Monday, December 27, 2010


A nocturnal climb up to the top of the Heavitree Range near Alice Springs was a very rewarding little expedition. On the gecko front, I first encountered Diplodactylus conspicillatus, Heteronotia binoei, Oedura marmorata and Strophrurus ciliaris. I spotted a couple of very pretty Centralian treefrogs (Litoria gilleni) right up top, then the animal I'd been hoping for showed too.

It's a central ranges endemic species - one of the prickly knob-tailed gecko species: Nephrurus amyae or the Centralian knob-tailed gecko. It's claim to fame is it's the 'most massive' (meaning heaviest rather than lengthiest) Aussie gecko.

And a cute little one just as an added bonus.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Floating frogs (or Frogging the Alice)

So much rain, good thunderstorms, warm weather... only more free time could make conditions better for frogging around Alice Springs. I have managed to get out once recently and was amply rewarded. As well as the relatively 'boring' Spencer's Burrowing Frog (Platyplectrum spenceri) and the Desert Treefrog (Litoria rubella), a couple of other interesting species were calling away from flooded roadsides just out of Alice Springs.

Neobatrachus centralis, Trilling frog

Cyclorana maini, Main's waterholding frog

Neobatrachus centralis, Trilling frog

Sminthopsis sp., Dunnart

Narrow-banded sandswimmer, Eremiascincus fasciolatus

Friday, October 22, 2010

Herping the Alice

I've been working as a tour guide out of Alice Springs - taking backpackers out to Uluru, Kata Tjuta and King's Canyon. The country is looking so beautifully green at the moment - due to the amazing amount of rain that's fallen this year. Alice Springs has had about 620 mm so far - compare this with the annual average of 250 mm or the 65 mm that had fallen by this time last year. Lots of plants are flowering or producing masses of seed. Birds are singing from all the trees. The waterholes are all looking fantastic and are home to plump tadpoles.

The arrival of the warm weather has seen me heading out from Alice on a couple of little night road-cruising trips. It's been quite productive so far!

A few geckos are out and about - masses of fat-tailed geckos (Diplodactylus conspicillatus, below), and the odd spiny-tailed gecko (Strophrurus ciliaris).

I also came across an old favourite, the smooth knob-tailed gecko (Nephrurus laevis)

The only elapids I've been seeing are a few Curl snakes (Suta suta).

This legless lizard, the Western Hooded Scaly-foot (Pygopus nigriceps) was a nice surprise.

But by far, the highlight was this impressive 150 cm Centralian carpet python, Morelia bredli, found crossing the road next to a tree-lined watercourse.

A few frogs have been active and calling on wet nights too - so far only Desert Treefrogs (Litoria rubella), Spencer's Burrowing frog (Platyplectrum spenceri), and a couple of Trilling frogs (Neobatrachus centralis, below).

Some interesting herps have been showing up on the tours I run - I'm going to start taking my camera along more often so I can get photos of them to share.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Walking the Larapinta - I

It's late afternoon and I sit by Birthday waterhole with my binoculars at the ready. I've been keeping an eye on the resident birds - there are three Australian hobbies hanging around. Surely the budgerigars are nervous nesting in adjacent trees. Every now and then there is a chattering from the hobbies and if I'm quick I'll spot one chasing something - the favourite quarry seems to be bronzewings though the latter are certainly swift enough to give the hobbies a breathtaking run and I didn't spot any being taken.

Only a couple of trees down the creekline is a pair of Brown goshawks nesting too. And a squeaking that I originally attributed to branches sliding over one another in the breeze turned out to be a pair of Major Mitchell Cockatoos feeding quietly in the same tree. A wallaroo casually hops over the rocky ridge behind the waterhole.

The River red-gums (Eucalyptus camalduensis) dominate this sandy riverbed like so many others. Immense and valuable trees, contorted and buffeted by flooding river flows, they form plenty of hollows.

After dark I go walking, first around the waterhole where a solitary Spencer's burrowing frog (Platyplectrum spenceri) sits at the chilly water's edge. Then up the ridge. The eyes of flat-rock spiders shine out from impossibly thin cracks in the quartzite. One slightly larger crack houses a handsome marbled velvet gecko (Oedura marmorata) tucked well away. The rocks are littered with rock wallaby scats though none made an appearance.

Descending again, I follow the gravelly riverbed upstream. It's a cold evening and these nocturnal walks haven't been yielding much but they're a good way to warm up before bed and there's sometimes something of note. On a separate rocky outcrop I come across the beautiful Centralian treefrog (Litoria gilleni), only the second one I've seen and a real stunner to top off the all-round great day.

