South Australia Part 2 – Danggali Conservation Park

Continuing on from Part 1 – Ngarkat Conservation Park we went north to Danggali. The bitumen ran out sooner than we anticipated so the drive into the park was long and there were HEAPS of goats to slow down for. As it turned out running away from the bad weather didn’t work too well. We did get some sun, just not enough to find many dragons. But there were plenty of skinks active.

We found this sandswimmer (Eremiascincus richardsonii) under a piece of tin.

Wall skinks (Cryptoblepharus australis) were abundant on the fallen logs around the campsite.

Lerista timida

Striped skinks are the speedsters of the skink world, these Wedge-snout skinks (Ctenotus schomburgkii) were no exception dashing between the shrubs around camp.

We found this young tree skink, (Egernia striolata), amongst a pile of fire wood.

While we waited for the clouds to pass we photographed some of the invertebrates that were found around the campsite.

Tiger Centipedes (Scolopendra morsitans) are a good reason not to walk around in thongs at night!

Cotton harlequin bug (Tectocoris diophthalmus)

Spotted ground spider (Storena formosa)

An aptly named beauty ant (Calomyrmex sp.)

After deciding to move on from Danggali we were leaving the park and stopped at a spot with some nice spinifex to look for more mallee dragons. Sure enough we hit the jackpot and spent the next few hours getting some good footage, we also turned up a Nobbi dragon (Diporiphora nobbi).

Nobbi dragon (Diporiphora nobbi)

On the way to our next destination we stopped at an old ruined shed where we found several species of burrowing skinks under tin. These skinks can disappear into leaf litter or loose sand and “swim” through the substrate.

Lerista edwardsae

Lerista dorsalis

Lerista terdigitata

Hemiergis peronii

Tawny dragons were next on our hit list and for these we spent the next 4 days in a gorge in the southern Flinders Ranges. They were common enough and we managed to get some great footage of the dragons raising their bodies and curling their tails in territorial displays.

Male tawny dragon (Ctenophorus decresii)

We came across a large Flinders Ranges scorpion. This species has been over collected from parts of the Flinders Ranges for sale in the pet trade but fortunately they’re still common in the wild.
Flinders Ranges scorpion (Urodacus elongatus)

After 3 or 4 days in the gorge, that had a sizeable mosquito population, we were fairly keen to move on. We spent a night in Port Augusta to recharge our batteries and have a good nights sleep in the motels air conditioning. We left for Gawler Ranges the next day, it’s getting late though so I’ll wrap this one up and finish of the trip report in part 3.

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South Australia Part 1 – Ngarkat Conservation Park

In September 2012 I went on a field trip to South Australia to help my mate Jose with his PhD research. Jose is investigating dragon behaviour, specifically the signaling behaviour used by many species to communicate during territorial disputes or courtship displays.

During our three week adventure the plan was to go to Ngarkat, Dangalli, Flinders Ranges and Gawler Ranges to try and find and record HD videos of dragon interactions. Sounds easy right?

After Jose picked me up from Ballarat we headed for the border and took a rest stop in the Little Desert for a leg stretch and some light herping. We found several species here before moving on to Ngarkat. I’d just acquired some new camera gear to experiment a bit with lighting, so some of the photos didn’t turn out great (but they improve!).

Garden skink (Lampropholis delicata), a common species across south eastern Australia.

Robust Striped Skink (Ctenotus robustus)

Male painted dragon (Ctenophorus pictus). This was one of our target species but Jose’s permits only covered work in SA, not Vic. Image below showing the pronounced preanal and femoral pores of male dragons.

Female painted dragon (Ctenophorus pictus) with more subtle preanal and femoral pores (bottom image).

We arrived at Ngarkat in the afternoon and after a bit of sun and a short walk around near the campsite we came across a few painted dragons (Ctenophorus pictus), one of Jose’s target species, and a couple of birds. Jose is analyzing the signaling behaviour on a 3D scale so to do this two video cameras were used which had to be mounted on the same frame and be stationary when recording. So we set up all the gear, including a funky looking 3D cube dubbed “the weather station” – a reference structure to calibrate the videos, it is made of polypipe, metal rods and 27 ping-pong balls! I wish I’d taken a photo of it!

