15-17 June: Lake Wagan Wagan (Nuga Nuga)

Author: Mr A

Location: Lake Nuga Nuga, Arcadia Valley, Central Queensland Highlands, Australia

After the (relative) busyness of Carnarvon Gorge, the tranquility of our next stop was a sharp and welcome contrast.

We camped on the shores of the largest natural body of water within the Central Queensland sandstone belt – Wargan Wargan Lake, what us white folk have now called Lake Nuga Nuga.

We acknowledge the Karingbal and Brown River people as the custodians of this mesmerisingly beautiful land. Their burial sites were found in the 1950s around the lake, and were systematically raided over the next decade, until now nothing remains. Can you imagine the uproar if First Nations people had wandered into cemeteries in the 1960s and dug up graves looking for some trinkets to display on their coffee tables? Finally, in the 1980s there was at least some public support for protecting these and other archeological sites. This lake was said to have been created in the Dreaming (the creation of life) by a pair of Mundagarri (Rainbow Serpents) to ‘keep their skin wet’.

Our secluded campsite – nearest neighbours are 250 metres away across the other side of the island – just how we like it!
Perfect bouncing posture

The lake glittered in the late afternoon sun, and we set off to wander around its edges with long lenses and spotting scopes in hand. Lake Nuga Nuga is listed in the National Directory of Important Australian Wetlands. and we could immediately see the rich diversity of bird life it supported. But wait, not just birds, what was that pile of waving legs on a tree trunk?

“Hey, stop hogging the diving board, others want a turn too, you know”

She was trying to ignore the flapping wings of the Little Black Cormorant uncomfortably close behind him. Officially known, we discovered, as a Krefft’s River Turtle (named after the museum curator who sent the first sample to the British Museum for investigation). we would see an number of others soaking up the sun around the lake. Clearly a healthy eco-system here.

A topple of turtles – the bigger ones are females
Krefft’s River Turtles love sunbathing

A plethora of other birds were soon in our sights. White-throated and Striped Honeyeaters, Egrets (great and intermediate), flycatchers, Whistling Kites, our bird list was going to be a long one!

White-throated Honeyeater
Striped Honeyeater
A Paperbark Fly-catcher
An Intermediate Egret
Whistling Kite
Juvenile Pale-headed Rosella
Pale-headed Rosella eating in a Casuarina tree (native pine)

The evening light bathed our camp in a way that is so quintessentially outback Australian. Everything just glows with colour, I couldn’t tell you what colours of course, being colour blind. I will leave that to the more artistic eyes of the lovely Mrs A.

Can you spot the kangaroos bounding into the woodland?
The vegetation on the island area where we camped includes Queensland bottle trees (centre). Elsewhere in the park are endangered Ooline trees, ancient remnants of a much wetter Australia
Some of our furry neighbours come down to the lake for an evening drink

Evening settled in, we only shared this little paradise with one other couple who were camped out of site on another part of the lake, so our only company was the calls of the roosting birds. Just how we like it.

A pair of Whistling Kites sit on top of the tallest tree, admiring the sunset

I decided to try my hand at digi-scoping again, attaching my phone to the spotting scope. It is a tad fiddly, but this time managed to get my first successful shot. The image quality is not going to give Mrs A a run for her money, my purpose it is to upload into the amazing Merlin bird identification app.

A fine location to use the scope – from here I could watch Pelicans on the other coast of the lake that we were unable to even see with the naked eye!
Great Egret digi-scoped
And via the camera as it soars gracefully across the lake
Look at those shapes
Black-winged Stilt
Black-fronted Dotteral
A Chequered Swallowtail butterfly – also known as the Lime Swallowtail
Those turtles sure like a sunbathe

If you are a budding twitcher like me the Merlin app is gold (it is global, so should work for any of our readers!). Just upload a photo and it will identify the bird 99% of the time, providing the image is captured clearly enough (though we have tried with quiet blurred photos and still achieved a successful result!).

Merlin Bird ID draws upon more than 900 million observations from the e-bird citizen-science project. Another rabbit/bird nesting hole to go down. So wandering around with a spotting scope has now become a favourite pastime, almost like a kind of meditation. If somebody told told me a few years ago that this was in my future…nope, I would not have believed them. So it‘s good to surprise ourselves sometimes.

With a lake on our doorstep it would have been rude to not get the kayak out and have a paddle. So the inflatable master of the water gets a quick outing. There’s nothing quite like driving quietly along for spotting some more wildlife. Our timing wasn’t great though, as the weather was on the change and the wind was getting up.

Mr and Mrs A heading out on the lake – a change in weather is afoot, indicated by the wind picking up…
A cosy pair of White-breasted Woodswallows
A Little Friarbird swoops in and displaces the woodswallows
Paddling towards Mount Warninilla…in autumn this area of the lake is famous for its waterlily display
Little Friarbird – they have a blue-grey piece of skin around their eye which is feather-free
A pair of Grey Teal ducks.

We even got to spot this very unusual combination of a roo having a quiet lap at the water, with a passenger Willy Wagtail on board! Wonderful…

Mrs Kangaroo and her pet Willy Wagtail? Or just a fancy peaked hat?
Perhaps the Wagtail is an ear nose and throat doctor “Put out your tongue please”

The bird species count continued to climb, what a rich environment this was with the largest freshwater lake in the central highlands.

Masked Lapwing
Evening drinks and bath time for the Little Friarbirds

Now, when we looked Google maps we saw that we were in fact, according to their cartography, on an island.

Google Maps showed us as being on an island…

We then had a “severe weather incoming” alert on our weather app – thunderstorms. So not a good combination! It was actually just low lying land, but we certainly hoped it wasn’t going to pour down for too long. Lady luck was on our side, the storm passed either side of us and we just had a short shower.

We watch the storm heading off along the southern side of the valley
Disappearing off the east as the sun begins to set

The atmospheric morning mist after the storm was also pretty amazing.

Four Black-winged Stilts fly off into the mist across the lake
The morning sun starts to burn off some of the mist

We were going to take the kayak out again, but unfortunately Catherine had been suffering from a headache for several weeks, and that night it got a lot worse with a pain in her ear. I managed to get a doctors appointment at the nearest town of Moura, 252km away. We needed to make tracks. Unfortunately our luck ran out when we tried to leave. The dreaded tyre pressure monitoring system alarm went off to indicate we were losing pressure on our rear tow vehicle tyre. We changed the tyre – never easy with the big heavy 17inch wheels on the Cruiser, but a Team Ando effort, admired by a herd of cows, and we were feeling good… until…we noticed that our rear number plate was missing! We have been down some pretty lumpy tracks, and somewhere along one of them lies a NSW number plate. Ah well…

Team Anderson – tyre changers extraordinaire

We arrived at the small mining town of Moura just in time to unhitch and get Mrs A to the doctors. The diagnosis, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain, impacting the joint that connects the jawbone to the skull. Fairly common when it has been overused for talking. Actually I made that last bit up…It can be brought on by a host of things, but I rest my case!

We certainly didn’t fall in love with Moura. Like many small mining settlements across outback Australia, “functional” would be the kindest description you could give. When we are in a town we usually try and spend some money in it, and enjoy eating out, but the local “pie and sausage roll” cafe, Chinese restaurant with peeling paint, or the predicable menu at the “bistro” (complete with banks of TVs, strip lights and rows of gaming machines), didn’t tempt. So it was back to the Zone for one of Mrs A’s fabulous creations, with a nice glass of Grenache, and our latest Netflix obsession of “Start Up”. A lot to be said for having your home away from home on the behind the car.