Sunday, March 7, 2010

Hamersley Range, Western Australia

The Hamersley Range contains Western Australia's highest peaks (Mt Meharry at 1249m is the highest), and is found in the southern Pilbara. The country is spectacular, with ancient mesas clad with spinifex dominating the landscape.

Reptile diversity is incredible, and during 11 days of surveying we recorded close to 60 species (31 lifers!). Two species of reptile we found were of conservation significance, the 'Pilbara' Olive Python and a Blind Snake (Ramphotyphlops ganei) that is very poorly known. Unfortunately, the high temperatures (avg 34/night, 46/day) meant that it was too hot to photograph most of the species for 2 reasons: they were too active to stay still, and more importantly, there would be a high risk of heat stress on the animals capable of easily causing death.

Prevention of animal deaths when trapping is also a must to consider. We successfully did this by checking the traps at dawn, closing all cage and elliot traps and funnels, and covering the pits and buckets that animals fall in to. We would keep all collected animals found in the morning cool throughout the day (in air conditioned rooms), and would release them in the late afternoon when re-opening the traps. Unfortunately, a previous survey in the same project area used different methods, and experienced extremely high numbers of animal deaths, even with conditions that were cooler.

All in all it was a very successful first Pilbara trip, and I managed to see a few new birds as well, including the hilarious looking Spinifex Pigeon, the skulky and struggling-to-fly Spinifexbird, and the beautiful black, red and white-spotted Painted Finch.

Hamersley Gorge in Karijini National Park was the best place to be at 48 degrees Celcius.

Dawn Birding

Strophurus wellingtonae ? (Thanks Bruce for the photo)

Marbled Velvet Gecko (Oedura marmorata). We saw these large geckos on rock outcrops at night...something to note: once latched onto your finger they can be difficult to get off.

Desert Cave Gecko (Heternotia spelea) - 2 were seen spotlighting near the Marbled Velvet Geckos

Burton's Legless Lizard (Lialis burtonis) - my first encounter of this widespread species. It had an incredible pattern (Thanks Bruce for the photo).

Egernia formosa, the only one we saw.

Ctenotus rutilans, basically a Hamersley Range endemic, and a species I had hoped to find

Desert Tree Frog (Litoria rubella) - noisy and abundant across Australia

Cyclorana maini - quite common in the few areas water persisted

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Some Snakes of Western Australia

Western Australia is also a fantastic place for snakes. So far I've encountered 12 species, two of which were roadkill (Pseudechis australis and Pseudonaja nuchalis). I was very excited to see my first Jan's Banded Snake (Simoselaps bertholdi) in the coastal dunes around Perth. We also found one in the Robinson Range.

Southwestern Carpet Python (Morelia spilota imbricata), Cervantes, Dec 2009

Tiger Snake (Notechis scutatus), Perth, Oct 2009

Jan's Banded Snake (Simoselaps bertholdi), Perth, Oct 2009

Ramphotyphlops hamatus, Robinson Range, Nov 2009

Monk Snake (Parasuta monachus), Robinson Range, Nov 2009

Northwestern Shovel-nosed Snake (Brachyurophis approximans), Robinson Range, Nov 2009

Southern Blind Snake (Ramphotyphlops australis), Darling Ranges, Oct 2009

Gould's Snake (Parasuta gouldii), Darling Ranges, Oct 2009

Some Geckos of Western Australia

Since moving to Perth, Western Australia, my reptile list has blossomed nicely. Geckos are a particular favourite family of mine, and 8 of the 12 species I have seen here have been new. Fortunately I've been able to work in some intersting places, and was able to observe some unique species. Additional species I have seen, but not photographed, are Christinus marmoratus, Diplodactylus pulcher, Gehyra punctata and Rhychoedura ornata.
Fat-tailed Gecko (Diplodactylus conspicillatus), Jack Hills, Sep 2009

Sand-plain Gecko (Lucasium stenodactylum), Jack Hills, Sep 2009

Banded Knob-tailed Gecko (Nephrurus wheeleri cinctus), Robinson Range, Nov 2009

Lucasium wombeyi, Robinson Range, Nov 2009

Western Stone Gecko (Diplodactylus granariensis rex), Robinson Range, Nov 2009

Thick-tailed Gecko (Underwoodisaurus milii), Darling Ranges, Oct 2009

Tree Dtella (Gehyra variegata), Darling Ranges, Oct 2009

Clawless Gecko (Crenadactylus ocellatus ocellatus), Darling Ranges, Oct 2009

Soft Spiny-tailed Gecko (Strophurus spinigerus), Cervantes, Dec 2009

Aus Bird #486 - Bridled Tern - Penguin Island, WA

On the 26th of January, 2010 (Australia Day), Jaime and I visited Penguin Island, about 1hr south of Perth. We were hoping to see the Bridled Terns that nest on the island. We were in luck, as there were hundreds of them all over the island. Many of the nests had chicks of various sizes. We also found Buff-banded Rails to be very easy to see around the picnic area on the island, and we counted 11. King's Skinks (Egernia kingii), another lifer, also roamed about in equal numbers, often outcompeting the rails for food scraps such as watermelon peel.

