Field Trip July 2014

The FOMS 2014 field group
The FOMS 2014 field group. From left: Bruce Gotch, Colin Harris, Alan Williams, Margie Barnett, Brendan Lay, Elizabeth Lay, Simon Lewis, Bernice Cohen

Eight members of Friends of Mound Springs (FOMS) participated in a trip to the Far North in late July 2014. Those in the party were Colin Harris, Bruce Gotch, Alan Williams, Bernice Cohen, Margie Barnett, Brendan Lay, Elizabeth Lay and Simon Lewis.

The main purpose of the trip was to gather information at a number of mound springs on the Peake Pastoral Lease, linking with the major investigation being coordinated by the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources (DEWNR) and focussing on the development of clearer management prescriptions for many of South Australia’s mound springs. This three year project has major funding through the Australian Government’s Caring for our Country program, with FOMS and others supporting DEWNR in the work.

A supplementary purpose of the trip was to install new interpretive signage at Strangways Springs – see separate item in this newsletter.

With the latter task in mind, Colin, Bruce, Alan and Bernice commenced their trip on Friday 18 July, collecting the new signs from DEWNR Port Augusta and reaching Strangways Springs by evening. They then spent Saturday installing the new signs and also checking the Springs Walk, one of two walks established by FOMS in 2011. The Springs Walk was in good shape, although it is clear that most visitors are walking to the cemetery and back rather than doing the whole circuit.

For Margie, Brendan, Elizabeth and Simon the FOMS trip commenced on Saturday 19 July, rendezvousing at Roxby Downs and travelling on to Strangways to join the rest of the party. A cold night ensued but fortunately the firewood supply was adequate.

Sunday 20th July

Before leaving Strangways, the group did a lap of the Wool-wash Walk, the second of the trails installed by FOMS in 2011. Again the trail was in good shape, although apparently subject to limited use. Then it was on to William Creek for fuel and morning tea. From there the group left the Oodnadatta Track and journeyed north on station tracks to our main camp-site on Bulldog Creek.

Monday 21st July

The main business of the trip commenced at Outside Spring. FOMS member and DEWNR scientific officer Travis Gotch had prepared data sheets for use by the group, covering parameters such as vegetation species present in spring vents and tails, percentage cover of each species, level of disturbance by stock and other influences and water quality.

Bruce and Alan took on the water quality monitoring role, measuring, pH, conductivity, temperature and total dissolved salts (TDS) with the field laboratory recently transferred to FOMS by the Friends of Simpson Desert group, while the others focussed on vegetation and disturbance measurement.

Outside Spring proved to be very interesting. Within the area fenced in the mid 1980’s, Phragmites has been dominant for many years, but we have, over the last two to three years, noticed significant die-back of Phragmites in the centre of the vent. This die-back was even more pronounced on this trip with very little regrowth occurring. It seems reasonable to conclude that a new vegetation balance is developing at Outside Spring. In terms of management, this spring may be one to leave alone and monitor to see if the trend continues.

The group also surveyed two unfenced vents and tails at Outside Spring, both of which provided an interesting comparison with the fenced spring.

Twelve Mile Spring: top vent with Typha, whereas Phragmites is predominant elsewhere at this spring
Twelve Mile Spring: top vent with Typha, whereas Phragmites is predominant elsewhere at this spring

The group then moved on to Twelve Mile Spring, also fenced since the mid 1980’s. This is an interesting spring with several vents supporting, predominantly, Typha (bulrush) in the top vent and a mixture of Phragmites and the sedge Cyperus gymnocaulos at several other vents. There is also evidence of vertical leakage supporting Phragmites. Twelve Mile Spring was subject to stock intrusion in early 2013 through a faulty section of fence (repaired in mid-2013 by Peake manager Nathan Keogh). Vegetation damage and pugging of spring vents from this incursion was still evident.

The fenced area at Twelve Mile is quite complex in terms of vents and vegetation and further thought will be needed to determine whether some form of management trial could or should be implemented.

