Report on FOMS Field Trip August 2015

This second FOMS trip for 2015 aimed to inspect springs south of Lake Eyre South to assess their current status; to inspect Beresford Hill and nearby springs; to check walking trails at Strangways; and to inspect springs on Billa Kalina, including the spring proposed for fencing as part of the Desert Jewels project.

Those participating were Colin Harris, Rick Moore, Rien Habermehl, Bruce and Sherrie Gotch, Stafford Dow, Allan and Marlene Swinstead, Brian Donaghy, Bernice Cohen and Simon Lewis. Tony Magor, Manager Public Lands and Co-management, DEWNR, joined the group on the evening of Wednesday 5 August.


Cool but dry and sunny conditions prevailed throughout the week, with moderate breezes for the first few days, abating towards the end of the trip. The day temperatures were around 180 C during the days and nights were generally calm and cool, around 50 to 70 C, becoming cold on the Wednesday and Thursday nights – around 0 degrees on the Friday morning. Roads and station tracks were in good condition.

Getting Started: 1st and 2nd August

Typical scene, West Finniss Springs
Typical scene, West Finniss Springs

Colin, Brian and Simon travelled to Port Augusta to rendezvous with Bernice. The remainder of the group travelled further north that day and camped at Farina overnight.

The group convened at Marree on Sunday 2nd and subsequently inspected Herrgott Spring. Colin and Simon also caught up with Arabana elder Reg Dodd who has provided much assistance with mound spring matters over many years.

The group then moved on to Finniss Springs and inspected the West Finniss spring group.

Dr Rien Habermehl describes the fault-line at Finniss Springs
Dr Rien Habermehl describes the fault-line at Finniss Springs

The West Finniss group comprises a large number of spring vents with virtually all dominated by reeds, Phragmites, up to about three metres in height. Typical for this time of year, the Phragmites has “hayed off” with little active (green) growth. Other species noted included Cyperus laevigatus (bore-drain sedge), Gahnia (cutting grass) and Baumea (twig rush). The endangered plant, Eriocaulon carsonii (salt pipe wort) has been noted previously at West Finniss but no occurrences were noted despite a relatively thorough search. This raises the question of whether the proliferation of Phragmites has impacted upon the Eriocaulon population.

Near Lake Eyre South: 3rd August

Rare find: Eriocaulon carsonii at Hermit Springs
Rare find: Eriocaulon carsonii at Hermit Springs

The day commenced with an inspection of a geological fault-line on the Oodnadatta Track near Hermit Hill. Eminent GAB hydrogeologist and Canberra-based FOMS member Rien Habermehl provided a detailed description of the fault-line and its links with the GAB, along with more general information about the nature and hydrogeological history of the GAB and its associated springs. The exposure of the Algebuckina Sandstone at the site was inspected. The Algebuckina Sandstone is the main GAB aquifer west of the Birdsville Track (Ridge), and the source of artesian groundwater for all of the GAB springs in this part of South Australia.

The group then inspected Hermit Springs, around the back (ie northern side) of Hermit Hill.

As for West Finniss, the Hermit Springs comprise many spring vents dominated by haying off Phragmites, with a similar range of species to that listed above. A reasonably thorough reconnaissance located just one patch of Eriocaulon carsonii. There is some indication that the proliferation of Phragmites is having a negative impact upon associated spring flora, including Eriocaulon.

During the afternoon the group visited Smith, Gosse and McLachlan Springs near Lake Eyre South.

Smith Springs, typical low mound
Smith Springs, typical low mound

Smith Springs comprise three or four low mounds, with very low flow, and with virtually a monoculture of Cyperus laevigatus (bore drain sedge). These springs occur just a few metres into Finniss Springs, alongside the boundary fence-line with Stuart Creek pastoral lease.

At Gosse Springs, six vents were observed, with two main vents. One comprised a fine bore drain sedge spring with a pool of open water and extensive tail. Two brolgas were observed here. The other main vent comprises a relatively large Phragmites / Cyperus laevigatus mound with a much smaller tail.

McLachlan Springs are very close to the shores of Lake Eyre South. There is one main mound, with Phragmites and Cyperus, and two smaller mounds to the north with stunted Phragmites. A feature of Smith, Gosse and McLachlan Springs is their good condition. They appear to have been free of grazing pressure for a considerable time.

The group returned to the Gregory Creek camp-site for one more night.

Gosse Spring, in fine condition
Gosse Spring, in fine condition

Heading North-West: 4th August

The group decamped and moved on to Fred Spring, on Stuart’s Creek not far north of the main road.

Unlike springs seen thus far, Fred Spring comprises a Typha (bulrush) spring, with fringing Cyperus laevigatus (bore-drain sedge). Like the other Stuart Creek springs north of the main road, Fred is in good condition with no evidence of recent grazing impacts. Fred Spring was the site of a blow-out in the 1980s when a bore was sunk near the spring and there was a major leakage of artesian water. Rehabilitation works were then carried out and the spring appears to have recovered well.

Then it was on to Emerald Spring, about 11.5 km from the main road just past Curdimurka and just over the Margaret Overflow.

Emerald Spring has mainly Phragmites at the vent, but there is a patch of Typha growing in the centre of the vent. There is some suggestion here and elsewhere that Typha may have some sort of competitive advantage over Phragmites in the slightly fresher water right at the spring vent, with Phragmites better adapted to the more saline conditions away from the water outlet. Bore drain sedge, C laevigatus dominates the extensive tail which extends several hundred metres. Emerald Spring is fenced tightly around the vent and there is a second fence encompassing several hectares around the spring. This second fence is in a state of disrepair and is falling down in places.

Interestingly, the spring tail now extends through what was the vehicle entrance in this second fence, preventing access at that point. This indicates that either the spring tail has shifted or that the flow from this spring has increased, causing an extension of the tail.

