Wow. What a year so far!
Our base of operations was Home Valley Station on the Gibb River Road
Only a couple of weeks ago, my invitation was made official to join a team of scientists and researchers in one of the most remote places on earth, the Kimberley of Western Australia. I had two jobs, thanks to Dr Mike Hammer of the Museum and Art Gallery of the NT. Bush Blitz invited me to photograph and film (I mostly got film) the people and discoveries on this trip, as well as help Mike and his counterpart Glenn from Museum WA with fish research. It was a crazy two weeks of enormous days and loads to see and do.
Flying cars… check! Helicopters were our main form of transport. There are no roads most of the time.
A normal day for me was getting up at 0530 and not finishing work until 2230, hardly stopping at all. The days were spent in the field catching animals and photographing/interviewing/filming everyone I possily could, while the nights were spent in our field lab organising media, getting wrap-up footage and photographing any fish and turtles that managed to get back.
Dr Michael Hammer with Kath and Buster looking at specimens
One of the strangest discoveries was made by yours truly. One morning I awoke, stumbled over to the shower block and found in interesting butterfly on the wall. I put it in a jar on the Entomology desk in our makeshift lab. That night at dinner, one of the Entomologists asked who put the butterfly on the desk. Apparently it was a brand new species for WA, the Chrome Awl. A small, fast shiny skipper type butterfly it was a happy accident to find it and the first new butterfly for WA in 10 years! I have no pictures as they promptly made it into a specimen before I had a chance.
The lab was a buzz of activity. Here, scientific photographer Rob Whyte is at work with some specimens to photograph
This post will focus on a bunch of people and location shots. Next up we start on the wildlife.
You can see how remote this country is. No roads or even tracks of any kind over most of it.
Just getting into these places was crazy. Helicopters were the only realistic option, cars might take weeks to find a track into just one of these. By track I mean making one. Walking would take longer. A typical flight would be 50km or more from base.
The gorges were plentiful, spectacular and unexplored. This is the approach to the secret and newly named “Cat’s Eye Pool” named by our pilot Dan.
A HDR image of upper Cat’s Eye Pool. The colours were so intense here that only HDR would do it justice.
This is upper Cat’s Eye Pool. This water was ridiculously pure and only had a few creatures living in it. Leeches, shrimps and insects were plentiful but nothing else was noted.
A HDR view of Cat’s Eye Pool
…However the lower pool was crammed with rainbowfish and mogurndas. Also a croc or two. Didn’t stop us getting in to collect specimens…
Let’s just say that it was all totally worth it. We worked hard to catch the fish in the most unlikely way…
Glenn giving it his all. Despite the unlikely method, we managed to collect a bunch of rainbowfish this way.
The rainbowfish in this pool were of a type new to science. Similar to the Exquisite of Kakadu/Katherine area I will show pictures in the next post. We tried all sorts of methods like coaxing them towards a gillnet, then surrounding a school (which all swam right through it!) before we settled on the “swim at them at full speed with a ridiculously tiny scoop net” which did the job!
Oomooloo Falls, the locality for the mystery turtle, the Kimberley Rock monitor and a great site for the new rainbowfish. However it is FULL of crocodiles, so far only the small Johnson’s Crocodile. I counted 26. Swimming was fun in here…
Obviously there was much more. Oomooloo Falls was a popular spot. In the two excursions there I managed to catch an unusual turtle (see the next post), a Kimberley Rock Monitor and the fish team caught a load of the new rainbowfish. The slightly unnerving thing was the huge number of Johnson’s (freshwater) crocodiles. Though normally harmless they have been known to bite people, sometimes without an obvious reason. I had 26 of them in the water with me (well, I counted 26!) Let’s say it is a little spooky when everyone else flatly refuses to get in with you.
…Well some got in, though reluctantly. This is seine netting the rainbowfish.
Boabs were plentiful in the gorge country
Mike and Glenn electro fishing
Because I was on the “fish team” most of my time was spent with them. We went to some amazing spots like Durack Falls which was a gold mine for endemic grunter species. See the next post for more details.
Durack Falls was a total hotspot for many fish species
The Pentecost estuary was great at sunset. That is the Chamberlain Range
Working with the local Indigenous community was central to our operation. They were fantastic with helping us with everything we asked for, and as a result of Bush Blitz they are aware of a bunch of cultural sites that had been lost to history. They were a fun group, and they came along on many of our activities. I had fun fishing with Aunty Gene and LJ in a gorge. The fishing was so good we had no trouble catching black bream (Western sooty grunter) and archer fish on lures made from bits of plastic bag! Community Day was a time of relaxing and celebrating with them. We spent much of the time sitting around chatting, fishing and playing football.
Meeting with the Traditional Owners was vital. They are just out of frame
On the community day we hung out with the Traditional Owners on the river bank
Catfish are prized on the table in Indigenous communities
The kids had a blast
We had an open day where students from Kunnunurra and Wyndham came over to see botany and zoology work first-hand.
One of the “local” schools sent out students for our open day. Here are some on the hunt for insects
It was great fun. Anyway, stay tuned for the next post on the actual species we found…