Field Trips

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.

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.

Conditions

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!

Report on FOMS Field Trip, June 2015

As reported elsewhere in this newsletter, the Friends of Mound Springs (FOMS) are working with the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources (DEWNR) on a major project – the Desert Jewels Project – which aims to improve the management of South Australia’s mound springs.

This report describes the field trip held in June 2015 to visit springs on the Peake pastoral lease to consider management trials and fencing options. A second objective was to check the walking trails established by FOMS in 2011 at Strangways Springs and the Peake Overland Telegraph / Freeling Springs site.

Participants: Sam Gitahi (DEWNR Desert Jewels Project Officer), Sam Stuart (Arabana liaison officer), Clinton Warren, Colin Harris, Elaine Smyth, Bruce and Sherrie Gotch, Margie Barnett and Simon Lewis. Brendan and Elizabeth Lay also intended to join the group but were prevented by wet weather which led to the closure of roads in the area.

Weather Conditions. As noted below, weather proved to be a limiting factor with this trip.

Rain was predicted for the start of the trip as far north as Leigh Creek but not for the springs country further north. With just a little trepidation, therefore, we decided to proceed with the trip.

Getting Started

Several participants drove to Port Augusta or thereabouts to stay overnight on Saturday 13 June. Sam Stuart and Clinton Warren travelled in advance of the main party and reached William Creek by Saturday evening.

On Sunday 14th the Port Augusta contingent awoke to drizzling rain and a report that both the Borefield Road and Marree to William Creek road were closed to traffic. However, a phone call to the Peake Station revealed that little rain had fallen in that area. The group travelled to William Creek via Coober Pedy, meeting Sam Stuart and Clinton. With light fading fast the group moved north to camp on Douglas Creek north of William Creek.

Work under way – Monday 15th June

Breaking camp after a damp night on Bulldog Creek
Breaking camp after a damp night on Bulldog Creek

In very foggy conditions, Colin, Elaine, Bruce and Sherrie headed off to the Peake Overland Telegraph site to check the walking trails and replenish the brochure supply.

Sam G, Sam S, Clinton, Margie and Simon inspected Big Perry, Fountain, Twelve Mile and Outside Springs. Comments on those inspections are provided on the next page.

Following the above work, the group selected an overnight camp-site on Bulldog Creek.

Later that evening, after a display of lightning to the NW, some steady rain set in, with around 9mm recorded at the nearby Peake homestead. That precipitation was to significantly influence our program over the next two days.

Getting Muddy – Tuesday 16th June

Levi Springs: one of several springs with rock formation in background
Levi Springs: one of several springs with rock formation in background

Following the rain of the previous night, an exploratory drive suggested that the station tracks might be firm enough for the group to continue to Levi Springs. The group did make it to Levi, although the going was a little heavy at times. However at Levi there was a hitch when the lead vehicle crossed a very muddy section and it was decided that the other vehicles should not attempt the same crossing. With the sun shining and a nice drying breeze, it was decided to proceed with our work at Levi Springs and to review track conditions later in the day.

The task at Levi was to survey a possible alignment for a fence to enclose Levi springs and most of the impressive basement rocks outcropping at the springs – as well as the ruins of a shepherd’s hut and old coolibah yards nearby. GPS readings were taken to enable an updated map of the proposed fence-line to be prepared.

The day concluded with the bulk of the group camping on Levi Creek while the two occupants of the lead vehicle camped near the springs to the south.

Final Stages – Wednesday 17th and Thursday 18th

With another sunny day dawning, the group decided to press on south towards William Creek. However, after a few kilometres, it became evident that the boggy conditions would prevent further travel south. The group turned around and headed back towards the Peake homestead. After negotiating several soft patches along the tracks we reached Peake homestead to be greeted hospitably by newly appointed Peake manager Jim Wheeler and his wife Lee.

At this point the group split into three. Margie and Simon, with Thursday commitments at home, made an early departure and drove home via Marree, arriving home somewhat weary by 1.30 to 2 am, Thursday morning. Sam S, Sam G and Clinton left to check camera equipment set up at the Bubbler and at springs near Bopeechee to detect fauna movements.