Some grazing pressure is evident along the tail.

The group then journeyed on to Beresford Hill and the adjacent Beresford and Warburton Springs. The springs and hill were fenced some years ago by S Kidman and Co to conserve their features. Water temperature, electrical conductivity (EC) and pH were measured by Bruce and helpers using the FOMS test kit.

Warburton Springs comprise two vents. One vent comprises solid Phragmites up to three metres high with only a small outflow down the tail. The second spring is predominantly C. laevigatus (bore-drain sedge) with some open water and with a Cyperus tail extending about 100 metres or more.

Warburton Springs, Phragmites vent
Warburton Springs, Phragmites vent
Warburton Spring, Cyperus laevigatus vent
Warburton Spring, Cyperus laevigatus vent

Beresford Spring comprises one main vent. Its vegetation is predominantly C. laevigatus but there is mud rather than open water in the vent with the bones of cattle that became bogged and perished there in times gone by.

Rien Habermehl and Rick Moore atop Beresford Hill
Rien Habermehl and Rick Moore atop Beresford Hill

The more energetic members of the party climbed Beresford Hill, an extinct spring, with approximately the upper one-third of its height of 45 m covered by spring limestone, overlying the mudstone of the Bulldog Shale. An extensive former pool related to the spring vent is evident at the top of the Hill and there is also an Aboriginal stone arrangement. Rien Habermehl noted that Beresford Hill spring limestone is dated at more than 700,000 years of age and also showed us examples of what appears to be fossilised Phragmites, suggesting that Phragmites has been in spring country for a very long time. There is also a trig survey cairn of stones at the top of the Hill.

The group then travelled on to Strangways Springs, setting up camp in the Strangways dunes.

Strangways and Billa Kalina: 5th August

During the morning the group checked the walking trails established by FOMS volunteers in 2011 – the 1.8 km Springs Walk and 2.2 km Woolwash Walk. Both trails were in good condition. Along the Woolwash Walk, the group paused at location 16, a site where Rien Habermehl had drilled a fully cored exploratory hole in 1985 as part of his GAB research. This drill-hole and another drill-hole in the eastern part of the Strangways platform showed the thickness of the limestone platform to be less than 5 m in those locations. Around the ruins at Strangways we noted that the building identification signs are deteriorating and require replacement.

Heading south towards Billa Kalina Station we met briefly with Anna Creek Station Manager Norm Sims. Once on Billa Kalina we inspected two springs fenced by the lessees Keith and Colin Greenfield in the early 2000s. Bruce and helpers used the FOMS TPS water testing kit here to measure temperature, pH and electrical conductivity (EC).

The fenced area is of interest in that one of the springs has dense Phragmites, while the second spring, about 50 metres away, is a C. laevigatus spring with no Phragmites. This is one of several examples in spring country where some springs have remained free of Phragmites despite their close proximity to springs dominated by Phragmites. The Phragmites spring has a bore and associated water pressure and flow monitoring and recording equipment immediately adjacent to the vent.

Near this fenced area, we inspected the ruins of a former accommodation building, believed to have serviced drovers & the travelling public on the former Travelling Stock Route from the Kingoonya-Tarcoola district to Coward Springs.

Camp-sites in this vicinity were not of prime quality but we settled on an area with elegant wattle (Acacia victoriae) and enough dead timber for firewood. At around 7.30 pm, headlights on the north-east horizon marked the approach of Tony Magor, who joined us for the night and part of the next day. That evening, Rien Habermehl took the group through his power-point presentation describing the hydrogeology of the GAB and of the mound springs, including groundwater dating and spring mound deposits dating.

Billa Kalina: 6th  August

Heading south-west, we soon came to Spring Creek, comprising several spring outlets right on the station track. This was a delightful setting but heavy cattle impacts were evident. Water samples were tested using the FOMS water testing kit.

Spring Creek includes two or more spring outlets. One is slightly away from the creek- line: it is a Phragmites spring heavily impacted by cattle. Within the creek-line are one or more spring outlets, with Phragmites at the vent and more extensive tails of C. laevigatus (bore-drain sedge): again with significant cattle impacts.

From Spring Creek the group continued down the track to Cheryl’s Yard. At Cheryl’s Yard is the take-off point to the spring to be fenced as part of the Desert Jewels project – a short but rough cross-country drive necessitating unhitching of caravans / trailers.

The spring to be fenced is a bore-drain sedge (C. laevigatus) spring with some open water at the pool. It has a reasonably extensive tail of C. laevigatus and displays some cattle impacts – although not as severe as at Spring Creek. Old fence-posts surround the vent, indicative of earlier fencing. The fencing will provide permanent protection for the spring vent from cattle grazing, while allowing occasional grazing of part of the spring tail. Another section of the spring tail will be outside the fenced area and thus open to general grazing.

This was the last of the spring surveys for the trip. After a lunch in the coolibahs, Tony, Allan and Marlene commenced their respective journeys homeward. Bruce, Sherrie and Stafford turned around and headed back up the track towards Beresford, intending to be at Balcanoona by the following day.

The remainder of the group continued on towards Billa Kalina homestead, meeting lessee Colin Greenfield on the way and then spending a few minutes with his wife Jill Greenfield at the homestead. We then drove about 60 km down the track to camp at a very nice spot in red dune country.

Homeward Bound: 7th August

For Colin, Bernice, Brian, Rick, Rien and Simon it was a case of homeward bound through Woomera and Pimba, with lunch for some at the Arid Lands Botanic Gardens at Pt Augusta in company with fellow FOMS member Brenton Arnold.

In summary, a very successful trip: great company, fine weather, interesting springs and a trip that ran almost exactly to schedule throughout. Many thanks to all!