Australia 2016 Part 2: (Tasmanian) Devils Walk Among Us

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Australia 2016 Part 2: (Tasmanian) Devils Walk Among Us

Post by MonarchzMan »

My adventure Down Under continues with the next installment of me 83-part series (I might be overestimating the number of parts in this series). For those who missed the first installment, you can read about it here:

Australia 2016 Part 1: Sydney and the Snowy Mountains

Immediately (like a 12 hour lay over in Sydney-immediately) after finished research in the Snowy Mountains, I headed down to Tasmania, a place that has been on my list of places to visit for some time. I've heard stories of the land down under the Land Down Under and have wanted to see the unique fauna of the state. I was presented an opportunity to go to the Australian Society of Herpetologists' Conference in Launceston, so how could I say no? I went to the conference with a few goals in mind. First, give a kickass presentation on the Poison Dart Frog research I've been doing the last few years. Second, meet important contacts who will help facilitate my doing research here on this trip. Third, meet my peers from the other side of the globe and expand my collaborative network.

On these points, I think I was exceptionally successful. Not only did I meet a number of grad students, but I also met several professors who offered to help me do my Pseudophryne research while I'm here, and I met a bunch of the Australian herpetologist big wigs. I'm now hopefully looking at a trip out to Perth in Western Australia to collect some frogs there, a trip down to Victoria, and then having a lot of help collecting samples in New South Wales. I still have South Australia and Queensland on my radar as well. And in terms of my presentation? Knocked it out of the park, if I do say so myself. I was selected as runner-up for best Post Grad (PhD) talk. And when I spoke to some of the judges, they said it was really a toss up between myself and the winner. That award earned me a brand new copy of Reptiles and Amphibians of Australia by Harold Cogger, which for those who don't know, is a beast of a book. I wouldn't call it a field guide because it's so big, but is comprehensive. I actually have a copy of it already, but I left it in the States figuring that it'd be too big to carry with me. Well, now I'll have this copy (which I had signed by a ton of the people at the conference to add a bit of a sentimental value to this copy) to take back. And if anyone wants to buy a brand new copy of Reptiles and Amphibians of Australia, I'll have one for sale when I get back to the States this summer :lol:

And then after the conference, I rented a car and serendipitously got a travel partner to split costs (one of the ASH students hadn't reserved a car, and couldn't rent a car, and needed to get to Hobart in 3 days time, so he came along with me). I had a few goals for this trip which would only be 4 days. First, try to find Pseudophryne semimarmorata which does occur in Tasmania, but given the ongoing drought and problems with fires, I wasn't hopeful of this. Second, see an echidna. Third, see a wombat (I have seen plenty of "sleeping" wombats on the side of roads, and really wanted to see one that could stand on its own). Fourth, see a Tasmanian Devil. Fifth, try to find Tasmanian endemic herps (six species of snow skink - Niveoscincus and one frog, Crinia nimba). Easily done in 4 days, right?

First, trying to find P. semimarmorata. We drove to the Bay of Fire, which looking at distribution maps on the Living Atlas of Australia ( - seriously, check it out), seemed like as good of a spot as any to try to find frogs. Unfortunately, when we finally got to our camp site, we found the surrounding forest to be bone dry. It also didn't help that, despite being literally in the middle of no where, a bunch of bogans came in and took over the campsite next to ours. We tried looking for frogs that night, but to no avail. Nothing was calling. We called it an early night, figuring we had a long drive to Hartz Mountains National Park where we could get our fill of endemic Tasmanian herps.

Hartz Mountains was a good 4 hour drive away, so my copilot suggested stopping at Freycinet National Park to see Wineglass Bay, which is said to be one of the must see sights of Tasmania. It was on the way, and roughly half way at that, so I agreed. Getting to the parking lot, we were greeted by Bennett's Wallabies who, I'm guessing, had seen people before.

ImageRed-Necked Wallaby by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

We climbed a bloody tall mountain (alright, I may be exaggerating, but I did have 20 pounds or more of camera gear on my back) to get an overview of the bay. It was quite beautiful. We decided to do the hike down to the bay and get a good look at the white sand beach. It was still early in the morning, so not great for herps, but we did see a number of birds, including Tasmanian endemics.

ImageWineglass Bay by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

ImageTasmanian Scrubwren by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

If the hike back to the car didn't involve 5km of mostly up, I would have seriously considered jumping into Wineglass Bay. Absolutely beautiful! It was a place, if not strapped for time, I could have spent several hours at.

The way back was far more productive herp-wise, or rather, skink-wise. We saw a number of little brown skinks, which I'm pretty sure are Niveoscincus metallicus, the one Niveoscincus that gets to the mainland too, of course.

