Australia 2007 Trip Report - Part 5

 

 

 

The Red Center - Uluru (Ayers Rock), Alice Springs and Surrounding areas - Nov. 25th & 26th...

 

Ayers rock has been on "the list" of places to go in Australia for several years and we finally made it on this trip!  We left Darwin on a 6:00 AM flight arriving in Alice Springs around 7:30 AM.  We had an almost six hour layover before the flight that would take us to Uluru so the plan was to quickly rent a car and take a quick tour around Alice Springs before heading on to our final destination.  Plan worked well, I had a small sub-compact less than 10 minutes after landing, our bags were checked through to Uluru so we had 4 or 5 hours to look around which we did.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Right across from where I picked up the rental car was a small, ornamental garden with a water pond, obviously attracting the local desert wildlife so after picking up Lynn we made a quick stop to check it out.   I was greeted by this Dragon, standing watch over the watering hole...

 

Long-nosed Dragon - Amphibolurus longirostris

 

Several Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters were busy foraging and calling in the thick brush that surrounded the pond.

 

Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater

 

A large flock of Zebra Finch was busy getting drinks at the waters edge with a couple of beautiful Diamond Doves mixed in.

 

Zebra Finch

 

Diamond Dove

 

Zebra Finch

 

The airport is several miles outside of town and on the way into Alice Springs I spotted this large bird sitting on a fence line.  I thought from the coloration and size it was some sort of dove but it turned out to be another species of Cuckoo-shrike, this is the Ground Cuckoo-shrike.

 

Ground Cuckoo-shrike

 

We took a quick tour of town, Lynn spotted an open-air market selling lots of interesting stuff so I stopped for a while so she could do some shopping and I looked over the map to decide where to best spend the little time we had here in town.  I decided to make a quick run out to the Alice Springs Desert Park and if that didn't pan out we'd head over to the Botanical Gardens which always seems to be a nice, sure bet to at least see something.  While Lynn was shopping and much to my dismay a pair of what I believed were Port Lincoln Parrots flew directly over the car, around a building and out of sight.  I grabbed my camera but never got another glimpse of them.  We took the drive down to the Desert Park but there didn't seem to be much going on there and the temperature was already 37C with no shade so I made a quick decision to go the other direction to the botanical gardens.

 

The Alice Springs (more accurately called the Olive Pink) Botanical Gardens was founded in 1956, covers about 40 acres of desert scrub and rocky foothill habitat and showcases native flora.  They also serve some great food at the gift shop!  I was able to get a few pictures there including this female Rufous Whistler.

 

Rufous Whistler (female)

 

This bird is tiny tiny tiny, it's called, appropriately enough a Weebill, not much bigger than my thumb.

 

Weebill

 

I was also able to scare up a Euro in the very back part of the park...  As I was photographing the Kangaroo I heard a noise up on the rocks and was able to spot, from very far away, a rather large monitor lizard scrambling for cover.  I assume it was a Perentie but I was not able to get any good look or pic of it.  I climbed up the rocks a ways but never got another glimpse.  In the gift shop they have several pictures of Perentie foraging around the gardens so that was probably what it was but it will have to wait for next time, for me.

 

Euro

 

This Gray-crowned Babbler followed me around for a while, literally.  I don't know if it was curious or we were just both heading the same direction but I had a companion for the better part of 5 minutes as I walked the perimeter of the gardens.

 

Gray-crowned Babbler

 

I met up with Lynn who was going through things at the gift shop and we had a bite to eat there before heading back to the airport, turning in the car and heading on to our real destination for the day which was Uluru.  I would like to spend some more time in this area, I am thinking that perhaps next time we may fly to Alice Springs and drive to Uluru, taking our time along the way.

 

The rest of the day was uneventful, our plane was on time, it was a quick 45 minutes to Uluru and we were at the hotel at 5:00 PM.  I took this shot of a Yellow-throated Miner from the balcony of our hotel room.

 

Yellow-throated Miner

 

We took a quick walk around the grounds to get our bearings and snapped a few shots of stuff we were already pretty familiar with like this Crested Pigeon.

 

Crested Pigeon

 

I was hoping to see a Major Mitchell Cockatoo but all we had were tons and tons of Galahs, not that I am complaining, I love these birds and they were quite common around the grounds.

 

Galah

 

White-plumed Honeyeaters were also a common sight around the hotel grounds as well as seen in areas where there were denser shrubs and trees around Uluru.

