Way out in the Gibson desert, not far from Lake MacKay, at the end of a long day crossing the desert at an average speed of 20kph, I came upon an old man sitting by a campfire . His back leaned against the tyre of an ancient troopy. He was cooking something that smelled good. It was kangaroo stew and damper.
He introduced himself as Pete, and invited me to join him for a meal, which I accepted cheerfully, bringing out some canned fruit and creamed rice from my stock as a dessert offering.
His stew was really good. His damper was unexpectedly extraordinary. It tasted like the best sourdough bread I’ve ever had. Damper is usually made from self raising flour or using baking powder. I complimented Pete on the bread, and he told me he used raisins to make a starter dough. It seems the yeasts naturally found on the dried fruit were perfect for making bread. The starter fermented all day in the hot car as he travelled and was ready to bake in the camp oven at the end of every day.
He showed me how it was done. He opened an old pack, pulled out a bag of raisins, mixed some with flour and water in an old Tupperware container, and put it on the bonnet of his Troopy ready for the next day. Then he put the raisins beside the container on the bonnet. We sat down to share dessert.
As we ate, there was a whir of wings and a large crow landed on the car. Without hesitation, it grabbed the bag of dried fruit and flew away with it.
Pete watched the bird fly away with the resigned acceptance of one who is used to the vagaries and tragedies of life. “Ah.” he said philosophically. “There goes my raisins for leavening”.
I was sitting quietly, reading, when from somewhere nearby I heard what seemed to be a duck quacking in synchronised time with the frogs in the trees outside. At least, it sounded very like a duck. The call was so constant I figured it had to really be a frog. Besides, there are no ducks here. I was excited. This might be another new species for me.
It was very close by. I could tell. I grabbed a torch and a camera, just in case I spotted it, and went outside. Everywhere I searched, the sound seemed to come from somewhere else. But it never stopped. The little bugger wouldn’t shut up.
No matter where I looked the call always seemed to be coming from the other side of the caravan. Then I realised it was actually inside the caravan. This was exciting. I hurried back in to search for it.
Then I realised it was a duck. Coming from my iPad. I had set the alarm to remind me to take my evening antibiotic. The alarm sound was “duck”. I had forgotten.
My mind, once as sharp as a really, really sharp thingy, is definitely slowing down.
It’s exactly what those wacky scientists in Jurassic Parkreallywish they’d had…
Paleontologists working in Myanmar have found what appears to be a new species of dinosaur namedOculudentavis khaungraae. Among seven specimens bound in fossilized amber was a complete skull, including soft tissue. It is about 100 million years old.
Oculudentaviswas about the size of one of today’s bee hummingbirds, the smallest bird. Its mouth was full of sharp teeth, and it is probably an ancestor of today’s birds.
Its small size is believed to be due in part to island dwarfism, by which diminutive individuals are selected by the isolated conditions and limited resources.
I don’t think it is an olive python. I was fooled by the colour and lack of distinct pattern. No olives have been reported in this area. Their range is much further north. The only python reported on Bribie is the carpet python, Morelia spilota. That was my first guess, but I found no pictures of juveniles of a plain olive colour. So I guessed again. Probably wrong.
I finally got a good look at the furtive nocturnal visitor I first spotted back in November. I have caught a glimpse of it a few times since, always late at night, but never clearly enough to identify. This time I had a good look in the light from across the way at about 04:30 this morning. The typical white tipped tail was the final clue. It is not a possum, a bettong or a potoroo. I was looking in the wrong checklists. It is not even marsupial, though it is native.
It’s a rakali. The Australian native water rat. Hydromyschrysogaster.
At dinner last night I had cut the skin and fat from my lamb steak and put it out for the goanna or turkey – whichever found it first.
The rustling I heard early this morning was neither the stealthy creep of a goanna nor the heedless blundering of a turkey, but the far more furtive and hesitant sound I associated with my so far unidentified friend. I rose quietly, grabbed a camera and limped carefully to the door. I peered out through the magnetised flyscreen. I could see the visitor quite clearly in the dim light, eating the rind of my evening meal. At first I thought it was a large ferret or a stoat but I could see webbed feet and a long white tip on the tail. I tried to quietly open the flyscreen curtain for a photo, but it rattled and the creature was gone.
The details I had seen, plus the fact it eats meat, helped me find it on line. Then I checked and found it is listed as commonly found on Bribie.