Queensland Australia Trip Notes & Highlights (July 1-15, 2005)
I had the opportunity to visit Queensland, Australia July 1-15th of this year. The trip was a combination of R&R and family visits as my wife has relatives living in and around the Brisbane area. We started off the trip in tropical North Queensland, arriving in Cairns on July 1st staying several days at a beach resort about 10 miles north of the city. Unfortunately, the weather was not very cooperative and we had to deal with a several large, cold frontal systems that moved through the area producing a prodigious amount of rain which is a bit out of the norm for the area at this time of year. Despite the bad weather, the resort was very accomodating and had excellent service with both their room and cleaning service taking care of us. July is pretty much in the dead of winter in Australia and the temperatures the first few days reflected that (for the tropics) as the highs barely reached 21C (70F). That however did not stop me from looking for some herps during our various travels around the area. The sun actually made an appearance on the second day of our trip, we took a tram ride over the rainforest canopy through an area called Baron gorge and on to the town of Kuranda, heres what the area looks like:
Baron Gorge area, Tropical North Queensland, Australia The first herp of the trip was this Red-throated Skink, foraging around in the leaf litter near one of the tram stops in the rainforest.
Red-throated Skink - Carlia rubrigularis
Continuing on to Kuranda we traveled high over the Baron river and spotted a HUGE Salt-water Crocodile sunning on the bank, unfortunately I was unable to get a good shot of him however later in the trip I was able to rectify that situation as you will see later in this post. The next couple days were pretty much washed out which was little disappointing as we had planned some beach time as well as a couple of reef diving trips that were canceled due to the inclement weather. We wrapped up things at the beach resort on day 5 just in time to welcome the sun as we traveled further north and into the tropical rainforest areas on North Queensland. We decided to stay in the Daintree River area which is about 80 miles north of Cairns and square in the middle of Australias wet tropics. This area was by far the most productive area of the trip in terms of general wildlife viewing and photography including its share of reptiles and amphibians. The first sightings were in the evening right after dusk as the frogs came out in numbers. Unfortunately, you had to really sort through the massive numbers of Cane toads to see native species, the cane toad problem in TNQ is extreme despite a tremendous effort to eradicate or at least control the population.
Cane Toad - Bufo marinus Cane Toad - Bufo marinus
The Cane Toads are extremely well established here and seem to outnumber other amphibian species by 50 to 1. I recall one mowed area along a dirt road in the Daintree river valley where I intentionally attempted to count them number of Cane Toads. In and area about 1k long I counted a whopping 68! In any event, there were plenty of other species to keep me busy including these frog species:
Broad-palmed Rocketfrog - Litoria latopalmata Stony-creek Frog - Litoria lesueuri Northern Laughing (Roth's) Treefrog - Litoria rothi
One of the highlights of the trip was when we chartered a boat for the afternoon to take us down the Daintree River. The weather was cooperative this afternoon and we were able to see quite a number of less common bird species such as this cool Black-necked Stork. Black-necked Stork - Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus Daintree River Valley We saw a couple of small (6') female Salt-water Crocodiles sunning along the bank (our boat guide told me that they are much easier to observe in the winter time as they sun themselves along the banks, in the summer, apparently it is so hot that you rarely glimpse them out of the water during the daytime hours). Not very far out of town we took a side tributary and ran smack dab into this huge male croc!
Salt-water Crocodile - Crocodylus porosus Salt-water Crocodile - Crocodylus porosus Salt-water Crocodile - Crocodylus porosus Salt-water Crocodile (female) - Crocodylus porosus Croc Habitat - Daintree River, Queensland, Australia
The guide estimated the large male to be about 4.5 meters (15) long! He was not real pleased at our approach and as you can see, decided to show us his dental work, the guide would not get real close and I dont blame him but it sure was an exciting event, we got within about 10 meters of him, he was just awesome. The guide also told us that he hadnt seen him before and that there was a problem with the local fishing guides taking care of these large male crocs, we all hoped that hed decide to keep moving on. Our guide tried to locate a Amethystine python that had been hanging out earlier in the day but we couldnt find him, however while looking, we spotted this common tree snake sunning himself on a branch overhanging the river, These guys turned out to be the most commonly encountered snake on the trip.
