Australian Frog Research '15 - Long and Pic Intensive!

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MonarchzMan
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Australian Frog Research '15 - Long and Pic Intensive!

Post by MonarchzMan » December 9th, 2015, 7:34 am

For those of you who know me, you know I am a frequent traveler, most often for research. My research interests mainly deal with aposematic coloration and how it evolves. As you’d probably expect, these research interests largely focused on Central and South American Poison Frogs (Dendrobatidae). My research took me primarily to Panama and French Guiana, although I have been to Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Nicaragua for research purposes as well.

Well, early this year, I had a once-in-a-lifetime (well, maybe not, more on that at the end) opportunity to expand my research program. I was awarded an East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes (EAPSI) Fellowship from the National Science Foundation to work in Australia on color evolution in the Australian Brood Frogs (Pseudophryne) for the summer. As I’m sure is the case with most people here, Australia is high on the list of places to visit. I had to settle for their winter, but it was still an amazing experience. I got to spend June through August in Australia based out of Newcastle. The goal of my research was to examine predation of these frogs and make clay models of different colored frogs to place in the wild and allow for predators to attack them. This would give me insight into how predators viewed local color forms and novel ones.

To begin the trip, I had perhaps the worst experience traveling I’ve ever had. United lost my luggage for a full week. And despite all of that, they wouldn’t deliver my luggage to the place I was staying. Needless to say, I was not happy. I had come a week and a half before the EAPSI program officially started in an effort to get started on making 2000 clay models. The lost luggage prevented that. But fortunately things were better from then on.

To begin, we (30 fellows) had to meet in Canberra for an orientation and to be introduced to the Australian Academy of Science and Canberra. This involved everything from going to the War Memorial to sitting in for Question Time in Parliament (if you think American politics are dysfunctional, sit in on Australian Question Time). We even got to meet Ambassador John Berry.

ImageCrimson Rosella by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr
ImageHall of Honour by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

The part I was most interested in was going to the Tinbinbilla Nature Reserve to see the animals there. Unfortunately, temperatures were cool (probably in the 50s Fahrenheit) so it wasn’t ideal to see herps, but we did see charismatic mammals (the density of kangaroos is ridiculous) and birds. Actually, that was much of my trip. Since temperatures were cool, herps were not easy to find. So I did a lot of birding (poor man’s herps, right?). I will say, it was amazing to see the Eucalyptus forests. After seeing them, I totally understand why so many parts of the country have issues with fire. Virtually all of the forests I went in looked like they could spontaneously burst in flame if you looked at them intensely.

ImageTinbinbilla Nature Reserve by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr
ImageBlack Swan by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr
ImageEastern Grey Kangaroo by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

After the orientation, I went back to Newcastle to start up with my research. Three weeks and 2000 models later, and I was ready to get going with my project. Most of my days were spent making models, but I did get to spend weekends checking out the area. This involved exploring around Newcastle and some of the reserves in the area as well as Sydney.

This is about 3/4 of my models...


ImageSulphur-Crested Cockatoo by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr
ImageGreen Tree Snake by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr
ImageNewcastle Beach by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr
ImageSooty Oystercatcher by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr
ImageGray-Headed Flying Fox by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr
ImageGulls at the Lighthouse by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr
ImageEastern Water Skink by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr
ImageBrisbane Water National Park by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr
ImageSomersby Falls by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

And now onto the epic roadtrip part of my research. I must say for those looking into traveling throughout Australia on the cheap, you need to get the Camps Australia Wide atlas. Australia likes camping, and as a result it has loads of free camping areas. The Camps Australia Wide lists nearly all of the campsites in the whole country and tells the traits of each (what are free, what have water or bathrooms, etc). So with that in hand, I headed down to my first research site – Croajingolong National Park in Victoria.

When I got there, I was immediately greeted by Brush-Tailed Possums that were quite interested in what I had for dinner. They certainly weren’t shy about checking things out, which gave me the opportunity to get some decent photos of them. I also managed to find some herps! Crinia signifera. Super common, but when you haven’t seen them before, they’re super awesome too.