Colin, Elaine, Bruce and Sherrie continued down to Strangways Springs to replenish the walking trail brochure supply. They then spent the night at Coward Springs camp-ground, before returning to Adelaide the following day.

In summary, this was an eventful and memorable trip. Rain created a number of difficulties but the group achieved its main objectives and this should help to progress the Desert Jewels project.

Comments on Spring Inspections, June 2015

Big Perry

There are two main vents at Big Perry. The first, at the top of the mound, supports extensive areas of Phragmites. A second lower vent supports Typha. The Phragmites and Typha appeared to be in good condition, with the Phragmites up to 3 metres in height and the Typha up to 2.5 metres. Much of the fenced area is well vegetated, with other common species being Cyperus gymnocaulos, Nitraria sp and samphire species.

The following trials are under consideration:

  • Trial burn of Phragmites in the upper vent .
  • Trial burn of Typha in the second
Prolific Phragmites, top vent at Big Perry
Prolific Phragmites, top vent at Big Perry

The Fountain

The single vent at the Fountain has a cover of Phragmites up to about 3m high around the circumference but much lower (up to about one metre) in the centre of the vent. It appears that the Phragmites may be  in a state of slow decline in the vent. The tail at the Fountain is also dominated by Phragmites. This area of reeds has expanded substantially over the last 20 years or so.

A burning trial is planned for the Phragmites within the spring vent. This area is well separated from boundary fencing.

The Fountain - vent with tall reeds (Phragmites)
The Fountain – vent with tall reeds (Phragmites)

Twelve Mile

Twelve Mile Spring has multiple vents generally dominated by Phragmites. The top vent is vegetated with Typha, a patch about 8 metres across. The vents have a low but steady flow. Cattle have accessed the fenced area recently and have had noticeable impact on the springs.

The Phragmites spring  near the station track is a good candidate for a burning trial – but only after the fence has been repaired and the spring has recovered from stock impacts.

Recent cattle damage, Twelve Mile
Recent cattle damage, Twelve Mile

Outside Springs

Outside Springs comprise a number of springs with one fenced vent and a second vent immediately alongside open to grazing. The unfenced spring varies in vegetation quality according to grazing levels. On this occasion this spring showed severe impacts, with heavy pugging and very little vegetation.

The fenced spring was observed in 2014 to be showing signs of reduced Phragmites dominance. There is now an area of open water, about 10 metres in diameter with very sparse Phragmites. Other sections have a cover of dead and collapsed Phragmites.

There is general agreement that Outside Springs should be left free of any active trials but should be monitored closely.

Open water, Outside Spring (fenced)
Open water, Outside Spring (fenced)
Grazing impacts, Outside Spring (unfenced)
Grazing impacts, Outside Spring (unfenced)

New Interpretive Signs at Strangways Springs

FOMS President Colin Harris and FOMS members Alan Williams and Bruce Gotch with four of the newly installed signs.
FOMS President Colin Harris and FOMS members Alan Williams and Bruce Gotch with four of the newly installed signs.

Visitors to Strangways Springs on the Oodnadatta Track will come away with an improved understanding of the site’s historical, cultural and ecological significance after six new interpretive signage panels were installed in July. The new signs were installed by FOMS volunteers during the field trip of July 2014.

The result of a partnership between the volunteer group Friends of Mound Springs (FOMS), the Arabana people and the SA Government, the new signs replace their aging and badly faded predecessors to tell the stories of the Overland Telegraph and the mound springs. FOMS members revised and updated the signage text while Natural Resources SA Arid Lands worked with Aaron Stuart, then Chair of the Arabana Aboriginal Corporation, to ensure the wording appropriately reflected the Arabana community’s traditional and ongoing association with the site.

The new signs were installed by FOMS members Bruce Gotch and Alan Williams on a bitterly cold July day when maximum temperatures over the inland struggled to reach double figures. The new replacement panels were funded by Natural Resources SA Arid Lands and it is hoped that they will remain serviceable for the next six to eight years.

