Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Poor photos of cool critters

Just been hanging around the Tully/Innisfail tablelands region for a few days. I've been very lucky with some of my recent sightings. Of course, some of the things I've been seeing are very hard things to get good photos of, but in the spirit of documentary, here are a couple of photos as 'proof' that I saw them:

Striped Possum

Northern Quoll

And also some cool critters that I got less bad photos of:

Chamaeleon Gecko (Carphodactylus laevis)

Weird gecko with hilariously carrot-shaped tail.

Cassowary with two chicks

And I didn't run them over! Hurrah!

Giant (possum-sized, scary) white-tailed rat

Boyd's Rainforest Dragon (Hypsilurus boydii)

Been hoping to see one of these guys... very handsome. Still want to get one in the day though!

Amethyst Python (~3m long)

Scared a couple of German ("Cherman") tourists with this one!

I'd love to write more but I'm off for a week of driving around the rainforests with JCU kids!

Thursday, January 22, 2009


Apart from the frogs I've seen, a few quick notes on other things animal, mineral or vegetable:

 - Went up Mt Bellinden-Kerr. I was very lucky to get to do this, helping with some research on carabid beetles at different altitudes. There's a broadcast station near the summit, so we got to go up the 1600m by cablecar, then headed back down to 1000 m and walked to the top again before doing 1400 and 1600 m sampling the following day. No-one except broadcast engineers and the odd scientist gets to go up this mountain, one of the highest in Queensland. It was simply amazing, all of it. The cablecar ride was much fun. The forest on top was very strange, a sort of alpine rainforest. Big old gnarled Leptospermums. Dr Seuss-like Dracophyllum plants. It was cold. Cloud-covered most of the time, except when we woke in the morning to killer views over the valley to the west. Bright orange snails cruised the permanently wet tree-trunks.

(I know someone who'll like this one)

 - Saw my first wild Onychophoran (Peripatus)!

 - Other cool invertebrates - strange snails and Katydids,

 - Amethyst python, Morelia kinghorni. Didn't get a great pic though...

 - Lots of swimming in rainforest creeks. Beautiful. Lots of fun with the volume of water heading down...

 - Have fallen in a couple of creeks. I can't really expect not to, I suppose, considering the stuff I do.

 - Having fun in the rain! Bit tricky keeping things dry though, most of my stuff has a few little mould-spots here and there.

Of course I've left heaps of things out, but now I must mount my faithful steed and spur her on into the setting sun...

Photos of some of the things I've mentioned, and some other things I haven't, are in the gallery as always, be sure to check it out. In the meantime here's a shot of the rainforest canopy from above


Frogger's paradise continued

I did a bit of frogging on the lowland areas close to Big Crystal. Things felt more familar down here, much like the floodplain areas around Fogg Dam that I got to know so well. Things like the Rocket Frog, Litoria nasuta and the Marbled frog, Limnodynastes convexiusculus. There was even something that reminded me of some sort of cross between Litoria dahlii and Cyclorana australis - that is, the striped burrowing frog, Cyclorana alboguttata.

But it was when I headed back into the rainforest, this time west of Innisfail in Wooroonooran national park that I would be again surprised by the frogs.

The Australian Lace-lid. Nyctimistes dayii. I'm sure I don't need to say much about why these little frogs excite me. The huge black eyes. The veined iris (hard to get a photo of...). The fact that they're a treefrog that isn't a Litoria. I'm blown away.

I can't get enough of them.

The other cool thing was the Mist Frog, Litoria rheocola. A cute little stream frog.

Frogger's paradise

Wow... I'm so amazed at all the frogs I've seen up here. I've been doing quite a bit of frogging and I'm starting to get a bit of a handle on what's out there - previously, the wet tropics frogs were just a big jumble in my mind, now it's just the microhylids that are a big jumble!

Before I start I'll quickly plug a book I just obtained a copy of - "Rainforest Frogs of the Wet Tropics" by Conrad Hoskin and Jean-Marc Hero. It's a fantastic book with a key, and a full page of text, plus a page of photos to each of the 33 frog species. One of the points that it's impossible to ignore, reading this book, is just how so many species have undergone dramatic declines or in some cases completely disappeared (particularly the high-altitude creek frogs).