Painted dragon (Ctenophorus pictus)

Female golden whistler

Yellow-rumped thornbill

Striated Pardalote

After getting out there and locating some more painted dragons and eventually some mallee dragons (Ctenophorus fordi) we quickly learnt that catching their behaviour on video would be no simple task. It took a bit of time to get the two cameras aligned on the same target and by that time the “target” was long gone. Not to mention most signaling behaviour is directed towards another dragon so we were basically trying to get within a few meters of wild dragons before they ran into each other and began interacting.

Mallee dragon (Ctenophorus fordi), males have black markings on the throat and chest

Over the next few days we chased mallee and painted dragons enough to eventually get some footage of a couple of mallee dragons “head bobbing” to each other. And of course the bonus of camping in such a nice place for a few days is turning up some other awesome critters.

Bardick (Echiopsis curta)

Common scaly-foot (Pygopus lepidopodus)

Marble-faced legless lizard (Delma australis)

Marbled gecko (Christinus marmoratus)

Juvenile shingleback (Tiliqua rugosa)

As well as being an excellent home for many reptile species the spinifex was a great host for invertebrate life as well, the spiky grass provides a safe barrier agains many predators such as birds and when the spinifex dies it can form nice dense mats that provide protective insulation against the hot days and cold nights.

These metallic moths (Pollanisus sp.) would fly out of the spinifex if it was disturbed.

Female metallic cockroach carrying an egg case.

The wildflowers were in full bloom at this time of year so on the quiet dragon catching (cool) days I got some shots.

Pigs ear

Tea tree

Flame heath, a favourite food of emus.

These sun orchids, true to their name, would only open on nice sunny days and stay closed overnight or in overcast weather.

The challenge of recording the dragons wasn’t the only problem either; the weather was pretty bad for most of the time. Freezing, blowing a gale, raining etc. This wasn’t good for our sun loving dragons, so we did what any reptile lover would deem the only sensible option in such a situation. We went north…

(DISCLAIMER: We revisited Ngarkat on the way back to try for a few more days after refining our technique, but I can’t actually remember if the weather was worse the first stop or the last. This fits well into the story though…)

Stay tuned for Part 2!!

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Queensland teaser – Velvet geckos!

I’ve recently begun sorting through a few thousand photos taken in the lead up to Christmas on four consecutive field trips: South Australia, Queensland, Broken Hill and Tasmania. On the Queensland trip I was very close to seeing all currently described velvet gecko (Oedura) species in Queensland. But I missed out due to terrible weather on the night we tried to find Oedura jacovae near Brisbane. I had seen this gecko on a previous trip though so I decided to blog about the Queensland velvet geckos anyway.

Velvet geckos are arboreal, or rock inhabiting geckos with large sub-digital lamellae (foot scales – see below) for climbing. As their name suggests they have smooth velvety skin, often adorned with colourful bands, blotches or stripes down the back.

Velvet gecko foot showing sub-digital lamellae.

There are currently 15 described Oedura species in Australia, 10 of which occur in Queensland. The Oedura clade was recently reviewed (Oliver et al., 2012) to reveal that it comprises of four genera: Neblifera, Oedura, Amalosia and Hesperoedura.

Robust velvet gecko (Nebulifera robusta).

The robust velvet gecko is one of the largest species compared with the Amalosia group, containing some of the smallest.
Zigzag velvet gecko, (Amalosia rhombifer)

Lesueur’s Velvet Gecko (Amalosia lesueurii)

E. inornata 371.jpg
Clouded gecko (Amalosia jacovae)

In the recent restructure of Oedura the more colourful, often blotched or spotted species were left in the original genus.
Marbled velvet (Oedura marmorata) is one of the most widespread of the velvet geckos and shows a high degree of variation across its range. This individual was photographed near Winton.

Ocellated velvet gecko (Oedura monilis)

Southern spotted velvet gecko (Oedura tryoni)

Northern velvet gecko (Oedura castelnaui)

Jowalbinna velvet gecko (Oedura jowalbinna)

Oedura coggeri.jpg
Northern spotted velvet gecko (Oedura coggeri)

I hope you enjoyed seeing these charismatic geckos, you can think of this as a teaser for when I get around to posting more photos from my recent trip around Queensland.