The final inspection for Monday 21st was the Fountain Spring. Like Outside, this spring has become dominated by Phragmites since fencing in the 1980’s and, also like Outside, there is now evidence of die-back of Phragmites in the main vent. Just as for Outside Spring, a thick mat of Phragmites rhizomes remains which, presumably, may take many years to break down. Physical removal of portion of this rhizomatous mat at one location may be worth considering to see what effect this has.

Tuesday 22nd July

After another cold night the group split into two for the day’s activities. Colin and Alan headed north to the Peake Overland Telegraph Station heritage site to check the walking trails and top up the FOMS brochure supply. As for Strangways, they found the walking trails to be in good shape. Both of the Peake walking trails appear to be popular with visitors.

The remainder of the group travelled south to Hawker Springs, via a stop-over at Levi Springs. At Levi, we looked at the spring nearest the track and rock formations and concluded that it could be of interest to fence this spring and monitor the outcome. The spring has no mound and presumably would not be particularly difficult to fence. Currently it appears to be free of Phragmites. Alternative watering points (other springs and a bore) are nearby.

Hawker Springs comprises a large group of around 100 spring vents. The group is unfenced, is roughly circular and we were interested to test the hypothesis that outer spring vents would be more affected by cattle than springs further into the group. The aim was to look at springs on the outer edge of the group and some towards the centre of the group. The difficult terrain meant that we would only access a small sample of the springs.

Our observations tended to support the hypothesis. Outer springs were more significantly pugged and grazed than springs further into the group. Of particular interest was an extensive, apparently spring-fed watercourse towards the centre of Hawker Springs, with some Phragmites but also a lot of open water. The vegetation of the springs was quite varied, some springs with mainly Phragmites, others with Cyperus gymnocaulos and others with other sedges such as Juncus.

Wednesday 23rd July

After a warmer but slightly drizzly night, Simon headed south to catch a plane home from Olympic Dam. The remainder of the group continued to survey springs on the Peake lease – the Vaughan Spring, Fanny Springs and Big Perry. The Vaughan has been a useful comparison for many years as it is an unfenced spring quite close to the fenced Outside and Twelve Mile springs.

Big Perry has been fenced since the late 1980s. Although the fence was rabbit-proofed originally, the colony inside the fence was not eliminated at the time and in any case the netting has not been maintained to a rabbit proof standard. It is not clear what impact the rabbits are having on the vegetation. The spring is dominated by Phragmites, while the tail is dominated by Typha. There is no flow at the spring vent. However, there is seepage or very low flow visible in the tail. Overall, the flow at Big Perry appeared to have diminished significantly since the previous inspection about two years ago. Because the spring has been fenced, there is no evidence of recent stock grazing or pugging, but there is some evidence of past stock impact.

Seven springs were also visited in the Fanny Springs cluster. All are unfenced and heavily impacted by current cattle grazing pressure. In some cases, the travertine spring structure is collapsing –a natural process, but most certainly being accelerated by cattle. Dominant species are Cyperus gymnocaulus, Typha and Cyperus laevigatus. One spring is dominated by a ‘bonsai’ form of Phragmites.

The final spring visited was the Vaughan, an unfenced spring subject to heavy grazing pressure. The two vents were dominated by Typha, with greater diversity in the tails, mainly Cyperus laevigatus in the tail of vent No. 1 and Cyperus gymnocaulus in the tail of vent No. 2. Cattle impacts were moderate to high.

The return to camp provided some surprises, strong winds throughout the day having blown many items around and damaged two of the tents.

Thursday 24th July

The Wednesday surveys marked the end of the scheduled spring work for this trip. The group decamped from the Bulldog Creek site and journeyed back to William Creek. Then on to Coward Springs Camp-ground for a courtesy visit to Greg and Prue before moving on to the Borefield Road turn-off at Bopeechie. At that point Brendan, Elizabeth and Margie continued on to Arkaroola via Marree, while Colin, Bernice, Bruce and Alan headed south via Roxby Downs, Bruce and Alan completing the long haul back that day while Colin and Bernice broke the return trip with a night at the Eldo Hotel in Woomera.

All in all, a very successful trip – very convivial group, good weather (for the most part) and scheduled work accomplished. Many thanks to all involved for their contributions!