 

White-plumed Honeyeater

 

 

After our brief walk we had dinner and took a brief road cruise near the hotel.  Gecko's were readily seen on the road, they turned out to be quite common companions over the next two nights.

 

Northern Spiny-tailed Gecko - Strophurus ciliaris

 


These Spiny-tailed Geckos turned out to be the most commonly encountered, I think we found several dozen of them crossing the roads after dark.

 

Northern Spiny-tailed Gecko - Strophurus ciliaris

 

 

Second Gecko species seen the first evening was the Beaked Gecko, example below.

 

Beaked Gecko - Rhynchoedura ornata

 

Beaked Gecko - Rhynchoedura ornata

 

We also found several DOR Scaly-foot lizards and lastly this nicely patterned Crowned Gecko.

 

Crowned Gecko - Diplodactylus stenodactylus

 

We were both pretty tired and in the sack by 11:00 PM, ready for a full day of exploration ahead of us.  We got up early, grabbed some breakfast and were at the gates to enter Uluru as it opened.  Uluru is somewhat unique in that there is no camping allowed in the park and all visitors must be out an hour after sundown.  I believe this has to do with the significance and respect the Aboriginal people put on this place.  I did not really feel anything of a spiritual nature here but I sure did feel the age of the place.  It feels ancient if one can feel that sort of thing, anyway, that was the kind of feeling I got as we explored the area and it did lead also to a feeling of respect for the area as well.

 

This was an interesting sight, we saw this crow land in front of us with a lizard in it's beak, it proceeded to bury it while we watched, presumably it was stashing it for later consumption...

 

 

This area of Australia is loaded with lizards, they are very specialized for life here in many niche habitats.  Spinnifex is the common clump grass found over vast areas of this region and it supports a tremendous variety of wildlife including little skinks like this one.

 

Orange-tailed Finesnout Ctenotus - Ctenotus leae

 

Note the color of the sand here, everything is red, it's quite spectacular and as is the case with Ayers rock, the hue and shades constantly change as the light conditions do.

 

Red-sand Habitat of the Uluru area

 

We caught this Black-faced Woodswallow grabbing a quick breakfast

 

 

A shot from a distance of Uluru or Ayers Rock.

 

 

 

I drove over to the other large rock outcropping that makes up this area, a little more remote and less traveled than Ayers Rock but every bit as spectacular is the rock formations at Katatjuda.  We found some interesting and unexpected company at Katatjuda when a small heard of camels appeared, seemingly out of nowhere to graze along the roadway.

 

 

I think he's trying to figure out which was is the fastest way back home...  Lets see... do I go left, or right to get to Cairo...

 

Let's see... which way is Egypt from here?

 

Unfortunately, even with the small amount of traffic that we encountered out here someone still was able manage to run over a 4 foot long lizard that stood out like a sore thumb in the middle of the road.  I found this Sand Goanna struggling to get off the road, it's jaw damaged by an obvious encounter with a car tire, it expired shortly after taking this picture, it seems like such a shame to loose such beautiful animals, in particular when I think just a little bit of caution and conservative driving and paying attention in areas where there is a lot of wildlife would make a difference.  I wonder sometimes why people come out to these places when I see them driving like maniacs, just to get from point A to point B... what is the point?  OK, enough pontification for the moment but this one seemed particularly tragic to me as I even know what car it was that had to have hit it, as it passed me going about 140kph in an area with posted signs to watch for wildlife and a speed limit of 80K... Good thing for them it wasn't the camel that decided to cross the road.

 

Sand (Gould's) Monitor - Varanus gouldii

 

 

So, from lowlight to extreme highlight for me was when I spotted, out of the corner of my eye, a tail, sticking straight up in the air, moving slowly off the side of the road and my mind was able to instantly convert that to... THORNY DEVIL!  One of the species that I have always wanted to see since I became aware of their existence (Horned Lizards were always one of my favorites as a kid) and certainly a major "target species" for this trip, I had no expectation of finding one when, here, at about 3:00 in the afternoon I spot one lazily wandering down the side of the road and off into the red sand and Spinnifex...

 

Thorny Devil - Moloch horridus

 

The first thing I noted was how unbelievably well they blended in to their surroundings.  Very challenging photographic subject in it's natural habitat.

 

 

Thorny Devil

 

Next think I notices was how EXTREMELY sharp their spines are!  They draw blood instantly, they are no like our Horned Lizards, they are much more formidably armored!  What an amazing example however of convergent evolution!  (That's when two unrelated species develop the same traits under similar circumstances to address a specific need or function)  In this case, they Horned Lizard of North America and the Thorny Devil of Australia are totally unrelated, not even close on the genetic scale yet they both are specialized predators living in arid regions and share remarkably similar physical traits.  They both even eat the same food, ants!