Common Tree Snake - Dendrelaphis punctulata Common Tree Snake - Dendrelaphis punctulata
We sighted several other cool bird species along the river including the likes of the Great-billed Heron, Azure Kingfisher, White-necked Heron and my favorite, the Tawny Frogmouth (which unfortunately, I was unable to get a clear shot of). Daintree River - Queensland Australia
That evening we did a little road cruising on the dirt roads that are in the general area and again saw a ton of cane toads interspersed with an occasional rocket frog, treefrog or other frog, some of which were able to hop distances that seemed impossible and much greater than anything I have ever encountered in the states. On several occasions youd see one as it hit the center of the road and then it would disappear in one big leap off the side of the road into the brush never to be seen again. I think most of these were species of Rocket frogs which I have had experience with in the past, they are fantastic leapers! In the theme of why go looking for them when they will come find you
when we returned to our cabin for the evening I sat down on the porch for a few minutes just to take in the beautiful evening and also to watch the tremendous number of insects in all shapes and sizes that were being attracted to two floodlights on the grounds, I was watching the bats pick off the bugs when I felt something cold and wet hit the side of my leg, I looked down and much to my surprise, this little guy was looking up at me
For once a herp found me!!!
Northern Dwarf Treefrog - Litoria bicolor
Here are a couple of other frogs out that night.
Tawny Rocketfrog - Litoria nigrofrenata Northern Laughing Treefrog - Litoria rothi
There were also several Gecko species hanging around under the lights, in the general area I was able to spot three different species:
Asian House Gecko - Hemidactylus frenatus Dtella House Gecko - Gehyra dubia Mourning Gecko - Lepidodactylus lugubris
Note the similarity between the species, many of them are near impossible to tell apart unless you look closely, for example the Asian House Gecko and the Dtella look extremely similar until you look at the tails closely and see the little spines on the edges of the Asian species, also, the Dtellas dont have claws on the inside toes
I went for a hike the next morning before having to start the long drive south toward Brisbane, it was the third sunny day in a row and the temperatures climbed to the mid 80s pretty quickly, this stimulated some lizard activity and I spotted a couple of different skink species first thing in the morning including these two:
Common Tree Skink - Cryptoblepharus virgatus Hooded Rainbow Skink - Carlia rostralis (Wonder why they call them rainbow skinks :o)
After packing the car I decided to take one more run along the river before heading south, I was rewarded with my second green tree snake of the trip, this little guy hung around for a minute or so before taking off into the brush and then straight up a large fig tree never to be seen from again.
Common Tree Snake - Dendrelaphis punctulata Common Tree Snake - Dendrelaphis punctulata Common Tree Snake - Dendrelaphis punctulata
Here are a few of the cooler butterflies from the general area as well. Quite spectacular and also nearly impossible to photograph as they rarely stop moving
Cairns Birdwing - Ornithoptera priamus Ulysses Butterfly Papilio Ulysses Ulysses Butterfly Papilio Ulysses
The next few days were way too long! The drive down the coast that we were facing with high expectations quickly turned into a very monotonous study of cane fields, interspersed with just enough mountains and or forest to keep ones interest however between the road conditions, the trucks and the general unfamiliarity with the area the drive took about 24 hours longer than we had anticipated. That being said we were able to make a multitude of stops along the way whenever we saw something interesting and were able to get several more species of herps as well as a ton of different birds.
Northern Sun Skink - Lampropholis coggeri Australian Bustard - Ardeotis australis Black-shouldered Kite - Elanus axillaris Blue-faced Honeyeater Blue-winged Kookaburra - Dacelo leachii Brush Wattlebird - Anthochaera chrysoptera Hooded Rainbow Skink - Carlia rostralis
Another highlight came for me quite by accident. I had been taking a back road through an area near Mareeba and I made a wrong turn onto a road heading in the opposite direction that I wanted to travel, I turned onto a dirt road along a cane field and decided it was a good time to visit nature if you know what I mean. In any event, I got out of the car, walked about 20 steps toward the edge of the cane when I saw a brown flash moving quickly away from me, Snake!, of course I didnt have my camera in hand and I had to make a quick decision on whether to go back to the car and grab it or just chase the snake. I decided to get the camera and luckily the snake had stopped moving briefly to check out what I was doing. I was able to approach just close enough to snap 3 pictures before he bolted off into the cane fields never to be seen again.
