Thursday, May 5, 2011

A taste of the Pilbara

I've just returned from the Pilbara - assisting a fauna survey job. It was my first time in this part of the country - so I found myself seeing plenty of new animals while at the same time recognising the connections that this landscape has with other parts of Australia.

Delma nasuta, Legless Lizard

We were located not far from the Hammersley Ranges, our survey sites butting up against Karajini National Park in some instances. Generally we were focussing on variations of mulga, spinifex and grassland habitats, with a few rocky outcrop areas thrown in.

Pilbara Ningaui, Ningaui timealeyi

It was boom time out there following a good wet season. We didn't catch a single animal in poor health or condition. Insects were in abundance. Driving around would invariably flush masses of Little Button Quail from the grass, and we even had some fall in traps (including chicks!). The Stripe-faced dunnart (Sminthopsis macroura, below) has a tail about 10mm long at its base - this is the dunnart equivalent of a double chin in terms of fat storage.

Stripe-faced dunnart (Sminthopsis macroura)

Reptile-wise we turned up a fairly good haul of lizards and snakes, including some blind snakes, various elapids, dragons and small goannas, a handful of geckos and legless lizards.

This Diplodactylus pulcher had just shed its skin and was showing its colours off nicely.

A young Varanus bushi - a small tree-dwelling goanna recently split off from gilleni/caudolineatus

Painted Pyrgomorph, Greyacris sp.

Exploring the rocky areas toward the end of the survey we managed to turn up quite a few more reptile species, including my favourite animal of the trip, the Spiny-tailed skink (Egernia depressa, below). This slow-moving, prehistoric-looking creature lives in rock crevices in small family groups.

The crevice dwelling Ctenotus rubicundus

Another rock dweller, Egernia formosa

Bandy-bandy snake, Vermicella snelli

Spiny-tailed skink, Egernia depressa

Dwarf bearded dragon, Pogona minor

Western netted dragon (Ctenophorus reticularis), above and below, surveying its domain.

Another highlight turned up on the final day as we were packing up - a Mulga dragon, Caimanops amphiboluroides, appeared right behind the ute we were loading. It was intent on digging - not a proper burrow at all but a shallow scrape. After some time it abandoned this one but began another! It was totally unafraid of us, and dug, ate ants, and even had its tail stepped on without seeming to mind. This species, the only one of its genus, is another one restricted to the North-West.

Mulga dragon, Caimanops amphiboluroides, above and below.

Still lots of Pilbara critters out there that I'm keen to see, and it looks like I'll be heading back over there at some point too.