 

 

 

Check out the thorns on this bad boy!  They are needle sharp!

 

While I was taking pictures of the Thorny Devil and probably acting a bit giddy, a old car pulled up behind mine, filled with about 5 or 6 Aboriginal women.  They just stared at me, watching what I was doing, I put the Devil down, took a few more pictures and then went on my way, as soon as I put the lizard down, they seemed satisfied that I wasn't going to do something stupid and they took off as well however I have to admit I got a few what I would consider dirty looks...

 

 

 

Well, this was turning out to be a reptile kind of day and why not add another lizard to my life list?  Soon after leaving the Thorny Devil, we ran into this Central Netted Dragon, standing sentry at the Uluru Sunset Viewing parking lot.  It allowed extremely close approach and was another cool subject.

 

Central Netted Dragon - Ctenophorus nuchalis

 

Central Netted Dragon - Ctenophorus nuchalis

 

Central Netted Dragon - Ctenophorus nuchalis

 

Central Netted Dragon - Ctenophorus nuchalis

 

As it cooled down a bit, we took a walk around part of the rock, checking out a water hole as well as some of the many Aboriginal petroglyphs that are found in the area.

 

Uluru

 

There were walls of paintings in the caves around Ayers Rock.

 

This group of Gray-headed Honeyeaters (yet another species of Honeyeater!) greeted us near a watering hole at Uluru...

 

Gray-headed Honeyeater

 

We also got to watch a pair of young Pied Butcherbirds interact with their mother who was finding grub for them to eat.  She was digging up worm after worm, tossing them out into the open and her two greedy chicks were hastily devouring whatever mom would throw their way!

 

Pied Butcherbird (juv.)

 

Now the sun was getting lower on the horizon and you can see Uluru starting to almost glow red, a real interesting sight!

 

Ayers Rock, late in the afternoon

 

Sunset was pretty spectacular that evening.

 

 

 

And of course, after dark, what else would one do other than go night driving?  Well, at least that's what I keep telling my wife...  Finally was able to get a live legless lizard after finding several dead ones.  This is a Western Hooded Scaly-foot lizard, easily mistaken for a snake but definitely a lizard...

 

Western Hooded Scaly-foot - Pygopus nigriceps

 

Another new entry to the list were several Fat-tailed Geckos like this one.

 

Fat-tailed Gecko - Diplodactylus conspicillatus

 

Fat-tailed Gecko - Diplodactylus conspicillatus

 

 Also found more Crowned, Beaked and Spiny-tailed Geckos, dozens of them actually...

 

 

Crowned Gecko

 

Crowned Gecko

 

I missed a couple of small snakes, was able to identify one, a Desert Banded Sand Snake which unfortunately escaped my attempts to photograph it as I was momentarily distracted by a large truck passing by and it literally disappeared off the road.

 

A few moments after I missed the Sand Snake I found another small desert Elapid crossing the road in a hurry!  I was really amazed to see the similarities between the snakes I am used to finding in the desert southwest and the ones I was seeing here in the Red Center of Australia.  The big difference is that these are all Elapid snakes, with front fangs and venom glands albeit most of them are totally harmless to man you still have it in the back of your head when you grab one of these snakes that they are related to the most poisonous snakes in the world!

 

In any event, this little beauty crossed the road, looking much like a shovel-nosed snake would look in Anza Borrego and I was able to settle it down just long enough to get a few pictures of it.  This is a Narrow-banded Shovel-nosed Snake.

 

Narrow-banded Shovel-nosed Snake - Simoselaps fasciolatus

 

Narrow-banded Shovel-nosed Snake - Simoselaps fasciolatus

 

More geckos topped off the evening...

 

Northern Spiny-tailed Gecko

 

Fat-tailed Gecko

 

Beaked Gecko

 

This little guy was sitting outside our room, note the missing foot...

 

Purplish Dtella - Gehyra purpurascens

 

This would wrap things up at Ayers Rock as we left early the next day (November 27th) and flew back to Sydney and then north to Brisbane where we would continue our adventure.  I left Ayers Rock feeling that we did not spend enough time here and I will certainly be back to explore more of this intriguing, different, beautiful and ancient place!

 

 

CLICK HERE TO GO TO PART 6  - Queensland - Beerburrum to Hervey Bay - Nov. 28th & 29th...

 

 



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