I'll start with my first day's frogging - just north of Townsville at Paluma. Regarded as some as the start of the wet tropics rainforest. The township is up at about 1000m altitude, and the road from the highway winds its way up the range crossing numerous creeks and cascades as the vegetation changes from sclerophyllous at the base, with Eucalypts, Banksias and Casuarinas, to proper rainforest at the top. Half-way up the road is Little Crystal Creek which was swollen by the recent downpour into a raging torrent. I stopped on my way up for a quick squiz in daylight and found several Waterfall frogs (Litoria nannotis) in a side-stream. These guys are bizzarre - living on the rocks in creeks where they're splashed by waterfalls. They're easily disturbed and will jump into the rushing water only to emerge on a rock only a short distance downstream (they must be pretty capable swimmers to avoid being swept away).

I rocked up to Paluma and ate dinner whilst waiting for dark. The sounds of a couple of microhylid species started up in the rainforest and it was these I went after first. A bird-like whistling from the leaf litter was the Robust frog, Austrochaperina robusta.

It took me a while to find the origin of a creaking beep-like call, because its maker, the Ornate Nursey frog (Cophixalus ornatus) was calling from 50-100 cm off the ground, often in the forks of small tree-trunks.

I headed down the mountain and stopped at one of the first promising little streams. I had only climbed up a short distance when I heard a throaty "WHUT!". I thought to myself that it sounded like a Mixophyes fasciolatus on steroids. When I found the frog that was calling, it turned out that this was more or less what it was. Mixophes coggeri is like a bigger, more boldly, beautifully patterned version of the former species which occurs further south.

My good luck still hadn't run out as I soon spotted what is to me one of the most beautiful frogs in Australia, the Green-eyed frog (Litoria serrata, previously genimaculata)

Back on the edges of the road, the Orange-thighed treefrogs (Litoria xanthomera) had just started calling, including one with a curiously unpigmented left eye!

A little further down the mountain was the Stony Creek Frog, which up here is either Litoria jungguy or Litoria wilcoxii - the two species are impossible to distinguish in the field.

I had just seen seven frog species I'd never encountered before, several of which were substantially unlike anything I'd ever seen... as I said - paradise. The excitement was to continue yet...

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Leeches: 2, Eyeball: 0 [caution: graphic]

When I set out on this journey, I was in search of new experiences, adventure, discovery... Even though it admittedly fits these criteria, 'leeches on the eyeball' is not what I was thinking of.

The prelude to this story occurred a few weeks ago when I was chatting to someone about experiencing the wet tropics rainforest. I can't remember who told me about it, but they told the story of how leeches could climb onto one's face and crawl up under the eyelid, from where they suck blood out of the eyeball. I remember thinking that this was surely an urban myth and inwardly laughed with disdain at the idea.

So on Friday I spent most of the day in the rainforest up at Paluma helping with some JCU ecology projects. It was very wet, pouring down most of the time. I became aware of something in my right eye, as if I'd got something in it or perhaps brushed it on a twig or something. I gave it a bit of a rub but couldn't feel anything, it wasn't particularly noticable or painful.

About half an hour later I could still feel something. I casually asked my companion about the leech-eyeball story, as if I was just vaguely curious about the phenomenon. He was able to confirm that it did indeed happen, but that it was pretty rare - his supervisor had had one, but he himself had never had the experience. "Hrmm, ah, I think that maybe I have one". He had a look and lo and behold, there was a leech. On my eyeball. A leech on my eyeball. Under the eyelid. It was visible if I swivelled my eye to one side. It was only a small one and I managed to dislodge it - it was almost completely engorged and it might have been making its way off anyway at that stage.

So I thought this was pretty amusing. Another half-an-hour to an hour later I felt something again! Suddenly a big (big!) leech crawled out of my eye and dropped off, also completely engorged with nutritious eye-fluids. It felt nice and relieving when it was gone, as you'd expect I guess. This leech's exit was followed by a slight bit of bleeding into the eye, but apart from that there it felt fine. I thought that was the end of that.

