Doing Alice - Australia

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stewart_macdonald
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Doing Alice - Australia

Post by stewart_macdonald » March 10th, 2012, 9:57 pm

After my close call with trying to reach my goal of seeing 50 new Australian reptile species in 2010, I decided to start early in 2011. With the new year just days old, a mate and I packed his car and drove out to Alice Springs. He had to get back work, so we didn't have much time to look for beasts along the way. We did, of course, stop to investigate anything on the road that looked interesting, be it dead, alive, or in between.

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Dead shield-snouted brown snake (Pseudonaja aspidorhyncha) seen on the Stuart Highway in South Australia.

We'd planned to spend our last night on the road near Woomera, so that we could have a poke around for the Pernatty knob-tailed gecko (Nephrurus deleani). We spent a few hours spotlighting in some sand dunes, managing to turn up only one knob-tail and one beaded gecko (Lucasium damaeum) which managed to escape without being photographed.

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Pernatty knob-tailed gecko (Nephrurus deleani)

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Scorpion

We arrived in Alice Springs late the next evening, having seen but not photographed about half a dozen desert skinks (Liopholis inornata) on the road just after sunset. The next two weeks were a mixture of spotlighting at night and poking around during the day. I managed to see a bunch of interesting beasts in and around Alice Springs, including an army of frogs brought out by the recent rains. The rains had turned the Red Centre bright green, but it was unfortunately largely due to the introduced buffel grass.

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Long-nosed dragon (Amphibolurus longirostris) in Simpson's Gap.

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Main's frog (Cyclorana maini)

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Trilling frog (Neobatrachus centralis - possibly a junior synonym of N. sudelli)

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Trilling frog (Neobatrachus centralis - possibly a junior synonym of N. sudelli)

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Trilling frog (Neobatrachus centralis - possibly a junior synonym of N. sudelli)

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Gillen's tree frog (Litoria gilleni)

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Desert tree frog (Litoria rubella)

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Stimson's python (Antaresia stimsoni)

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Centralian carpet python (Morelia spilota bredli)

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Centralian carpet python (Morelia spilota bredli)

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Centralian carpet python (Morelia spilota bredli)

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A central eastern brown snake (Pseudonaja textilis)

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Mengden's brown snake (Pseudonaja mengdeni). 'pale head, grey nape' form.

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Mengden's brown snake (Pseudonaja mengdeni). 'pale head, grey nape' form.

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Mengden's brown snake (Pseudonaja mengdeni). 'pale head, grey nape' form.

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Mengden's brown snake (Pseudonaja mengdeni). 'Orange with black head' form.

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Mengden's brown snake (Pseudonaja mengdeni)

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Mulga snake (Pseudechis australis)

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Mulga snake (Pseudechis australis)

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Mulga snake (Pseudechis australis)

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Unbanded shovel-nosed snake (Brachyurophis incinctus)

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Orange-naped snake (Furina ornata)

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Western hooded scaly-foot (Pygopus nigriceps)

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Purplish dtella (Gehyra purpurascens)

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Variegated dtella (Gehyra variegata)

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Fat-tailed gecko (Diplodactylus conspicillatus)

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Sandplain gecko (Lucasium stenodactylum)

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Northern spiny-tailed gecko (Strophurus ciliaris)

Most reptile field guides don't show southern spiny-tailed geckos (Strophurus intermedius) as occurring in Alice Springs, but they're well-known from the area. They're more than likely a new species, but the population can be assigned to S. intermedius pending a revision of their taxonomic status.

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Southern spiny-tailed gecko (Strophurus intermedius)

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Marbled velvet gecko (Oedura marmorata)

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Bynoe's gecko (Heteronotia 'binoei'). It'll be described as a new species eventually.

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Bynoe's gecko (Heteronotia 'binoei'). It'll be described as a new species eventually.

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Spinifex and sand. Home to Ctenotus brooksi.

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Brooks' ctenotus (Ctenotus brooksi)

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Brooks' ctenotus (Ctenotus brooksi)

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Central netted dragon (Ctenophorus nuchalis)

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Central netted dragon (Ctenophorus nuchalis)

I was excited to have an opportunity to visit one of the few populations of Slater's skink (Liopholis slateri, formerly Egernia slateri). In the 1960s, the species was apparently abundant around Alice Springs. Fifty-eight specimens were collected in the mid 1960s at the type locality just south of town (31 of those in just two days), but it now appears that the species is extinct at this site. The species is currently listed as endangered, and the introduction of buffel grass is correlated with its decline.

