In Australia alone is to be found the Grotesque, the Weird, the strange scribblings of Nature learning how to write – Marcus Clarke
Mount Hart – 3 nights – 23rd – 25th Aug.
Three nights camping at Windjana Gorge had been fabulous for Kimberley Wildlife, but it was now time to move on to the next leg at Mount Hart Station. The driving distance was 100 kilometres which took a few hours, but as always the Kimberley scenery didn’t disappoint.
Lorenz was in the drivers seat for this leg of the journey as the GRR wound into the Wunaamin Miliwundi Ranges (formerly known as the King Leopold Ranges.) The 50 kilometre access road to Mount Hart Station was rougher than the GRR with some creek crossings but Lorenz smashed it.
Wunaamin Miliwundi Ranges.
Mount Hart Station is one of the best sites in the Kimberley for Dingoes, so after crossing the Barker River I wasn’t surprised to disturb a resting Dingo from the shade of a tree in the homestead grounds across the road in front of us, before briefly stopping and disappearing into the long grass.
After checking in at the homestead and a refreshing drink at Settlers Bar, we set up at the campground 1km past the homestead for the following two nights. We elected for a night of luxury for the third night at Mount Hart, staying in their excellent but somewhat pricey eco-tents.
Mount Matthew with Mount Hart Airstrip in the foreground.
Once the tent was up we drove to Barkers Pool to cool off. The refreshing waters of the river was like a tonic as we waited for the afternoon heat to fade. Dinner was an excellent fish and chips at Settlers Bar, washed down with a lemonade before return to camp. On my previous visit to Mount Hart in 2018 I had spotlighted at Dolorite Gorge finding it excellent for Northern Quolls and Kimberley Wildlife in general.
The first 4km of the road to Dolorite Gorge was smooth riding with a bonus Tawny Frogmouth disturbed off the road into a tree. The last kilometre of road however was significantly more rugged and the 4WD was necessary.
I parked in the carpark and continued on foot up the rocky riverbed into the gorge and before even reaching the gorge proper I encountered a delightful Northern Quoll meandering between the boulders.
Further along, the small waterfalls that rushed between the boulders of the creek were teeming with tiny Copland’s Rock Frogs.
Copland’s Rock Frog.
I encountered a Freshwater Crocodile warming on the sun-heated rocks, but the most common reptile of Dolorite Gorge is the Crocodile-faced Dtella. I was picking up eye-shine from these geckos everywhere, although they disappear quickly into crevices at the approach of white light.
Occasionally I would manage to get close enough to see the remarkable patterning on the Dtellas making them appear like a ghostly apparition under the spotlight.
A notice had been pinned up on the walk trail at the gorge advising that trapping of Northern Quolls was taking place at Dolorite Gorge to implement conditioned bait aversion for both Quolls and Mertens Water Monitors in preparation for the relentless Westward march of the Cane Toad.
This joint programme involved both DBCA (Western Australian Parks and Wildlife) and the University of Sydney and I was able to speak with the scientists involved the following day at the campsite. I was horrified to learn that Cane Toads were seen 8 kilometres down the access road to Mount Hart the previous night. Time was indeed running out.
Lorenz and I spent a lazy few hours at Dolorite Gorge the following day and bathing in the cool waters of the creek was the perfect way to manage the heat.
Exploring the gorge we encountered three beautifully patterned Mertens Water Monitors which were alternating between hunting in the water and warming up on the rocks. These varanids feed on mainly on fish, frogs and carrion.
Mertens Water Monitors.
The following night I returned to Dolorite Gorge and to a site within the gorge at which I had particular success with Northern Quolls two years previously. Kimberley Adventures to Bachsten Creek and the Mitchell Plateau.
Prior to moonset the mammals were furtive although I did manage to briefly spotlight lots of Kimberley Wildlife including Common Rock Rats, Kimberley Rock Rats, Northern Quolls and a Golden-backed Tree Rat.