Unfortunately, I tend to get a bit of a reaction to some leech bites. I had one on my leg when I was down in the Watagans that swelled up like half an orange. So I awoke on Saturday morning and could hardly open my eye. The eyeball itself was swollen, as well as all the eyelid region. My sight was fine if I strained to raise the eyelid and it was completely pain free. I took a couple of paracetamol for the swelling (didn't help at all) and just put up with it.

When I woke up this morning (Sunday) it was even more swollen, much harder to open eye. Still painless and my sight is still fine! You can see in the photo below how the white of the eyeball itself is red and swollen (who knew that was even possible!). So, I drove myself (carefully, considering the whole one-eyed depth perception issue) to Towsville hospital where I now sit awaiting medical attention. I suspect I'll just have to sit it out, but there's not much else I can do without the use of my favourite eye.

On the plus side, I've been given a great conversation starter... I can see when people notice it and they're sort of afraid to say anything, but I take any opportunity to boast about it. Most are really grossed out. Some probably think it's an excuse I came up with and that I'm really the victim of domestic violence. I caught a little kid staring at me in the hospital waiting room so I opened my eye up as much as I could manage and gave him the full treatment - he hid behind his mum.

And now, in conclusion, the photo you've all been waiting for... taken yesterday:

Leach-bitten eyeball. Ooooh yeaaaah!

Update: just got seen by the doctors. They thought it was pretty cool. I've been given some antibiotic drops and told to take some antihistamines for the swelling. They say the bleeding ('subconjunctival haemorrage') should take quite a while to clear, but the swelling should go down in a few days.

By the way, I've had some very exciting frogging recently, I'll write some updates on that another time... For now, it's to the road again!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Ville

I've had to kill a bit of time in Townsville waiting for the weather to die down. A summary:

 - Visited the Aquarium. Quite nice! Some very interesting creatures, like the stonefish, olive seasnake and the nautilus, and really pretty reef displays. Would have been great to see more freshwater stuff.


 - Ran up Castle Hill. This is a big granite outcrop in the centre of town. It was pouring down and incredibly windy up on the top. Standing on the lookouts, grasping the steel barriers was such an invigorating, exhilirating experience, with the wind racing up the cliffs and whipping the rain onto my skin and into my eyes. I tilted my head back and let out a roar into the chaos. It was fantastic.

Most importantly, I've organised a bit of volunteer work with some of the good people of JCU. So, next week I'll be heading up Mt Bellinden-Kerr for a night or two to help with some invertebrate and leaf-litter samples (whilst searching for endemic microhylids...). Then I'll be doing similar things going up to Atherton - Kingfisher - Windsor - Mt Lewis - Mossman. After that I'm heading out to Undarra Volcanic National Park to do a bit of vertebrate trapping and surveying. Should be great fun!

Monsoon rain, wind, floods and all that

Yes, I am still alive - I've survived the... fairly extreme weather conditions up here. For those that don't follow the meteorological conditions of the tropical north, the gist as I understand it was that Cyclone Charlotte came across from the gulf and flooded Cairns, it was coupled with king tides that did further damage... down here in Townsville we were affected by a big monsoonal trough that gave us gale-force winds and a fair amount of rain for a few days. Limited flooding but there have been plenty of road closures and impassible river and creek crossings.

Coral Beach, Conway National Park

But first, to backtrack a little... I had a nice though fairly uneventful trip from Mackay. My first night I spent at Conway NP which is in the Whitsundays region. That afternoon I went for a little walk down to Coral Beach and had a quick dip. Visibility was pretty poor though I saw a few nice fish and a couple of rays. There are no drive-in camping areas in the park so after dinner (kangaroo steaks, yum!) I shouldered my pack, donned my headtorch and walked the 2 km in to Swamp Bay campsite. Despite the name, it was very much worth the walk - it was awesome when I reached the campsite, dropped my gear on the coral-lined beach and looked out on the bay - lit up by the full moon peeking through gaps in the cloud.

Moonlit at Swamp Bay, Conway NP. 20 second exposure.