A guy I met at a bar offered to take me out to a site he knew of, and I jumped at the chance. Slater's skinks live in complex burrow systems constructed under small shrubs. We staked out a number of burrows, but hours of patient waiting brought no results. Thankfully, as the sun set and the temperature dropped from 'oppressively hot' to 'mildly unpleasant', the skinks emerged from their subterranean lairs.

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Slater's skink (Liopholis slateri)

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Slater's skink (Liopholis slateri)

I decided I couldn't leave Alice without climbing Mt Gillen in the majestic Macdonnell Ranges. Rising at 5 AM, I drove to the start of the narrow track that ascends the steep range. I made it to the top just as the sun was hitting the ground. A number of skinks and birds were going about their business before the rising heat forced them to seek shelter.

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Climbing Mt Gillen, Alice Springs

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The view from atop Mt Gillen, Alice Springs

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Mt Gillen, Alice Springs

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Rock ctenotus (Ctenotus saxatilis)

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Lively ctenotus (Ctenotus alacer)

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Dusky grasswren (Amytornis purnelli)

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Grey-headed honeyeater (Lichenostomus keartlandi)

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Grey shrike-thrush (Colluricincla harmonica)

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Well-camouflaged grasshopper

The arid zones of Australia are typified by a 'boom or bust' cycle. When decent rains fall, food abounds. Plants seed, insects multiply, and the effects are carried up the food chain. When things start to dry out, the populations of many species crash. The start of 2011 was definitely within a boom period. The countryside was verdant. The eucalypts were in flower. And the mice were out in force. Ryan had only just moved into his new place in Alice, and it evidently wasn't vermin-proof. During my stay, I was sleeping on the lounge room floor on my camping mattress. Or rather, I was trying to sleep on the floor. The thing about the floor is, it's the perfect height for mice. And the thing about my face is, apparently mice love it. For those of you who have not been kept awake by having mice crawl over your body while you're trying to sleep, I suggest you do whatever you can to keep it that way. I did eventually devise a way to trap them in the bin, after which I exacted my (humane) revenge on them. Either there were only four of the little blighters, or the rest of them took the hint after the first four didn't return home in the morning.

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House mouse (Mus musculus)

Littering is abhorrent for a number of reasons, not least of which is illustrated below.

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This ridge-tailed monitor (Varanus acanthurus) got its head stuck in a beer can and was run over.

North of Alice, the rocky plains along the Macdonnell Ranges give way to sandy country. This area is home to a different suite of fauna. I had wanted to spend a bit more time in this area, but it was 200km out of town and Ryan was working during the week. I did get up there for one night and found one of the species I was chasing. I intend to poke around there more thoroughly the next time I get a chance.

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Night skink (Liopholis striata) habitat

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Night skink (Liopholis striata)

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Night skink (Liopholis striata)

I'd been to Alice just once before back in 2007, but I didn't get a chance to do much in the two nights I was there. The few weeks I was able to spend there this time enabled me to visit the megalithic icon of the Red Centre, Uluru.

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Uluru

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One of the myriad sand dunes around Uluru. These dunes are home to many small skinks and geckos, including pale knob-tailed geckos (Nephrurus laevissimus)

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Pale knob-tailed gecko (Nephrurus laevissimus)

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Pale knob-tailed gecko (Nephrurus laevissimus)

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Black-breasted buzzard (Hamirostra melanosternon) soaring over Uluru

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Centralian blue-tongued skink (Tiliqua multifasciata)

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Centralian blue-tongued skink (Tiliqua multifasciata)

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Centralian blue-tongued skink (Tiliqua multifasciata)

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Massive-gibber ctenotus (Ctenotus septenarius)

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Centralian earless dragon (Tympanocryptis centralis)

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Centralian earless dragon (Tympanocryptis centralis)

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Centralian earless dragon (Tympanocryptis centralis) admiring The Olgas (Kata Tjuta)

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Uluru sunset

Two weeks in Alice gave me 13 new repticks, one amphibitick, a few new birds and a gastropotick. This took my lifetime total to 313 Australian reptile species. I was well on my way to seeing 50+ this year.

