The Southern Bell Frog

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A Southern Bell Frog Litoria raniformis making its way through camp at night at Bool Lagoon Game Reserve, South Australia.

Bool lagoon in South Australia’s South East bustles with life. Thousands of waterbirds were floating, flying, or walking through the water. Magpie Geese were honking away in the vast swathes of Water-ribbons, while Whiskered Terns scouted the narrow water-filled channels looking for a tasty tadpole meal. Fairy-wrens and Southern Emu-wrens sung from dense vegetation at the water’s edge and Lowland Copperhead snakes slid off the warm roads to make way for cars. Bool Lagoon Game Reserve is about 360 km south east of Adelaide and is a large freshwater lagoon system that provides a refuge for diverse fauna including many rare and vulnerable species of birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians. I have rarely seen such an abundance of wildlife in one place and it is awe-inspiring.

As day turns to night and the Magpie Geese honk less often, a different cohort of animals become active. Fluttering about in the half-light, silhouetted against the evening sky, small bats emerge and begin catching insects. High pitched chirps appear from every direction from what could be Lesser Long-eared bats or Chocolate Wattled Bats. As I am getting nestled down in my sleeping bag I hear a plonk on the side of the swag. Moments later another plonk! I unzip my swag and grab my torch to investigate. Illuminated in the torchlight is a large green frog, a Southern Bell Frog. A short walk around camp reveals many more of these spectacular amphibians making their way through the night.

Southern Bell Frogs, also called Growling Grass Frogs, are fairly large frogs reaching about 11 cm long. They have green bodies with brown markings and golden stripes on the upper edge of the flanks with a green stripe running from their head down their back. They are quite variable with some individuals being darker green and more brown while others have very little brown and are light green. The bell frogs are nocturnal ambush predators and sit and wait for their prey to stroll within striking distance. Unfortunate souls may be beetles, insect larvae, bugs, termites and sometimes small frogs including others of their own species.

Southern Bell Frogs were once common throughout south-eastern Australia however they have declined considerably in recent years and are now listed as vulnerable nationally. This has been linked to a number of potential factors including habitat fragmentation and degradation, barriers to movement, disease, pollution, as well as other influences which have led to the loss of some populations and the isolation of others.

Southern Bell Frogs occur in areas with permanent or near permanent water such as lagoons, lakes, slow flowing creeks, dams, channels and rice crops. Permanent water, or close to it, is important because the frogs breed during spring and summer and it enables the eggs and tadpoles to develop fully without the risk of the water drying up. The adults can be found in thick vegetation in or near the water’s edge, or in ground debris and soil cracks. They are however sometimes found a considerable distance from the water.

Bell frogs are wonderful, charismatic animals with beautiful and variable colours and are definitely an amphibian to keep an eye out for. Bool lagoon is a stronghold for the Southern Bell Frog in South Australia and is worth a visit not only for the frogs but also for the vast array of other fascinating creatures that live at and use the lagoon system as a refuge.

The Diving Beetle

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Female granulose form of Hyderodes shuckardii from the South East of South Australia.

I am going to start this post a little differently today because there is a little more back story to this encounter. Part of my PhD research involves investigating the relationships between size, metabolic rate and dive characteristics in Diving Beetles, the family Dytiscidae. Diving beetles, of which there are more than 4,000 described species, are found in most freshwater habitats and are often the top predators in fishless environments. Both the larvae, sometimes called water tigers, and the adults beetles have veracious appetites with some of the larger species being know to attack tadpoles and small fish.

To investigate the relationships between size, metabolism and dive characteristics I needed to collect a number of diving beetle species across a wide range of sizes, so I travelled to three areas in South Australia. Initially I had to travel away from Adelaide to the South East of South Australia and into the Flinders Ranges to collect the large species, then small beetles could be collected in the Adelaide Hills. This post describes collecting in the South East.

We arrived at the edge of a road to be greeted by a swamp partly surrounded by teatree and reeds. Near the swamp large cryptically coloured grasshoppers leapt from the ground flashing their bright yellow wings, which were hidden while sitting on their blade of grass munching away. There was a small opening on one side of the swamp where we could get to the water’s edge. It was a beautiful sunny day, and a dragonfly was sitting on a stem of the incredibly diverse aquatic vegetation just after it had emerged from its nymphal stage, still soft and not ready to fly.