The following day I headed for Dingo Beach in search of some fringing reef I'd been told about (you know who you are!). It was a pleasant spot though the visibility was shockingly bad and even if there was some reef (I think further out than I went, as it was high tide) I wouldn't have been able to see it. I was tempted to go back to Airlie beach and get on a snorkelling trip out to the reef but I was worried that the water would be similarly turbid everywhere.

My next campsite was at Alligator Creek which is near Mount Elliott in Bowling Green NP, 30km south of Townsville. I was hoping to find some of the rainforest stream and microhylid frogs here but didn't have much luck finding any rainforest when I went for a walk in the evening. I did manage to slip off a rock and fall into the creek in a very uncoordinated way. I was fine, and even my camera gear survived a little bit of water.

I awoke in my tent to wind and rain. I had planned to do a long (17km) walk and then stay another night but the weather didn't make me too keen for this. Instead, I went swimming! A group of three Aussies on holiday turned up and we all had a great time in the creek in the pouring rain. It was a nice way to escape the mozzies. The creek had lots of good-sized fish: Eel-tailed catfish, different types of perch and grunters and some I couldn't recognise, as well as the smaller rainbowfish and gudgeons.

After sharing a couple of mugs of tea with my new friends I was informed that the creek just at the park entrance was coming quite strongly over the road and I decided that I should probably get out of there and seek some better shelter for the weather which was supposed to be pretty nasty for a few days. Luckily, a cousin in Townsville had generously offered me a bed if I needed it so I gratefully took him up on his offer.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Recent happenings

After Blackdown I spent the night at Cape Palmerston national park a short distance south of Mackay. It was a funny story as I arrived quite late and drove for absolutely ages down a horrible track in search of a campsite. The sandy track kept going through big bog-holes, with nowhere to turn around and no campsite in sight. I thought I was going to get stuck at one stage, and my car got covered in stinky black mud. I eventually did turn around by driving into the bush between two trees, and when I got back to where I'd turned off, I found it was right next to a pleasant campsite just behind the beach! I ate dinner, set my tent and jumped into bed, listening to the surf just a hundred metres away and the wind buffetting the tent as I drifted off to sleep.

Since then I've spent my time with relatives - at a beautiful spot nestled up against the Clarke Ranges and Eungella national park near Calen, and a couple of days in Mackay. A few notes:

 - Spent some time searching for the 'tinker animal' which I suspect is Taudactylus liemii, or Liem's Day Frog. The noise we hear is a musical 'tink tink tink' which is repeated only every five minutes or so in the daytime, making it very hard to locate. No luck finding the actual animal. They seem to be very sparse.

 - Lots of swimming and snorkelling in the creek; beautiful water, rounded granite boulders, rainbowfish, blue-eyes, shrimp, turtles, gudgeons, catfish. I've seen a few Bullrout (freshwater stonefish) but managed to avoid stepping on any so far this trip.

 - Big mobs of other frogs - Green Treefrogs in ridiculous numbers, Dainties, Red-eyes, rubella all going nuts in the dam. L. wilcoxii and Mixophyes fasciolatus in the creek.

 - Spent a day out at the public side of Eungella; quite nice, beautiful rainforest, good walking. Didn't see any platypus but we weren't there at the right time for them.

 - Eating lots of tropical fruit. Bananas in huge numbers of various varieties (it's a banana farm), lots of jackfruit (one of my favourites), mangoes, sapodillas (delicious), jabotacabas, papaya...

 - Partying with hippies.

I'm going to head off again soon, continuing northwards. Seems like there's quite a lot of rain falling up here at the moment, could get a bit interesting...

And so it continues!

Blackdown Tablelands

I thought I'd be able to get to Blackdown tablelands by Saturday night but ended up driving along seemingly endless, occasionally poorly maintained track for most of the day and decided it would be easier to just camp at the Baralaba campground to cut the drive short and head up in the morning.

Blackdown Tablelands from the road below

The tableland is quite impressive from the plains below, and looking up at it I was asking myself "How is a road going to get up there?" but as it turned out it was pretty tame. After driving to the Munall campground, I just felt like taking it easy for a while. What followed was what might sound like a bit of a boring day - snacking, reading, drinking various teas and coffees, having a snooze - but it was a nice place and I enjoy just fiddling around at camp sometimes and relaxing.

