Skip to main content

A Sunday Drive to Fowler's Bay


Ian Dudley

G’day everyone, and welcome to my blog.

I’ve never done one of these before, and I’m not sure how to set the scene, so I guess I’ll just get into it.

First, I’m going on a Bush Blitz! A week long adventure to an interesting bit of Country where I get to follow real scientists around and geek out at all the interesting, bizarre and fantastic stuff they get to do in their careers. Then I get to tell you mob all about it.

Second, the destination is Fowler’s Bay on the Far West Coast of South Oz – one of my favourite spots to check out. Now, if you jump on their website, you’ll discover that previous Bush Blitz trips have happened in some world famous places; Ningaloo Reef, the Daintree Rainforest, the Tasmanian mountains and more. They even once sent someone to the Amazon! But in these years of COVID-19, they are having to be a little bit more circumspect.

But even though my wife laughed at me (Fowler’s is only a relatively short 350km away from our hometown – and so hardly an adventurous destination for us) I didn’t mind. Natural Science, camping, and a new professional challenge is something I was always going to jump on board if the chance arose.

So, Sunday morning dawned and after a few hours of jobs, packing & playing with my daughters it was time to set off. Hugs all round, a stop at the roadhouse for fuel and I hit the road, heading Northwest up the coast. A solo car trip gave me an excuse to crank the kind of music the rest of my family gets sick of pretty quickly; old school skate punk. My favourite band of all time, Bad Religion, features a lead singer who also happens to be a professor who teaches geology and anthropology to university students in his spare time (how’s that for a link to science?!). They cram their lyrics with heaps of Tier 3 words, technical, subject specific terminology, and references to important scientists or scientific ideas. So if you like blistering guitars and want to learn more big words, check them out. Not bad given they started out as 15 year olds deliberately trying to annoy their parents with their band name, and are still going strong 40 years later.

Anyway, as the tunes cranked and the bush of Nauo & Wirangu country flew by I remembered it was the last day of the Australian Pollinator Week citizen science project, so I pulled down a dirt side road and stopped at the first flowering plant I saw to try and do a pollinator count. It was colder than it looked through the car window though, and breezy. Plus the Wattle flowers were mostly old. Apart from one tiny native bee that flew away before I could take a picture and a couple of brown beetles I couldn’t even focus on, I couldn’t see much.

The end of the track brought me to a surf beach (as was the plan all along) but even though I had put my gear in “just in case”, unfortunately the waves weren’t that good. I did sit in the dunes admiring the geography for a while though, and ended up doing a pollinator count on a little plant next to me. I saw five native bees that I think are in the Homolictus genus, as well as some other stuff, but little bees sure are hard to photograph with camera phones, because none of mine turned out great.

Back on the road, I hit the point where the road stops going Northwest and just starts going straight West. That always excites me for some reason. I know it’s not technically the Nullabor Plain, but you can tell you’re getting close to it. After another surf check (not that good, and still crowded) at the famous Cactus Beach, and some time spent trying to get half decent photos of Fairy Terns, Marsh Terns, Red-Necked Avocets and assorted small grey migratory waders I’m not good enough to tell apart on the edge of the ‘Pink Lake’, I finally made it to the Fowler’s Bay turn off.

Every other time I’ve driven in here I’ve seen Major Mitchell’s Cockatoos – one of my favourites - so I had my eyes peeled, but no luck. Instead I dodged around a few Sleepy Lizards (called Gulda or Kalta around here) and eventually pulled in to the tiny outpost of Fowler’s Bay.

I met Hannah & Andrea, the teaching team’s direct leaders, and Angela, the other early arriver, and set up my tent and swag. Then I ducked out to the back beaches for one more surf check, but it was absolutely howling onshore by then and getting late. Driving back along dirt roads that were somehow simultaneously dusty and puddly, I saw two pink and white birds wheeling across the sky in the last bit of sunshine before cloud cover rolled in. Turns out the Major Mitchell’s are here after all.

And that’s about it. A big day, a windy night as I sit typing this in my tent, and pretty much time to wash and sleep. On the way up, I did see something interesting; a Kangaroo that seemed to have features of both a Western Grey and a Euro. It could have been just the light, but if anyone wants to look up how commonly they hybridize, let me know what you find.