Dawn had found me drinking tea and watching the sunrise atop Brinkley's Bluff, a towering peak of the Chewings Range in the West McDonnell Ranges. It was day seven of an eighteen day walk. The Larapinta trail. Starting at Alice Springs, the trail stretches 223 km through the West MacDonnell ranges to finish at the peak of Mt Sonder near Redbank Gorge. The trail passes or penetrates the numerous gaps, gorges and chasms cut through the Chewings and Heavitree tranges; it climbs to peaks and bluffs with panoramic views; it encounters riverbeds of the oldest rivers in the world. It crosses the exposed strata of ancient mountains past, it crosses the plains left by aeons of deposition.

Friday, June 25, 2010

...and from the outward trip

I drove to Alice Springs in late May with a friend. The trip wasn't the greatest due to some pretty foul weather but we still had a good time and saw some interesting things.

The Flinders Ranges were beautiful. There have been really good rains in this part of Australia - one local told us that there hasn't been anything like it since 1989. As a result, the ranges were really green and there was lots of evidence of large river flows and flooding.

I got a chance to see and photograph Yellow-footed rock wallabies here which was a real thrill.

Ctenophorus sp.

Also came across the Streamside froglet (Crina riparia), an endemic to the Flinders.

Crinia riparia, Streamside froglet

Drove the Oodnadatta track and checked out Lake Eyre. Water is flowing into the lake from various sources - the Cooper hadn't reached the lake yet and the north lake was dry, though the south lake was filling. Really interesting, no Lake Eyre dragons though!

Lake Eyre North

Lake Eyre South

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Quick pics from the homeward trip

I travelled back fairly directly - via Wondonga, the Riverina, then through Griffith, visiting Cocoparra NP then driving home. I was hoping to see some geckos and was rewarded quite handsomely in the latter park.

From near the Murray:

Sugar Glider, Petaurus breviceps

Cup-moth caterpillar, Doratifera sp.

Brown Treecreeper

From Cocoparra National Park:

Egernia striolata, Tree skink.

Thick-tailed Gecko, Underwoodisaurus millii

Marbled gecko, Christinus marmoratus

Southern Spiny-tailed gecko, Strophrurus intermedius

Tassie wrap-up

Bennet's Wallaby

After spending almost three months in Tasmania, I headed back to Sydney for a job and to plan my next move. Tasmania was great. There's a whole lot to see and do for a relatively small place. There are some pretty interesting animals and it's great to see all the mammals - that tend to be very bold compared with their mainland relatives. It was interesting to see the contrast in the environment from west to east - the west has high rainfall and is characterised by Nothofagus (Myrtle/Antarctic beech) forests and buttongrass areas whereas to the east the rainfall drops considerably and a dry sclerophyll forest more typical of Eastern Australia predominates.

Southern blue-tongue, Tiliqua nigrolutea

What didn't I like about Tassie? To be honest I missed herps. While frogs can be locally common in some areas, they're largely thin on the ground compared with other areas I've visited. And there is a dearth of cool little reptiles - no geckos, legless lizards, goannas. One dragon. Three snake species, which are pretty nice, but they're all elapids, so no pythons or colubrids. There are a few skinks. Road-cruising on warm nights through the parts of Australia that I've seen always holds at least the promise of some interesting reptiles, but in tassie the herper is reduced to taking an interest in the large furry things that hop or amble on the roads.

Still, I reckon I'll be back before too long to do some more exploring and walking, and maybe find some of the more elusive animals that I missed this time around.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Peninsulas etc.

Arve River

My first stop after leaving Hobart was the Hartz Mountains - as many froggers will know, this is the area where one of the most recently described Australian frogs was discovered. It's a very nice spot in its own right too, of course, however the weather when I visited was pretty ghastly. I walked up to the peak but was only ever able to see about 30m in any direction, while the biting wind almost froze the rain as it lashed any exposed skin.

Bryobatrachus nimbus, the frog in question (or, as the generic status is sometimes in doubt, Crinia nimba) is a pretty cryptic little frog from the south-west of Tasmania which avoided discovery until 1994. Unique amongst its close relatives, the species lays its eggs on land amongst vegetation and the tadpoles do not feed at all. While atop the Ironbound range on the South coast track, I heard some of the little blighters but wasn't able to find any.

Whilst walking in the Hartz I came across a patch of boggy moorland that looked about right so stopped and imitated the call. Pretty soon a couple of the frogs replied and I was able to triangulate and spot two of the little guys without much trouble.

Bryobatrachus nimbus (Crinia nimba)

I did a nice bit of walking on the Tasman Peninsula - an overnight walk from Fortescue bay down to the tip of Cape Pillar, then around to Cape Hauy via Mt Fortescue and back to the Bay. The sea cliffs on this walk were terrifyingly awesome. From one stop I looked out to sea with my binoculars and watched dolphins play. While eating lunch on the Blade I could see seals just across the channel on Tasman Island - swimming and diving, sunbaking on the rocks, fighting, slipping in and out of the water... idyllic!

