Arkaroola’s Emus

19 Apr

Dear reader 

This last week has been quite exciting. Old friends visited from Texas and, as is our custom, we headed to one of the most remote areas of the state to indulge our passion for wildlife and wild places. My choice was Arkaroola a place that I had visited many years ago on an indigenous cultures study tour and an environment I was eager to experience again.  

Arkaroola is a world heritage listed site in the northern Flinders Ranges 600kms north of Adelaide. It is a landscape of harsh granite peaks and deep, enchanting gorges; a favourite haunt for off road drivers, bush walkers and naturalists. Despite its isolation, facilities at the visitor centre are first class providing accommodation, a restaurant, supplies and fuel.

C Dry creek bed near Arkaroola with Sturt Desert Pea in the foreground

Dry creek bed near Arkaroola with Sturt Desert Pea in the foreground

The road from Wilpena in the southern part of the ranges to Arkaroola is largely unsealed and traverses an iconic selection of Australian arid zone bushland ranging from wide brown plains and grassland to forested scrub. The road is traversed by numerous ephemeral creeks some of which wind back into interesting rocky gorges. Each time I have driven this route the wildlife that I have encountered has been different; flocks of parrots and red kangaroos one year, sightings of a variety of lizards and raptors another. However, it was my last drive north that was most memorable.

B Driving to Arkaroola

Driving to Arkaroola

The first section of the road from the classical little outback town of Blinman with its pub, art gallery and general store, was largely uneventful. A few wedge tailed eagles soared on thermals in the distance and a couple of small flocks of corellas and galahs screeched at us as they took flight from larger eucalypts in the dry creek beds. The only kangaroos were road kill victims.

A Blinman    the last outpost before a long bush drive

Blinman the last outpost before a long bush drive

Around 50 kms north of the town we drove a little way up one of the creek beds clattering over the flat rock and sand in 4WD then parked in the shade of some taller gum trees for a bite to eat. Almost immediately, a male Eeu guiding his procession of chicks, emerged from behind some bushes where they had been feeding. As we approached he sauntered off up the creek with feathery rump swaying and his little family ‘in tow’.

EA Male emu with brood of young stripy chicks

Male emu with brood of young stripy chicks

Emus are the world’s third largest bird after the African ostrich and Australasian cassowary; they grow to a height of 2 metres and can weigh almost 40 kgs. Emus run at speeds over 60 kph. This bird had to be a male as only males incubate the eggs and care for the young.

A Emu bad hair day

Emu bad hair day

This was the first of many encounters over the next few days. Perhaps the most unforgettable was just a few kilometres outside of Arkaroola. We were rounding a sharp bend in the road when a pair of emus suddenly appeared on the road hurtling towards us. The pair seemed oblivious to our presence and wholly engrossed in some kind of emu ‘high jinks’. They pushed and shoved at each other while still running, one falling sideways, rolling over then leaping into the air to continue the game. We skidded to a halt and watched them cavort privileged to see such a candid display of exuberant animal behaviour. After a minute or so they settled down and wandered up a rocky together slope feeding.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The boys are back in town

Our final emu encounter occurred near one of the few permanent waterholes in the region. Two large birds suddenly appeared from the scrub and ran alongside the vehicle for a couple of hundred metres then abruptly cut across us and headed for a stand of tall eucalypts. We pulled over and walked slowly down to the trees and watched them join up with another group and start drinking. In the soft evening light, the scene was really quite unforgettable and the Emus though aware of our presence, did not seem uncomfortable allowing us to capture some memorable images.

D Group of Emus at waterhole in the evening

Group of emus at waterhole in the evening

Cheers

Baz

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