Leaftailed Gecko, Saltuarius salebrosus

The star of the evening was yet again a gecko species, this time another Leaftail, Saltuarius salebrosus. I spotted a few of these on a walk down one of the creekbeds. My wish for coolness was granted with quite a chilly, windy night. Strange weather! I hit the mattress pretty early with the alarm set for a ridiculous hour - I planned to walk out to one of the lookouts to greet the sunrise. My plan was foiled by cloud cover though I did the walk later in the morning. It was quite peculiar how the environment reminded me of Sydney sandstone bush - the sandstone creekbed, the fleshy Angophora costata trunks - it was only by looking more closely at some of the other plants that the differences became obvious.

Rainbow Waters

Another walk - this time to Rainbow waters - was very rewarding; it was a beautiful spot for a swim. I then drove around the 4WD loop which was also pretty interesting. One little animal of interest was a beautiful diurnal cockroach - a Platyzosteria species.

Platyzosteria sp.

Thursday, January 8, 2009


Friday saw me head out to Expedition National Park. This park is fairly remote, 90km along a dusty road from the small town of Taroom. Not far along the route I stopped at Lake Murphy - a waterbody which forms in wet periods when the nearby Robinson Creek breaks its banks, creating a haven for waterbirds. There was plenty of water, and big mobs of black swans as well as ibis, stilts, cormorants and no doubt many others. The lake was christened by Leichardt when he camped beside it on his expedition north.

Lake Murphy

It was very hot; dry heat. The vegetation I passed as I drove was quite peculiar; savanah-like, with abundant Livistonia palms and Ironbarks. Starkvale campsite, where I stayed, was very pleasant. There had obviously been a big blow in the area not long ago - fresh fallen branches littered the ground. It was too hot for much walking so I headed out to take a look at the 'cattle dip' which is a permanent waterhole in a section of Robinson gorge. This gorge winds through the park, carved out of the sandstone by Robinson Creek. Whilst above, on the plateau, dry eucalypt forest dominates, the relatively moist gorge shelters palms, figs and other rainforest scrub species.

Cattle Dip lookout, Robinson Gorge

Despite its muddy waters, the cattle dip looked inviting, but finding a way down looked a bit too risky, considering the remoteness of the park.

That night frogging around the campsite I saw another new species for me, the New Holland water-holding frog, Cyclorana novaehollandii as well as plenty of Green Treefrogs (Litoria caerulea) and Ornate Burrowing Frogs, Opisthodon ornatus. A couple of geckos were around, including a 'Zigzag' Velvet gecko, Oedura rhombifer. Cool name.

New holland Frog, Cyclorana novaehollandii

Before leaving the park, I set off early on the walk to Robinson Gorge Lookout. A big tree had blown down at the lookout and several more had toppled down into the gorge. There were great views of the 100m sandstone walls.

From the lookout there's a more-or-less unmarked trail down to the gorge floor. No water was flowing, but the occasional muddy pool combined with the shade and trees made for a very pleasant, cool environment and I spent an hour or two just exploring down there and soaking up the ambience. At one point, while I sat, beautiful Carlia skinks with orange flanks and blue heads came out and foraged on the rocks and ground around me.

A couple of disappointing notes - firstly the cattle tracks through the gorge, secondly the numbers of cane toad tadpoles in the pools and little toadlets hopping around everywhere.

As the sun climbed, even in the gorge the temperature began to rise and I was chugging down my water. It was time to head back to the car, have a bite of lunch and hit the road, perhaps to somewhere cooler.

(Isla Gorge photo)

Just uploaded another photo from Isla Gorge.

Sunset at Isla Gorge

The Bunyas to Isla Gorge

The Belafonte's next stop was to be the Bunya mountains. On the way though, I missed a turnoff and while driving along the wrong road I saw a turnoff marked with "Muntaba Railway Tunnel" so I followed the signs and ended up at a little picnic area with some camp ruins, a loop walk and a little information panel. Apparently the tunnel was bored 287m through the top of the Great Dividing Range, a process taking 13 months around 1911.