ImageCommon Brush-tailed Possum by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr
ImageEastern Common Froglet by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

I spent two days placing models and ended up having an extra day before I’d have to start picking up models. I could stay in the area, or I could make the 3 hour jaunt over to Toongabbie to act on a vague reference to a cool looking Pseudophryne from the area. It was cold at night, but when I cruised around Toongabbie I did hear frogs calling. Unfortunately, I think most of what I was hearing was Crinia, but I could not confirm because they were in the middle of cow pastures. So it was a bit of a bust, but worth a shot.

ImageToongabbie Nightscape by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

I had the option at this point, to go back to Croajingolong and perhaps explore a little around there, or I could make the additional 2 hour jaunt over to Phillip Island to try to see some penguins since what I was told, that is the best place to see Little Penguins in this part of Australia. Well, in getting there, I found out that I’d have to pay to go to the Penguin Parade, the best time to see penguins is about an hour or so after dusk, and I couldn’t take photos (even if I used a long lens, no flash, and a tripod). I didn’t want to deal with all of that (and I really needed to make the 5 hour drive back to Croajingolong to start collecting frogs the following morning), so penguins was a bust, but Phillip Island was pretty cool otherwise!

ImageCape Barren Goose by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr
ImageFairy Prion by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

Croajingolong was somewhat disappointing though. I only had 6 models attacked in 2000. I was expecting, on a low end 5-10% attack (100-200 attacks). This makes conclusions difficult, unfortunately. One thing I noticed when I was there was how quiet it was. Few birds, few mammals, few tracks. I don’t know if it was the area, the weather, or the time of year.

Heading back to Newcastle a little dejected (~26 hours of driving so far), I decided to regroup and put models out in Watagans National Park which was close to Newcastle. I was instantly more gratified by putting models out there as there were tons of birds (including lyrebirds and brush turkeys – likely candidates as predators of these frogs), tracks, and activity. Just like with Croajingolong, I spent 2 days setting out models, and then had a free day before having to pick up models. It took brief consideration, but I decided to make the 11 hour drive up to Beerwah, QLD for my free day.

Beerwah, for those who don’t know, is where the Australia Zoo is. Steve Irwin’s Zoo (although, at this point, probably more accurately described as Bindi’s Zoo). Think what you want about Steve, but he did make herpetology cool, IMO. And I largely thank his enthusiasm for herps as why I really got into herpetology (and why I’ve had such a fascination with Australia). So visiting the Australia Zoo has been on my bucket list for a long time. It was a really cool zoo, and the exhibits were kept immaculate. I don’t think I saw a single smudge on any of the glass. After spending the day at the zoo and the Croc Show in the Crocoseum, I headed back to Newcastle to get after the models again.

ImageHome of the Croc Hunter by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr
ImageBlue and Yellow Macaw by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr
ImageSouthern Cassowary by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr
ImageRhinoceros Iguana by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr
ImageCrocoseum Panorama by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

And good news, I had more attacks, but the bad news is that the attacks were still very low. I have to think hard on how to analyze the data. But I think there are some interesting trends coming out of the data. It’s just not as clean as I would have liked. And I found a few more herps in the process!

It was nearing the end of my trip and I had an excursion I was most excited about. I was to attend the International Behaviour Conference in Cairns to present my research. I went down to Sydney the day before I was to leave and was granted the opportunity to get some photos of the Corroboree Frogs at the Taronga Zoo. I’m going to be collaborating with them a bit with toxins produced with Corroborees, and possibly some of their reintroduction program.

ImageSouthern Corroboree Frog by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr
ImageSouthern Corroboree Frog by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr
ImageSouthern Corroboree Frog by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

The following day, I headed up to Cairns. I scheduled an additional 5 days in Cairns to check out the area and dive on the Great Barrier Reef (another bucket list item checked off). I ended up doing most of my herping there too. I ended up hitting the Great Barrier Reef, Daintree, Mission Beach, and the Atherton Tablelands.

