Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Home!

I'm in Sydney! But don't worry, my journey is far from over. My vague plan at this stage is to cross the Bass straight some time after Christmas, and spend summer down in the land of six fingers. After that I might head over to WA. So no updates are anticipated for the moment, but remember to come back in a couple of months!

Diamantina - take two

Immediately after the Simpson trip I drove out to the Diamantina to meet up with a DERM research trip studying the ecological effects of cattle removal in the park. The park is home to wild populations of bilbies, Kowaris and Kultarrs. Kowaris are small quoll-like dasyurid marsupials - much like Mulgaras though inhabiting flat, ironstone and gypsum country rather than sandhills. Kultarrs are bizarre little things which look like a cross between a dunnart and a hopping mouse. They share the hopper's long, tufted tail and gracile back legs, but facial features reveal their true dasyurid nature.


Spencer's Monitor, Varanus spenceri


In addition to the excitement of trapping these wonderful small mammals, I was thrilled to pay a visit to Astrebla Downs NP. A bizzare flat, lightly grassed landscape, this park has long been used for bilby research. The best part was that, following good summer rains, long-haired rats (<I>Rattus villosissimus</I>) had erupted in the park. Rats were everywhere. By day, squeaking sounds came from every scrap of cover. At night, masses of rats scurried and bounded for their burrows when lit up by torchlight. Almost every square metre of earth was home to a rat burrow. The mass of rodents is a great boon for predators in the area - birds, snakes and mammals alike.


Long-haired rat, Rattus villosissimus

By day, a variety of raptors hung around, hopeful for a rat stupid enough to venture outside its burrow - black kites, brown falcons, black falcons, brown goshawks, spotted harriers. In the late afternoon the night shift started turning up - letter-winged kites.





These are very interesting raptors. They seem to be specialist predators of these rats - they only really turn up where the rats are erupting, and simultaneously breed like crazy themselves. Also, unusually for a kite, they're largely nocturnal.



This photo shows two adults (far right) and some juveniles - presumably their progeny. Astrebla's few trees almost couldn't handle the weight of breeding letter-wings.



And of course... the bilby


The Red Playground

I spent most of September in the Simpson desert on my third trip with the 'ratcatchers' - that is, the Dickman lab. I've already posted bits and pieces about these trips on my photoblog, so I'll just share a few photos (as always, more in the gallery).


Central netted dragon, Ctenophorus nuchalis, Welford National Park.


Pebble-mimic dragon, Tympanocryptis intima


Smooth knob-tailed gecko baby, Nephrurus levis


Smooth knob-tailed gecko, Nephrurus levis


Spotted snake, Suta punctata


Desert skink, Egernia inornata


Rusty desert monitor, Varanus eremius


Canegrass dragon, Diporiphora winneckei


Bird-eating spider



That's the burrow entrance of the Slit spider, Fissarina ethabuka. The burrow is a sort of trap utilising a sand slipface.


And that's the little spider herself.


Water-holding Frog, Litoria (Cyclorana) platycephala.

The frog was a real bonus find - it turned up in a pool that we had dug to have a bathe in.

As always, this trip was a really good experience!


Monday, August 31, 2009

Interesting inverts - Burrowing bees

Walking near the Bulloo river yesterday I stumbled across a curious little patch of soil alive with activity. I first noticed the buzzing noise of flying insects, then spotted the numerous little burrow entrances, and finally caught sight of the animals causing all this excitement.



They were bees - Burrowing bees. Something similar to Dawson's Burrowing Bee (Amegilla dawsoni), related to the well-known Blue-banded and Teddy-bear bees of suburban gardens.



There were about a hundred burrows, each one featuring a raised turret at the entrance. Occasionally a bee would emerge from one of the holes and fly off, not wasting any time in doing so. It soon became apparent why - the circling, patrolling bees must have been hopeful males, and any female slow enough to be caught would be tackled to the ground by a male who would then do his best to grapple her into submission and have his way with her.



This constant attentions of the guys also must have made it hard for the females to find their own burrow - as they'd sometimes dart down a burrow only to be chased out backwards by the indignantly buzzing resident.



Some females were involved in a bit of construction / maintenance and this gave me a chance to photograph the beautiful golden behind of one.



Interesting inverts - Slater invasion!