Repticks:
Nephrurus deleani
Lucasium damaeum
Strophurus intermedius

Nephrurus laevissimus
Ctenotus leonhardii
(not photographed)
Ctenotus septenarius
Tympanocryptis centralis

Morelia spilota bredli
(subspecies tick)

Ctenotus saxatilis
Ctenotus alacer


Liopholis (Egernia) striata

Ctenotus brooksi
Ctenotus schomburgkii
(not photographed)
Liopholis (Egernia) slateri

Lifetime total: 313 Australian reptile species

Notable absences:
Nephrurus amyae
Acanthophis pyrrhus
Diplodactylus galeatus

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VanAR
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Re: Doing Alice - Australia

Post by VanAR » March 10th, 2012, 10:50 pm

Great pics, as usual!

Q for you- what's the best method to wrangle/post the large elapids for photos? I'm going to be living in Sydney for 2 years starting in June, and I'd like to see/photo as many species as possible, hopefully without getting tagged in the process.

Van

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Fieldnotes
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Re: Doing Alice - Australia

Post by Fieldnotes » March 10th, 2012, 11:37 pm

Australia appear as if it is the best herp'n spot in the world... nice post...
here's to the dead monitor :beer: RIP brother

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Jeff Lemm
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Re: Doing Alice - Australia

Post by Jeff Lemm » March 11th, 2012, 7:47 am

amazing shots as always. Thats the 2nd ackie I've seen that way...bummer

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monklet
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Re: Doing Alice - Australia

Post by monklet » March 11th, 2012, 8:11 am

As good as it gets! Stunning portraits of those bad-ass browns!

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Joey Kennedy
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Re: Doing Alice - Australia

Post by Joey Kennedy » March 11th, 2012, 9:53 am

That trilling frog is awesome, australia seems like itd be really cool to explore n herp!

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Serpentes
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Re: Doing Alice - Australia

Post by Serpentes » March 11th, 2012, 3:48 pm

Great pics Stewart. Good work on the two Liopholis!

mikemike
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Re: Doing Alice - Australia

Post by mikemike » March 11th, 2012, 7:12 pm

Awesome post as usual!

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stewart_macdonald
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Re: Doing Alice - Australia

Post by stewart_macdonald » March 12th, 2012, 12:08 am

Thanks, all, for the kind words.

Van, photographing elapids is tricky. For starters, Australia has a look-but-don't-touch rule with most of its wildlife. As such, photographing wild snakes in situ is the best method. But sometimes, that's not possible (e.g., when photographing captive elapids). With captives, most people place the animal under a form of shelter, such as a bowl, bucket or bin lid (larger shelters for larger animals, obviously). You wait until the animal is settled, then remove the shelter and photograph the animal. Sometimes the animal bolts and you have to grab it and start again. Other times the animal just looks like it's dead and does nothing. But sometimes the animal is very 'cooperative' and you get some good shots.


Stewart

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Bill Love
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Re: Doing Alice - Australia

Post by Bill Love » March 13th, 2012, 6:59 pm

Beautiful photos! The DOR Varanus acanthurus with its head stuck in the can is especially graphic.

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TNWJackson
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Re: Doing Alice - Australia

Post by TNWJackson » March 18th, 2012, 1:23 pm

Another great post Stewart, with too many cool animals to comment on. Love the P. mengdeni.

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Azemiops
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Re: Doing Alice - Australia

Post by Azemiops » March 18th, 2012, 3:31 pm

Great post Stew, i'd love to find a Mengden's brown as nice as the black-headed one you photographed.

We're flying out to Alice at the end of May - what do you reckon the herping will be like around that time of year? I know the nights are going to be pretty cold, but will much be active during the day?

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stewart_macdonald
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Re: Doing Alice - Australia

Post by stewart_macdonald » March 18th, 2012, 9:03 pm

Azemiops wrote:We're flying out to Alice at the end of May - what do you reckon the herping will be like around that time of year?
Hi Tom,

I haven't been there in May, but I'd assume that diurnal stuff will still be active. Stephen Michael Zozaya the Fourth will be out there in early May, so he'll be able to give you an indication of temps and activity.


Stewart

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StephenZozaya
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Re: Doing Alice - Australia

Post by StephenZozaya » March 18th, 2012, 10:25 pm

stewart_macdonald wrote: Stephen Michael Zozaya the Fourth
I hate you.

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Re: Doing Alice - Australia

Post by jordo » March 19th, 2012, 1:46 am

Azemiops wrote: We're flying out to Alice at the end of May - what do you reckon the herping will be like around that time of year? I know the nights are going to be pretty cold, but will much be active during the day?
I've spent a little bit of time in Alice myself. The cooler weather is an excellent time to flip rocks, when it's hot you don't flip much but once it cools down you should have more luck.

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