ImageCairns Espanade by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr
ImageMossman Gorge Panorama 1 by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr
ImageMetallic Starling by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr
ImageNorthern Leaf-Tailed Gecko by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr
ImageCommon Mist Frog by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr
ImageJungguy Tree Frog by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr
ImageBoyd's Forest Dragon by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr
ImageGreen-Eyed Tree Frog by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr
ImageNorthern Red-Throated Skink by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr
ImageNorthern Red-Throated Skink by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr
ImageStriped Snake-Eyed Skink by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr
ImageLumholtz's Tree-Kangaroo by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr
ImageSaw-Shelled Turtle by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr
ImageSatin Bowerbird by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr
ImageSatin Bowerbird by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

And this is the closest I ever got to seeing a wild Cassowary
ImageSouthern Cassowary Droppings by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr
ImageFlynn Reef by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr
ImageFlynn Reef by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr
ImageFlynn Reef by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr
ImageFlynn Reef by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr
ImageFlynn Reef by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

I had a couple days to get a few more herps around Newcastle before I flew back to the US (and promptly started teaching 4 days later – I wouldn’t recommend teaching while jetlagged).

ImageElegant Snake-Eyed Skink by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr
ImageStriped Marsh Frog by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr
ImageVerreaux's Tree Frog by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr
ImageRed-Crowned Toadlet by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr
ImageEastern Dwarf Tree Frog by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr
ImageRed-backed Toadlet by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

And a few more random photos from the trip!

ImageBulldog Ant by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr
ImageGang-Gang Cockatoo by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

And that was basically the end of my trip! I had wanted to visit Australia for two decades since I started watching Steve Irwin and having this opportunity was a dream. I approached this trip as I don’t know if/when I’d get back so I was going to see as much as I could. I saw a great deal of the country in two and half months. As I said in the beginning of this post, I thought this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but I recently learned that I was awarded an Endeavour Fellowship which is the Australian State Department’s way of saying “we like what you’re doing, come back for 4-6 months and continue the research!” So I’ll be heading back in January through the beginning of July. Should be able to find many more herps during their summer!

And if you'd like to see many more photos from this past summer, feel free to check out my Flickr Photostream: https://www.flickr.com/gp/[email protected]/iM22W5

Oh, and as part of the EAPSI program, I had to create a video detailing my experiences that can be used for PR and for the Australian Academy of Science. Feel free to check it out!


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Jeroen Speybroeck
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Re: Australian Frog Research '15 - Long and Pic Intensive!

Post by Jeroen Speybroeck » December 9th, 2015, 7:36 am

Wow, stunning photography! Now I'm going to read it as well ;)

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justinm
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Re: Australian Frog Research '15 - Long and Pic Intensive!

Post by justinm » December 9th, 2015, 8:07 am

JP you're killing it! Keep up the good work and share some of this stuff more often.

Justin

MonarchzMan
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Re: Australian Frog Research '15 - Long and Pic Intensive!

Post by MonarchzMan » December 9th, 2015, 8:33 am

Thanks! I'm going to try to do more updates from this upcoming trip, but writing these posts takes times and the more I start planning for this upcoming trip, the more I realize that time is going to be a very valuable commodity.

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Berkeley Boone
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Re: Australian Frog Research '15 - Long and Pic Intensive!

Post by Berkeley Boone » December 9th, 2015, 7:19 pm

Holy crap! I'm a little jealous you got to spend some one-on-one time with the Corroborees!

Great post, JP. Really great post. You got to see some really cool stuff. That wild brush tailed possum really took the cake though!

I'll be reading this post again. A few times!

--Berkeley

MonarchzMan
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Re: Australian Frog Research '15 - Long and Pic Intensive!

Post by MonarchzMan » December 9th, 2015, 7:25 pm

Berkeley Boone wrote:Holy crap! I'm a little jealous you got to spend some one-on-one time with the Corroborees!

Great post, JP. Really great post. You got to see some really cool stuff. That wild brush tailed possum really took the cake though!

I'll be reading this post again. A few times!

--Berkeley
Thanks! I was super psyched that they let me take photos. I might actually have opportunity to see them in the wild this year (proposing some conservation projects). You saw a lot more of the zoo than I did. Just with the timing of getting to the zoo from Newcastle in one day, meant that I only had a couple hours to check it out.

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chrish
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Re: Australian Frog Research '15 - Long and Pic Intensive!

Post by chrish » December 9th, 2015, 8:12 pm

Great stuff. Congrats on getting to go back!

Tree Kangaroo - damn! I looked hard for those things and failed. Great critter!

Any shorebirds at the Esplanade?

MonarchzMan
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Re: Australian Frog Research '15 - Long and Pic Intensive!