Once the moon had set the difference in the behaviour of the mammals was immediate as they became more confident in the dark conditions. At one point I had four Northern Quolls around my feet. It was an incredible although poignant moment, with the realisation that encounters with multiple Quolls were shortly to become thing of the past in Western Australia, as they are impacted by the dastardly Cane Toad.
The wildlife was great but I wanted to take in the majesty of the location after dark, and so I turned off the headtorch. The phenomonal Kimberley stars, the sound of tumbling water and the warmth of the rocks were hypnotic. I must have sat like this for 15 minutes before I switched back on the light. When I did I couldn’t beleive my eyes when right in front of me, perched on a fallen paperbark, was that most wonderful of Kimberley Wildlife a Golden-backed Tree Rat!
Under the light it dropped from the branch onto the rocks below and froze. This species is documented as being found in the Wunnamin Milliwundi Ranges but is more commonly encountered further North at the Mitchell Plateau and at Bachsten Creek adjacent to Prince Regent Nature Reserve. This sighting along with the sighting earlier in the night and a further encounter the following evening proving that Dolorite Gorge is a reliable site for this rare Kimbeley endemic.
Golden-backed Tree Rat.
After breakfast the following morning we returned to Dolorite Gorge for another lazy few hours bathing in the creek, before returning to camp packing up and upgrading to an eco-tent at the homestead. It was great to stay at the historic homestead and amazing to have a soft bed with clean sheets.
We ran into the scientists who reported the Cane Toads had advanced another 3km down the access road the previous night, and were now 4km away from the homestead.
This history of Mount Hart Station is an interesting one involving suicide, conflict with traditional owners, bankruptcy, drought and floods, which explains why the homestead is nearer Mt Matthew than Mt Hart after a series of previous untenable sites.
Mount Hart Website :- http://mounthart.com.au/
Mount Hart Historic Homestead.
Exploring around the homestead grounds I found a Black Flying Fox roost on the far side of the Barker River and plenty of Agile Wallabies grazing the well watered grass of the homestead. I also noticed a grove of Batwing Coral Trees that were attracting birds by day and surmised, correctly as it turned out, that these would possibly be attracting gliders by night.
Am atmospheric Kimberley sunset was enjoyed up on Sunset Hill, situated across the airstrip from the homestead.
Kimberley Sunset – Sunset Hill.
The final night spotlighting at Dolorite Gorge I encountered all of the species seen over the previous two nights, including another encounter with a Golden-backed Tree Rat, which I was not able to capture, because this idiot made the mistake of not charging the camera battery and also leaving the spare battery at the homestead, a schoolboy error indeed.
The night got worse when I kicked a snake warming on the hot sand next to a boulder. I suspected a python from the brief view as it disappeared under a boulder, but I couldn’t be sure.
Earlier in the year I had given a talk on snakebite at the hospital at which I work, and I was only too aware that had I been bitten by a brown snake I was unlikely to feel the bite from the small fangs of this species.
It was a nervous few minutes as I examined my leg for puncture wounds mindful of the fact I was a long way from help. The venom of brown snakes contains an anticoagulant and when I couldn’t detect any blood I suspected I was ok, however to be a long way from help if I suddenly developed symptoms would be foolish, so I reluctantly returned to the car and the snakebite kit, just in case.
The night however was not entirely a disaster, because after retrieving the spare camera battery I visited the Batwing Coral Trees at the homestead and with the aid of the thermal imager found three Gliders feeding on the blossom.
The Gliders of Northern Australia were previously known as Sugar Gliders, but that species has now been split into three distinct families. The Kimberley (and Northern Australian) population now has the rather fabulous proposed name of Savanna Glider (Petaurus ariel.)
Savanna Glider in Batwing Coral Tree.
With our night of luxury over it was time to move on. The following night saw us back in the tent at Silent Grove on the Western boundary of the Wunaamin Milliwundi Ranges to see more Kimberley Wildlife which is covered in – Kimberley Wildlife 2020 – Part 4 of 4 – Bell Gorge – Olive Python ……. #NatureNeverFailsToImpress