Eastern Brown Snake - Pseudonaja textilis Eastern Brown Snake - Pseudonaja textilis
I also found that in the evening and night the rest stops along the highway were a good place to first break up the monotony of the drive and also a great place to find herps, at least some of the more common ones. Each stop had at least the common Dtella geckos and a smattering of frogs here and there, here are some "rest stop" herps
Northern Laughing (Roth's) Treefrog - Litoria rothi Northern Laughing (Roth's) Treefrog - Litoria rothi Dtella House Gecko - Gehyra dubia Dtella House Gecko - Gehyra dubia Green (White's) Treefrog - Litoria caerulea
We eventually made our way down to Hervey Bay for a couple of days to visit some of my wifes relatives and I got the opportunity to beg out the second day for a day hike. I selected Poona National Park which I had visited the previous year and found 2 DOR pythons and a Red-bellied Black snake so I thought that would be a good area to check out. I put in over 12 miles on trails that day, lots of birds but the weather just did not want to cooperate, wind, cool temps and intermittent showers kept the herps from coming out in numbers. Finally, late in the day, the weather broke, the wind died, the sun came out and it warmed up to around 80. Almost immediately the indications of herp life became evident. First, there were these tiny little skinks, they were everywhere, all you would see was a quick flash and rustling leaves, it seemed like every 5 feet there was another one. An interesting observation I have made in Australia is that there are almost an unlimited amount of niche microhabitats and creatures that take advantage of them. For instance, this species of skink seemed to almost be exclusive to the fringe areas of grassy areas, another skink was only on the tree trunks of the Euclids and a third was only in the more dense underbrush with thick litter. Late in the day I was walking back in the general direction of my car when I came across not one but 2 common tree snakes in the middle of the trail. They are quite alert and active snakes, and also as I was about to find out, excellent and fast climbers. The second they detected my presence, they were off! Each one going in the opposite direction (I assume they were dining on the numerous skinks that were all along the trail). I watched one with amazement as it scaled a large fig tree to a height of about 20 and up a branch faster than I could get my camera aimed and focused for any chance of a shot. I also noticed that they do a great job of positioning themselves between you and a branch, I watched the one that I chased as it disappeared on top of a branch and then slowly stuck just enough of its head out to see if I was still there, they appear to have tremendously good eyesight as well and I was able to kind of play a game of hide and seek with it for a few minutes. Id wait for it to peer over the branch and I would take a step toward the tree, immediately the snake would disappear from view for several seconds before it would slowly move it's head back out just enough to check me out again.
Here are some of the more interesting species observed on my trip
Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike (Near Townsville) Closed-litter Rainbow Skink Noisy Friarbird - Poona National Park Shade-litter Rainbow Skink Ever get the feeling youre being watched??? Cool little possum from Rainbow Beach, Queensland Common Ringtail Possum - Pseudocheirus peregrinus Red-legged Pademelon Thylogale stigmatica Red-browed Finch Double-barred Finch Open-litter Rainbow Skink
Sadly, while traveling back toward Hervey Bay, on a very busy highway, I passed by a Bearded Dragon that had apparently decided to sun himself in the middle of the road. I was able to pull over to the shoulder (not a small feat on these roads) and rescue him from the highway. He as quite feisty but was also injured, appeared to have been clipped by a car as there was some blood and damage to his mouth and eye, he was a pretty big specimen and when I released him did walk away, dont know what the eventual outcome was but at least he wasn't obliterated on the highway
The final couple of days were spent in Brisbane before heading home. I was able to spot two additional herps at the Brisbane botanical gardens in the middle of the city: Garden Skink Barred-sided Skink
Here are a few additional photos of interest from various areas and stops along the way
Yellow-bellied Sunbird Black-necked Stork Broad-palmed Rocketfrog Eastern Reef Egret Emerald Dove Forest Kingfisher Galah Great Egret Green (White's) Treefrog Laughing Kookaburra Nankeen Kestrel Northern (Roths) Laughing Treefrog Pale-headed Rosella Rainbow Bee Eater Red-backed Kingfisher Red-throated Skink Red-winged Parrot Royal Spoonbill Rufous Whistler Spotted Catbird Stony-creek Frog Straw-necked Ibis Striated Pardalote Sulphur Crested Cockatoo Willy Wagtail Yellow-bellied Sunbird
This trip was definitely a much better birding trip than it was a herp trip, I saw 107 different bird species on the trip (78 lifers) as opposed to 29 herps species of which 22 were lifers
Heres the lists:
Common Tree Snake
Water Python (DOR)
Common or Eastern Brown Snake
Closed-litter Rainbow Skink
Shade-Litter Rainbow Skink
Open-Litter Rainbow Skink
Hooded Rainbow Skink
Common Tree Skink
Eastern Striped Skink
Dtella House Gecko
Asian House Gecko
Northern Sun Skink
Estuarine or Salt-Water Crocodile
Striped Burrowing Frog
Northern Dwarf Treefrog
Green (White's) Treefrog
Northern Laughing Treefrog
Australian Brush Turkey
Australian White Ibis
Australian Wood Duck
Eastern Reef Egret
Little Pied Cormorant
Pacific Black Duck
White Bellied Sea Eagle
Common Ringtail Possum