AUSTRALIA TRIP REPORT Dates: September 18-28, 2004 Location: Central-Eastern Queensland, Australia - My wife, son and I took a long-needed and awaited vacation down-under last month and while the trip was not specifically targeted toward herps, etc. This being my first trip to Australia, I certainly took every chance to explore the area and find as many interesting things as possible. I will try not to get into too many details that are not related to herps or at least to flora and fauna of the area. The following are edited excerpts from my daily trip notes, So, here goes...
September 18, 2004: We arrived in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia early in the morning on Sept. 18th after a very long plane ride with a 3 hour layover in Auckland, New Zealand (took off from San Diego, Ca. on Sept. 16th, then to Los Angeles, etc.). My brother-in-law has lived in Australia for the past 15 years, he lives in a place called Hervey Bay which is about 220 miles north of Brisbane on the coast, this was our first destination and would serve on and off as base camp for the duration so after clearing customers and getting the car rental we were on our way. It had been a while since I have driven on the wrong side of the road which is what they do down there so the first hour or so was a bit challenging but you get used to it pretty quickly. Nothing of note on the way north other than tons of bird life and some spectacular scenery. Driving along and viewing the beautiful sites can be a technique for stress management all its own.
I noted several areas that I'd like to stop and take a look at but that will probably be for another trip. The temperatures the entire trip were mild, it was the last few days of winter and the first few days of spring in Australia and the temperatures ranged from about 85 as an absolute high during the day to the low 60's at the coolest at night. The humidity wasn't an issue with it being just a slight bit sticky early in the morning and late in the evening and only a smattering of rain at night on 4 occasions plus one late evening thunderstorm. After arriving at Hervey Bay, settling in and visiting, dinner, etc. and leaving my wife to reminisce with her brother, I walked out on our hosts patio and had my first herp of the trip, the first of many Green or White's treefrogs. Great frog, very large by our standards and seem to not at all be disturbed by human presence.
Green (White's) Treefrog - Litoria caerulea We saw at least one every night and on the nights that it rained there were always several perched at various locations around the house. A few minutes later I had my second herp of the trip, the dreaded Cane Toad. These voracious toads were introduced to the Queensland area back in the 1930s when the local sugar cane crop (which is still huge by the way) was being devastated by the Cane Beetle. The Australian farmers imported Cane Toads with the thought that they would eat the beetles
However, the Cane Toad certainly did like the environment and have multiplied prodigiously ever since. They are a pest and are everywhere, you cannot escape them in the evenings, they have a highly poisonous secretion from their parotid gland that is deadly to small animals if ingested. There are several species of snakes in the area that prey on frogs and toads and are regularly killed by ingesting Cane Toads, such as the Red-bellied Black Snake.
The infamous Cane Toad - Bufo marinus I continued to look around and soon spotted these small geckos on some of the trees in the yard. They were fairly common, seemed to prefer paper-barked eucalyptus trees or trees that were similar with loose, flakes of bark to hide under.
Dtella House Gecko - Gehyra dubia
September 19, 2004 - The next morning I got up early to take a walk around the area, again, tons of bird life including a lot of brightly colored ones (see last post in this series for some pics). In this area Magpies are another life form (along with the Cane Toad) that you cannot avoid. They are on every electric line, in every yard and every tree in the area. They are noisy, large and sometimes aggressive, the locals didnt seem to care for them too much but I found them rather amusing. Anyway, the next herp seemed to appear from nowhere, as the morning warmed up all of a sudden I saw these little coppery colored heads darting around trees, they were quite abundant, I counted 15 on one tree trunk alone, they would also be a consistent find throughout the trip.
Wall Skink - Cryptoblepharus virgatus The next day was going to be our first big adventure of the trip, a day of exploring Fraser Island so the rest of the day was spent in preparation, making arrangements, renting a 4x4, etc. It rained that evening and we saw about a half-dozen Whites Treefrogs and a dozen or more Cane Toads around the property.
