Australia 2016 Part 1: Sydney and the Snowy Mountains

Dedicated exclusively to field herping.

Moderator: Scott Waters

Post Reply
MonarchzMan
Posts: 341
Joined: September 8th, 2011, 5:12 pm
Location: Oxford, MS

Australia 2016 Part 1: Sydney and the Snowy Mountains

Post by MonarchzMan » February 29th, 2016, 1:55 pm

For those who have been following my exploits, you'll know that I have been wanting to get to Australia for some time. Last summer (Australian winter), I finally had the opportunity to visit Australia as part of a joint fellowship between the US and Australian governments to start up a research project on the Australian Brood Frogs (Pseudophryne). You can read more about what I did here:

Australian Frog Research '15

That trip was only for 2.5 months, which is not enough to A) experience the country and B) answer the research questions I wanted to answer. So I applied for a fellowship that would bring me back to Australia for a longer period so that I may collect the data necessary to answer the questions I really wanted to get answered. And long story short, I got it, and I'm back in Australia until the middle of June.

I am still working on Pseudophryne and am interested in how the diet and toxin content interplay and how that relates to color evolution. Basically, I'll be collecting the baseline data needed to validate assumptions about color evolution in the group. The upshot to this is that I get to travel. A lot. All over the country. There are 14 species currently in the genus with the vast majority occurring from around Townsville in Queensland down along the eastern and southern coast to Adelaide. There are some species out in Western Australia, one in the center of the continent, and one in Tasmania. Three species are endangered or critically endangered, so I won't be able to work directly with them, but the rest, I should be able to work with. So currently, assuming permits all work out, I plan on hitting New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, Queensland, South Australia, and the Northern Territory (no frogs there, but seems the easiest to get to the Central Ranges frogs).

I am doing my best to keep a weekly blog of what's going on here on my website (http://www.jp-lawrence.com), but I figured I'd post more herp-centric periodic updates here. Australia, as you may or may not know, has something like 1200 species of herps. When I was in Oz over the winter, I saw ~15 species of herps, which let's face it, is embarrassing. So I'm determined to make a better showing this time around.

I am working at Western Sydney University, which affords me relatively easy access to the Sydney area, which I decided to explore the first few weeks that I was here. I visited Sydney a couple of times when I last came, but I never spent a whole lot of time in and around the city. Unfortunately, until I get into fieldwork (and will rent a car), I'm pretty well stuck with public transport, so I can't get out to many of the places I'd like to herp. That said, I can still get to a decent number of spots.

At this point, I should offer a disclaimer. I'm a broad naturalist, so everything really interests me, although herps definitely are the primary focus. As such, I'll probably pepper these posts with non-herp animals, plants, and landscapes as well. Without further ado, the photos.

ImageLittle Corellas by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

ImageLittle Corellas by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

ImageNorth Head by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

Thus far I like the place that I'm at on the WSU campus. When getting a tour of the place, I saw an Eastern Brown Snake (Pseudonaja textilis) dart into the wall of one of the houses (which I pointed out to my tour guide, and he was pretty relaxed about it saying that I'd probably see more of them). Just outside my bedroom window, I found this Green Tree Frog (Litoria caerula) which I got particularly excited about. Sure they're common, but they're common pets in the US, and I always get a kick out of seeing those sorts of animals in the wild.

ImageWhite's Tree Frog by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

The Long-Billed Corellas are quite common out here, and whenever they'd land in trees, I'd here growling followed by laughing. I finally figured out what was going on. There are young Corellas begging from parents (growling) and then when the parents oblige, they make a laughing noise.

ImageBegging Corella by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

I had the opportunity to be in Sydney for Australia Day, which for those who don't know, is basically Australian Columbus Day (discovering of the continent - will all of the negative connotations of Columbus Day for indigenous people) but celebrated like the Fourth of July. It was quite an experience being able view it.