Tasman island from the Blade

I then visited the Freycinet peninsula and did some day-walking there - the Mt Amos scramble and a loop encompassing Wineglass bay and Hazard beach.

At Friendly beaches, I was treated to a spectacular sunset over the beautiful lichen-covered boulders and clear waters.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Bruny, Bushy and Beyond

After the walk, where better to relax than Bruny Island? I spent a couple of nights over there but didn't take any photos, so you'll have to just take my word for it. The best part of Bruny was the eastern quolls. The North Island is crawling with them and they were very very nice to see. Also spotted a long-nosed potoroo which was a new one for me. Penguins, Shearwaters, water rats... it's a good place for a spotlight. Also some very nice walking though it's rather tame comparatively.

I found work on a hop farm out at Bushy Park in the Derwent Valley which is were I've been for the past three weeks. My plan is now to see a few bits and pieces while heading back north and over to the mainland again. From there I'll go west!

South-west walk

Bathurst Harbour and Mt Rugby

At the start of March I was joined by a couple of friends and we did an 11-day, 155 km walk together through the South-West wilderness, departing from Scott's Peak Dam (Lake Pedder) and walking to Cockle Creek via Melaleuca. It was a great experience - beautiful country and a very satisfying achievement. The weather was pretty good to us and though we had a bit of rain here and there it didn't inconvenience us greatly.

The first section of the walk, the Port Davey track, is skipped by many walkers who instead fly in to Melaleuca and walk from there (the South Coast Track). We did the 70 km in four days so there was a fair amount of walking. It was pretty muddy despite the dry summer and I went in above my knees a couple of times. In the first couple of days the track skirts around the base of the Western Arthurs then follows the Crossing river. On the final day, Bathurst Harbour grows in the distance into the sizeable body of water that it is, then the 'Bathurst Narrows' are crossed by rowboat. Finally it's onwards to Melaleuca where the walkers' huts were offered welcome luxury.

I would heartily recommend this track - there are some really nice scenes and the final day was simply beautiful.

Astacopsis tricornis

In the evening at Melaleuca, despite the 26 km day that had just passed, we went out frogging and were stupefied when we came across the beautiful Tasmanian Treefrog, Litoria burrowsae. What a cracker!

Birdwatching in the morning we saw quite a few of the rare orange-bellied parrots that birdos fly in to see (not always successfully). We also got good looks at a few Ground Parrots here and there.

The South Coast Track was nicely varied - beach walking, a few hill climbs, a river crossing, bays, points, inlets and the notorious Ironbound range crossing. The seven days of walking was taking it fairly easy. Our plans to visit Louisa bay had to be scratched as bad weather was predicted and we wanted to get across the Ironbounds when we could.

Atop the Ironbounds

All up, a very satisfying adventure. The South-West is indeed a special part of the world. I'm keen to do some more long walks!

Prion Beach

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Tarkine

Edge of the World, Arthur River

From the North-western Corner I first explored some of the forest around the Arthur River then travelled south down the 'Western Explorer' which borders the Arthur Pieman conservation area.

I came across my first endemic frog, the Tasmanian froglet, Crinia tasmaniensis. Rather drab like all Crinia species, it is set apart by its startling red underparts.

Not long afterwards I found another interesting little frog, the Southern smooth froglet, Geocrinia laevis. Quite a pretty little thing.

Geocrinia laevis, Southern Smooth Froglet

The Western explorer is a pleasant journey for the countryside it travels through - buttongrass hills merging into mixed forest and rainforest around the creeks and river valleys. Near the Savage River I did another good walk which took me up a mountain to survey the landscape.

I made another great little find on this walk. Throughout this country there are numerous little holes in the ground - about a couple of centimetres diameter. Sometimes turreted, sometimes not. I found one of the culprits under a log.

A beautiful little crayfish, entirely terrestrial, clad in a stylish purple and orange!

At Corinna I took the barge across the Pieman river (which, incidentally is a ridiculous name for a river) and headed south to Zeehan. I had a bit of an adventure when I took a 4WD track out to Montezuma falls. Twelve kilometres into the tedious 14km track I came unstuck - while climbing a hill after a creek crossing I lost traction and slid off the lower side of the track. I was neatly stuck. I tried self-recovering for some time but had to give up when the little hand winch that I had was making ominous noises. I had phone reception so got through to the police radio room who sent a guy out to me. With his winch and help, we continued the winching job that I'd started and managed to heave the car up and back on to the road. No damage done but a painful exercise nonetheless. At least the falls and the swing bridge were nice!

Montezuma falls

So, I bet you all wish you were here, am I right?