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Adelaide to Alice and inbetween

In August 2011 I went on my first trip (as an ‘adult’) up to Alice Springs. This was the first of three trips I undertook from Adelaide to Alice for my honours project. I was investigating microhabitat characteristics and the potential use of artificial refuges to aide in the recovery of the endangered Slater’s skink (Liopholis slateri). This first trip was to check out my potential study sites and make some initial observations.

I was travelling with Aaron Fenner, who had done some preliminary work on the species, and Jana Bradley, another Bull Lab member who was taking a break to see central Australia with us.

We made it up to Roxby Downs where we stayed with our friend Trav who took us to the Arid Recovery property, after treating us to a delicious BBQ. We were lucky enough to get a good close up look at some burrowing bettongs and spinifex hopping mice.

Burrowing BettongBurrowing Bettong (Bettongia lesueur)

With a pretty relaxed schedule for the trip, we had planned a stop at Coober Pedy. But rather than visiting underground houses or going on a mine tour we set out to find a very unique reptile that only occurs through the narrow strip of breakaway country, from Coober Pedy to southern NT.

The animal we were after lives in the matted leaf litter that forms under gidgee trees. On our way to the trees we found three gecko species (two of which were new for me).

Lucasium byrnei 004.jpgGibber Gecko (Lucasium byrnei)

Diplodactylus galeatus 005.jpg
Helmeted Gecko (Diplodactylus galeatus)

The third was a spiny-tailed gecko, a common species, but until then it had somehow evaded Aaron. While Aaron and Jana were photographing this animal I got to the first sparse group of gidgee trees and began to gently rake through the leaf litter. It was a very thin layer with lots of rocks in the sand below so I thought it was less than ideal, but with only a few strokes of the rake I saw the tip of a tail flick back into the soil. When raking for reptiles that live in sand or leaf litter, it can be very hit and miss once you realize you’ve seen an animal. There are times you will get a glimpse and it seems like the animal has nowhere to go, yet it will still manage to completely disappear. Fortunately this was not one of those times! It was what we had hoped for, a bronzeback lizard!!

Once I told Aaron and Jana the news we took some photos of the animal and kept looking to find two more in a relatively short time. We also came across a beautiful young western bluetongue.

Ophidiocephalus taeniatus
Bronzeback legless lizard (Ophidiocephalus taeniatus)

Ophidiocephalus taeniatus
Bronzeback legless lizard (Ophidiocephalus taeniatus)

Tiliqua occipitalis
Western bluetongue (Tiliqua occipitalis)

Breakaways, Coober Pedy
“The Breakaways” – Coober Pedy

In Alice Springs we got a few new species of reptiles and I also photographed quite a few birds:

Whistling kite
Whistling Kite

Red backed kingfisher
Red-backed Kingfisher

Red-tailed black cockatoo
Red-tailed Black Cockatoo

After doing what we set out to do in Alice we set off back to Adelaide. Many cattle grids later we made some stops in the southern Flinders Ranges, just south of Port Augusta. We found a stunning young mulga snake under a piece of corrugated iron that had blown of the roof of an old abandoned house. The location was about as far south as mulga snakes get in South Australia and the individuals there are a nice creamy yellow.

Sturt desert pea
Sturt Desert Peas, growing beside the Stuart Hwy in central SA

Pseudechis australis
Mulga snake (Pseudechis australis)

In the same area we visited a gorge where we found a rock skink (Liopholis margaretae). This species belongs to the same genus as the lizards I studied so it was interesting to observe such different behaviour and habits between the two.

Liopholis margaretae
Rock skink (Liopholis margaretae)

I couldn’t have asked for a better start to my 10 months in South Australia. It was great to kick off the reptile list with some of the rare and more interesting species that occur in SA. For more photos from this trip you can check out my Adelaide-Alice set on Flickr.

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Shark Bay, WA

In 2011 I went on my first, and so far only, trip to WA with my awesome ex-housemates, Leanne and Jose. It was only a short trip but we managed to milk the most out of it. We stayed at Leanne’s aunties place in Perth before we embarked on a road trip up to Shark Bay in a dodgy rental wicked van.