FOMS and Natural Resources SA Arid Lands would also like to acknowledge S Kidman & Co for the considerable funding and effort they invested in the 1990s to fence the mound springs and the ruins of the repeater station.

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!

Field Trip August 2013

Bernice Cohen

After a weather-induced postponement in June, the Friends of Mound Springs 2013 field trip finally hit the road on August 5th. The main purpose of the field trip was to look at possible strategies to manage springs and their vegetation communities. There was a particular focus on the proliferation of Phragmites around those springs that have been fenced to exclude stock. The observations made on this field trip will provide valuable input into an Natural Resources SA Arid Lands project that will investigate management strategies for South Australia’s mound springs (see above item). The field trip also provided FOMS with an opportunity to meet and discuss springs management with pastoral lessees and managers.

Of course, the trip also allowed us to spend time in some of the world’s outstanding landscapes and the privilege of viewing Aboriginal rock etchings and the great Palthiri Pithi grindstone quarry. In addition, we were able to commune with some of our wildlife – particularly the flies, but also the occasional bearded dragon, dingoes, emus, a lonely kangaroo or two, galahs, corellas and an occasional wedgie. At least one of us developed some affection for the Brahmin and Brahmin-cross cattle taking advantage of recent rains and green pick on Anna Creek Station. At night under the universe’s outstanding night skies, we had the opportunity to gaze into gidgee and coolibah fires, while occasionally savouring a nip of amber fluid.

Margie Barnett, Bernice Cohen, Colin Harris, Colin Greenfield and Bruce Gotch at Billa Kalina
Margie Barnett, Bernice Cohen, Colin Harris, Colin Greenfield and Bruce Gotch at Billa Kalina

Colin Harris, Simon Lewis, Bernice Cohen, Margie Barnett and Bruce Gotch made the trip through Billa Kalina, into Anna Creek, The Peake, Nilpinna and Allandale. We visited many springs, including Billa Kalina, Frances Swamp, Big Perry, the Fountain, Twelve Mile, Outside Springs, Big Cadna-owie, Old Nilpinna and Tarlton.

We met Colin Greenfield of Billa Kalina who has voluntarily fenced some springs. He showed us a spring that has a proliferation of Phragmites. No more than 100 metres away within the same exclosure, is a second spring with no Phragmites. Colin’s view is that this represents differences in water quality. He showed us other springs that cattle have access to. One of these has been trampled and polluted, but nevertheless has a diversity of vegetation, pools of clear water and is generally very attractive.

In addition, we caught up with Jodie and Nathan Keogh, managers of The Peake and had useful discussions with them about springs and general pastoral management.

Several interesting observations were made at the springs inspected by the group. Most still showed significant growth of Phragmites but, at the Fountain and Outside Springs, there was just a hint that the Phragmites in the main vent may be dying out, with open water observed at both locations. Progress at these springs will be watched with particular interest. At Twelve Mile, recent cattle intrusion has impacted upon the Phragmites, but there is fresh growth of bulrush, Typha, at the top vent.

At Old Nilpinna, the fenced spring has virtually ceased to flow and this seems to be the result of evapotranspiration associated with prolific bamboo growth. Just outside the fenced area, another spring is flowing well and supports a large wetland. Tarlton Spring, nestling in a beautiful setting in the foothills of the Peake and Denison Range, remains almost dry. Tarlton Spring is not an artesian spring as such, but a discharge spring from the adjacent ranges. We half expected a reasonable flow at Tarlton following recent good rainfall years but this was not to be. This may just be a factor of the time taken for seepage from the range to manifest at the spring.

In general, springs that had been fenced showed significant growth of Phragmites and little or no open water. Springs exposed to cattle had significant trampling and fouling, but some of these had a range of plant species, and none were clogged with Phragmites. Clearly fencing on the one hand and grazing on the other both create their own set of management issues.

Decisions on preferred future management regimes will depend to a large extent on the value the community places on criteria such as clear open water, plant diversity and rare or endemic plant and animal species.

Maintaining the Strangways and Peake Walking Trails

In May this year a group of FOMS members and associates undertook a ten-day trip to maintain and monitor the walking trails installed in 2011 by the Friends of Mound Springs group at Strangways and the Peake, sites of enormous significance because of their natural and cultural values.

