Day 4 - new discoveries, and questions that need answering!

Today our plan was to cross the sand dunes travelling in an easterly direction towards the large saltpan to our east. We were all up at 6.00 am and after breakfast I set out with Monica and Boyd to check on the pit traps I had set up with Boyd the night before. We were lucky to find a Bynoe’s Gecko (Heteronotia binoiai) in one trap and an Inland Sandy Desert Mouse in another. There was also a very large Inland Desert Mouse in one trap which I tried to capture for weighing but it ran up my arm and escaped.

Michael Checking the pitfall traps

Checking the pit traps

After loading the camels we set off early and were quickly walking along the sand ridges between the swales always keeping an eye on the camel train. There were many Crimson Chats around and some Cockatiels, Budgerigars, Horsfield Bronze Cuckoos, White-winged Fairy Wrens, Variegated Fairy Wrens, Banded Whitefaces, Pied Honeyeaters, Singing Honeyeaters, White-browed Babblers, White Winged Trillers, Black Faced Woodswallows, Zebra Finches, Nankeen Kestrals, Rufous and Ground Songlarks, the Mistletoe Bird and the Australian Raven. None of these species were new and had been observed on previous days except for the Mistletoe Bird.

Michael The Crimson Chat

The Crimson Chat

At lunch time, we stopped at a site that was in a low depression and had many remnant stone cutting edges indicating human habitation in the past. There was no evidence of mikiri but we felt that these low depressions might be the most likely region where these water wells could appear.

Michael Fragment of ancient cutting tool

Fragment of ancient cutting tool

We were fortunate to discover a Wedgetail Eagle’s nest with the bones of many small mammals surrounding the nest.

Michael The Wedgetail Eagles nest

The Wedgetail Eagles nest

After lunch and crossing several steeper sand dunes, we arrived at the northern end of the saltpan and made camp 4 (S 45 degrees 43.397 minutes, E 138 04.621 minutes). By this stage, walking was getting very tiring on account of the heat (it must have been around 30 degrees!!) and the camels were getting a little tired. We set up camp in a lovely swale surrounded by Gidgee bushes. As the afternoon progressed it became cooler and milder.

If you are reading this Steph apologies that I have not been able to skype you. I did try on several occasions; however, the opportunity to skype is limited to the time when we can connect remotely to the satellite using the satellite internet modem. I will try and skype out in the field tomorrow night when you are at home or in Adelaide at the hotel when I return with the group on the 25th of July in the afternoon. If there any questions to ask from any of your Year 8 students or any other students at the school, choose a selection of the best questions. Andrea our Earthwatch leader will then email you via your edumail and you can reply with the best student questions.

As a learning activity, students in my Year 10 Science class can research the Lake Eyre Basin and find out about the geography and geology of this part of Australia. They can then research the different species of reptiles, mammals, plants and birds we have observed (see my blog page for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday) and find out about their status:

•  Are any of these species vulnerable or endangered? 
•  Has the Mistletoe we found on the Gidgee Bush been identified and classified? 
•  Why does this parasitic plant imitate the foliage of the Gidgee Bush if there does not appear to be any large herbiviores in the desert (the feral camels were only introduced at the turn of the last century so this would not have given these plants enough time to evolve these adaptations that protect them from predators by the processes of natural selection)?
 •  Explain how natural selection occurs using this plant as a case study. Could this be an adaptation that conferred an advantage to the plant at the time of the megafauna?
•  Research some of the megafauna that might have lived in this region in the past. Research the indigenous history of this region.
•  What was the name of the Aboriginal people that lived in the Simpson Desert?
•  What was the name of the aboriginal people that lived in the Simpson Desert?
What are some of the specific adaptations of the Gidgee Bush (Acacia georgianae)?

Some questions for other classes to answer are:

•   Describe how the pitfall traps can capture small reptiles and mammals. What materials are used to make these traps?
•  Why do we weigh the animals we catch?
•  What do we need to be careful of when checking and putting our hands down into the trap?
•  Why do we set them up on the crest of a sand dune?
•  Why are we setting these traps?
What might we discover and how would this benefit scientific research?