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Kalamurina is a vast desert wilderness, stretching from the north shore of Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre to the southern boundary of the Simpson Desert reserves. It is a property of exceptional conservation values, covering a remarkable 667,000 hectares (1.7 million acres) at the intersection of three of Australia’s central deserts: the Simpson, the Tirari and Sturt’s Stony Desert.
Of particular significance, Kalamurina captures a large and ecologically significant area of the Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre catchment. The Warburton Creek, with its origins in the Channel Country of Queensland, meanders through Kalamurina, converging with the Macumba River and Kallakoopah Creek before flowing into Lake Eyre. Over 65% of the water that enters Lake Eyre travels through Kalamurina. Here is the key to the diversity of wildlife on Kalamurina – the convergence of three of central Australia’s most important rivers to form an intricate and unique pattern of habitats.
Spanning over 140 kilometres from east to west, Kalamurina features vast, spectacular dunefields, a network of freshwater and saline lakes, riparian and floodplain habitats and small gibber plains. It provides refuge for a diversity of desert wildlife including the Crest-tailed Mulgara (Ampurta), the Dusky Hopping Mouse, the Eyrean Grasswren and the regionally endemic Lake Eyre Dragon.
Australia has the worst mammal extinction rate in the world. The geographic focus for many of these extinctions has been central Australia, including the region around Lake Eyre. Kalamurina itself was once home to species such as the Lesser Bilby and the Pig-footed Bandicoot, mammals that are now presumed extinct (the last evidence of a Lesser Bilby was collected in the 1960’s in the Simpson Desert).
Kalamurina remains a stronghold for several threatened and declining mammals including the Crest-tailed Mulgara (Ampurta), a small carnivorous marsupial. The Crest-tailed Mulgara is common on Kalamurina, living in burrows amongst the sand dunes and emerging at night to hunt. The Dusky Hopping Mouse is one of at least two species of Hopping Mice on Kalamurina, while other small mammals include the Kultarr and possibly the Kowari.
In times of plenty, after the Warburton has flooded, native Long-haired Rats arrive in massive numbers. The rats attract predators including the Letter-winged Kite, Australia’s only nocturnal raptor. The floodwaters also attract an enormous variety of waterbirds. This is when the wildlife of Kalamurina is at its most dramatic: tens of thousands of pelicans, ibis, spoonbills, waders and many species of duck congregate along the Warburton Creek floodplain, as the life-giving floodwaters meander between towering red sand dunes toward Lake Eyre.
The iconic Eyrean Grasswren, rediscovered on Kalamurina after it had not been seen for more than 50 years, and the cryptic Grey Grasswren are two desert specials sure to delight birdwatchers on Kalamurina. Red-capped Robins, Painted Finches, Cockatiels, Budgerigars and Orange Chats add colour to the arid environment.
The reptile fauna at Kalamurina is also impressive, with at least 80 species including the Woma Python, the endemic Lake Eyre Dragon and the Thorny Devil.
AWC is the only conservation organisation to measure, in a robust scientific manner, the ecological health of a network of sanctuaries in Australia. At Kalamurina, we undertake more than 3,000 live trap nights across more than 30 sites every two years. We also undertake more than 3,000 camera trap nights, over 30 site-based vegetation surveys, more than 50 bird surveys and a series of tracking surveys each year to measure a suite of ecological health indicators including:
Our performance against these indicators provides rigorous scientific data which enables us to track the ecological health of Kalamurina.
Across much of Kalamurina, the landscape is characterised by a variety of spectacular, wind formed dunes which stretch from horizon to horizon over an essentially flat claypan. A series of elongated parallel dunes oriented to the north-northwest dominate the eastern side of the sanctuary. Dune length varies widely, but some run continuously for over 20 kilometres. These massive dunes are up to 18 metres high and can be 100 metres wide at the base.
On the western side of the property, north of the Macumba River, crescent and parallel dunes have branched out and reconnected to form an intricate, irregular pattern with a much less pronounced northerly elongation. Of particular interest, the property contains both red sand dunes and white sand dunes: elsewhere in the Simpson-Strzelecki Deserts, the sand dunes are a deep red.
Numerous large claypans ranging in size from a few hectares to several thousand hectares are scattered across the landscape. These pans, euphemistically called lakes, are briefly inundated after rare local rainfall.