Despite the beauty we had to get to work and placed a few bottle traps into the water with a little bit of fish as bait. Within minutes large dark figures begun to zip around near the traps in the tea coloured water, some almost as big as your thumb. Moments later diving beetles were appearing in the traps and were voraciously consuming the bits of fish.

We pulled up the traps to find two species of diving beetle, Onychohydrus scutellaris, a whopper of a beetles at almost 3 cm long and either in iridescent emerald green or sometimes brown, and Hyderodes shuckardii which was about 2 cm long and much darker in colour. These two species represent two of the three largest diving beetles in South Australia.

It was not until you looked at H. shuckardii up close that you could see their more subtle beauty. The surfaces of the wing covers (elytra) on the males were smooth and dark green in colour and their legs a dark amber. The females on the other hand were not smooth, instead their wing covers and pronotum (bit between the head and wing covers) were rough showing mottled green and amber. These females are the “granulose form” of females. The other type of female looks like the males with smooth wing covers and pronotum.

This granulose condition in the females is thought to give the females more control over which male to mate with. The males have pads on their forelegs with heaps of tiny suckers that they use to grab onto and hold onto the females. The roughness of the granulose females’ surfaces reduce the number of suckers that can attach and makes it easier for her to get away from the male if she wants to. The ratio of the smooth and granulose females in an environment may relate to the mating intensity, and all of the females we caught were the granulose form suggesting mating intensity was high in that particular swamp.

As with other insects, diving beetles have an air filled respiratory system, like ours but instead of lungs they have a network of branching tubes running from holes on the outside of their bodies (spiracles) to the cells where the oxygen is needed and carbon dioxide is produced. Diving beetles overcome this problem of having a gas filled respiratory system in water by holding a bubble of air collected from the water’s surface underneath their wing covers which supplies oxygen for them while they dive. This is where my research comes in. I’m trying to find out how much air different sized beetles can hold, how quickly they consume oxygen from the bubble and how this effects the time the beetles can stay underwater.

Diving beetles are very widespread and can often be found in freshwater habitats all over Australia and the world in various sizes from a few millimetres to several centimetres. They are fascinating creatures for more reasons than I have included here, so keep an eye out for them, either while dabbing around your local pond with a net or you may find them flying around lights at night.

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Male H. shuckardii from the South East of South Australia.
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South East of South Australia

The Short-beaked Echidna

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Short-beaked Echidna Tachyglossus aculeatus in Brachina Gorge, Flinders Ranges, South Australia.

Brachina Gorge in the Flinders Rangers in South Australia is absolutely stunning and, I think, a quintessentially Australian landscape. In the middle of the gorge, old worn down quartzite hills tower into the sky, rich in earthy oranges, yellows and creamy whites. The hills are speckled with sparse green-grey vegetation. In the bottom of the gorge are massive ancient river red gums that rise up from the creek bed which is filled with rounded river pebbles and gravels in a variety of greys, reds, purples and almost blues. Each stone has white marks from being plonked into each other in the infrequent deluges that cause the creek to fill with water.

We were driving through Brachina Gorge as a scenic route for our journey heading further north. As the car suspension was bounding up and down over the pebbles we came to a section of creek with small puddles of water. The water was encouraging plant growth in the river bed which was in turn attracting an iconic resident of Brachina Gorge, the Yellow-footed Rock-wallaby. After enjoying watching these wonderful animals for some time, something caught our attention making its way through the plants and sticks near the edge of the creek. Boldly strolling along was an echidna, occasionally poking its long snout into crevices and holes. It is unusual to see native Australia mammals so unfazed by the presence of humans, but when you are covered in an armament of spines you can be pretty confident that not too many creatures will mess with you. The spines had a light base and tapered to their points that were sometimes dark coloured. From underneath the spines poked a face with puny dark eyes and a long moist snout. Propelling the spiny beast along were a set of robust legs with strong claws and feet.

Echidnas are an iconic Australian animal and draw attention for a several reasons. They are one of only two kinds of egg laying mammals, along with platypus. They use their strong forelimbs to dig into hard ground, ant or termite nests, and use their sticky long tongue to slurp up ants, termites and other insects from the crevices and holes. During winter echidnas go into torpor, a period where the animal becomes inactive and lowers its metabolic rate and body temperature. When active and regulating its body temperature echidnas are at about 32°C, but when in torpor the body temperature declines to close to that of the surrounding soil temperature that they maybe buried in. So in cold areas this may mean a body temperature as low as 4°C. During these periods of torpor echidnas may only breath once every three minutes.