We started the reptile list off in Perth with a marbled gecko (not photographed) and this Hemiergis quadrilineata found under a plant pot in the garden. Then we rested up for the long drive the next day.
Hemiergis quadrilineata 004.jpg

Our first destination was the Pinnacle Desert, a sand dune desert with heaps of limestone “pinnacles” that casted long shadows as the sun set.
Pinnacles 013.jpg

Next we stopped in Geraldton for a leg stretch and discovered these amazing white sand dunes. We noticed lizard tracks around the vegetation at the base of these dunes but didn’t see any animals.
Geraldton, WA

We approached Shark Bay just after dark and were greeted by a few Spiny-tailed geckos on the road. Once at Shark Bay we were able to relax a bit more and spend more time poking around for critters. Here are just a selection of the species we encountered.Strophurus strophurusSpiny-tailed gecko (Strophurus strophurus)

Ctenophorus nuchalis 007.jpg
Central netted dragon (Ctenophorus nuchalis)

Ctenophorus reticulatus 013.jpg
Western netted dragon (Ctenophorus reticulatus)

Ctenotus pantherinus 014.jpg
Panther skink (Ctenotus pantherinus)

Delma nasuta 018.jpg
Sharp-snouted delma (Delma nasuta)

Lerista macropisthopus 005.jpg
Robust slider (Lerista macropisthopus)

As part of a long-standing tradition, started by fisherman throwing fish scraps to the dolphins, the indo-pacific dolphins are fed at Monkey Mia beach every morning. It has turned into quite a tourist attraction and we joined the flocks of people lined up along the beach in knee-deep water to wait for the dolphins to come in for their easy breakfast. Despite finding some pretty nice reptiles I’ll have to admit the dolphins were probably the highlight of the trip for me and I’d recommend the experience to anyone visiting the area.
Indo-pacific Bottlenose Dolphin

Indo-pacific Bottlenose Dolphin

On our way out we stopped to see the Stromatolites, these structures are made by cyanobacteria and closely related to species that existed over 3.4 billion years ago, cyanobacteria provide some of the earliest records of life on earth!
Stromatolites 002.jpg

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Christmas adventures

I was living over in Adelaide for about 10 months while doing my honours degree at Flinders University. So for the Christmas of 2011 my partner and I drove back to Ballarat in Victoria to spend the break with my family. On the way back I made a bit of a detour to Naracoorte where a good mate of mine from uni had told me about a reliable spot for some grassland inhabiting reptiles. I had a workshop to attend that day which meant we hit the road fairly late so it was starting to get dark when we arrived at the spot.

Sure enough it wasn’t long before we’d found several lowland copperheads, Austrlaps superbus, as the light was fading I managed a few quick photos before we got our torches out to keep looking for the next prize. The striped legless lizard, Delma impar. This grassland specialist is vulnerable across its range due to habitat loss. I had seen this species before in Victoria but after seeing Aarons photo of a much nicer individual from this population I was keen to see another. Sure enough they didn’t disappoint, we found two stunning lizards with much bolder markings than the Victorian individuals I had seen in the past.

Austrelaps superbus, SA
Lowland copperhead (Austrelaps superbus)

Delma impar
Striped legless lizard (Delma impar)

Once recovered from the long, late drive back into Victoria we set out again to the Dargo Highplains in the Victorian Alps near Mt. Hotham. While this was a much more relaxed trip to enjoy with dad and Jorge, I still had targets in mind. I was keen to get some better photos of some Pseudemoia skink species, but the main target was a Mountain Skink, Liopholis montana.

We camped overnight above a short cliff edge overlooking a beautiful view of the mountains. Although it was cool while we were there, we did get some clear weather and the reptiles were out and about.

