Good for junior naturalists and kids who like mud

The group meandered off botanising and birding, with a mixture of professional ecologists and amateur naturalists there was plenty of knowledge to be shared. 

My kids were eager to ask the adults about the various bugs, fungi and plants. Everyone was extremely obliging, answering questions and dealing with small people wondering through groups. As persistent rain set in we managed to get to a large saline wetland before heading back to camp. After a long day and a BBQ dinner under cover we retired to our tent early. 

Getting the kids ready and out of the novelty of the tent, meant we were just in time to join a walk along the Wimmera River led by a local indigenous elder. It was a rare glimpse into life in the mid-twentieth century in Dimboola from a first Australian’s perspective. While the group walked through the area, the kids were making friends and picking the plentiful Cape Weed flowers in the disturbed areas. We then moved onto the edge of the Little Desert NP, to learn about the vegetation of the Wimmera River floodplain. However cubbies made from fallen Acacia branches and more mud were definitely more captivating to the under 10 year old’s than Floodplain Riparian Woodland. A post lunch bird walk and talk through the NP turned into a run, as the now three kids were looking for birds. But a large Brown Stringybark formed an excellent climbing tree. 

After lunch we drove to our next stop, , south of Kiata. Here entomologist John Rainer provided a display of the variety of beetles to be found through the reserve. This was pretty much the highlight for the kids, who got to see the beetle specimens up close, a treat only usually reserved for the museum. A ramble through the walking track failed to find the kids a Malleefowl, maybe it was all the noise of finding the different flowers. However, the recently worked Malleefowl mound, new bird calls and variety of vegetation was a highlight for young and old. 

The final stop for the day was the campground on the northern section of the Little Desert NP in an amazing Yellow Gum Woodland, which looked picturesque in the afternoon light. To cap off a great day, we found a nice patch of the nationally threatened Wimmera Spider-orchid and variety of other orchid species. The kids were carefully tiptoeing in the open herb rich woodland and took pride in finding more orchids. 

The rest of the group arrived and mentioned they had found some Daddy Long-leg Spider-orchids, a species I had hoped to see for a long time. With the excitement of potentially seeing this species and with two tired kids, I drove to the recently burnt Heathy Mallee and quickly walked through the bush. Leaving the kids in the car on the side of the road, I finally tracked down some plants. Just past their prime, it was good enough for me to see their habitat. I got back to the car to hear a Shy Heathwren calling in the dense shrubs. So quickly the kids were pulled out the car and we snaked through the Mallee, finally all getting fleeting views of the cryptic bird. A great way to end the day! 

The final day was spent packing up, the kids were preoccupied with trying to find Wild Asparagus for dinner and playing in the sand in the caravan park. With the car packed, an early exit meant we unfortunately missed Jeff Yugovic’s predator talk. But the four hour car trip and school on Monday meant we needed the time to get home. We stopped off at a few of the roadside reserves between Hamilton and Ballarat to break the drive. They were spectacular with en masse flowering of herbs, orchids and lilies from the late winter and spring rains. 

Overall, all three of us had a great Spring Camp, it was personally great for me to mix with likeminded people and the kids made new friends, both their age and adults who were accommodating of them. Hopefully future IFFA camps will involve more families and opportunities for kid-specific activities. 

– Warren Tomlinson