I was woken in the night while camped beside the Ward river by raindrops on my face. I had to hurriedly get up and erect my tarp, and then couldn't get back to sleep. I soon heard a strange rushing noise - sort of like raindrops on still water (made sense as I was by the river, but the rain wasn't falling on the tarp anymore). Wind in the trees? No, it was coming from ground level. I grabbed my torch and was about to step out of the tent to investigate when I discovered what the sound was.



Slaters. Thousands upon thousands of them. Right outside my tent. They were massing along the ground in great streams. That's what the sound was - millions of little feet walking along the clay soil.

Stepping out of the tent gingerly I investigated further.

As well as the migrating hordes there were massed bunches here and there where they'd found something on the ground that I'd poured out when cooking:



I couldn't work out where they'd come from or whether they had any particular destination in mind. Why were they in such high density right here?




Interesting inverts - Weevil

I found this bizzare weevil under a piece of timber.







I just can't fathom the strange appendages emerging from its rear. They appeared immovable and fused at their posterior ends. I've never seen anything like it. Ideas?

[Edit - this is a weevil of the genus Phalidura (ID courtesy of Mark Thompson). Only males have the strange appendages.


Flower Show

While staying on the farm near Roma I headed out to Gurulmundi near Miles to check out the heath wildflowers. It was a pretty nice show - enjoy.



The news


Bearded Dragon

Apologies, dear readers, for keeping you all in the dark as to my whereabouts and... whatabouts. But all will be revealed henceforth.

In short: following the Boulia camel races I had about a month in which I was somewhat at a loose end, because I had arranged to meet up with the 'Ratcatchers' / Dickman Simpson desert lab for their September trip. It was cold and dry and it was getting pretty hard to find any interesting critters, so I decided to look for some sort of work in western QLD during this time.

I ended up near Roma, working on the property of some relatives of mine - Jock and Mina Douglas - who farm Australian Desert Limes (Eremocitrus glauca). This is a fantastic little native citrus - intensely flavoured and suitable for a wide variety of culinary uses - jam, marmalade, chutney, cordial or whole in syrup or glac├Ęd. The family has been farming and wild-harvesting the fruit since around 1997. For more information on the limes and the Douglas family operation, see www.australiandesertlimes.com.au

So for the past month I've been doing a variety of farm jobs - from driving a tractor, slashing, to fixing a windmill. I was also involved in the grafting of 3000 young trees - we collected wood or scions from wild trees with favourable characteristics and grafted them on to hardy citrus rootstock. It was a really interesting and educational experience, not least of all because of Jock's exhaustive knowledge of the country and stories from his varied life as a cattleman, landcare and land management enthusiast and now a horticulturalist!


Desert Lime flowers


The lime picking season is in November; the trees were just starting to bud when I arrived and had just started flowering when I left. After a couple of years of drought where the trees hadn't done so well, the good summer rains this year look like resulting in a big harvest.

While grafting we found an interesting snake - a new one to me, the Pale Headed snake - Hoplocephalus bitorquatus. Closely related to the Broad-headed snake and Stephen's Banded snake (H. bungaroides and stephensi respectively). Quite pretty.



Since leaving the farm I've hit the road again. Heading out to Windorah via Welford National Park, then the Birdsville races before venturing out in to the sand dunes of Ethabuka for about a month.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The dusty Diamantina

Greetings from Boulia! I've been here a few days attending the camel races - a good fun weekend! I'm camped down by the Burke river in the trees and am treated to big mobs of budgies in all the hollows... getting up to all sorts of mischief.


Before that I spent a couple of days down in the Diamantina national park. The great thing about this park is the varied environments that occur in a relatively small area - there are red sand dunes, sculpted mesas, featureless claypans, grassy floodplains, cracking clay river channels as well as permanent waterholes. I camped by one of the waterholes on the main course of the Diamantina - Hunter's Gorge - which is a long, deep channel which enters a sort of gorge of sandstone. Note that even a vague furrow on the surface of the country qualifies as a 'gorge' out here.



I went for a dip in here - the water was coooooold!

There are a few other waterholes around in the park and many of the channels had water in them. A pleasant drive - the Waracoota circuit - takes in many of the area's charms.


Tracks in the sand  on a dune - hopping mouse, ?dasyurid?, invertebrate



 

Dune crest flowers including my favourite green Crotalaria


Looking out over the green green Diamantina channels


Sculpted mesa country


Claypan