Old Andado lies on the edge of the Simpson Desert, about 330 km south-east of Alice Springs. It is an iconic remote Australian homestead that has been restored to its 1920s original condition. In its glory days – in the years before electricity, running water and phones, the station ran cattle, sheep and horses. It was a true ‘wild wild west’ life in the harshest conditions imaginable, with day time temperatures rising to 50 degrees Celsius. Now the station is a sort of a museum that lies between two red sand dunes that seem to stretch on forever. There are some basic cabins constructed within the homestead complex and a shower block with a donkey hot water boiler outside. The dilapidated remnants of old work sheds and rusted out trucks that dot the area around the homestead contribute to the feeling of being in a place that time forgot.
There was a group of geologists staying at Old Andado when we arrived, so we opted to camp at the foot of the dune instead. During our first night there the weather has turned and we woke up to overcast sky and drizzling rain. The rain didn’t stop for most of the day and by late afternoon we knew that the roads would be too washed out to travel on for a few days. We were rained in in the desert…. I couldn’t think of a better reason to extend our trip!
More or less stuck at the homestead we took stock of what was around. A flock of noisy Little corellas seemed to be resident at the site, as were Welcome swallows and Fairy martins. Black kites congregated around homestead in their dozens. After dark I came across a Desert frog to my huge surprise and a Bynoe’s gecko.
Once the rain cleared we went to investigate our surroundings. We drove out about 6 km and went for an exploratory walk around the plains surrounding the homestead. Almost immediately we noticed that the sand was criss-crossed with a multitude of tracks. This place was a rodent heaven. A lot of the tracks ran in an organized fashion: there would be a central mound and a number of ‘runways’ leading away from it in different directions, some of which ended at a smaller mound which was connected to an entire network of different mounds by more well-trodden ‘runways’.
At night the plain literally came to life. The ‘runways’ turned out to belong to Long-haired rats and the species were clearly ‘booming’. Long-haired rats are known to undergo ‘boom’ and ‘bust’ or ‘crush’ cycles in response to resource availability. This year brought above average rainfall to the region and the rodents were quickly responding to the abundance of food. There were still many young around.
In amongst the Long-haired rats, there were a few Spinifex hopping mice and a couple of Short-tailed desert mice. On the drive back, a Desert mouse ran across the road and froze in the headlights, which gave us a chance to take a few close up photos of it.
The following day we took a drive around the property and came across a waterhole that attracted an abundance of birdlife. Flocks of Diamond doves, budgies and zebra finches dotted every branch of the dead tree standing nearby. A few Red-tailed black cockatoos were camped up at the top of a different tree. A little further up the road we came across a large Bearded dragon that was trying to look as flat as he possibly could to appear as a part of the road.
At night we drove to a gibber plain that we passed on the way in. It was a cold and miserable night and through there were a few desert frogs around, not much else was happening. And then I caught some unusual eye shine with my head torch. I thought it was another desert frog, but on closer inspection it turned out to be a Lesser hairy-footed dunnart!
On the drive back we saw an old dingo, probably the one that has been leaving tracks in the sand around the homestead. A few meters up the road from where we saw the dingo we spotted a fox. So much for the theories that dingo presence supresses fox populations.
There was more bird life that usual around the homestead on our 4th morning at Old Andado. A few Galahs, a Red-capped robin, a Brown falcon and a Black-shouldered kite made a welcome addition to the usual menagerie. We didn’t do much during the day and simply enjoyed being in this incredible place. We explored the homestead and went for a walk on the dunes surrounding it.
At night we decided to spend a bit more time exploring the ‘homestead dunes’ rather than going further afield. There were a lot of rodents around, but for some reason they were much more nervous than their compatriots out on the plains. Some of the larger rodents looked quite different to the long-haired rats and I think these were Plains mice, but I could never get close enough to them to make sure.
While chasing the rodents up the side of the dune we saw a cat down on the plain. And it was curious enough to come right up to us to see what we were and what we were up to. That off course was the end of rodent activity on that dune.
So we decided to re-visit some of our favorite spots, and saw more of the same species. The only exceptions were a Brown songlark that was snoozing on the ground at the ‘Long-haired rat’ plains and a Barn owl flying above the homestead.
It was a fantastic experience to spend five days in a true Australian desert, probably the most remote place I have ever visited. As we were leaving, heading back towards Kulgerah, Old Andado turned up a final sight to remember: a huge Wedge-tail eagle was trying to drag something off the road. That something turned out to be a dead cat that was hit by a car not too long ago. There is no waste in nature.