September 20, 2004: Fraser Island - Fraser Island is a National Park and Preserve and is located just a few miles off shore. It is the largest sand island in the world, running over 75 miles long and about 12 miles wide at its widest. The scenery is unbelievable and it is one of those places that you could probably spend months investigating and still not see everything. Unfortunately, we only had the day so we tried to get in as much as possible. You have to take a ferry over to the island and you either have to have your own 4x4 or rent one. There are well established tracks on the island and you must stay on them. There were four other vehicles on the barge to the island with us that morning and the traffic on the island was relatively light compared to what one would expect for an area of such beauty. Heres the basic terrain (pic below), the majority of the island is rain forest and dunes with a smattering of more desert-like areas along the fringes. The major north-south artery is along the east-facing beach, a stretch called 75-mile beach (because it is!) however, the tides make it impassible at certain times and we only had a 3 hour window to get across the island to the east beach and then south to an access road that would allow us to explore the rest of the day. The first destination was a small fresh water lake on the island, there are many of these, they are quite stunning in appearance and also support a number of indigenous species including some acid frogs and fresh water turtles. As we pulled up to the trail that led to the lake we were looking for I was quite startled to see this handsome guy sunning himself on a tree.
Lace Monitor - Varanus varius He was quite photogenic as long as you stayed a distance away as we quickly learned about Lace monitors. They seem to have a fairly large safety zone and once you penetrate it, forget it! Lace monitors seem to be closely associated with large trees/forests, we saw a total of 4 on the trip (more later) and all were in or near large trees. This guy took off up the tree you see him lying on and was out of sight faster that you can believe! Heres one more shot of my first Varanus in the wild.
Lace Monitor - Varanus varius As mentioned above, we were heading to one of the fresh water lakes that is found on the island, there was a well-worn path that lead down a very steep hill through the forest. Many skinks darted away ahead of our advance, this quickly became a source of frustration for me as I was determined at the time to identify at least every herp and bird I saw yeah, right!
On the way down the trail to the lake I was in the lead when I saw this huge lizard run across the path. It was the largest skink I have ever seen, closest thing I could relate it to here would be an overgrown Gilberts skink, just massive, with tail at least 2 feet long and a stocky body to boot. Frustration again set in as it quickly disappeared down a hole before I could fire off a shot with the camera. A few hundred feet later 2 more! This time I thought I could get a shot but with the lighting poor due to the dense canopy, by the time I got a shot, it was too late, two more down a hole! This continued all the way down the slope. At least I got enough of a look to identify them and one picture (below).
Major Skink - Egernia frerei We didnt find much at the lake in terms of herps but on the way back I was able to get some shots of another skink. Its interesting how the skinks in Australia have evolved into different niches, this one looked and even behaved like a North American whiptail lizard.
Copper-tailed Skink - Ctenotus taeniolatus
Copper-tailed Skink - Ctenotus taeniolatus In the early afternoon we came upon a small, 2 or so black snake in the middle of the road but as soon as it saw us it took off like greased lightning, it looked and acted like a whipsnake but I wasnt able to see enough of it to get a positive ID. This would be the case the rest of the day as far as the lizards were concerned as well. I noted that particularly in the rain forest areas of the island the smaller animals including the birds seemed to be much more sensitive to human presence than on the mainland. Not sure what the dynamic is here, it could be that there is more traffic on the island since it is a major tourist destination or it could just be general behavior due to the environment.
September 21, 2004: - Today was our first "walk-about" day of the trip. We decided to visit two national parks that were within driving distance, Mt. Walsh National Park and Goodnight Scrub National Park. It was about a two hour drive on back roads to reach Mt. Walsh, a very large granite dome that pops up out of nowhere. The area is used mostly by climbers and as was the theme in all of the parks other than Fraser Island, we were totally alone! We literally didnt see one person in either park this day however I should tell you that in the area we were in at least the parks arent as they are in the U.S. First, you really need a good map because there arent any signs indicating where they are and second, the majority of them are accessible by dirt road only. You realize that you are there when you see a sign similar to this one:
Here's Mt. Walsh:
