Today (Thursday 10th September 2015) was my first of 2 days off, and the weather was beautiful…sunny and about 19 degrees C. I had planned on activating a couple of parks on my days off, but on checking my emails this morning I found a message from Gerard VK2IO with some bad news as far as propagation. All the bands were rated as poor.
I checked the Hourly Area Prediction (HAP) charts from Space Weather Services, Bureau of Meteorology and that did not make me any happier. Propagation out to around 400-500 km was only possible on 4mhz and below.
Nether less it was such a glorious day that I decided to head out anyway to my planned destination of the Mowantjie Willauwar Conservation Park, VKFF-919. The park is about 75 km east from my home. I have been to this park previously, and activated as part of the VK5 National and Conservation Parks Award, but the park was recently added to the World Wide Flora and Fauna (WWFF) program. I was hoping to get 44 contacts to qualify the park for the global WWFF awards, but I wasn’t holding my breath considering the predicted band conditions. If I got 10 QSOs, then I would qualify the park for the Australian (VKFF) program and I would be very happy.
Above:- Map showing the location of the park. Image courtesy of Location SA Map Viewer.
Mowantjie Willauwar Conservation Park was proclaimed on the 2nd June 2005, and conserves nearly 143 hectares of Southern Cyprus Pine Forest. It is situated about 6 km south west of Tailem Bend. Mowantjie is the aboriginal name for the native pine found in the park, while Willauwar is a plural word meaning ‘forest of species’. Therefore the name Mowantjie Willauwar means ‘Native Pine Forest’, and this is a very accurate description of the park. The park was originally known as the Tailem Bend Forest and still appears on Google maps as such.
There are 23 species of plants located in the park which are either of regional, state or national conservation significance. The nationally vulnerable Sandhill Greenhood Orchid and nationally endangered Metallic Sun-orchid have been found in the park.
Over 40 different bird species can be found in the park. Of these at least nine native bird spcies are of state or regional conservation significance. The park was certainly alive with wrens. At one stage I even had an eagle soaring above my operating spot. Other native fauna located in the park include Eastern Grey kangaroos, and Sand Goannas.
On my way to the park I stopped off at the Frank Jackman lookout at Murray Bridge. Some excellent views can be obtained here of the mighty Murray River and the surrounding countryside.
After leaving Murray Bridge I spoke with Roald VK1MTS/2 who was activating a summit for the Summits on the Air (SOTA) program. Roald was on on the top of Bobbara Mountain, VK2/ ST-044 (5/3 sent and 5/7 received). I then continued on to the little town of Tailem Bend, where I again stopped to view the Murray River. I could see the park in the distance from my vantage point.
After leaving Tailem Bend I turned onto the Princes Highway and travelled south towards Meningie. I briefly stopped near the northern tip of the park. There is a parking area here and it was at this point that the Princes Highway previously cut through the park. The road was re-routed during the 1960’s to bypass the park. There is a monument here to commemorate the changes to the Highway. You can operate from this spot. There is a small gate leading into the park and plenty of room to park your car. But I decided to head to my previous operating spot.
Prior to setting up though, I travelled to the end of Placid Estate Road to enjoy some more views of the Murray River. There are some very impressive shacks and houses at the end of the road, overlooking the river. A very nice place to have a radio shack!
I then entered the park off Placid Estate Road. There is a gate on the northern side of the road and a track leading into the park. I found a nice shady clearing and set up my chair and table. For this activation I ran my normal portable set up, comprising the Yaesu FT-857d, 40 watts and the 40m/20m linked dipole supported on a 7 metre squid pole.
Above:- Map showing my operating spot. Image courtesy of Location SA Map Viewer.
I was set up and ready to go at 3.15 p.m. (0545 UTC). I called and called and called CQ on 7.144 on 40m with absolutely no takers. I then tuned across the band and did not hear a single station. Oh oh!! Fortunately I had phone coverage so I sent out an SMS message to some of the keen park hunters. But sadly the response was not a good one. Col VK5HCF at Mount Gambier advised that he could not hear me, as did Mick VK3PMG in Stawell in western Victoria. And then Adrian VK5FANA on the Yorke Peninsula also texted me to advise he could not hear me.
It was starting to get very frustrating. Not only was the band in poor shape, but the mosquitoes were as big as birds and were biting hard, along with the sand flies.
I called CQ again a number of times, but again, not a single taker. It was now 3.30 p.m. (0600 UTC). I tuned across the band and found the Kandos Group starting up on 7.093. Tom VK2KF, the net controller had a very strong 5/9 signal so I gave him a shout and booked in to the net. But it took a long time for my over, and the mozzies were starting to make a meal of me. So I headed for the safety of the 4WD until it was my turn on the net. I could not hear any of the VK3’s or VK5’s on the net, but the VK2’s and VK4’s were coming in quite well.
After my go on the Kandos net I headed down 5 kc and called CQ on 7.088 and this was answered by Gerard VK2IO, who is a very keen SOTA and parks activator and hunter. Gerard was 5/7 with significant QSB, and he reciprocated with a 5/5 signal report for me, also reporting QSB. I was then called by Rick VK4RF, who recently was awarded the Diamond VKFF Hunter certificate, despite being only new to the WWFF program. Rick was 5/5 and returned a 5/5 to me.
Despite the band being in poor shape I did manage to work VK1, VK2, VK4, VK7, and VK8. This included a contact with Rob VK4FFAB. I told Rob that I had brought my 15m dipole with me, but Rob advised not to even bother with 15m as he had been there a little earlier and called CQ for 30 minutes with no replies.
My last contact was with my good mate Gerald VK2HBG, who must have a very kind signal strength meter on his transceiver, because he gave me a 5/9.
I then QSY’d to 20m and called CQ on 14.310. Again I called and called and called and absolutely no takers. So again, I tuned across the band to find very few signals, and those that were there, were very low down. Back to 14.310 and CQ again. This time I was answered by Greg VK5GJ at Meadows in the Adelaide Hills. Greg was 4/1 at best with very deep QSB. And then the ever reliable Rick VK4RF called, but that was the end of activity on 20m. Not a single European!
I moved back to 40m and called CQ again, but I could only manage 1 more contact, this time with Peter VK3ZPF.
The poor band conditions and mosquitoes had got the better of me. I packed up and headed off with just 14 contacts in the log. Well short of the required 44 contacts for the global WWFF program, but fortunately I had my 10 contacts and had qualified the park for VKFF.
On my way home I stopped off briefly at a lookout just down from the park off Princes Highway for some more views of the Murray River.
When I got home, I checked the HAP charts again, and as you can see below, band conditions were very very poor. Thanks again to everyone that called, and thanks to those that took the time to spot me on either parksnpeaks, the DX cluster, and/or Facebook.
The following stations were worked on 40m SSB:-
- Tom VK2KF
The following stations were worked on 20m SSB:-
- Greg VK5GJ
- Rick VK4HF
- Rick VK4HA
Department for Environment and Heritage, 2008, ‘Mowantjie Willauwar and Poonthie Ruwe Conservation Parks Management Plan’.