A treasure trove of life on Fish River Station

The first and lasting impression you get of the country across Australia’s Top End, south of the Daly River, is how flat it is. Vast tracts of scrub go underwater during the wet and at the beginning of the dry the grassy surfaces are thatched and etched with the evidence of overland flow.

But appearances are deceptive. Fish River Station is so huge the terrain hides small hills, steep gorges, waterfalls and creeks in its vastness — 178,000 hectares is a big backyard.

I’m here to photograph some of the amazing plants and animals that the Bush Blitz team are finding on this stunning property which is now part of the National Reserve System, managed by the Indigenous Land Corporation for conservation.

Searching for frogs, scientists Steve Richards and Dane Trembath found things a little less flat when they were dropped by helicopter at the entrance to a gorge. It took them three hours to travel just 200 meters through thick vine scrub, over massive boulders and up tortuous fissures, searching for a single calling frog.

Celia Symonds, collecting insects known as ‘true bugs’ could not resist bringing back a pair of very strange katydids, even though it is not her specialty, the pink female and vivid green male. Unfortunately there isn’t a katydid expert on the trip with us so we won’t know if it is common or rare until the specimen gets back to Darwin.

For Celia, bugs have generally been abundant in Fish River Station’s unburnt grasses, and on flowering plants, along with butterflies, spiders, beetles and moths.

Stuart Young, who was trapping for what he suspects is a new species of Pseudantechinus — a mouse-sized relative of the quoll, found mammals of all kinds unexpectedly abundant in the vine thicket on the northern slopes of Mount Muriel. Just how cute is this common rock rat?

_ Robert Whyte Photographer_

Bush Blitz is a biodiversity discovery program between the Australian Government, BHP Billiton and Earthwatch Australia which aims to document the plants and animals across Australia’s National Reserve System.

Fish River Station is a new addition to the National Reserve System, having been bought for conservation last year by the Indigenous Land Corporation, The Nature Conservancy and the Pew Environment Group with funding assistance from the Australian Government and support from Greening Australia.