We hiked around for an hour or so without much luck in terms of herps, did see a few cool birds like my first Sulphur Crested Cockatoo, some Laughing Kookaburras, Cuckoos, etc. but nary a herp in sight. So, off we went to Goodnight Scrub National Park. This one was even harder to find than the first one, it was a good 20 miles of dirt road to reach it but the feeling of isolation and also the scenery were fantastic and the animal life was much better over here. Right at the turn-off to the dirt road that leads to the park I spotted a very large snake crossing the road. There were cars coming in both directions and there was very little shoulder so I had to pull ahead of the snake, it was easy to identify due to its size and coloration, my first Elapid! A huge Red-bellied Black Snake, it was easily 5 long and as big around as my forearm, however it wanted nothing to do with me or the cars coming by, it got about 2 feet on the roadway and turned around and took off at full speed into some cane. I made a mental note that it kind of flopped as it moved sort of like some of the Cottonmouths I had seen in Texas earlier this year. I wasnt able to get a shot of it unfortunately and although I gave a half-hearted attempt to find it in the cane field I really didnt want to plow around with zero visibility and try to scare it up so after cussing myself a little but for not being quicker we were back on our way. About three miles down the road it crossed a river:
These guys were around the area:
Eastern Water Dragon - Physignathus lesuerii They didnt seem to be very concerned with my presence albeit they too had a safety zone that you dared not cross. As soon as you got about 2-3 arm-lengths away, they were gone! But as long as you stayed your distance you could observe them all you wanted. This area had some great birds as well, we explored it for quite some time before continuing on. Next herp was this little dragon which I found on the side of the road:
Eastern Two-lined Dragon - Diporiphora australis As we continued on the terrain got a little more hilly and then started turning into more forest, heres another habitat shot:
Which of course as I was to find out means that you are entering the land of the Lace Monitor... We saw three of them this day all three were on the road and I heard several others, they make quite a racket as they are scrambling through the leaf litter and up their favorite tree. Heres one on the road:
Lace Monitor - Varanus varius And a little closer in:
Lace Monitor - Varanus varius We hiked around quite a bit and again heard more than we saw in terms of small fauna. There were quite a few skinks in the area but they are extremely well camouflaged and hard to see in the scattered sunlight that creeps through the forested area canopies. I did manage to snag several pictures of this guy, a medium sized skink that was sunning itself as I approached:
Started heading back toward base around 4:00 PM as it started to cool off and the sun was setting quickly, all in all not a bad day.
September 22, 2004: Today is the vernal equinox down-under, it also turned out to be the coolest day of our visit. A light night storm had blown through the area and the day was a little blustery, I dont think the temp reach the 80s today. We spent most of the day in town doing some sight seeing and shopping but in the afternoon I did get a couple of hours to hike around the outskirts of town near a stream with a lot of dense brush and of course you know what I was looking for. I followed the stream to a open area with a large pool and was amazed to see nearly a dozen turtles sunning themselves on rocks and logs on the side of the pool. At first I thought these were Krefft's River Turtles (Emydura krefftii) but I now believe that they are snake-headed turtles, if anyone would like to confirm or argue with the ID (or any of the others here for that matter, please do, I would not be the least offended as I certainly dont claim to be an expert on any of these species!!!).
I was walking along a small path when I spotted a snake moving slowly toward a clump of dead braches several yards ahead. Again, I was under a canopy with poor lighting and although I was quicker with the camera this time I didnt get any good shots of him out in the open. This little guy was amazing! At first I thought that it might be a Tiger snake due to what appeared to be a barred pattern on its back and it sure was an aggressive little beast! As soon as I approached it struck in my general direction several times then took off for cover but I was able to quickly flush it out with a stick wherein it reared back, curved its neck into an S, flattened its head and started striking wildly in every direction. I noted that it never stuck directly at me even though it could clearly see me and I quickly ascertained that this was strictly a defensive maneuver geared to ward off a predator. I was able to get a few shots of this (non-poisonous) Keelback Water Snake.
Keelback Water Snake - Tropidonophis mairii
September 23, 2004: Today we explored one of the southernmost islands of the Great Barrier Reef, Lady Elliot Island. Its a coral atoll basically, about a half mile or so across and surrounded by beautiful coral reefs, you fly about ½ hour off shore and land on a small dirt strip. We spent the day diving and snorkeling but of course I had to see if there was any chance of sea snakes, according to the guides on the island it wasnt the right time of year but I looked anyway. Didnt see any sea snakes but did manage to observe 4 Green Sea Turtles while diving. I didnt have any underwater equipment so I couldnt get any good photos but did get one from my little cheap digital while we were riding around in a glass bottom boat.
Green Sea Turtle - Chelonia mydas
September 24, 2004: Today was a split day, the morning was spent visiting and doing some shopping, in the afternoon we took a short, one hour trip to another national park that was located about an hour north of our location. We visited the Barrum Coast National Park, while the area looked promising there wasnt too much in terms of herp life present but I missed my second live Red-bellied black snake by a matter of a few minutes. We drove down a road that ended at the coast, turned around and about a mile back the way we came there was a large DOR snake in the road. It was freshly killed and again about 5 feet long.
