On the crests of the sand dunes small grasses and herbs, such as sand hill cane-grass thrive, while on the more stable sands triodia species like lobed spinifex and other small grasses and shrubs dominate. These spinifex tussocks can often grow to form large donut-like shapes as the centre of the plant dies out, while new growth continues at the outer edges.
Desert vegetation depends on seasonal conditions. Many plants have short life cycles, growing, flowering and setting seeds within a couple of months of rain. After rain the sand dunes can become covered in a veritable carpet of wildflowers, as the long dormant seeds of poached-egg daisies and fleshy groundsel spring into life.
The swales between the sand dunes collect more water and nutrients than the sand dunes and so can support larger shrubs such as eremophila, grevillea and acacias like mulga and gidgee – particularly around Poeppel Corner where low open woodlands of gidgee spread out to the horizon. The playa lakes in these swales also support small clumps of salt-tolerant samphire and other herbaceous plants around their periphery.
More than 150 species of birds inhabit the Simpson Desert. Common birds include crested pigeons and zebra finches, while galahs and corellas are often seen congregating away from the midday sun in a tree overlooking a waterhole. The desert is home to several species of birds of prey such as the mighty wedge-tailed eagle (often seen soaring on the desert thermals), as well as black kites, nankeen kestrels and brown falcons.
Look carefully for the eyrean grasswren on the slopes of sand dunes, scurrying from one sandhill canegrass clump to another. Following a good season, the Simpson Desert can become a birdwatcher’s paradise as flocks of birds arrive to take advantage of the water and abundant food, particularly around the playa lakes and temporary waterholes. Watch out for waterbirds, chats and the rare Australian Bustard. To escape the searing heat of the day, many of the Simpson Desert’s mammal inhabitants only come out at night. Small marsupials including dunnarts and ampurta come out to feast on insects, while Dingoes are out searching for bigger prey such as rabbits. If you’ve got a good field guide handy, try to identify the different tracks on the sand dunes in the morning. The desert is also home to feral animals including rabbits, camels and foxes.
As you drive, remain on the lookout for some of the reptilian inhabitants of the desert. Australia's biggest lizard, the perentie, can be found out here as well as the more common sand goanna. painted and central bearded dragons can be found sunning themselves next to the track, while the desert python (the woma) and smaller beaked geckos and desert skinks may be seen if you take the time to look.
Flora and fauna species lists
To download flora (plants) and fauna (animals) species lists for this park, use the 'Create Simple Species List' tab under 'Flora Tools' or 'Fauna Tools' in NatureMaps.