Echidnas also provide an example of convergent evolution where two unrelated species of animals evolve similar characteristics due to similar selective pressures from their environment. Both echidnas and hedgehogs have the same defensive strategy, being covered in spines, but are unrelated to each other. Echidnas are monotremes, whereas hedgehogs are eutherian mammals that give live birth rather than have eggs like monotremes.

Echidnas are found throughout Australia, and during summer can be found foraging in the bush during the day or night. They are fascinating animals to watch, and you are more likely to get a good view of these interesting animals than many other Australian mammals. So if you are in the Australian bush keep an eye out for these wonderful and curious creatures.

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Brachina Gorge, Flinders Ranges, South Australia.

The Double-eyed Fig-Parrot

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Double-eyed Fig-Parrot Cyclopsitta diophthalma macleayana enjoying the sun at Cape Tribulation, Queensland.

I decided to go for a walk early one December morning while in Cape Tribulation in the Daintree Rainforest, Queensland. It was already hot and humid, and when the sun did poke through the trees it did so with sting. As I walked down the track I could see the mountain range in the background rising up into the sky and draped in a variety of deep brilliant greens. Mist lingered over the mountains but was slowly being burnt off by the rising sun.

I wandered back towards where I had been staying after watching some beautiful blue butterflies and numerous birds which were often difficult to see in the forest trees. I came to a large clearing near some buildings and rounded a small patch of trees. I had been told that a male Victoria’s Riflebird displayed and sung in the trees, but this was not the case today. I did hear though, a small chattering like call that reminded me of lorikeets. I looked around to find two tiny fig-parrots perched at the end of a branch that they were fossicking around on. They are incredibly pretty birds with bright green bodies, and a little yellow under the wing. The male had patches of red, blue and purple on and around his face, and the female had red and blue, and a more muted pastel cheek, but she was still beautiful in a more subtle way.

Double-eyed Fig-Parrots are the smallest parrots in Australia, reaching about 150 mm long and 30-43 g. For comparison, Rainbow Lorikeets which are common in the eastern states are about 230 mm and 89-163 g. There are three subspecies of Double-eyed Fig-Parrots in Australia, marshalli, macleayana and coxeni that differ in facial colours and distribution. The ones I saw were macleayana, which have no red between the beak and eye like marshalli, and coxeni have orange below the eye and a bit of mauve below that. The three subspecies are isolated from each other but occur on the east coast of Australia from Cape York down across the border of New South Wales. The subspecies Coxeni, which was named by naturalist John Gould after his brother-in-law Charles Coxen, is one of the rarest parrots in Australia, with an estimated population of perhaps a couple hundred birds. However, despite this it is thought that the population is not declining. Uniquely, fig parrots excavate their own nest hollows in rotten tree branches or trunks where they will lay two eggs. Unsurprisingly, fig parrots eat figs, as well as several other types of fruit. They also eat seeds and wood-boring grubs which would be a scrumptious find after spending all that effort excavating a nest hollow.

Fig parrots can be challenging to see due to their small size, rapid flight and ability to blend into their surroundings, but this is no reason to not keep an eye out for them. If you find yourself in tropical or semi-tropical forests on the east coast of Australia you may find some of these wonderful little birds foraging through the canopy rewarding you with their stunning beauty and interesting habits.

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Cape Tribulation, Queensland

The Peninsula Dragon

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A Peninsula Dragon Ctenophorus fionni at Secret Rocks, Eyre Peninsula, South Australia

We had been on northern Eyre Peninsula for a few days searching the Mallee for some interesting creatures. We made our way along the Middleback Road between Whyalla and Kimba to have a look around Secret Rocks Nature Reserve. The Middleback Ranges contain some really beautiful landscapes. There are wide flat plains covered with the dull blue-greys of bluebush and saltbush, bordered by Mallee eucalyptus with smooth grey and red bark and red-green foliage, contrasting with the yellow spinifex understory. In the distance yellows, reds and oranges of the rocky ranges on the horizon sometimes show through. These rich and ancient colours are awe inspiring.

