Around Porcupine Gorge – scenery and birdlife

This is an illustrated list of places in the vicinity of Porcupine Gorge which are worth a look for one reason or another, intended as a guide to visitors and context for my wildlife photos (still to come). My starting point is the camping ground. Working away from it …

There is a waterhole beside the camping ground access road which attracts quite a lot of bird life.

Turning North towards the Lynd soon takes you over an attractive creek crossing, White Cliffs Creek. It’s an incipient gorge, having cut only a few metres into the white sandstone, and is good for birds and butterflies. Travelling further up the same road takes you through typical savannah country and, eventually, to Undara Lava Tubes, Greenvale and the gemfields.

Porcupine Gorge region
White Cliffs Creek from the main raod
Porcupine Gorge region
Looking over the savannah from a low hill on the road to The Lynd

Continue reading “Around Porcupine Gorge – scenery and birdlife”

Porcupine Gorge National Park

Porcupine Gorge sunrise
Dawn at Porcupine Gorge

Getting to Porcupine Gorge from Townsville is easy but takes a while: drive South-west to Hughenden (380 km) and turn right. Drive another 70 km, still on good sealed roads, and you arrive at the Pyramid camping ground overlooking the Gorge. It’s too far for a day trip and a stretch even for a weekend, which is why it’s six years since I have been there. After that trip I promised to write about it but other things intervened so this will be my first real report on the place.

The gorge carved out by Porcupine Creek, a tributary of the Flinders River, over millions of years is more than 100 km long and the National Park encloses and protects a quarter of it.

Porcupine Gorge view
Looking across the gorge into rugged country just after sunrise

The camping ground is on level ground on the Western lip of the gorge, offering good views down to the Pyramid. A steep track leads down to the creek and (at this time of year) sandy beaches beside swimming holes, rocky terraces, grevilleas, melaleucas … endless entertainment for anyone willing to explore. Continue reading “Porcupine Gorge National Park”

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.

The environmental cost of meat

This is the remainder – and perhaps the more important part – of the article by Diane Alford which I quoted from in my previous post. (Please return to that post for a description of ‘Rainsby’ and her family’s life there if you haven’t already seen it.) I have added a couple of links and some more of the photos I took during our visit but the words are hers.

“Shun meat,” says UN climate chief. The article by BBC Environmental reporter Richard Black raises my hackles while sending a chill of despair through my body. I read further, “People should consider eating less meat as a way of combating global warming, says the UN’s top climate scientist.” I trawl through the article then, in frustration, pound the keyboard.

Obviously a redneck climate-change sceptic, you think. Well actually, no – at least, I like to think not. Simply a grazier, and one who’s battling to survive in an environmentally sustainable and responsible way at a time when primary production seems to be a dirty word. So … welcome to my world.

Rainsby house and garden
Rainsby house and garden

With my husband Bill, I live and work on Rainsby, a 23 000 hectare beef cattle property in central western Queensland. Rainsby is managed and worked mostly by Bill. He is hard working, determined and persistent. The hours are long and mostly he works alone. In mustering times we employ two men for a month, three times a year. We muster on horseback.

When we purchased Rainsby it was previously droughted and had areas devoid of grass. Fortunately seasons improved, and with Bill’s hard work we now operate a rotatational grazing system, monitoring grass usage and leaving a lot of our country unstocked during the wet season to maximise pasture growth. We neither clear country, fertilise, grow crops for fodder nor dam watercourses.

Cattle in grassland
Rainsby cattle with Black Gidgee in the background

Our cattle are fattened on native pastures alone. We restrict the number we carry – about one beast to 16 hectares (40 acres), maintaining grass cover by stocking at 70% of the recommended rate. Our aim is to pass on our pastures in better condition than when we bought them and, seasons allowing, we believe we will. We have photo monitoring sites that prove the increase in pasture cover and species diversity. Land care is integral to our livelihood. We belong to a local Landcare group, and attend Grazing Land Management Field Days. We believe we are prudent and responsible custodians – in spite of the fact that every media release paints our industry as the very opposite.

Our profit margins are small and in decline – as is our morale, since we are continually painted as environmental vandals.

Concerned citizens are urged to eat less meat and reduce emissions by stopping the clearing of rainforests (which we do not have), and to save the emissions caused in growing, fertilising and harvesting crops to fatten stock (which we do not do). Almost every mainstream media article mentioning the carbon cost of ‘meat production’ does so on the basis of the typical US and European production methods – grain-fed beef on feedlots, factory farming in fact – which are far different from our own rangeland grazing..

If you read far enough into the studies (which no-one does) you find that “Over two-thirds of the energy is spent on producing and moving cattle feed,” which we do not do, and “a Swedish study conducted in 2003 claimed that raising organic beef on grass rather than feed,” as we do, “reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 40% and consumed 85% less energy.”

Furthermore, studies (and headlines) often assume that the land used to feed animals could be used to grow grain instead and feed people directly, producing two to ten times as many calories of food per hectare. That is not true here, either. Right across Western Queensland and the Top End, the soil is too poor and fragile and the rainfall too low and unreliable for any use except grazing. We are, in fact, using the land as productively as possible. And at the same time we are maintaining it far closer to its original condition than agriculture could possibly do.

Yes, our cattle do emit methane, but the science is still incomplete as to how much carbon uptake there is in open rangeland grazing. On Rainsby alone, with 16 hectares of grass and many hundred trees to each beast, it would be fair to assume that there would be at least some uptake. (Why is it that tree planting, elsewhere, is seen as an acceptable form of carbon abatement but existing trees are not considered when calculating carbon emissions from grazing land?)

If grazing is eventually included in Australia’s carbon tax, without allowance for any uptake of carbon, it will be the death of family-owned grazing enterprises, as we couldn’t support the extra taxation burden and have no way of passing on the costs.

Should our grazing industry become totally unviable and people still want to eat beef, it will be up to the overseas investors and the large companies to continue the buy-up of grazing land or to import meat. But I guess the food miles of imported meat will be seen as okay, since only the emissions from fossil fuels used in transportation will be counted on Australia’s ledger, and a whole lot of production practices which the majority of Australian graziers do not incorporate, will be assumed to have been removed. Farcical, I know – but not too far from the truth.

Please think about grass-fed beef more carefully, because there are not the inputs you may have assumed.

Yellow acacia flowers
Black Gidgee in flower

The issue which justifiably concerns Diane is not an easy one to clarify to the general public because, unfortunately, most beef (globally) is indeed produced in environmentally expensive ways. That means any study or article which takes a global perspective (here is another recent one) is reasonably justified in ignoring situations where beef production is actually environmentally cheap and, as Diane says, the most productive use of the land; but ignoring the good producers slams the door not only on the producers but on a more nuanced approach to something we desperately need to do: making the most sensitive possible use of all parts of our environment.