Year: 2017

Rains Affect Walking Trails at the Peake

As many will recall, FOMS volunteers established self-guided walking trails at Strangways Springs and at the Peake Overland Telegraph site in 2011. Descriptive brochures were also prepared by FOMS and stocked at each location. Since 2011, FOMS members have visited Strangways and the Peake on a regular basis to check the walking trails and top up the brochure supply.

During the July 2016 FOMS trip, Colin Harris, Bernice Cohen and Claire Bockner travelled to the Peake while some of the fence maintenance and repair work was being done at other springs on the Peake. They noted quite significant water erosion damage to the walking trails – a reflection of the bumper rainfall year in the Far North of South Australia. Repair works on these trails will be factored into FOMS’ 2017 work program.

FOMS Visits Dalhousie Springs

Dalhousie Trip participants, from left: Colin Harris, Bruce and Sherrie Gotch, Bernice Cohen, Elizabeth and Brendan Lay

2016 has been characterised by very good rains across much of the State. The Far North has been no exception and there has been substantial rainfall in mound spring country. Earlier in the year, wet weather prompted the cancellation of a joint working bee at Dalhousie Springs by FOMS and the Friends of the Simpson Desert Parks (FOS). For the most part, FOS volunteers support DEWNR in management activities at Dalhousie while FOMS volunteers have focussed on mound springs on pastoral country and in Wabma Kadarbu Mound Springs Conservation Park.

However, in August 2016, a group of FOMS volunteers finally made it to Dalhousie Springs. The group, comprising Elizabeth and Brendan Lay, Sherrie and Bruce Gotch, Bernice Cohen and Colin Harris, aimed to complete the following tasks:

  • Revisiting photopoints and taking water samples from the areas or sites where date palms had been removed at Kingfisher Springs – a component of DEWNR’s Desert Jewels project;
  • Planting coolabah and needle-bush seedlings (grown as tubestock by FOS members) around the campground area;
  • Revisiting the historic exclosure and old photopoints in the Dalhousie and 3 O’clock Creek areas, set up more than 30 years ago before the area was dedicated as a national park.
Main pool, Dalhousie

The work at Kingfisher involved relocating and re-photographing photopoints along the spring tails, finding the centre of the flow at that point, then sampling the water and vegetation there. Prolific growth of Phragmites – which followed the cutting and burning of the date palms – presented major challenges in obtaining some of the samples. Regrowth of young date palms was quite advanced in some areas.

A feature of the trip to and from Dalhousie was the abundance of surface water in waterholes and watercourses. The group returned home by the longer route through Bloods Creek Bore and the old Federal Homestead. The group thought the extra half day travel was well worthwhile as the country was looking splendid after such good autumn and winter rains. Wildflowers such as mulla mullas and Sturt’s desert peas were in abundance and Eringa Waterhole was most impressive with plentiful waterfowl and other bird-life. This bodes well for water dependent wildlife in the region during the next year or more.

Notes on Mound Spring Vegetation 2016

Bulrushes and sedges in good condition at Milne Springs

During the July 2016 FOMS trip a number of observations were made of the condition of wetland vegetation at many springs. This included photo-point monitoring at springs fenced by the State Environment agency during the 1980s – Outside, Twelve Mile, Fountain and Big Perry Springs on the Peake, Nilpinna Spring on Nilpinna Station and Big Cadna-Owie Spring on Allandale Station. The State Environment Department conducted annual photo-point monitoring at these and several other springs from the mid-1980s until 2005.

But first there are some general observations that can be made. 2016 has been a stand-out year with regular and plentiful rain in the Far North of the State. One of the results of this type of year is that surface waters become widespread and stock fan out to a greater degree across the landscape. So, whereas in dry times stock will often have heavy impact on unprotected mound springs, in good wet seasons the springs are less impacted and the spring vegetation has an opportunity to recover. As an example, the photo below – taken in July 2016 – shows Milne Springs, on the Peake, with a good cover of predominantly Typha (bulrush) and Cyperus laevigatus (bore-drain sedge). Milne Springs are open to grazing by stock.

The photo-point monitoring repeated on the July 2016 trip for the first time since 2005 highlighted two main points.

Firstly, it highlighted that reeds (Phragmites) have been steadily increasing in distribution and abundance at several springs following the fencing of about 30 years ago. The following two photos, taken from a similar location at the Fountain Spring, highlight this point. In 2001, Phragmites was largely restricted to the spring vent (in background of photo). By 2016 Phragmites had taken over the lower section of the spring tail (foreground of photo).

Semi-open water at Outside Spring, July 2016

The second observation is that there are signs that Phragmites may have “peaked” at a couple of protected springs. This is most evident at Outside Spring where the area of the main vent now has semi-open water, as shown in the photo below.

This observation sits quite well with the hypothesis that the proliferation of Phragmites in springs following fencing and stock exclusion is boosted by elevated nutrient levels at these springs following decades of stock access. With prolonged stock exclusion, nutrient levels may decline slowly and this may affect the vigour and distribution of Phragmites. A lesser decline of this nature has been observed at the Fountain and it may be that the intrusion of cattle into the Fountain in the early 1990s means that the Fountain is trailing Outside Springs in terms of nutrient reduction.

Research being undertaken by the University of Adelaide includes nutrient analyses in the springs and this may help to clarify whether the above hypothesis is valid.