For the last couple of months, I’ve been putting the finishing touches on the first of what will hopefully be a series of electronic field guides. This one is the most comprehensive electronic field guide to the snakes of Australia, co-authored with Stephen Zozaya. It’s available for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. There will be an Android version eventually.
Cape York Peninsula, the pointy bit on the top of Queensland, has long held a fascination for me. The Cape contains a wide variety of habitat types, including open woodland, sandstone escarpment, freshwater wetlands, mangrove-lined estuaries and much, much more. But perhaps the most fascinating is the relatively small (by world standards) patch of lowland rainforest found on the Iron and McIlraith Ranges. I say relatively small, but this is actually the largest patch of lowland rainforest in Australia. It’s the remains of the ancient rainforest that extended up the peninsula and across the land bridge to Papua New Guinea back when sea levels were around 100m lower than they are today (a mere 12,000 to 18,000 years ago). By dint of this recent connection, the rainforest of Iron Range is home to many species that are also found in Papua New Guinea. It was one such inhabitant that I was especially keen to see: the green python (Morelia viridis). This emerald-green gem was one of three Australian python species that I was yet to see, but over and above that, it is simply a spectacular snake.
But Iron Range is a long way from Townsville. Before I could even start looking for these bright green snakes, I’d have to contend with untimely departures, writhing taipans, endless roadworks, damaged cars and overpriced fuel.
We left Townsville and quickly came upon a just-hit taipan on the Bruce Highway. When we first saw it, it had clearly been hit but was still alive, but by the time we’d flipped around and pulled up alongside it, at least one more car had been over it and the snake was well and truly dead. At the time, that was the closest I’d come to seeing a live, wild taipan. We continued north to Cairns to pick up another adventurer, then headed to Mt Lewis to meet up with the other carload of wildlife voyeurs who’d be accompanying us up the Cape. It was the start of the Wet Season, so the frogs were out in force up the mountain.
A friend’s 40th birthday on Magnetic Island was a good excuse to head over and track down a few of the locals, including the island’s endemic skink, Menetia sadlieri.
I did lots of fieldwork in the second half of 2012, but most of it involved catching a select few little brown skinks. I still managed to track down a variety of interesting beasts (not all reptilian), some of which are presented here.
Some pics from a week on Orpheus Island, north-east of Townsville.
The wet season in the tropical north brings out the frogs in droves, and the wet seasons at the start and end of 2012 were no exceptions. Townsville is situated close to a number of interesting and diverse habitats, ranging from mountain rainforests to dry savannah, so amphibian diversity is very high. And apparently they all prefer to face the left.
As we drove back from our utter failure of a trip to the semi-arid zone, we were dejected. And wet. Very wet. Stopping in at White Mountain National Park to take a break, my cunning Swedish companion made the entire trip worthwhile when he noticed reptick number two for me for 2012: Varanus storri.
What better way to celebrate the Australia Day long weekend than by getting out into the heart of this dry, dusty land and harassing some critters?!? My Swedish companion and I packed up the car on Friday and headed west. That’s when it started raining. And it didn’t stop for the entire weekend. We kept driving west thinking that we’d eventually break out from underneath the clouds. We didn’t. It was wet. We got wet. Surprisingly, we still managed to track down some beasts. Nothing new, but the semi-arid zone is always interesting after a bit of rain. And during a bit of rain, apparently. We ended up coming back early because we were concerned some of the creeks west of Winton would flood and we’d be trapped out there for days or months.