As with the preceding Koomarinna East Survey, we will be spending the first days of this survey visiting the numerous small salt lakes that lie to the east of the K1 Line, benchmark and document some of the ecological responses to the current conditions in the South-Eastern Simpson Desert, which will help us to understand the often complex ebb and flow of its cyclic ‘boom-bust’ dynamics, before venturing north into an area that is largely dominated by towering white dunes and sparse swales.
We have not documented this area before, so this survey is an important part of our Shared Journeys transect. We will need every one of the 9 days to explore this huge area as we gradually work in a northerly arc back towards the K1 Line.
The white sand ridges of the south-eastern portion of the desert holds many unique attributes compared to the broader Simpson. Made up of sediments deposited by ancient river channels and paleo drainage lines the area now sits atop the remnants of these long gone land systems. Characterised by jumbled and often towering white dunes, ephemeral salt lakes and expansive claypans, this part of the desert abuts the famed Warburton River floodplain - creating an ecotone (or transition) between desert river system and the wider dune field.
There are many unique plants and animals that had/have evolved to live in this part of the desert. The flora can be a mix of floodplain and desert species, creating a varied and interesting suite of plant communities. Birds can readily move across and between land systems, whilst some mammals like the Dingo and Long-haired Rat (Rattus villosissimus) take advantage of the varied landscape to move in and out of the desert when conditions suit. It is presumed many of the now extinct medium sized mammals (e.g. bandicoots, hare wallabies and rat-kangaroos) would have exploited these areas in similar ways.
It creates a fascinating land system that can offer many discoveries and insights into the general ecology of desert fauna and flora.
Walking in this landscape is on firm sand and occasional large claypans. Spinifex, the dominant plant species to the north, is virtually absent in this part of the desert, so walking is easy. The eastern Simpson will probably be dry and mostly devoid of any wildflowers unless there has been sufficient rain in March/early April, in which case a profusion of yellow flowers such as poached-egg daisy & 'Yellowtop' will be covering the landscape, and supplying our camels with fresh feed.