Acritoscincus duperreyi
Eastern three-lined skink (Acritoscincus duperreyi)

Austrelaps ramsayi
Alpine copperhead (Austrelaps ramsayi)

Egernia saxatilis
Black rock skink (Egernia saxatilis)

Tiliqua nigrolutea
Blotched bluetongue (Tiliqua nigrolutea) overlooking the mountains

Eulamprus heatwolei
Yellow-bellied water skink (Eulamprus heatwolei)

Liopholis montana, juvenile
Juvenile mountain skink (Liopholis montana)

After we left the high country we headed back down through Jamieson where we meet up with a friend of mine, Dave de Angelis (Cheesecake) and researcher Matt West, an ecologist working on the endangered spotted tree frog, Litoria spenceri. The tree frog has undergone a drastic decline in distribution and abundance due to chytrid fungus, predation by trout, and the un-ethical use of the frogs by trout fisherman, as bait. We helped Matt walk a stream transect at night looking for frogs which he would swab for chytrid fungus and released as part of the ongoing monitoring of the population. In the morning we spend some time looking under rotting logs to find a heavily gravid Maccoy’s skink, a common species that had so far eluded me.

Litoria spenceri
Spotted tree frog (Litoria spenceri)

Anepischetosia maccoyi
Maccoy’s skink (Anepischetosia maccoyi)

But it wasn’t over yet! I hadn’t seen all of the species I wanted to in the high country so I needed some consolation. On the way back we passed through Kinglake where Dave knew of a reliable population of Coventry’s skinks. We had seen one, while searching for the Maccoy’s skink, that was too quick to photograph. We found several in the small recently burnt bush reserve where we were also lucky enough to turn up a common dunnart under a piece of tin. Although these ferocious fluff balls look like mice they’re actually a native marsupial, with this species occurring over much of south-eastern Australia.

Niveoscincus coventryi
Southern forest skink (Niveoscincus coventryi)

Common Dunnart
Common dunnart, (Sminthopsis murina)

After a busy few days of trooping around the countryside we settled down in Ballarat to eat and drink too much for Christmas!

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The search for stuttering frogs

In early 2011 I set out with friends David (cheesecake), Brad and Hayley with the aim of re-discovering the stuttering frog, Mixophyes balbus, in Victoria where it has not been seen for over 25 years. We walked transects at night up streams within the its historical range, looking for a big set of frog eyes reflecting our torch light and keeping an ear out for calling males.

There were some very cool invertebrates at/near our campsite. We found this tiny Peacock Spider, Maratus splendens, named for their unique method of display. The male of this tiny but incredibly beautiful jumping spider will court the female by fanning out his colourful abdomen above his body like a peacock and doing a little dance (there is some great footage of this floating around the web). At the time the male I photographed was in no mood to display before he jumped off the fern and was lost in the grass.
Peacock spider

I also photographed this common imperial blue butterfly, Jalmenus evagoras, a species that has a mutualistic relationship with ants. The larvae secrete a sugary solution which the ants eat and in turn they are protected from any small predators that the ants can keep at bay.
Common Imperial Blue

Yellow-bellied water skinks, Eulamprus heatwolei, were a common species basking on the logs around our campsite
Eulamprus heatwolei

On the way out to one of the sites we encountered this Litoria verreauxii hoping across the road
Litoria verreauxii

During the surveys Litoria nudidigita were found in the riparian vegetation
Litoria nudidigita

Litoria lesueuri were also present along some of the rocky streams
Litoria lesueuri, male

Whenever we crossed a creek we stopped on the bridge to listen for calls. One of the creeks yielded this beautiful Blue Mountains tree frog, Litoria citropa
Litoria citropa

Also under the bridge and not far from the frog this eastern small eyed snake, Cryptophis nigrescens, was cruising over the rocks, possibly on the look out for an amphibian snack
Cryptophis nigrescens

Upon giving up on our balbus search, for now, we headed down to Cape Conran, a spectacular area of Victoria that I will need to re-visit soon.
Whilst there we found this “Pobblebonk”, Limnodynastes dumerilii insularis, a sub-species I hadn’t encountered before
Limnodynastes dumerilii insularis

And lastly a shot of an eastern bluetongue we chanced upon on our way back from a walking trail
Tiliqua scincoides

Although we didn’t find any stuttering frog populations persisting in eastern Victoria, I did see two new frog species (citropa and nudidigita) and got the itch to go back to one of the nicest areas in Victoria.

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