Red-bellied Black Snake - Pseudechis porphyricacus - These snakes are highly venomous but supposedly pretty docile. They are toad eaters and their populations have apparently suffered in some areas where the Cane Toad is present as the Cane Toad is apparently toxic to them. One thing I wanted to note somewhere in this post was that I noticed that the folks here, even the locals seem to be more tuned in to their wildlife and appreciation of it, could be just the areas I was visiting but to give you a quick example. I pulled off to the side of the road to examine the black snake and a car passed, stopped and backed up, an Australian guy yelled out the window to me, Thats a real beauty of a specimen, isnt it? Shame it got killed. That was surprising to me considering the usual experiences around here but then a second car passed with a family from Brisbane that were in the area vacationing stopped as well, got out and took some photos and again reiterated the first guys sentiment regarding the death of the snake.
September 25, 2004: - This was the best day of the trip in terms of herping for me, this was my day as decried by my wife so of course we got up very early and were on the road by 6:30 AM. There was an area that we had passed by a few days earlier that I wanted to check out, looked very good for herps so I was excited. The area is called Poona National Park, it is situated a little to the southwest of Hervey Bay and is bordered on one side by a large river called the Mary river and the coastline on the other with a good view of Fraser Island that sits just a couple of miles off the coast. One of my goals of the trip were to see the major dragons of the area, I had already nailed the Water Dragon but was a little disappointed that I hadnt seen any Bearded Dragons, my other goal was to see a Frilled Lizard but I was told that it wasnt the right time of year yet as the rainy season hadnt started. Well, we looked around a few wild areas and I saw plenty of large lizard trails but no luck on anything moving. We drove into a small town called Boonooroo just to check it out and there, in the middle of town on the street was my first Bearded Dragon!
Bearded Dragon - Pogona barbata
Bearded Dragon - Pogona barbata Five minutes later, at the fringe area of a golf course I spotted another large lizard, I thought it was another dragon but as I focused in with my camera I was quite surprised, so much so that I almost missed my only good shot at my first Frilled Lizard.
Frilled Lizard - Chlamydosaurus kingii While the Bearded Dragon seemed to be quite comfortable with me approaching to a point, the Frilled Lizard was not! The first shot was taken from the car, as I opened the door he took off, he was bipedal almost immediately and hit the first eucalyptus tree at full speed. I was amazed at how fast he scaled the tree, this lizard was at least 24 long total and probably a little more but he went 30 feet up the tree faster than I could even raise my lens! We spent the next five minutes playing hide-and-seek as I tried to get some more pictures of him. He would position himself around the other side of the tree regardless of how quickly I moved. Much to the delight of my wife who was watching this whole thing. I finally asked her to stand on one side of the tree while I stood on the other, this apparently confused the Frilled lizard for a few seconds as I was able to snap off a few more shots before he figured out that a side branch would work and he disappeared, hiding himself between the branch and us with only his huge claws showing.
Frilled Lizard - Chlamydosaurus kingii A little while later we spotted another Bearded Dragon. This was getting to be better by the minute!
Bearded Dragon - Pogona barbata
These guys were around as well Eastern Water Dragon A non-herp event but one that was at least humorous to us anyway
We had seen a couple of Kangaroos but mostly just quick glimpses or in thick brush, we chased one for about 45 minutes a few days earlier in Goodnight Scrub National Park. I was saying to my wife how we must be in the wrong environment for Kangaroos when I turned around a bend, still in the same residential area and saw the following:
I was starting to get the idea that we had it all wrong! The idea wasnt to get to the outback but to spend more time in town, driving through neighborhoods!!!! After a little more driving and sighting a few more roos and dragons we made our way to the Poona National Park proper for some more in-depth investigation. There was a dirt road that I took to the north which looked promising. Heres the typical habitat in the area:
Poona National Park Area, Queensland, Australia On the road that leads to this area I found another very disappointing road kill. This Python was still pretty fresh, probably had been out earlier in the morning, it was about 6 long. On the flip side, this highly renewed my interest in the area!
