Program Meeting, Tuesday, May 28--Wildflowers and Birds of Southwestern Australia
Kangaroo Paws, Donkey Ears, and Frogmouths: Wildflowers and Birds of Southwestern Australia with Bob Fleming
An island continent for some 45 million years, it is no surprise that Australia features a splendid assortment of unique mammals and birds. The western edge of the country, separated from the rest of Australia by extensive deserts, might almost be considered a botanical island. The Southwest Botanical Region alone, which is a third larger than Oregon, is home to some 8,000 species of plants, of which 80 percent are endemic. And these plants support a number of birds and other animals, including Black Cockatoos, Western Rosellas, and mound-building Malleefowl. Mammals and reptiles found here include Gray Kangaroos and Spiny Echidnas, plus venomous Western Brown and Red-bellied snakes.
At a casual glance, much of Australia’s southwest landscape is rather uninspiring, with limited trees, drab bushes, and no great vistas of colorful wildflowers. Uninspiring, that is, until one looks more closely and realizes that every few miles there is yet another species of spider orchid, or carnivorous sundew, or Banksia.
The plants that flourish here have adapted to the nutrient-poor soils and almost annual fires that sweep over the ground. Most plants sprout from underground bulbs or tubers once the fire has passed, while others feature thick lignite, almost fireproof bark. The saving feature for the plant and animal life in the southwest is the humid wind that blows in from the Indian and Southern Oceans. The moisture captured by the Stirling Range provides enough rain to allow this astonishing array of species to prosper.
Bob, a zoologist-naturalist, has organized and led natural history tours to many biological regions of the world. On this, his fifth visit to Australia, he traveled with friends, two of whom were from Eugene.