Bridled Tern #486 (excluding introduced species)

Little Penguins (2 underneath jetty)

Buff-banded Rail

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Bugong National Park

Yesterday, my friend Matt and I went bushwalking in Bugong National Park, to the west of Nowra. It was a nice sunny day, with only a little wind. It had been 8 years since I last visited this part of the park, but it was as interesting as I remembered. Once we hit some northwest facing escarpment, we encountered our first reptiles for the day, including this Copper-tailed Skink (Ctenotus taeniolatus). They are a very fast skink, and can be very hard to catch in warmer weather. However, today was cool enough for them to stay still.

Soon after, we found a juvenile Lesueur's Velvet Gecko (Oedura lesueurii), followed by an adult (left). This is the only species of gecko in the Shoalhaven, but it is possible that others (Eastern Stone Gecko and/or Broad-tailed Gecko) exist locally.

Lesueur's Velvet Geckos are found under small, flat, sandstone rocks, as well as under logs and behind bark on trees. They grow to about 12cm in length, and are capable of walking up smooth surfaces such as glass.

We found 2 Eastern Small-eyed Snakes (Cryptophis nigrescens), possibly the most abundant snake in the area. However, they are rarely seen due to their nocturnal habits. They are a small venomous species, with one recorded fatality, but they are generally very docile and can be handled freely. 

Another venomous species we discovered, was a basking Red-bellied Black Snake (Pseudechis porphyriacus), below. It stayed still long enough for us to take some photographs. Usually they take off in a flash once they sense you, but I think he was enjoying the sun too much to worry about us standing just 3m away. Eventually, he got sick of our smell, and slowly went under the nearby boulder.

The last interesting find of the walk, on our way back to the car, was a single Zieria sp. (below) growing on top of a cliff. I haven't had a chance to identify it yet, but it's likely a localised species, and potentially threatened. It was flowering, which is quite early for most species of Zieria, with small pink petals.

A great day, and well worth taking the day off work!

Friday, June 26, 2009

'Whaling' by light aircraft

Last Tuesday (23rd June), a concerned observer reported to Booderee National Park (Jervis Bay) staff that they had just observed a large whale that appeared to be entangled in fishing net. The next morning a helicopter was sent out briefly to track down the whale, without luck. So a few hours later, my dad I boarded a small fixed-wing plane and surveyed the coastline north from Ulladulla to Wollongong. 

We encountered 6 or 7 Humpback Whale pods on their northward migration, consisting of 26-29 individuals. Good looks were obtained of almost all the whales. However, we couldn't find any whales that were entangled or distressed. It is possible that the whale in question had already headed beyond Wollongong by this point, and could have been in the vicinity of Sydney. 

Still, it was an interesting experience, and other than the humpbacks, we saw pods of Short-beaked Common Dolphin and Bottlenose Dolphin, as well as a raft of 5 Australian Fur-seals.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Life in Cold Air - Vancouver Island Alpine Special

From July to September 2008, I spent most of my time in the beautiful central mountains of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. As part of a team of 4, we were set to survey alpine peaks for Vancouver Island Marmot, White-tailed Ptarmigan, and rare plants.

The weather was very variable, even though it was the middle of summer. Predicting weather patterns on Vancouver Island is practically impossible, as you can stand on a peak and see snow to the north, sunshine to the east, rain to the south, and impenetrable fog to the west. Weather pretty much determined where we could and could not venture.

Luckily, for the most part, we had the help of a helicopter to keep us mobile, as some of the hikes between mountain were extremely arduous and to our knowledge, had not been attempted before.

Mosquitos were the most abundant species we found, followed closely by Black Bears (Ursus americanus, below, swatting at mosquitos). The bears didn't give us too much trouble, even though we encountered over 40 of them during the summer. A couple of very close run-ins with mothers and cubs kept us on our toes.

The Vancouver Island Marmot (Marmota vancouverensis) is Canada's most endangered mammal. They occur in high alpine meadows, and hibernate for about 8 months of the year. During the short time they are active, teams of biologists are out radio-tracking them, trying to identify new individuals and look for pups. The marmot below had at least 2 pups running around it's den.

The species we were really after though, was the White-tailed Ptarmigan (Lagopus leucurus saxatilis). A vulnerable endemic sub-species is found exclusively on Vancouver Island. We surveyed for them in areas where data was lacking, to help conserve habitat that wasn't already protected. The highly-cryptic ptarmigan allow you to almost step on them before they give themselves away. Their plumage varies between seasons, in winter they are all white, and in summer are a mottled reddish/brown/grey colour. The one below was photographed on my last day and is in a transitional state from summer to winter plumage.