ImageThe Most Australian Man in the World by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

ImagePirates Invade Sydney on Australia Day by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

ImageAustralia Day Fireworks Spectacular by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

One weekend, I went to Sydney Harbour National Park on North Head to walk around and check out the area. While I didn't see much in the way of herps, I did see a Cunningham's Skink (Egernia cunninghami), which for those who don't know, is a communal skink that will live in family groups. When I found it, there was a family there who had a little boy that was very excited about the skink. I took his picture and then tried to get a photo of the skink in a more naturalistic setting. That is when I learned rule number one about Australian skinks. If you're able to get the lizard in hand, get a diagnostic photo first before you try to get a natural photo. You can see what became of my natural photo before the lizard escaped down a hole.

ImageCunningham's Skink by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

ImageCunningham's Skink by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

One of the weekends, I got to visit Royal National Park where I finally started seeing lizards. Granted, most of them were Mountain Heath Dragons (Rankinia diemensis), but I'll take it! I took a 6km hike to a waterfall on a warm day and saw a number of skinks and dragons about. The Copper-Tailed Skinks (Ctenotus taeniolatus) were not exactly cooperative for photos, but I did manage a few. The dragons were considerably more so, including some rather adorable babies.

ImageEastern Water Skink by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

ImageEastern Water Dragon by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

ImageCopper-Tailed Skink by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

ImageCopper-Tailed Skink by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

ImageMountain Heath Dragon by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

ImageMountain Heath Dragon by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

ImageMountain Heath Dragon by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

Anyone have any idea what this skink is?
ImageUnknown Skink by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

After being in Australia for 3 weeks, I was finally able to do some fieldwork up in the Snowy Mountains. I was brought on to better understand the function of the color and pattern of Corroboree Frogs so that, among other things, we can predict success of reintroduction programs. This involved making clay models (which fortunately some very dedicated WSU students did before I came) of different phenotypes and then deploying them in Kosciuszko National Park where the Corroboree Frogs (both Northern and Southern) can be found. We did not see any frogs, but we did get some interesting results. That research, though, is still ongoing, so I don't want to discuss too much about the findings just yet. While Kosciuszko is not known for its herpetological diversity, there were still a decent amount of animals found up there, which was awesome.

ImageCascade Trail by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

When we got up to Blue Lake, there were Water Skinks everywhere, and I believe, based on field guide descriptions, that they were all Southern Water Skinks (Eulamrpus tympanum).
ImageSouthern Water Skink by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

Including this very, very gravid (pregnant? I assume they're live bearers?) female that we saw twice.
ImageSouthern Water Skink by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

We saw several other skink species as well. These would always zip through the snow grass. It wasn't until this one made a mistake that I was able to pounce on it and figure out what it was (I think).
ImageTussock Skink by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

This skink was on a different trail than the other water skinks, and again based on field guide descriptions, I think that this isn't the Southern Water Skink but rather an Alpine Water Skink (E. kosciuskoi).
ImageAlpine Water Skink by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

ImageAlpine Water Skink by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

I think that this is an Tussock Cool-Skink (Pseudemoia entrecasteauxii), but if anyone has an ID to the contrary, I'd love to hear it.
ImageTussock Cool-Skink by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

When I was walking back from Blue Lake (not on the trail, but through the grass), I came across this little snake, a White-Lipped Snake (Drysdalia coronoides) that was zipping through the grass. It didn't calm down until I threw my hat on top of it (not knowing what it was at the time, I didn't want to handle it since there was a high likelihood that it was an elapid - and turns out it is). It coiled up in the grass like this. I did this a couple of times before on the final time, I threw the hat on top of it, and this very large wolf spider (we're talking 2-3" leg span) popped out from under the hat. When I lifted the hat, the snake had disappeared completely. These hills are dotted with very large spider burrows (some being 1.5" in diameter) and what I suspect happened, the snake found a burrow, darted down it, and scared the spider out (although I didn't see the burrow, it might have been buried in some grass). Either way, I'm pretty sure the experience would have traumatized a member of the general public. I was just left really confused.

