Birds of Rainsby

Rainsby is the Western Queensland cattle grazing property I visited over Easter and described here. There were lots of birds and I managed to capture a good number of species with my camera, though not all at a quality I would inflict on innocent browsers.

The species fell neatly into two groups with little overlap. The lightly timbered grassland around the house supported one group, Torrens Creek had all the waterbirds, and the birds of prey (at least two species) soared high above both areas. Small photos on this page are linked to larger versions, as are most of the photos on Green Path – as usual, just click on them.

Around the house

A flock of Crested Pigeons in dead trees
A flock of Crested Pigeons in dead trees near the house

• Crested Pigeon, Ocyphaps lophotes
• Black-faced Woodswallow, Artamus cinereus
• Yellow-throated Miner, Manorina flavigula
• Red-backed Kingfisher, Todiramphus pyrrhopygius
• Willie-wagtail, Rhipidura leucophrys

Crested pigeon
Crested pigeon
Black-faced Woodswallow, Artamus cinereus
Black-faced Woodswallow
Yellow-throated Miner, Manorina flavigula, on hibiscus
Yellow-throated Miner
Red-backed Kingfisher, Todiramphus pyrrhopygius
Red-backed Kingfisher
Red-backed Kingfisher, Todiramphus pyrrhopygius
Red-backed Kingfisher

I also saw Magpies, Magpie-larks, Galahs and Hawks (Black Kites, I think, and one that may have been a Peregrine Falcon) but don’t have satisfactory photos for one reason or another.

Beside the creek

Herons perched on dead branch
Three kinds of heron on one high branch: White-necked Herons, a White-faced Heron, and a juvenile Nankeen Night Heron

The photo above is a somewhat fluky capture of three species of heron together – two White-necked Heron, Ardea pacifica; a White-faced Heron, Ardea novaehollandiae; and a young Nankeen Night Heron, Nicticorax caledonicus. For good measure, there was an adult Nankeen Night Heron on the branch below these four but it was obscured by leaves and therefore cropped out of the image.

Chicks in nest

There were lots of nests in the trees along the banks of the creek and in one of them, just above our picnic spot, I noticed two large but still very immature nestlings. I’m not at all sure of their identity but they must belong to one of the larger species – White-necked Heron or Australian Darter, Anhinga melanogaster, perhaps.

Australian Darter
Female Australian Darter

Very late in the afternoon I saw a pair of Pale-headed Rosellas, Platycercus adscitus, flying in to a big old gum tree on the far bank of the creek and enter what was obviously their nesting hole. I would have loved a photo but unfortunately there wasn’t enough light.

Life in ‘the outback’

My Easter trip to Western Queensland began with a visit to a cattle property, Rainsby, owned and operated by Diane Alford, my cousin-in-law, and her husband Bill. To get there from Townsville, you head inland on the Hughenden and Mt Isa road, turn left after 290 km and head South for another hour and a half on a road that is partly sealed, partly gravel.

Rainsby covers 121 square miles, about 10 miles East-West by 12 miles North-South (about 14 by 17 km), and the road from the gate to the house is no suburban driveway. Drive for a while and you come to Torrens Creek, which at the peak of the Wet can be a kilometre wide and at Easter was still big enough to stop our car though not a 4WD. The house is a couple of kilometres further in, so we were glad that Diane could meet us at the creek.

The road into Rainsby
No suburban driveway: the road into Rainsby

Diane wrote a newspaper article six months ago and in it she introduces her family and the property beautifully:

My name is Diane Alford and, with my husband Bill, I live and work on Rainsby, the 23 000 hectare (230 square kilometre, or 57 000 acres in the old money) beef cattle property we, and the bank, own in central western Queensland. Rainsby is 160 km south of Torrens Creek (pop. 17) and 140 km north of Aramac (pop. 400). Our closest large centre is Longreach (pop. 3000), a three hour drive south west. Here, along with four nearly-grown children, we have raised cattle for domestic consumption for the past 13 years.

Rainsby is wild, sparsely inhabited and, I believe, beautiful. It is predominantly black gidgee country interspersed with sand ridges and a hard Spinifex northern end. Torrens Creek weaves its way through the length of the property, exiting into the Thompson river system and finally reaching Lake Eyre. Our principal pasture is Mitchell grass, with seasonal Flinders grass and various burrs, while the sand ridges support blue grasses and a range of other perennials. The Artesian Basin is close to the surface in Rainsby, and bores flow without pumping. It’s Waltzing Matilda country, complete with billabongs and gilgais, coolabahs and hundreds of thousands of black gidgee trees; and we love it.

Rainsby has a 480 – 500 mm (18 to 20 inch) annual rainfall and, seasons allowing, we aim to run 1500 mixed-aged Brahman cattle. Our temperature ranges from 2 degrees Celsius in Winter, to 42 degrees in Summer. With luck the seasons start out green with the rivers full, and ends golden and waiting for storms. But of course that’s not always the case, and that’s where the management comes in.

The article from which I have quoted was concerned primarily with the negative perceptions of beef production and consumption.  Diane argues (rightly, in my view) that graziers like Bill and herself are unthinkingly blamed for environmentally damaging practices which are common elsewhere but are simply not followed in Western Queensland. That section of her article is now here.

Farm sheds
Farm buildings, seen from the house

Returning to our visit … Easter Saturday was a big day in the area, with a wedding and christening on a neighbouring property. Guests came from miles around. (When you think about it, they had to: no-one lives within miles of their house, just as no-one lives within miles of Diane and Bill. The drive from one house to the next often takes half an hour, even when the roads are good.)

Anyway, guests came from miles around – Aramac and Torrens Creek, Cairns and points beyond. The gardens were beautifully prepared, trestle tables and a dance floor set up, and lanterns were hung in the trees although they were hardly needed with the Easter moon. Everyone dressed up for the occasion of course but the main thing was the rare chance to meet and yarn to rarely-seen neighbours, and the evening went quite late.

Fishing in Torrens Creek
Wetting a line ... and a body

On Sunday we went for a family picnic down at a waterhole on Torrens Creek. I went for a walk along the river bank with my camera, bird-spotting (bird photos will come soon), while some of the younger people threw in fishing lines. All they caught was a turtle, which was released unharmed:

speed-blurred pic of turtle
Escape! The fastest turtle in the West.

On Monday, sadly, we had to leave – some of us to return to Townsville to work on Tuesday, while I went alone a little further North and West to Porcupine Gorge (yet another Green Path post which is still in the pipeline) and White Mountains.

Normal service will resume shortly

There has been a bigger gap than usual since my last post, simply because I have been away from home. Over Easter and the next few days I was ‘out West’ as we say, to stay with relatives on a cattle property ‘near’ Aramac (nowhere is ‘near’ anywhere else out there, by most standards), then to Porcupine Gorge National Park to the North of Hughenden, then to White Mountains National Park between Hughenden and Charters Towers on the way home. The round trip was roughly 1200 km.

The country was at its absolute best, just after the Wet with everything green growing and flowering. I had a wonderful time and took more than 1000 photographs. That, of course, means a big job sorting them before I can post the best here on Green Path, as I will over the next couple of weeks. Meanwhile, here are a couple of samples:

Old wooden stockyards
Rockface and river
The Pyramid, Porcupine Gorge

Update, 12.5.12: A bit about the cattle grazing property is now here and White Mountains is now here.