Friday, 21 August 2020

North West Queensland Safari 2021 - A Closer Look - The Dinosaur Way

Australian Birding Safaris does not exist just to see birds. Our outlook is a little more holistic than that. While we clearly love birds and birding, we acknowledge that an important advantage of our hobby is that it opens doors to so many other complementary subjects.

 Take, for example, our North West Queensland Birding Safari.

This is a grand birding adventure starting and finishing in the northern port city of Townsville.

This tour explores a great chunk of outback, including an area which is marketed to general tourists as the Dinosaur Way. The Dinosaur Way invites all to look back into our state’s deep history; indeed, it could be said, at our very first ‘birds’.

Outback Queensland, now covered with vast grassed plains, mallee and mulga scrublands and spinifex covered ridges, was once flooded by a vast inland sea, the waters and shores of which were home to a great range of ancient reptiles; pterosaurs, plesiosaurs and dinosaurs.

Our first glance of the remains of this truly ancient natural history will probably occur at the town of Hughenden, where the Dinosaur theme has been embraced. Here, among other dinosaur themed displays and exhibits, is the skeletal display of the oddly named Muttaburrasaurus. This dinosaur's name is derived from the name of a small town, Muttaburra, where its fossilised remains were discovered. Muttaburra is, in turn, derived from the name of the local Aboriginal tribe, Mootaburra, meaning the meeting of the waters.
Muttaburrasaurus skeleton - displayed at Hughendon

The Dinosaur Way takes us south of Hughenden to the area surrounding the town of Winton where there are two other key dinosaur attractions.

The town of Winton originally marked its tourism credentials on an association with the Australian poet, Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson and, in particular, his penning of the ballad, ‘Waltzing Matilda’. Nowadays Dinosaurs have pushed the banjo from the limelight.

Once upon a time found fossils would be whisked far away from the fossil beds to find a home on display, or more likely in a warehouse, in the largest of cities. Winton’s Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum, like Drumheller’s Royal Tyrell Museum of Paleontology in the Badlands of Alberta, Canada, have started a trend to display an area’s ancient creatures in-situ. In Winton’s case atop a huge mesa.

The museum currently has a small but wonderful display and a quick scan through Trip Advisor's reviews highlights the passion and knowledge of the staff that conduct tours through the facility. The best news, perhaps, is that the museum has grand plans such that every visit will be different and better than the last. We will definitely take our visitors to he museum and enjoy the full tour of the site.

The dinosaur theme continues on one of our Winton day trips when we travel some 100km south to a spinifex dominated series of ridges known as the Lark Quarry Conservation Park – the site of a dinosaur stampede. This large fossil rock has captured a dramatic scene, perhaps seconds in the making, that occurred millions of years ago. A herd of at least 150 small, two-legged dinosaurs, including carnivorous coelurosaurs about the size of chickens and slightly larger plant-eating ornithopods, came to drink at the edge of a lake. Over 3,300 footprints of these long-extinct dinosaurs are scattered over the rock face, stark evidence of the terror they must have experienced as they fled the scene upon the arrival of a large theropod.
Lark Quarry - Dinosaur Stampede

Stampede detail

The surrounding spinifex country is home to no therapods but a wonderful variety of birds, including Spinifexbird, Spinifex Pigeon, Rusty Grasswren, Rufous crowned Emuwren and the beautiful Grey headed Honeyeater. Grey Falcon has been seen in this area as well – a specie well worth keeping one’s eyes open for!

Further west we visit the mining town of Mt Isa. Here, under the shadows of huge smoke stacks, is a museum that exists to interpret some more long gone natural history.

The Riversleigh Fossil Centre displays fossils extracted from the nearby Riversleigh Fossil Fields.  
These finds have been depicted as dioramas; exhibited in an authentic setting to illustrate the unique discoveries in one of the world's richest fossil fields. Unlike many other fossil deposits, the Riversleigh fossils are not just a snapshot in time, but a window on the development of early mammal megafauna over the past 30 million years.

We will visit this museum and then, briefly, the World Heritage Area that is the fossil fields themselves as we travel enroute to Lawn Hill Gorge.
Thunderbird fossil insitu at Riversleigh - shiny stones are from the crop of this ancient bird

So this outback tour will provide participants the opportunity to learn much about Australia's most archaic of birds  the dinosaurs. And some other prehistoric Australian creatures besides.

Please email to secure your place.

Come birding with us!

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