ImageWhite-Lipped Snake by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

ImageLarge Unknown Spider by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

And finally, we had seen a number of Highlands Copperheads (Austreleps ramsayi), but none that were really in a good position to get a photo (most around busy roads, curvy mountain roads with no shoulder). We finally lucked out on this one who was on a non-busy road with a shoulder. He was not pleased to have the paparazzi out, though. Spread his neck and everything.

ImageHighlands Copperhead by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

The next update, which will probably come sometime next week, will be on my Tasmanian adventures.

Herp species so far for this trip, asterisks denote lifers: 15
Frogs
Crinia signifera (no photo)
Litoria caerulea*

Turtles
Emydura macquarii*

Lizards
Cryptoblepharus pulcher (no photo)
Ctenotus taeniolatus*
Egernia cunninghami*
Eulamprus kosciuskoi*
Eulamprus tympanum*
Eulamprus quoyii
Pseudemoia entrecasteauxii*
Pseudemoia pagenstecheri*
Rankinia diemensis*


Snakes
Australeps ramsayi*
Drysdalia coronoides*
Pseudonaja textilis
(no photo)*

User avatar
Berkeley Boone
Posts: 878
Joined: June 8th, 2010, 3:02 am

Re: Australia 2016 Part 1: Sydney and the Snowy Mountains

Post by Berkeley Boone » March 1st, 2016, 8:33 am

Great start, JP! I'm looking forward to more- bring it on! Birds, herps, scenery, everything!

We were there for Australia Day last year, and loved the experience. You're right- very much like the 4th of July here.

Awesome stuff! I can't wait for more updates.
--Berkeley

User avatar
Roki
Posts: 199
Joined: January 23rd, 2012, 10:08 am
Location: Salt Lake City, Utah

Re: Australia 2016 Part 1: Sydney and the Snowy Mountains

Post by Roki » March 1st, 2016, 10:27 am

Agreed. Great start and as always, great photography.

User avatar
krisbell
Posts: 220
Joined: September 12th, 2010, 1:20 pm
Location: Jersey, UK
Contact:

Re: Australia 2016 Part 1: Sydney and the Snowy Mountains

Post by krisbell » March 2nd, 2016, 12:37 am

Great post, looking forward to Part 2

ChadHarrison
Posts: 139
Joined: June 29th, 2012, 12:45 pm
Location: Illinois

Re: Australia 2016 Part 1: Sydney and the Snowy Mountains

Post by ChadHarrison » March 2nd, 2016, 8:35 am

JP, your photography is ridiculous. That shot of the ocean is just fantastic.

MonarchzMan
Posts: 341
Joined: September 8th, 2011, 5:12 pm
Location: Oxford, MS

Re: Australia 2016 Part 1: Sydney and the Snowy Mountains

Post by MonarchzMan » March 3rd, 2016, 2:01 am

Thank you guys for the compliments. I'm definitely looking forward to doing my fieldwork and upping my herp species list. I think I can hit 100 Australian species without too much difficulty. Maybe even 200 given the number of places I'm planning to go. :)

User avatar
Field Herper
Posts: 52
Joined: July 7th, 2012, 5:15 am
Location: Oz

Re: Australia 2016 Part 1: Sydney and the Snowy Mountains

Post by Field Herper » January 1st, 2017, 9:49 pm

MonarchzMan wrote:Anyone have any idea what this skink is?

ImageUnknown Skink by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr
I reckon this skink is almost certainly a Lampropholis delicata from what I can see and know of local herps found in the area.

By the way, for those interested, the skink is on the trunk of a Scribbly Gum. The zigzag tracks are tunnels made by the larvae of the Scribbly Gum Moth.

User avatar
Will Wells
Posts: 275
Joined: June 18th, 2010, 4:32 am
Location: Arizona
Contact:

Re: Australia 2016 Part 1: Sydney and the Snowy Mountains

Post by Will Wells » January 5th, 2017, 4:19 pm

Nice photos!!!

Post Reply