ImageMetallic Snow Skink by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

In one spot, though, we did find a number of White's Skinks (Egernia whitii). Like the Cunningham's Skink from my first post, these, too, are a communal skink that live in family groups. I think we saw four or five individuals within 20 feet of one another, including both adults, and one very pretty youngster.

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

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

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

After seeing the few skinks, we continued on our way back to the car and out. Shortly after leaving the park, I saw an echidna on the side of the road! Since the car was in my name, I was very actively watching for wildlife (Tasmanian roads are littered with wildlife that was not quite fast enough - it's so bad that in some areas, they actually have dusk-to-dawn speed limits), so I spotted the little critter on the side of the road, and it look like it wasn't hit. I turned around and pulled over, and sure enough, it was alive. And alive enough to be annoyed with two apes coming to check it out that in dug down into the dirt, maybe an inch or two. This effectively just left its spines exposed. And no amount of tickling on my part could extract it. So, I didn't get cute face photos, but I did get my echidna!

ImageShort-Beaked Echidna by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

A few hours later, and we were in temperate rainforest. Hartz Mountains reminded me quite a bit of Neotropical cloud forests. It was beautiful. Everything was green. But despite that, you could tell it too was experiencing the drought. While there was moss on everything, it was somewhat dry.

ImageTasmanian Rainforest by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

ImageTasmanian Rainforest by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

ImageThrough the Rainforest by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

We tried going from our campground up to the park that night in an effort to listen for frogs and possibly find Crinia nimba. They have a very distinctive "bouncing ping pong ball" call. Despite a cloud moving through and it raining, all we heard were the ubiquitous Crinia signifera. It was getting cold, and we again decided to call it a nice. Over these last couple days, I learned one thing about Australians. They cannot handle cold. It got down to 8C that night (about 46F) and if you spoke to my companion, you would have thought it was -46F. Well, he'd suck it up for one more night. The following morning, we had a few hours to walk around the park before we had to head to Hobart. We did a short hike to Osborn Lake, which was a glacial lake (created, not longer sustained by glaciers). Going up, it was too cold for herps, but we did see a number of birds, including endemic Green Rosellas.

ImageHartz Waterfall by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

ImageLake Osborn by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

ImageGreen Rosella by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

As before, we spent enough time at the lake for it to warm enough for herps to start coming out. We saw a couple of Niveoscincus orocryptus sunning themselves on the boardwalk. Finally a Tasmanian endemic! I managed to get a quick photo of one before it darted off.

ImageTasmanian Mountain Skink by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

And then we were off to Hobart. I dropped my companion at a hotel so he could catch his flight the following day, then I got a lunch with a couple friends who are from the States, but moved to Australia to do a postdoc and PhD. After that, I was off again to Maria Island National Park (pronounced Mariah). This was my best chance at seeing wombats and devils. I had to catch a ferry to the island (which was one of those penal colonies you hear about with Australia back in the 1800s). Maria Island has a population of Tasmanian Devils that are not currently infected with the facial tumors that is devastating the mainland populations. And they're somewhat habituated to people (scavenging for food from campers).

I got to Maria Island in the afternoon, so after pitching camp, I decided to walk to the Painted Cliffs for sunset and to see some stuff along the way. The wombats, for one, were everywhere, just casually munching on the grass completely unconcerned with people.

ImageCommon Wombat by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

ImageCommon Wombat by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

I did managed to see one skink, Lampropholis delicata basking on this walk.

ImageDark-Flecked Garden Sun Skink by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

I also photographed a couple more Tasmanian endemic birds, including, unknowingly at the time, the endangered Forty-Spotted Pardalote.

ImageForty-Spotted Pardalote by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

ImageBlack-Headed Honeyeater by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

ImageTasmanian Thornbill by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

ImageTasmanian Native Hen by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

The Painted Cliffs were gorgeous, and I wish I could have stayed an extra half hour, but the tide forced me out.

ImagePainted Cliffs by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

At that point, it was when all of the marsupials should get active. Pademelons, wallabies, kangaroos, and wombats were everywhere on the walk back to Darlington where my tent was.

ImageForester's Kangaroo by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

ImageRed-Necked Wallaby by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

ImageTasmanian Pademelon by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

I got back to the tent and decided to start looking around the campground and Darlington since that was the best spot to see them. I saw plenty of other things including Brush-Tailed and Ring-Tailed Possums, but no devils. I went back to my tent and decided to lay down and wait for a commotion. Because surely, when an endangered Tasmanian Devil walks through camp, people will make a fuss. While I was waiting, I heard some rustling by my tent, which I figured was a pademelon, which had come earlier. Shortly after the rustling, I heard a very casual "Oh look, Tassie Devil" which got me out of my tent fast, but not fast enough. Apparently, the culprit walked right next to my tent. I decided to take my torch and do a couple of rounds around the camp to try to find a devil. No luck. So I called it an early night figuring I might be able to catch a glimpse of one in the pre-dawn hours. During the night, I was awakened by the screams of devils in the camp. I can only imagine the fear early settlers experienced when awakened by the scream of a devil nearby. I all too well understood the name now. The following morning, I got up early and started looking for devils. I did finally see a devil quickly dart into the brush. It was not an at all satisfying look, but it was undoubtedly a devil. Goal accomplished. And as you'd guess, no photo.

