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A flourishing partnership by Jacqui Wright September 20, 2010

Posted by broomegirl in CVA, seed collecting, SKIPA Excursions.
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SKIPA and CVA collect seed

A unique partnership between the Conservation Volunteers Australia (CVA) and SKIPA made possible a dry-season trip to a remote and spectacular part of the Kimberley in July. The success of this seed and specimen collection expedition is attributed to the fusion of enthusiasm and expertise between volunteers from all over the world, and SKIPA members.

CVA and SKIPA collecting seed beneath another glorious Boab

The unseasonal rain didn’t dampen the spirits of the group, who were happy to have a bit of cool weather and cloud cover as they scrambled over escarpments.The collection area is one of the lesser known gorges of the western Kimberley on the Hann River on the southern edge of the Phillips Range.

A gorge on the Hann river

Getting to this area requires travelling through station country, and once there, the country presents as remarkable for the diversity of flora, fauna and habitats.

We hiked through low woodlands of red-brown sandy loams, exposed sandstone outcrops topped by spinifex, pockets of vine thickets growing on rocky screes and escarpment up to up to 450 metres. Canoes and kayaks allowed the group access to more country than might have otherwise been possible on foot alone.

With an intense maroon eye, this stunning native Hibiscus setulosus would hold its own in any Hawaiian Hula!

There was a surprising array of  flora in fruit/flower for this time of year; Eucalyptus miniata, Melaleuca argentea , Brachychiton viscidulus, Calytrix exstipulata (both white and pink flowers), Cochlospermum fraseri (kapok), Grevilleas (G. refracta, G. pteridifolia, G. wickamii, G. agrifolia) as well as many varieties of Hibiscus.

Butter yellow blooms of the Cochlospermum fraseri

Velvet coral pink flowers on a typically spindly branch of the Brachychiton viscidulus. This is often called Kimberley Rose.

In the water course, plenty of significant trees flourished; Terminalia bursarina, Barringtonia acutangula (fresh water mangrove) and a great population of Adansonia gregorii (boabs).

But it was the vegetation growing in the nooks, crannies and waterholes of the gorge country that took first prize; tiny ferns, liverworts (Riccia), waterlilies, Stylidium (trigger plants) and Droseras in flower (insectivorous plants).

A fern growing at the top of gorge

Many specimens were collected, and have been sent to the W.A. Herbarium for confirmation of identification – maybe some new locality records will be evident!  Seeds that were collected will be used in growing trials during the Wet season.

Stylidium was another of the understated gems found by the group

The fauna was equally abundant. The group came across evidence of echidna, pale field rock rats, dingo, quoll, rock wallabies, fruit bat colonies, fresh water crocodiles, sooty grunters, cherabin, crabs (fresh water crabs), water scorpions, black-headed python, tiny brown frogs which may have been Littoria rubella (desert tree frogs). There was an astonishing number of butterflies including the blue argus.

Then there were the birds—blue-winged kookaburra, whistling kites drawn to the smoke of our campfires, sea eagles that followed the river systems inland, willy-wagtails, restless fly-catchers, plenty of bee-eaters, fairy martins, bottle swallows, named so because of the bottle-shaped mud nests the birds make under rock ledges.  On one of the hikes, a bower was discovered filled with bones bleached white by the sun.

Three days into the camp came the Kimberley Kids Gorge Challenge. Armed with a rope, a pot and a flint anyone aged 16 and below were sent off into the wilderness to fend for themselves for the day.

Participants in the Kimberley Kid's Challenge

Well, not quite…Under the watchful and amused eye of Beau Bibby, the kids hiked to one of the lesser gorges with specific tasks in mind. There were prizes up for grabs…some for specimens bought back to camp; the most interesting scat, plant and invertebrate, others for cheerfulness, seed collection, the grossest thing eaten. And then there was the booby prize…for whiners and carpers — an egging and dunking in the river.

After the day’s diet of green ants, termites, gubinge, boab nut and pandanus seed, and plentiful fresh gorge water, the children came back ravenous.

The group catches its collective breath at top of a gorge

Dave Dureau (described by one of the gorge challenge kids as “Father Christmas on a diet”), regaled the group with campfire stories of crocodile attacks and fleet-footed dingoes.

Martine and the ACV volunteers impressed the group with their sand sculpture and culinary expertise which included creating monster turtles out of river sand and baking bread (not damper), scones and chocolate birthday cakes in camp ovens on fires.

The pea shaped Crotalaria flower

Common across Australia, Acacia come in a range of forms. This prickly one is Acacia deltoides.

Waiting for its next meal, the insectiverous Drosera burmanni is another of the Kimberley's beauties. It catches prey with sticky dew drops on the plant.

The continuing partnership between CVA and SKIPA will enable vital, on-the-ground work collecting and documenting indigenous native plants and animals in remote, lesser-known parts of the Kimberley.

Make sure you get involved in the next excursion into the Kimberley!

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