Secret Rocks is a private reserve next to Ironstone Hill Conservation Park which sits to the east. In the reserve is a weathered red-orange granite outcrop that rises up above the surrounding vegetation. We stopped at the small car park and made out way up the granite. Although the day was warm it was not particularly uncomfortable and made for a pleasant walk. On the granite are a number of small rockholes (gnammas) that provide water for animals in a landscape not renowned for having much. Some of the rockholes contained an array of small aquatic invertebrates zipping their way through the water. We reached the top of the outcrop to a beautiful view over the wide expanse of vegetation that surrounded us and a few other large granite outcrops nearby.

After admiring the view, we walking back down towards the car. I heard a rustle underneath a bush and I peered in to have a look. I searched though the shadows and I suddenly came across a small face looking back at me, a Peninsula Dragon! These are relatively small lizards and get to about 9.5 cm long from tip of the head to the vent, near the base of the tail. The tail, in itself can be longer than the rest of the lizard. I have encountered these lizards reasonably frequently while on Eyre Peninsula. The dragons that I have seen often have dark bands or blotches over their body, but in the females the colour patterns are much less well defined. There is a large amount of variability in the colours and patterns in Peninsula Dragons, and each isolated population has its own unique patterns. The males, which grow a bit bigger than the females, can also have some pretty impressive colours, such as bright oranges, reds and yellows.

Peninsula Dragons are only found on Eyre Peninsula and a little further north, including some offshore islands. The dragons can often be found sitting in protruding rocks and when disturbed dart off into a crevice and vanish. One of their other names is the Peninsula crevice-dragon. Sometimes though, they can be remarkably relaxed and sit in the open and allow you to watch them for quite some time. They communicate with other dragons by undertaking behaviours such as head bobbing, push-ups and tail curling. I have witnessed some of these behaviours before, in these, as well as other species of dragons but I often can only see the one dragon. If the dragon is communicating to me, frankly, I don’t know what it is trying to say.

The adult Peninsula Dragons tend to be found on larger rocky outcrops with deep crevices, compared to young lizards which may be on scree or smaller outcrops. The larger outcrops provide better habitat, including better shelter from predators and poor weather conditions. The adult Peninsula Dragons may displace the immature lizards, as in some other dragons, or there may just be better survival of the lizards on the big outcrops.

We left the dragon at Secret Rocks to its business of watching over its domain while we went to search for some other creatures in the Mallee. Eyre Peninsula is a stunning place with wonderful landscapes and heaps to do for people interested in nature. If you ever find yourself on Eyre Peninsula, have a look around some rocky outcrops for these little lizards, their colours and behaviours rarely disappoint.

 

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Secret Rocks, Eyre Peninsula, South Australia

The Tiger Beetle

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The Tiger Beetle Pseudotetracha whelani on Lake Gairdner, South Australia

Driving along a remote outback road with dust bellowing up into the clear night sky, the rocky hills are lit with the faint blue light of the moon which slowly wanders across the sky. We arrive at our destination and turn the head lights off to be confronted by a wide glistening expanse before us, a surface encrusted with salt crystals stretching almost to the horizon.

This is Lake Gairdner, the third largest salt lake in Australia, which is accessible through Mt Ive Station in the Gawler Ranges in South Australia. Salt lakes are one of the most bizarre and beautiful landscapes I have ever visited. There is such an expanse of flatness which you rarely encounter in day to day life, and the brightness of the sunlight reflecting off the surface during the day can be astounding. They seem like a weird moonscape, apart from I imagine the moon is not as flat. At night, with a clear sky, they are breath-takingly beautiful. The moonlight glistens off the salt crystals and the stars above don’t feel so far away.

While wandering around the edge of Lake Gairdner admiring the wide expanse of sky studded with the diamond like stars, something speedily scuttled past my foot. My torch zips about across the salt, a flash of iridescent green, then gone into the darkness. My light finally locks onto one of these creatures to reveal a large brilliant green shining beetle with long yellow legs and mandibles longer than its head.