Carpet Python - Morelia spilota Back on the dirt road, we stopped in a few interesting spots and hiked around a bit, saw a few interesting birds and more irritating skinks that wouldnt hold still long enough to see them other than as a blur. We got back in our car and drove to the end of the road, hiked some more, saw a lot of lizard trails (large) but no additional sightings. It was starting to cool off a little bit (today was the warmest day of the trip) and the sun was getting low and I decided that this would be a good area to spend some time after dark. We prepared some equipment for night photography and started to drive back to the main road, there was about 7-8 miles altogether of road that you could drive in the area so the plan was to do several passes starting at dusk and then into the evening. I had to drive back into town (Marysborough) which was about ½ hour away to pick up a flashlight as I had left mine back at my brother-in-laws. On the way back out in the dirt road I saw a flash across the road about 150 feet ahead and was sure it was a snake. When I got to the spot there was a nice trail leading into the brush so I jumped out to see if I could flush it out. I found it almost immediately, it was a Common Tree Snake and it was another fast one! It turned around and headed back to the road, I was able to snap off about 7 shots of which all but one are too blurry but here's the best of the group:
Common Tree Snake - Dendrelaphis punctulata Interesting to note that for the trip I now had seen two-thirds of the colubridae that lived in the area! After the trip into town and back it was now dusk and we started road cruising. It turned out to be pretty good as there wasnt very much traffic on this particular road and none on the dirt road. The first pass at dusk was not productive but as soon as it got completely dark things started coming out. First there were the Cane Toads, tons of them, so many that it was hard to drive at times without running them over. Unfortunately (again) a car passed the other direction and I said to my wife, want to bet they kill something? Sure enough, on the next pass I found this cool guy:
Burtons Snake-lizard - Lialis burtonis Quickly followed by a couple of live herps!
Ornate Burrowing Frog - Limnodynastes ornatus And these cool Geckos which turned out to be very plentiful!
Eastern Stone Gecko - Diplodactylus vittata Another variation:
Eastern Stone Gecko - Diplodactylus vittata But the find of the night for me was this guy:
Brown Tree Snake
Brown Tree Snake
Brown Tree Snake
Brown Tree Snake I know that they are common in the area but it sure was exciting! At the time I thought that it was a Brown Snake and I was quite excited to have (I thought) found a large Australian elapid. Immediately upon me leaving the car to take a look he was in a defensive strike position, hissing, head flattened, then he started striking and actually advanced toward me. We had to position ourselves on either side of him to have a chance at taking pictures. Since it was totally dark I had to use a smaller lens and flash which meant getting closer and he didnt want any part of that. As you can see in the pictures he is facing away from the camera, his attention is on my wife who is just off camera. After a minute or two he calmed down slightly and then quickly took off across the road and into the brush. There isnt any good perspective in these shots but the snake as at least 6 in length. I was humbled later to realize that all the excitement was for nothing, but at the time, it was quite interesting. That was it for the night and pretty much it for the trip, there was one more opportunity for herps the next night so read on.
September 26, 2004: Today was a travel day, we were heading South to Brisbane to meet some more friends & relatives and to visit the Australia Zoo. We didnt get as early of a start as we wanted to so we decided to stay about 60 miles north of Brisbane. Happened to be near a National Park called Glasshouse Mountains, we stayed in a town called Beerbarrum. Of course I liked it because as soon as it got dark these guys were all over the sides of the motel we were staying in:
Robust Velvet Gecko - Oedura robusta
Robust Velvet Gecko - Oedura robusta I convinced my wife that since it was our last night in the wilderness that I should at least take a quick night drive in the general area, for the sake of science! Well, reluctantly we took off after of course a nice dinner in town to parts unknown. It was after 9:00 when we took off and it was cool, probably barely 70. The Cane Toads were out in force again but we did manage to find a couple of other interesting animals. The first one was this beauty.
Emerald Spotted Treefrog - Litoria peronii These guys I had seen in Poona National Park as well but I wasnt able to photo or ID them. They jump farther than any living creature should be capable of doing. The could literally jump all the way across the road in one leap and they tended to bounce back and forth like a super ball. I was fortunate to get one shot of these aptly named Rocket Frogs!
Striped Rocket Frog - Litoria nasuta The last herp of the trip was sadly another DOR but one I thought was worth posting. This is a Pink-tongued Skink, freshly killed by a car in front of me, total length is a little over 14" FYI
Pink-tongued Skink - Cyclodomorphus gerrardii The next two days were spent in Brisbane and other than the occasional Wall Skink there wasnt much to note there other than its a pretty nice city as was everywhere we went down under. For those of you interested I picked out a few highlights of the birds and other animals that we were able to photograph on our trip
Rainbow Lorikeet - found all over Queensland
Rainbow Bee Eater from Poona National Park
These are BATS! Hervey Bay
Darter from Hervey Bay
Galah, a type of Cockatoo from Goodnight Scrub NP
This has got to hurt after a while!
Imitates a leaf, very hard to see!
Laughing Kookaburra which is actually a type of Kingfisher
Sacred Kingfisher from Poona National Park
Sulphur Crested Cockatoo in Flight at Fraser Island
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