Post by MonarchzMan » December 9th, 2015, 8:32 pm

chrish wrote:Great stuff. Congrats on getting to go back!

Tree Kangaroo - damn! I looked hard for those things and failed. Great critter!

Any shorebirds at the Esplanade?
Nerada Tea Plantation. That 'roo is George, if I recall. There were two right at the entrance (supposedly a baby too, but I didn't see that one).

There were some shorebirds at the Esplanade. The ones I could see/identify were Eastern Curlews and Black-Tailed Godwits. Plus gulls, pelicans, kingfishers, etc.

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Re: Australian Frog Research '15 - Long and Pic Intensive!

Post by krisbell » December 10th, 2015, 2:32 am

Great post and pics - thanks for sharing. I too was very much inspired by Steve Irwin, despite one Aussie member on this forum telling me otherwise!?!

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AndyKraemer
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Re: Australian Frog Research '15 - Long and Pic Intensive!

Post by AndyKraemer » December 13th, 2015, 11:36 am

What a year, JP! Congratulations on the fellowship, and beautiful photos! Of course, good luck with your research :)

Cheers,
Andy

MonarchzMan
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Re: Australian Frog Research '15 - Long and Pic Intensive!

Post by MonarchzMan » December 13th, 2015, 5:13 pm

Thanks guys!

Krisbell, I realize that he can be a controversial figure to many in this hobby, but there is really no denying that he pushed herpetofaunal appreciation to global attention. I personally would not do everything that he did, but I definitely gained my appreciation of herps and my interest to travel the world from watching his documentaries. And I share his philosophy that if you can get people to care about these things, then they'll want to conserve them. I aim to achieve that with my photography.

Andy, thanks! I've been trying for the last 5 years to get funding to do research in Australia, and now I'll be able to travel twice within a year! I don't know when the next time will be that I get to travel Down Under (still applying for more funding), but I'm definitely going to make the most of this next trip! If all goes according to plan, I'll be traveling to New South Wales, Tasmania, Victoria, South Australia, Northern Territory, Western Australia, and the ACT. Should be fun!

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Re: Australian Frog Research '15 - Long and Pic Intensive!

Post by AndyKraemer » December 13th, 2015, 9:37 pm

Fantastic! Have fun this next round, and of course, take pictures! Oh, and welcome to the color group on Slack :)

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Re: Australian Frog Research '15 - Long and Pic Intensive!

Post by Ribbit » December 14th, 2015, 5:04 pm

Amazing photos! I think my favorite is the Green Tree Snake with the apparently unaware tourists in the background.

My wife and I visited Australia Zoo while Steve Irwin was still alive, so I'm sure it felt quite different to you. We hoped he would put in an appearance while we were there, but he didn't. Our favorite zoo moment was when a non-captive Green Tree Snake (hey, didn't I just mention that species?) was climbing a fence, and a zoo employee was casually explaining about it to a group of visitors, and nobody was freaked out in the slightest. There were also quite a few large Eastern Water Dragons wandering about the zoo grounds, which was fun.

John

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Re: Australian Frog Research '15 - Long and Pic Intensive!

Post by MonarchzMan » December 14th, 2015, 5:11 pm

Ribbit wrote:Amazing photos! I think my favorite is the Green Tree Snake with the apparently unaware tourists in the background.
Oh, they were aware. I was taking a few photos of the snake and they thought I was nuts to be within a few inches of the snake. I liked that photo for it's herps and humans in Australia bit. That snake apparently lives on that bridge and any sunny day, even in winter, it can be seen basking.
My wife and I visited Australia Zoo while Steve Irwin was still alive, so I'm sure it felt quite different to you. We hoped he would put in an appearance while we were there, but he didn't. Our favorite zoo moment was when a non-captive Green Tree Snake (hey, didn't I just mention that species?) was climbing a fence, and a zoo employee was casually explaining about it to a group of visitors, and nobody was freaked out in the slightest. There were also quite a few large Eastern Water Dragons wandering about the zoo grounds, which was fun.

John
I had hoped to see Terri, Bindi, or Robert while I was there, but the two children were in school, and I guess Terri was off being a businesswoman. I would have loved to be able to tell them my story. I didn't see any wild snakes, but there were a bunch of Eastern Water Dragons everywhere, along with signs saying don't mess with them.

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