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