The intermittently flooded, water systems throughout the region provide a rich habitat for many birds, including migratory shorebirds. Many travellers are quite surprised to see these birds so far inland during a wet season.
The birds of this region are usually seed or insect-eating ground dwellers such as the little buttonquail Turnix velox, Australian bustard Ardeotis australis and Horsfield’s bushlark Mirafra javanica. These birds find food and nest sites in and between the grass tussocks.
Others like the budgerigar Melopsittacus undulatus and cockatiel Nymphicus hollandicus feed on the ground but use hollows in trees along watercourses for nesting. All these birds tend to visit in good seasons, breeding and building up their numbers, then departing as the downs dry out and food becomes scarce.
Another conspicuous group of birds is the raptors – kites, falcons and eagles that are often seen searching the grasslands for prey, or feeding on road-kill.
The cracking clay soils support a very high diversity of large snakes and reptiles as well as a very high number of grassland birds and small marsupials. Many distinctive species are found only in the grasslands such as Collett’s snake (Pseudechis colletti) and the skink (Ctenotus schevilli).
The plants associated with the area have adapted to seasonal rainfall, drought and the deeply cracking clay soils. The dominant Mitchell grasses have a dual root system with both shallow surface roots and long vertical roots branching at depth. This enables the plant to survive up to 30 years despite the wide soil moisture fluctuations.
A wide variety of perennial and annual grasses and forbs is present in the spaces between the Mitchell grass tussocks. Their presence or absence is largely dependent on rainfall and grazing regimes.
Scattered shrubs on the generally treeless areas include gundabluei (Acacia victoriae), mimosa (A. farnesiana), whitewood (Atalaya hemiglauca) and cassias (Senna spp.)
Some of the trees that are common in the region are the Bottle trees (Brachychiton australis), Coolibah (Eucalyptus coolabah/microtheca) and the River red gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis).
A full list of the flora and fauna of the region can be seen at the Visitor Information Centres.
As in many other areas of Australia, a number of feral animal species have made a home in the region. Feral pigs, cats and foxes are particularly common. These species are known or suspected to affect native fauna through habitat destruction or modification, competition for resources and predation.