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In the heart of the Mulga Lands Bioregion, Bowra is renowned as a hotspot for inland Australia’s threatened birdlife and one of the country’s most rewarding birdwatching destinations.
The hills and plains of central western Queensland and New South Wales were, in living memory, covered by a huge blanket of woodland, frequented by Bridled Nailtail Wallabies, Bilbies, Western Quoll and Burrowing Bettongs, all now extinct in the region.
Bowra, with its intact vegetation structure and permanent waterholes, provides an oasis of integrity – a refuge for declining wildlife and an ecological foundation from which to help rebuild the region’s once dazzling wildlife community.
Situated just northwest of Cunnamulla in central southern Queensland, Bowra extends from the flood plain of the Warrego River with its Gidgee, Poplar Box and Cypress woodlands, westward through riparian stands of Coolabah and River Red Gum to dissected tablelands and low rocky hills of Mulga woodland.
The patchwork of woodlands, shrublands, grasslands and riparian vegetation provides both breeding habitat and drought refuge for an impressive diversity of semi-arid wildlife, with a particularly rich community of birds.
Bowra supports over 300 species of native vertebrate animals including a number of species near their eastern or western range limits, such as the Striated Grasswren, Blue-Winged Parrot, Desert Spadefoot Toad, Striped Skink, Pebble Dragon and Little Red Flying-Fox. The diversity of species is a consequence of the sanctuary’s location, straddling both the Warrego River Plains and the West Warrego ecological provinces, and the associated suite of habitats.
22 native mammal species have been positively identified in recent surveys of Bowra, with a further 5 species likely. Populations of small native mammals like the Gile’s Planigale, Stripe-faced Dunnart and Central Short Tailed Mouse, fluctuate in response to the irregular rainfall, but populations of the larger wallabies and kangaroos are more consistent.
The bird fauna at Bowra is prolific (>200 species) and includes nine threatened species. All four species of Australian babblers are present and the rare Grey Falcon breeds on the sanctuary.
Reptiles are well represented with over 60 species, from the large and obvious Gould’s Goanna to the scarce and secretive Yakka Skink and a range of tree dwelling gekkos.
Burrowing and water-holding frogs inhabit sandy soils while more conventional frogs frequent the waterholes.
AWC is the only conservation organisation to measure in a robust scientific manner the ecological health of a network of sanctuaries. At Bowra, we undertake more than 2,400 live trap nights each year – plus 20 vegetation surveys, 180 bird surveys and at least 500 camera trap nights annually - to measure a suite of ecological health indicators including:
Our measurement of these indicators will provide rigorous scientific data which will enable us to track the ecological health of Bowra. However, since populations of many semi-arid species vary strongly with the irregular rainfall, it may take several years of consistent surveys to establish meaningful patterns related to changes in ecological health.
Our field programs at Bowra are focused on feral animal control (pigs, goats, foxes) and the measurement of ecological health. The level of weed infestation is low and fire management, while important, does not require the same level of investment as in wetter areas or spinifex dominated arid environments.
The Warrego River rises in the Great Dividing Range, north of Charleville in central Queensland, and flows south to join the Darling River near Bourke in NSW. The river flows only during large and intermittent floods (about once in 2 years on average) but over time has scoured a wide and shallow valley through a low plateau of flat lying layers of Cretaceous sediments. In flood periods, one branch of the Warrego runs through Bowra as Gumholes Creek, eventually joining the Paroo River to the west.
Bowra occupies part of both the plateau and the river plain country. The plateau, being 10 metres higher than the river flat, relies entirely on the intermittent and scarce local rainfall of about 350 mm per year on average. The soil here is dissected, stony, heavily leached and infertile, but supports a hardy Mulga community which is beautifully adapted to these trying conditions.
The eastern part of Bowra occupies the flood plain of the Warrego River. Here the deeper alluvial sands and clays are watered by occasional floods as well as local rainfall. They support a mosaic of grasslands and open forest communities. During drier times, the more clay-rich soils crack and provide important hiding places for small mammals and reptiles on an otherwise flat and exposed ground layer.
A total of 226 native plant species from 53 families have been recorded on Bowra, though these numbers are expected to increase significantly with further survey work.
Bowra supports 15 distinct ecosystems (as defined by the Queensland Government), some of which are otherwise not formally reserved. Four of these ecosystems occur on the dissected tops and residual slopes in the west of the sanctuary. There are two structurally distinct associations of Mulga and Poplar Gum, and two further types of Acacia shrublands.
Eleven ecosystems occur on the lower alluvium in the east of the sanctuary. They include two grassland ecosystems, a River Redgum association, Elegant Wattle ecosystem on levees, Gidgee in old braided streams, Coolibah woodlands, a Cypress Pine and Acacia woodland and three distinct Mulga ecosystems.
Bowra receives around 300 visitors between the months of March and November each year, the majority of who stay in built accommodation at Bowra or in caravans in the camping area. Birds Queensland volunteers operate and maintain the campground and residences on behalf of AWC.
AWC works in collaboration with Birds Queensland at Bowra.
AWC land management staff visit Bowra on a regular basis to implement feral animal control and undertake infrastructure maintenance. Repairs and maintenance to roads, fences and buildings is carried out predominantly during the cooler months. AWC field ecologists visit Bowra to conduct research and undertake ecological health surveys.
Birds Queensland provide volunteer caretakers who reside at Bowra on a rotational basis. Their primary responsibility is to manage the visitor program.