A challenging trip of more than 2,100 km on rough unsealed roads in remote areas
A challenging trip of more than 2,100 km on rough unsealed roads in remote areas

Our party was Michael (chief chef) and Grant (co-driver and chief assistant) in the Toyota Hi-lux, carrying everything you could possibly require while camping in the desert, and Bjarne and myself in the trusty Nissan X-Trail towing the very heavy A-van, full of enough supplies for 10 days. We helped to design and install walking trails at these sites on previous trips with the Friends of Mound Springs group, and this time our little group of four people in two vehicles did the monitoring and maintenance run.

This was a challenging trip of more than 2,100 km on rough unsealed roads in remote areas. We survived the full range of mud, rain, cold nights, clear skies, raging winds, a full moon, sunny days and very slow going at times. We reached our goals at Strangways and The Peake repeater stations, but not without some serious challenges.

After a slight delay starting while we renewed the battery in Michael’s fridge, we made good time to camp in Farina at sundown on the first day. We found the camp ground very crowded, as the Farina Restoration Group was in residence for 5 weeks of restoration work. This historic town is rising from the ruins to become a tourist destination with an amazing story to tell, and an inspiring group of volunteers doing an amazing job restoring the town. Most importantly, the bakery was in full swing, producing sausage rolls, apple scrolls and other delicious treats.

We set out from Marree in light rain, but it just persisted, turning the unsealed Oodnadatta Track into an endless ribbon of mud, varying only in colour. There was red mud, yellow mud and brown mud, in sticky gooey masses. It flew up in the air, onto the windscreen and roof, and plastered everything in a sticky layer. The A-van kept changing colour, and will probably never be really clean again!

We finally reached Strangways Springs after three days on the road and spent four days camped there
We finally reached Strangways Springs after three days on the road and spent four days camped there

We finally reached Strangways Springs after three days on the road and spent four days camped there. Several times we experienced stunning sunsets and sunrises, as well as the glory of the full moon rising over the desert. The open skies frequently fill with amazing clouds and light, and the desert landscapes are full of varying colours and landforms. The stars are stunning, with the full sweep of the Milky Way, but you need to look before the moon comes up and the sky is no longer dark.

Our monitoring tasks were to check the status of the walking trails at Strangways Springs and The Peake, and to renew stores of brochures for the trails at each site. Everything was in order, no maintenance work required, and the requested photopoints were taken. We did the trip to The Peake in one day, instead of moving camp, and were glad we were not towing the A-van on still muddy and often corrugated roads. Once the work was done, we were free to go walking, take photos and enjoy the gourmet menu and wines. As the sun shone and temperatures rose, we had to resort to fly nets over our hats to keep out the pesky flies.

We headed back south, stopping first to check classic mound springs at Blanche Cup and The Bubbler, and back to Farina again, before heading for our favourite place of former years, Warraweena in the northern Flinders Ranges Then back to Adelaide for a very welcome shower and comfortable bed after ten days on the road.

Postscript to the above

Colin Harris installing sign at Cutting Grass Spring
Colin Harris installing sign at Cutting Grass Spring

In an internal report to FOMS after the above trip Anne drew attention to the impact of visitors climbing to the top of Cutting Grass Spring on the Springs Walk at Strangways Springs.

Cutting Grass Spring is site no. 7 on the Springs Walk and in the brochure visitors are informed that it is named for the occurrence of cutting grass, Gahnia trifida, a disjunct plant of the mound springs, the nearest other occurrence being many hundreds of kilometres away in south eastern Australia. The brochure also asks people not to climb to the top, the mound being steep and fragile and not having an open pool on its summit.

In spite of this advice Anne had noticed that people were climbing the spring and she recommended an on-site sign to reinforce the message in the brochure. Given the perceived urgency FOMS organised the immediate printing of a temporary sign and this was installed in mid-June this year by a small FOMS party. A permanent sign, with a lower profile, will be installed as soon as possible.

