Lucky Field Trip Number Seven!

A few days after Christmas of 2021, I received an email from one of the volunteer rotational managers at Hiltaba Nature Reserve. Unfortunately, some of my equipment had been damaged! The culprit was likely a kangaroo or a goat, but long-story-short, I needed to get out there.

Of course, finding people to go on a short-notice trip in the middle of January can be quite difficult. Everyone tends to take leave during this period, and COVID-19 cases were also climbing in South Australia. Fortunately, Kantine Liu, an honours student at the University of Adelaide who is also working on granite rock-holes, investigating how their communities may respond to climate change, was available to join me!

Looking up at Mount Hiltaba from the base of the dam. A week after this photo was taken, there was a cascading waterfall here!

In addition to having Kantine along, I also managed to find one other field assistant: my dad! My dad had been listening to me talk about Hiltaba and my PhD for the last 3 years, and had wanted to make it out there to see the site that I was always describing to him, so he packed his bag and joined us.

After the long drive to Hiltaba, we relaxed with a cheeseboard in the jackaroo quarters

Now due to the short-notice nature of the trip, time constraints, and our efforts to limit the potential for movement of COVID-19 around the country, we had to make the trip as brief as possible. We ended up doing the trip over only 3 days. This means it was the shortest trip of my PhD, with roughly 2 days driving, to only 1 day on-site. I’d much rather spend longer out there, but on this occasion, it just couldn’t be helped.

Collecting my equipment

We got to Hiltaba, and the next day got stuck in to hauling my equipment in. We decided that with the tourist season approaching, it was best to pull in all the equipment now and download the data. I collected cameras, data loggers and all of the grids and measuring tapes I had deployed in 2021. To read more about this, check out this blog post and this blog post.

Preliminary checks of the data looks promising. I’ll be using the information that was collected on this equipment to undertake climate modelling, to better understand what the rock-holes habitat will look like in the future. We’ll also be hoping to improve our understanding of whether the fauna that depends on this habitat will be able to adapt to these future conditions

Taking a bit of time to enjoy Hiltaba

Fortunately, this was pretty quick work (quick work but not easy work, as we had to use bolt cutters to chop all of the reobar down to size). This left us enough time to have a bit of a tour of the site, we hiked up and around Pretty Point, and saw some other parts of Hiltaba that I don’t often have the time to visit.

Whilst we were on-site, we got the opportunity to take a peak at the shearing shed. Nature Foundation volunteers have been working on this building for years now, and have been converting it into a comfortable function hall. It’s looking incredible, particularly with the new floors that Fred and Petra have laid down.

Despite it being a short trip, we still got very lucky with the diversity of wildlife we saw. We saw sand monitors, mulga snakes, pink cockatoos, kangaroos, emus, wombats and more. Whilst I usually take the photos on a field trip, having my dad with me meant I benefitted from his stellar nature photography skills. He took all of the photos shown below, and may even use some of them as references in his wildlife art!

This was likely my last major data collection trip to Hiltaba during my PhD, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be heading back. Kantine hopes to visit the site during her honours project, and if I can make it happen, I’ll be right there with her!

I’m also looking forward to providing the findings from my research to the Nature Foundation. Of course, this would be best achieved on-site, so I hope to be able to do this at the Hiltaba working bee in early 2023!

To read more about what the Nature Foundation does on their reserves, visit their website.

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