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Wild wild west—wildlife experiences in an Outback park

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‘Go west, young man, go west. There is health in the country, and room away from our crowds …’

Such good advice … and many of us are taking it! Our outback parks are a-buzz during the dry season (winter and spring)—not with flies but with visitors!

In the parks of Queensland’s central west, around Longreach and Winton, you’ll discover the quintessential ‘outback’—some of it without having to venture too far off the bitumen. Expansive landscapes of spinifex-clad sand dunes, Mitchell grass downs, coolabah woodlands and flat-topped mesas will take your breath away with their distinctive beauty.

And then there’s the wildlife! If spotting wildlife is your thing, and even if it isn’t, you’ll be blown away by the abundance and diversity of wildlife in the ‘wild west’!

There’s so much to look for—and much that you could miss if you don’t know where to look. Here are a few suggestions for wildlife viewing when exploring just one park—Bladensburg National Park—in central west Queensland.

Imagine the discoveries you can make when you visit more than one park! ‘Go wild’!

Big reds and blue flyers

Close up of muscular male red kangaroo.
Red kangaroo | © Queensland Government

You’re bound to see several kinds of kangaroos and wallabies (macropods) in the outback. The trick is to tell the difference between them from the car window, with or without binoculars.

In Bladensburg, on the open Mitchell grasslands, you’ll see our largest kangaroo, the red kangaroo. Males are large and red, while females are smaller with a blue tinge to their coat—so they are known as ‘blue flyers’.

A wallaroo is burnished red by the setting sun.
Common wallaroo | © Greg Watson Photography

Around the open mesas (flat-topped hills) look for the slightly smaller wallaroo. Adult males also appear red while females are grey/brown, but the easiest way to identify wallaroos is by their shaggy coats and large black noses.

Around creek lines, sheltering in the shade during the heat of the day, you can spot a third type of macropod—the eastern grey. You guessed it—they are grey and slightly smaller than red kangaroos!

Small and secretive mammals

A tiny mouse-like animal shelters amongst grass.
Julia Creek dunnart | Greg Mifsud © Queensland Government

Many of our mammals are small, elusive, nocturnal and, in many cases unfortunately, endangered. All of which means they can be very hard to see.

And some of them live in the most unlikely places! Take a close look at the Mitchell Grass downs as you drive through the park. These black clay soils absorb water and expand during the wet but during the dry, they shrink and crack deeply, providing habitats for small mammals.

Endangered Julia Creek dunnarts shelter in these cracks during the day, and at night they forage for insects, spiders and skinks in the grasslands.

Tiny mouse-like animal sits on open clay pan.
Kultarr | © Patrick De Geest (Eyes on Wildlife)

If you don’t’ spot a dunnart (and you probably won’t unless you have the right equipment!), you may have better luck spotlighting at night for a kultarr. These tiny mouse-sized marsupials bound gracefully around open claypans under cover of darkness, to forage on cockroaches and other insects.

Birds big and bold

A flock of emus walks across grasslands.
Emus | © Queensland Government

If you side with those who believe birdwatching for small brown birds is for fanatics, you’ll love Bladensburg and other outback parks. Here you’ll find birds that are big, bold and beautiful, and you can watch them from the comfort of your vehicle!

Look for large flightless emus stalking through the grasslands—they stand 2m high and forage on plants, seeds and insects. If you see an emu followed by several fluffy striped chicks, that’s dad and his brood (male emus take charge of raising their young).

A bustard strides through tall grass, head held high.
Australian bustard | Mark Weaver © Queensland Government

You’ll recognise Australian bustards by their stately walk with beaks held aloft. Look for them stalking slowly through the grassland, occasionally picking at seeds, leaves, fruit, lizards and insects, usually in the later afternoon.

Small but splendid birds

Two spinifex pigeons, crests erect, sit on rocks among grassland.
Spinfiex pigeons | © Greg Watson Photography

Birds are of course the most obvious wildlife you’ll see and hear in outback parks. In fact, central west Queensland is a birdwatchers’ paradise!

Spinifex pigeons will become a favourite. These plump little pigeons, with their distinctive tall pointed crests, prefer to walk rather than fly—and look like tiny wind-up toys as they run! Spot for them in grasslands and spinifex country.

A group of apostlebirds forages around camp site.
Apostlebirds | © Greg Watson Photography

As you sit at your camp site, expect to be visited by chattering flocks of apostlebirds (so-called because it was thought they moved in groups of 12—count them!). These gregarious grey/brown birds are a delight to watch as they forage for seeds and insects, chatting amongst themselves and ignoring everyone else!

A flock of grey and pink galahs flies across dry grassland.
Galahs | Maxime Coquard © Tourism and Events Queensland

Galahs and red-winged parrots add splashes of colour to the arid landscape. Galahs are a common sight in the outback—look for flocks of these pink and grey cockatoos in the grasslands.

Keep an eye out for red-winged parrots—brilliant green parrots with scarlet wings—around creek-side vegetation near your camp site, and listen for the high metallic notes of their calls.

Small colourful kingfisher perches high on a dead branch.
Red-backed kingfisher | © Greg Watson Photography

Spot for red-backed kingfishers on high perches. These colourful little birds, with blue/green wings and a rufous patch mid-back, hunt from high vantage points for large insects and small reptiles.

Tiny bird with long tail sits on spike spinifex stalks.
Rufous-crowned emu-wren | © Patrick De Geest (Eyes on Wildlife)

Watch patiently for tiny rufous-crowned emu-wrens among the spinifex. Emu-wrens have long tails of 6 delicately-filamented feathers similar to emu feathers … but that’s where the similarity ends! These tiny red-headed birds (males have bright blue faces) flutter between small shrubs before dropping again into the spinifex.

Staying in the central west

Campers sit around a camp site with tents and a fire pit shaded by tall eucalypts.
Camping at Bladensburg | © Greg Watson Photography

To make the most of your wild west wildlife experiences, plan a stay in one or more of the national parks around Longreach.

Camping in these outback parks is well worth the effort. Think brilliant orange sunsets, starry night skies, the glow of a campfire, the silence of the bush and a musical dawn chorus to herald each new day.

And you don’t need to rough it! Bladensburg, accessible by conventional vehicle in the dry, is only 25km from Winton—close enough to drop in for a coffee when you feel the need!

Other parks in the central west are more remote and 4WDs are recommended or required—no quick forays for coffee here!

Ready to ‘go wild’ out west?

Three walkers look for birds in red sand and spinifex country.
Birdwatching at Lark Quarry | © Greg Watson Photography
Remember to book before you go!
Camping must be booked in advance.
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Last updated: 03 September 2020

Acknowledgement of Country

The Department of Environment and Science acknowledges Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and custodians of the land. We recognise their connection to land, sea and community, and pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging.

Design developed by Boyd Blackman, a Butchulla and Birri Birri man, featuring the artwork of Elaine Chambers, a Koa (Guwa) and Kuku Yalanji woman.