The Wildlife of Alice Springs – Australia’s Desert Heart

Arrernte Country

Finally with the arrival of September 2021 the time had come to walk the Larapinta Trail after covid related border closures postponed the walk in 2020.

Alice Springs was the base for final preparations before the assault on the Larapinta Trail. During my time in this colourful outback town I visited the Olive Pink Botanical Gardens where wildlife was plentiful both before and after the walk.

The Olive Pink Botanical Gardens is situated on the Eastern bank of the (mainly dry) Todd River. Part of the gardens includes Tharrarltneme (Annie Meyer Hill,) a sacred site to local Arrernte indigenous people. This site was of particular interest to me because it was reputed to contain Black-footed Rock Wallabies.

Map to show location of Olive Pink Botanical Gardens.

The day I flew into Alice Springs was an overcast cool 18C, following 12mm of rain that had fallen the previous day. Perfect weather I hoped for rock wallabies to be diurnally active.

There is an entrance to the botanical gardens from the Todd River and within 50m of entering the gardens something caught my eye under a mulga tree. It was a rather impressive bower, and it wasn’t long before the entertaining owner of this bower appeared.

Western Bowerbird at Bower.

Alice Springs Wildlife

The Western Bowerbird is one of 10 Bowerbird species found across Australia. The range of this species, as the name suggests, is the Western part of the Australian continent through Central Australia, and into the Pilbara Region of Western Australia, particularly in stony country. Western Bowerbirds have an attractive brown spotted plumage and a beautiful prominent pink nape.

Perching quietly on a rock some distance from the bower, I watched the male go about the important task of maintaining the bower by adding and arranging sticks.

Western Bowerbird gathering material for the bower.

Alice Springs Wildlife

The Western Bowerbird is particularly fond of white objects such as snail shells, white quartz and even small bones, and lets be honest what lady would not be impressed by the gift of a glistening bone or two?

Green objects are a close second to white, and so when a female bowerbird appeared near the bower our male picked up green plant material to present to her.

Western Bowerbird presenting green plant material.

Alice Springs Wildlife

With the attention of the female firmly on him, the male began a rather charming if not erratic courtship dance within the bower, accompanied by a series of chuckles and hisses.

Western Bowerbird dancing for female in bower.

Alice Springs Wildlife

The pink display plumes on the nape of the neck were fully extended adding to the theatre of the performance. I was captivated by nature at it’s absolute best!

Western Bowerbird with pink nape display plumes fully erected.

Alice Springs Wildlife

I could have stayed for hours watching this spectacle, but it was time to afford this amourous couple some space. Plus I remembered the purpose of my visit, the Black-footed Rock Wallabies.

The climb up of Annie Meyer Hill is a steep one, but it was broken up watching Rainbow Bee-eaters launching from exposed branches to take insects on the wing. These birds herald the arrival of warmer weather in the centre of the Australian Continent, being seen from September to April in this region.

At the summit of Tharrarltneme there were magnificent 360 degree views North to Anzac Hill, South to the Heavitree Range and both East and West the Macdonnell Ranges stretched out across the desert to the horizon.

Macropods were not immediately obvious, but with a little exploring around the periphery of the hill they slowly began to reveal themselves. Sometimes only a head popping over a rock……

Black-footed Rock Wallaby.

Alice Springs Wildlife

The Black-footed Rock Wallaby is the most widespread of all of Australia’s rock wallabies, although it’s distribution is widely scattered, being found from the Kimberley all the way down to the islands of the Recherche Archipelago in the Southern Ocean off the South of the Australian continent.

The name of this rock wallaby is however somewhat confusing. It is the soles of the feet that are black in this species, not immediately obvious to the observer.

An interchangable name for the Black-footed is the Black-flanked Rock Wallaby. There are five subspecies and the animals of Alice Springs are of the recently named subspecies Petrogale lateralis centralis, known to local indigenous peoples as Warru.


Alice Springs Wildlife

Their lengthy tails were just incredible, acting as a rudder as they bounced around the rocks with amazing agility, no doubt a healthy advantage when outrunning their considerable list of predators, including Foxes, Cats, Dingoes and Wedge-tailed Eagles.

Some of the juvenile wallabies were cute as a button…..

Juvenile Black-footed Rock Wallaby

Alice Springs Wildlife

Whilst some of the older wallabies were a little more battle-scarred, but no less endearing…

Battle-scarred Black-footed Rock Wallaby.

Alice Springs Wildlife

The Black-footed Rock Wallabies were not the only macropods hopping around, Euros known also as Common Wallaroos or Hill Kangaroos were also around in good numbers.

Of all the Australian macropods these arid adapted animals are the most widely distrubuted, being found across most of the Australian continent. Their large ears making them almost donkey-like in appearance.


Alice Springs Wildlife

Later in the afternoon as the high cloud in the sky began to disperse and the sun made a late appearance, so too did a Ridge-tailed Monitor (Varanus acanthurus,) which appearared from a rock fissure to soak up the last of the rays.

The distribution of this attractive monitor lizard is from the desert regions in the centre of the continent up to the Northwest coast, where it resides in rocky outcrops, stony ranges and scarps, making Tharraltneme the perfect home for this lizard.

Ridge-tailed Monitor.

Alice Springs Wildlife

As the light began to fade further, macropod numbers increased. It was time however, to return to the motel to prepare for the imminent 13 day Larapinta Trek.

The Larapinta Trail – Part 1 – Alice Springs to Brinkley Bluff.

The Larapinta Trail – Part 2 – Brinkley Bluff to Counts Point.

Larapinta Trail – Part 3 – Counts Point to Mount Sonder.


Post Larapinta Trail I once again visited the Olive Pink Botanical Gardens. This time the weather was warmer, so I took a cold ginger beer up to Tharrartlneme to watch the sunset over the West MacDonnell Ranges. The West side of the hill is the sunny side at that time of the day, and I had plenty of company while I drank my ginger beer surrounded by sunbathing Rock Wallabies!

Alice Springs Wildlife

It had been almost 20 years since my last visit to Australia’s Red Centre. The Larapinta Trail, Alice Springs and West MacDonnell Ranges had been incredible. I can’t wait to return to revisit Uluru now that my love of this desert country had been reinvigourated!


3 thoughts on “The Wildlife of Alice Springs – Australia’s Desert Heart

  1. Tks again, Jimmy for a lovely set of pics from AS. I wonder how many visitors to that park see a Western Bowerbird giving a courtship display? We need more large areas of Australia to be protected to allow these species to thrive.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s