I had some time before I had to catch the ferry to the mainland, so I decided to do an 11km roundtrip hike up to Bishop and Clerk which was one of the peaks on the island sitting at 620m. I'll spare you a long account and simply say this. It was only 540m (according to my GPS) and the hike was about 13km (again, according to my GPS). And, while it spit most of the time while I walked up the mountain, it only started to steadily drizzle when I was 1km away from the summit and completely exposed on rock scree. Oh, and it largely stopped when I got back to forest after getting to the summit. But what a view!

This is the view of Bishop and Clerk from the bottom of the hike.
ImageMaria Island by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

And here is the view from the top. This is the fifth "hump" from the left on the previous photo.
ImageBishop and Clerk by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

I did see one last Metallic Snow Skink (Niveoscincus metallicus) before I left the island.

ImageMetallic Snow Skink by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

Then I caught the ferry back and drove back north towards Launceston. I decided to stay the night at Nawarntapu National Park which was about an hour away from the airport. I spend the afternoon with a Kookaburra laughing at me, and then when the sun went down, a Tawny Frogmouth kept hooting at me. But it was far more accommodating than the kookaburra for my taking photos. Following this, I did some road cruising in the park, which was not really successful. I did see a lot of pademelon and wallabies, but not much else. The only herp I saw was a Eastern Banjo Frog (Limnodynastes dumerilii) that got away before I could get a photo.

ImageSunset at Nawarntapu by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

ImageTawny Frogmouth by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

ImageTawny Frogmouth by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

The following morning, I hiked a little bit, but only saw avian reptiles. I made my way back to the car, and then back to the airport.

ImageRed-Capped Plover by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

ImageYellow-Tailed Black Cockatoo by J.P. Lawrence, on Flickr

And that concludes my Tasmanian adventure. I was able to see a number of things on my list of animals to see, but missed a number of others. I guess I just have to come back! My next post will probably be a few weeks coming. My current plans are to go back up the the Snowies to do some experiments, then, assuming the rains have arrived, I'll continue down into Victoria to start sampling frogs for a couple weeks. So it may be a month before my next installment. I'll try to get it up, but we're getting to the ideal time for sampling, so I'll likely be in the field a lot and may not have time to do a post. But another is coming, don't worry!

Herp species so far for this trip, asterisks denote lifers, red are new since the last update: 20
Crinia signifera (no photo)
Litoria caerulea*
Limnodynastes dumerilii* (no photo)

Emydura macquarii*

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

Niveoscincus metallicus*
Niveoscincus orocryptus*
Egernia whitii*
Lampropholis delicata

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

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Jeroen Speybroeck
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Re: Australia 2016 Part 2: (Tasmanian) Devils Walk Among Us

Post by Jeroen Speybroeck »

Love this stuff, keep it up!

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Re: Australia 2016 Part 2: (Tasmanian) Devils Walk Among Us

Post by MonarchzMan »

Thanks! I'm planning the end of my trip now, and if all goes according to plan (permits, weather, etc), I might have one massive update sometime in June/July. If my current plan holds, I'll have about 7 days in April and May where I'm not in the field. While I'm in the field, I'll be driving over 14000km (8700 miles) through 7 states. Hopefully it all works out. Right now, my biggest concern is the weather. It needs to rain if I'm to find frogs!

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Re: Australia 2016 Part 2: (Tasmanian) Devils Walk Among Us

Post by Roki »

Awesome! Love the photography. Keep it coming so we can live vicariously through you. Good luck on the rest of the trip! Love the echidna and the habitat shots.

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Re: Australia 2016 Part 2: (Tasmanian) Devils Walk Among Us

Post by chrish »

Great post. Really enjoyed it.

It's funny how "hairy" those Tasmanian mammals are compared to the mainland forms (echidna, wombat). Says something about Tasmania's climate.

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Re: Australia 2016 Part 2: (Tasmanian) Devils Walk Among Us

Post by MonarchzMan »

It's really interesting too on the size of things. I think those wombats were probably half the size of the DOR ones I've seen around NSW. There is so much roadkill in Tasmania, but given that there are virtually no animals that get more than 35-40 pounds, the impact to a vehicle is minimal. In NSW, hitting a roo or a wombat means you need a new car.

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