The defining features of the property, however, are the three desert rivers and the north shore of Lake Eyre. Lake Eyre is the largest lake in Australia and the fifth largest terminal lake in the world, highlighting the national and international significance of the region.
The Warburton Creek is the major source of water for the Lake. Large flows in the Warburton originate from flooding rains in northwest and central Queensland, taking around a month to travel over 1,000 kilometres before arriving in the Warburton Creek on Kalamurina. The Warburton meanders across Kalamurina for over 100 kilometres before, joined by the Macumba River, it enters Lake Eyre through the Warburton Groove.
The floodplain of the Warburton Creek on Kalamurina is, in places, several kilometres wide. Major floods create a dramatic splash of green ephemeral growth through the middle of the desert, attracting waterbirds from across the continent. Combined with the inland sea of Lake Eyre, this is one of Australia’s most spectacular natural events.
The Kalamurina section of the Warburton Creek is the only stretch of this nationally significant waterway that is managed for conservation, emphasising the crucial importance of Kalamurina. The Warburton Creek flows, on average, every two years. However, major floods which provide water to Lake Eyre occur, on average, only every 5 – 10 years.
The acquisition of Kalamurina linked Lake Eyre and the Simpson Desert Reserves, creating a contiguous protected area larger than Tasmania.
Locally, the climate on Kalamurina is harsh. Average annual rainfall is less than 150 mm, while summer temperatures regularly exceed 45 degrees Celsius.
Local rainfall supports thinly scattered Sandhill Canegrass communities over the dunes and chenopod communities in the clay inter-dunes. Floodwaters from the Diamantina, Finke and Georgina river catchments, originating hundreds of kilometres away, join to nourish the floodplains of the Warburton, Kallakoopah and Macumba Rivers which support narrow corridors of Coolibah and lignum woodlands and shrublands.
Located in the Simpson-Strzelecki Dunes Bioregion, and incorporating a small section of the Channel Country Bioregion, Kalamurina contains a diversity of ecosystems – vast dunefields, a network of freshwater and saline lakes, desert woodlands, gibber plains, and riparian and floodplain habitats.
In the dunefields, Sandhill Canegrass is the primary species on dune crests and flanks, accompanied by a variety of widely spaced shrubs and herbs including Saltbush, Velvet-leafed hibiscus, and legumes. Some dune flanks also support areas of tall open shrubland consisting of widely separated Sanddune wattle, Colony wattle and Hakea.
Where dunes are closely spaced, sand covers the underlying soils and vegetation is similar to the dune flanks. Where dunes are widely spaced, clay soils are exposed, and the vegetation is often chenopod shrubland composed of Acacia Victoriae, Saltbushes, Eremophila, Green Bird Flower, Bluebush, Acacia Oswaldi and several desert grasses.
The banks and floodplains of larger watercourses are covered by low open woodlands with Coolabah, Lignum, Old Man Saltbush, River Cooba (another wattle), Groundsel, Rat’s tailed couch grass, samphire and others.
The salt lakes are unvegetated (except for algae when flooded), but their immediate surrounds carry a low open shrubland of samphire species and Frankenia. Nitrebush, various saltbushes and bluebushes occur further from the shoreline.
There are small areas of spinifex country and also gibber plains.
Mark and Tess McLaren are the resident managers of Kalamurina, assisted at times by visiting land managers and volunteers. Mark and Tess have long experience in central Australia which has given them a good understanding of its wildlife and ecosystems and an appreciation of the practicalities of remote area management. The science team is led by Dr David Roshier (AWC Regional Ecologist) and includes a team of ecologists from the south-east region.
In addition, there are a number of seasonal staff, students, interns and long-term volunteers who assist in delivering the science and land management program at Kalamurina.
It is possible to visit Kalamurina on an Outback Spirit tour between April and October: see www.outbackspirittours.com.au. The Outback Spirit visit includes an interpretive walk with an AWC staff member.
Outback Spirit are valuable partners of AWC, supporting conservation across our network of sanctuaries.
Self-sufficient campers are also welcome betweeen April and August in designated camp sites on the eastern side of the property. Bookings are essential and there are conditions of access to help us protect the sanctuary. For more information please contact Mark or Tess on 08 8675 8310 or email email@example.com