FOMS volunteers construct trails at Strangways and the Peake

FOMS members had a busy time in May 2011 establishing a series of walking trails at Strangways Springs and the Peake. Both sites are of national importance because of their combination of mound springs and ruins of Overland Telegraph repeater stations.

FOMS has been involved in protective works at the two locations for the last three years. FOMS has worked with S Kidman & Co and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in the installation of protective fencing and informative signage. Much of the recent protective work has focussed on the Peake, where fencing was constructed in 2010 to prevent indiscriminate vehicle access to the nearby gidgee creek-line. This complemented earlier work by FOMS volunteers (in 2008) to establish bollards around the main car-park.

In 2010 FOMS was fortunate to secure a State Government community NRM grant of $9,600 to complete this work by establishing self-guided walks through the springs and other cultural features at both Strangways and the Peake, an initiative which had been previously suggested to FOMS by S Kidman & Co Managing Director Greg Campbell. During 2010 there were two trips by FOMS personnel to determine the routes for the walking trails.

The project came to a climax in May this year when 26 FOMS volunteers gathered on site with mattocks, rakes and scrapers to develop, as well as blisters and sore backs, a total of about 6 km of walking trails. The group was guided by trail construction experts Rob Marshall and Dr Sue Barker, with trail markers established at points of interest and brochures prepared to guide walkers around the trail loops.

Many thanks go to the following helpers who made it all possible:

Strangways volunteers

  • Rob Marshall
  • Sue Barker
  • Colin Harris
  • Simon Lewis
  • Tiana Forrest
  • Bernice Cohen
  • Hadyn and Chris Hanna
  • Leigh and John Childs
  • Bill Giles
  • Anne and Bjarne Jensen
  • Michael Jarvis
  • John Balkwill

Peake volunteers

  • Rob Marshall
  • Sue Barker
  • Colin Harris
  • Simon Lewis
  • Tiana Forrest
  • Elaine Smyth
  • Leigh and John Childs
  • Sue Black
  • Bruce and Sherrie Gotch
  • Margie Barnett
  • Alan and Marlene Swinstead
  • Dean and Marian Harris
  • Brendan and Elizabeth Lay
During the Strangways work the group had a brief visit from DENR’s Regional Manager Geoff Axford, along with Janet Walton from the SA Arid Lands NRM Board. On the same day a convoy comprising Roger Wickes, Peter Allen and Andrew McTaggart and partners also dropped in. The camp-fire was quite crowded that night! The visitors had a quick guided tour over the walking trails and provided some positive feedback.

There are now three walks at each location. At Strangways, the Mound Springs Walk takes visitors on a 1.8km walk around several active springs and the cemetery; the Woolwash Walk (2.2km) ventures down to the ruins of the wool-scouring plant and back along the springs plateau; and the Settlement Walk is guided by signs identifying each of the buildings. At the Peake, the Coppertop Smelter and Mine Walk (1.5km) explores the old mine and smelter and provides sweeping vistas of the springs and ruins on the return loop; the Creek and Cemetery Walk provides a short 0.6km loop along the watercourse; and the Settlement Walk showcases the old buildings.

Heather and Tracey Mahon, the first to sample the brochures at Strangways
Heather and Tracey Mahon, the first to sample the brochures at Strangways

The completion of the physical works in May paved the way for finalisation of three FOMS brochures – one each for the Strangways and Peake walks and a third with general information on mound springs. The brochures are of a high quality and the input and assistance of a number of FOMS members was very much appreciated.

Twelve thousand brochures have been printed and 4000 were transported to the on-site dispensers by Colin Harris and Simon Lewis 7-10 August 2011.

Pictured are the first visitors to use the brochures at Strangways Springs on 8 August, Heather and Tracey Mahon from Sydney.

This work effectively completes a major and very successful project for FOMS at Strangways and the Peake, although ongoing maintenance of the trails will be needed and the brochures will need to be topped up from time to time.

Many thanks again to all who have contributed, especially the FOMS members who worked tirelessly on the construction of the trails. Special thanks are extended to Rob Marshall and Dr Sue Barker, walking trails experts who generously contributed a great deal of time and effort before, during and after the construction work. The high standard of the completed work is in no small measure due to their commitment and expertise.