I walked down to the tunnel to find it had gates at both ends (closed in winter) to protect the Bentwing Bats that roost there. Apparently the colony in winter has up to 8000 bats which mostly move away in summer, though there were large numbers (probably up to a thousand) there when I visited. I walked down the guano-lined tunnel very quietly but my presence was enough to disturb the bats, which flew off the ceiling and began milling around above me.

Bentwing Bats, Muntapa Railway Tunnel

The drive up in to the Bunya Mountains was very pleasant, passing through some majestic rainforest. In the Bunyas there are two large pine species - the Bunya, which tends to grow on the ridge crests while the Hoop pine grows on the slopes. The first walk I did was west of the crest and I was surprised to find that it went through mainly dry rainforest and vine scrub (with no pines!) rather than the moist rainforest that I had driven through. I camped at Burton's Well next to a hippy-type couple with whom I shared some tea and a baked banana with chocolate.

Natural Bald, Bunyas and Hoop pines

I rose and packed up early so I could do a nice-looking loop walk in the rainforest. I was rewarded for my early start as I hadn't gone far through the forest when I saw something hopping off the track. I approached silently and cautiosly and managed to have a good look at a Noisy Pitta, a nice looking and interesting bird which hops along the forest floor. I also saw piles of broken snail shells beside rocks - these are left by the Pittas which smash the shells and devour the contents. A bit further on I saw another of these birds as it flew off.

I ran into a ranger as I completed the walk and told him about the Pittas - he was quite surprised that I'd seen a couple as he'd been there for 12 years or so but had never spotted any! I guess that as a ranger he's normally making a fair bit of noise and the Pittas seemed pretty shy.

Rock Orchid, Bunya Mountains

The next leg of my journey was north then west to Isla Gorge via Chinchilla and Miles. When I reached Miles I saw a great display of petrified wood at the information centre, so I pulled over beside the road a little bit out of town to do an emu walk and managed to find a few pieces.

The grandiose Isla Gorge cuts a broad, complex maze through the plateau of the sandstone belt. I arrived at sunset - just in time to venture out along the spit that extends into the gorge, giving amazing views of the sun disappearing on one side of the gorge, and the cliffs of the other side lit up in pink and orange. The thunderstorms in the area added some drama to the scene. These storms came close throughout the evening, making for a windy dinner, though the lightning and rain never came too close. After darkness had fallen I walked back out along the spit with my headtorch and was rewarded by spotting a couple of the bizzare-looking Prickly Knob-tailed Geckoes, Nephrurus asper on the chalky, soft white sandstone.

Prickly Knob-tailed Gecko

Monday, January 5, 2009

Gecko night

From Toowoomba I drove the short distance north to the campsite at Crow's Nest National Park. As dusk approached I set off on the walk to Crow's Nest Falls and plunge pool. This area has been hard hit by a few dry years though there had been a bit of rain that was enough to put a little flow in the creek and falls.

I arrived at the swimming hole below granite cliffs just as darkness fell, and after scoping it out for platypus, slipped into the black water for a dip. Around me I could hear rock wallabies thumping on the rocks, chasing each other and making little noises of aggression.

Thick-tailed Gecko, Underwoodisaurus milii

After my swim I donned my headtorch and began walking back to camp. It wasn't long before I heard a rustle in the leaf-litter - I checked it out and found a charming little Thick-tailed Gecko, Underwoodisaurus milii. A few steps further on, another rustle - this time Gehyra dubia. Then the 'Ocellated' gecko, Oedura monilis. Then another Oedura, this time Lesueur's Velvet Gecko, O. lesueuri (I think). I was quite dumbfounded at this high diversity of geckos in such a small area - I guess the combination of granite outcrops and dry forest was just perfect for them.

Ornate Burrowing Frog, Opisthodon ornatus

I spotted a couple of frogs too - the Northern Banjo frog, Limnodynastes terraereginae and a very sandy Ornate Burrowing Frog, Opisthodon ornatus. I also came across a large, impressive frog that surprised me despite my familiarity with it - the cane toad (Bufo marinus)! A few were calling from pools in the creek. From here on, Cane toads were abundant virtually everywhere I visited. It's always a bit disappointing to see them in so many varied environments and in such huge numbers, but it's also in a way a testament to their astonishing properties of survival and spread.