland dominated by Normanton Box (Eucalyptus normantonensis) and spinifex. When the Normanton Box flowers, it attracts several species of nomadic honeyeater including black honeyeaters (Certhionyx niger), pied honeyeaters (Certhionyx variegatus) and white-fronted honeyeaters (Phylidonyris albifrons).
Nomadic parrots such as cockatiels (Nymphicus hollandicus), budgerigars (Melopsittacus undulatus) and bourke’s parrots (Neopsephotus bourkii) have also moved in, feeding on flower buds and the abundant seeding grasses.
The resident terrestrial species are also taking advantage of the improved conditions. We found good numbers of small reptiles including pygmy bearded dragons (Pogona henrylawsoni), curl snakes (Suta suta) and northern spiny-tailed geckos (Strophurus ciliaris).
Small mammals such as the Julia Creek dunnart (Sminthopsis douglasi) and the kultarr (Antechinomhys laniger) have also bred in good numbers, and we saw several short-beaked echidnas (Tachyglossus aculeatus), which are usually uncommon in the area.
The spinifex grassland that the Winton area is famous for is home to a special bird, the rusty grasswren (Amytornis rowleyi), which is found nowhere else in Australia. These birds have had a fantastic season and are showing incredibly well. Another special spinifex specialist, the rufous-crowned emu-wren (Stipiturus ruficeps), was also found in good numbers.