Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Megafauna! And ... where's the water? Bool Lagoon in 2009

Megafauna! He's diprotodon, a rhino-scaled (extinct!) marsupial, closely related to the wombat.
The exhibit is set up in a cavern ... a dark one! ... behind/under the Wonambi Fossil Centre. These flash shots
make it look bright -- it's not; strange creatures loom up out of the gloom. Cool!
Here's what Wikipedia says about this guy: "Zygomaturus trilobus was a smaller (bullock-sized, about two
metres long by one metre high) diprotodontid that may have had a short trunk. It appears to have lived
in wetlands, using two fork-like incisors to shovel up reeds and sedges for food."
The info boards around the display are really neat -- designed to be like
pages from the notebooks of a research scientist in the field...
He's Procoptodon, what they call a "short-faced kangaroo," and tree-browsing, which means he has some of the
characteristics of a koala. Very odd indeed ... and very big!
It's over to Wikipedia to put a caption on this one! Here's what they say of this guy:
"Varanus priscus (formerly Megalania prisca) was a giant, carnivorous goanna that might have grown
to as long as 7 metres (23 feet), and weighed up to 1,940 kilograms (Molnar, 2004)."
And this beast was a giant tapir, over eight feet long -- Palorchestes
He's either a Tasmanian Devil, or very similar: a carnivorous marsupial. 
Back into the sunlight, on our way to a self-guided treat: Naracoorte's Wet Cave.
Visitors clamber down somewhat daunting flights of steps. Its quite steep, but safe -- perhaps not for
people with vertigo problems, or trick knees! 
The floor of the cave is almost tropical: it's humid, and the part where the
sun slants in is home to tree ferns and lizards.
Deeper into the Wet Cave, water and limestone have worked their magic...
one is almost on the lookout for Shelob.
Turn around and look back -- it's like a scene from The Lost World!
... or perhaps A Journey to the Center of the Earth. It was exotically lovely down there.
This cave is open, you amble about at whim ... and it's big. Here's Dave, for a sense of scale...
As you go deeper yet, the ceiling comes down and there's a marvelous gallery with fantastic acoustics.
Starting to feel the need for lunch, we thought -- "Picnic at Bool Lagoon," and hit the road...
The land up top is very dry ... now we know where all that water goes!
On the access road to Bool Lagoon, the land gets even drier. The word is arid. Parched. Barren.
And flat. Not quite as flat as Kansas, of course, but ... no flying houses, either.
Mother Nature is sending us messages: the weather is changing. The forecast it all in that sky.
Bool Lagoon. You're looking at it. Something's missing ... like, the water!
A snapshot of one of the illustrations on the info board. This is what it's supposed to look like --
Wetlands? Really? Waterbirds?! Uh ... not this season, folks!
But birds are not the only critters living here. We actually saw one of these -- heading as fast as he could
away from the weird humans, way too fast to be photographed.
Fields of reeds stretch to a distant horizon, but not a bird was to be seen, nor even heard. Well, dang.
So -- how about lunch, instead? That's not Lola. That's the trusty old Holden Camira we had for a long, long
time before she quite literally reached the end of the road. We had miles and miles of fun in that little car. 
The picnic/camping ground was bright and fragrant with glorious flowering native trees. Ker-choo!
One side of the camping ground borders a paddock, with a flock of inquisitive sheep hugging the shade.
The other side of the camping ground ought to be the lake, with the water birds. 
Suitably refueled, we hiked the walking trail through the "wetlands," looking for those birds ... any birds...
You can see why we'd had high hopes! Because these "flats" should have been lakes --
This is actually the lake bed. A couple of years later, we returned to Bool Lagool, and this was flooded --
birds galore. Also, that time, "horizontal rain" that froze your bone marrow!
Our tickets were in Dave's wallet for the guided tour of the Victoria Fossil Cave, so --
time to hit the road for the drive back to Naracoorte!

Behind -- or beneath -- the Wonambi Fossil Centre is a fantastic standing exhibit of prehistoric Australia. Usually, it's dinosaurs that get people excited, but it would be fairly hair-raising to be chased by a 23-foot, flesh eating goanna tipping the scales at two tonnes!

The exhibit is set up in a dim, dim cavern, so that strange creatures loom up; it simulates night very realistically. Most of these creatures would have been nocturnal, like modern-day kangaroos and koalas, so you're seeing them in their natural setting. There's also a very realistic audio component, with speakers set in the underbrush, and in the warrens, burrows and caves off to the side. You can really believe creatures are moving, hissing, growling there.

Sorting the images for this post -- close to five years after they were captured -- Jade spent a half hour on a Wikipedia page, identifying the animals. If you're interested, you must check this out.

After Wonambi we were getting hungry, so we decided to head over to Bool Lagoon Game Reserve for lunch and bird spotting. Bool offers supposedly just about the finest wetlands in the state. Wellll ... not this season. It was absolutely dry in March 2009. We even hiked out by the walking trails, hoping to see birds, but they were elsewhere. (A couple of years later we returned to this location, and it was flooded; a million birds were on the water ... the sky was low with an incoming weather front, and when the rain began it was "sideways," and like ice! Light levels,then, were so low, photography was practically impossible. We haven't -- yet -- had good luck at Bool Lagoon.)

So, a picnic lunch appeared from the trunk of the dear old Camira (which has by now gone the way of almost all cars, replaced by Lola, the Mitsubishi Magna, and the Millennium Possum itself). A flock of recently-shorn sheep looked on, and then --

Time to be moving, to be back at the Victoria Fossil Cave in time for the guided tour! And that's where we're going in the next post.

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