This will be our longest trek in the western Simpson before the following 24-day expedition heads east across the dunes towards the central desert. On this trek we will take the opportunity to document an area that we have yet to research as we explore an area closer to the Finke River floodplain.
The survey will begin in the NT and then cross the border into Witjira National Park, and begin heading east/southeast. We intend to walk on the floodplain and our particular interest are the floodplain fringes: the northern fringe that borders on the dune field and the southern edge that meets the stony gibber rises. Unless there is major flooding in the summer of 2020/21, the river itself will be dry.
The western Simpson Desert - especially the area to the north and east of Old An dado Station - has a long and rich history of scientific work. It has featured as a site for many studies investigating the unique taxa of Central Australia including small mammals, reptiles, birds and plants.
Much of this ecological work has contributed substantially to our understanding of rangelands in arid Australia, especially the often complex ebb and flow of its cyclic ‘boom-bust’ dynamics. We will be using much of this past knowledge to benchmark and document some of the ecological responses to the current conditions in the Western Simpson Desert.
Exploring many of the diverse landscapes found across this corner of the Northern Territory we will be conducting surveys focused on recording the presence (and absence) of fauna and flora after a period of sustained above average annual rainfall in 2016 and again in early 2017. We hope to visit ephemeral wetlands, breakaway rocky country, dunefields and plains to conduct mammal, reptile, bird and plant surveys, as well as assess the impact of feral predators (i.e. cats and foxes) and wildfires.
The landscape consists of towering red-crimson dunes, wide inter-dune corridors, small (usually dry!) creeks and scattered timber of Coolibah, Bloodwood and Mulga. Spinifex is the dominant plant species, however much of this hardy plant was destroyed in the 2011/12 bushfires, and many of the dunes and swales are now virtually spinifex-free, which besides making for easier walking, has created a whole 'new' ecosystem.
Walking in this landscape is on firm sand and occasional claypans and gibber flats. The western Simpson will 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.