This voracious looking creature is a tiger beetle of the genus Pseudotetracha, which is found mainly on salt lakes, and unsurprisingly is a nocturnal predator. These beetles dig deep burrows where they spend their scorching outback days, and then come out at night to hunt. When I say speedily scuttled past my foot I was not joking, Pseudotetracha whelani, the species we encountered, has a body length of around 17.5 mm and run at a maximum of 0.72 m per second (2.6 km/h). That’s 41 body lengths per second. This is like me running at about 265 km/h! Another Tiger Beetle Cicindela hudsoni (approximately 21 mm long), is thought to be the fastest running insect in the world and can run at an astonishing max speed of 2.49 m per second (9 km/h) and 120 body length per second. C. eburneola although having a lower max velocity (1.86 m/s) can move at 171 body lengths per second. These are some amazing stats.

The group of Tiger Beetles within the genus Pseudotetracha appears to have evolved into several different species associated with Australia becoming more arid between 10 – 5 million years ago. As Australia dried up, the ancestral beetle populations became isolated from each other at different salt lake drainages. They begun to change over time eventually becoming different species. The salt lakes act like islands surrounded by water where the area in-between the habitable island or lake is mostly impassable and the beetles from one lake cannot come into contact with beetles from another and breed. Despite being able to run fast, many of these Tiger Beetles are poor fliers or are unable to fly, like P. whelani the species I saw, contributing to their isolation.

Salt lakes are stunning places to visit, and Australia has a good number of them. Being out on one at night you may encounter some of these speedy beautiful Tiger beetles going about their nightly hunting. However, these extremely interesting insects are not just found on salt lakes but in all sorts of habitats all over the world. So keep an eye out for these voracious and fascinating beetles.

I would also like to thank Dr Peter Hudson from the South Australian Museum for verifying the ID of this Tiger Beetle given the location and photograph. Very much appreciated.

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Lake Gairdner, South Australia

The Swamp Wallaby

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A Swamp Wallaby Wallabia bicolor chewing on some dry vegetation at Bool Lagoon.

Bool Lagoon Game Reserve is in the south-east of South-Australia and encompasses one of the largest lagoon wetland systems in southern Australia. It provides a refuge for thousands of wetland birds including some rare and endangered species especially during drought in the inland. Driving along the edge of the lagoon, you can see a panorama of thousands of ducks, geese, ibis, waders and pelicans, with martins zooming along above the water and the occasional falcon to disrupt the peace. I have rarely encountered an abundance of animals like this and it is spectacular. The reserve is not just a refuge for birds. Occasionally Lowland Copperheads (snake) slither off the roads into the grass, and at night a plonk on the side of the swag reveals a Southern Bell Frog making its way through the camp ground.

There are also other interesting animals hiding in the shadows. While walking along the grassy trails and pontoon board walks in between Bool and Hacks Lagoons, a dark figure startles and disappears off into the reeds with its long dark tail trailing behind. We wait for a little while and the figure cautiously emerges from the shadows and begins nibbling vegetation. This wonderful dark entity is the Swamp Wallaby.

They are somewhat stout and only about the size of a medium dog (15 – 20 kg). They are covered with a dark course fur with rufous tones on the underside and on the top of the head, and a light coloured cheek stripe. Their tail is long and dark and when they hop their head and shoulders are held low and their tail almost horizontal, a characteristic of these wallabies. In some areas the Swamp Wallabies are called Stinkers because of their swampy odour, however I did not succumb or even notice any odour. Apparently, their smell, small size, course fur and poor taste don’t make them particularly desirable for hunting. They also have the ability to eat a number of plants that are poisonous to other animals such as bracken, lantana and hemlock without any ill effects.

The wallaby I was watching become comfortable with my presence after a while, and moved out into the sun to feed on some different vegetation. It is more fascinating watching animals when they are not scared or uneasy, as you can see more interesting behaviours and the characters of individuals. The arms of kangaroos and wallabies can be very expressive, while they grasp vegetation and feed contently, or poised, paws flat to the ground, ready to bound away from danger. I saw both these behaviours in a short space of time as I sat watching quietly. A second wallaby came though the reeds right next to me and startled, bouncing back into the vegetation and startling the other wallaby I had been watching, which then too bounded off into the reeds.

Swamp Wallabies are common all down the east coast of Australia, from Cape York around to the south east of South Australia. They are found in a wide variety of habitats including rainforest, woodlands, scrub and heath. If you are in these areas keep an eye out, sit and wait quietly and you may be able to watch (and hopefully not smell) these fascinating animals.

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Bool Lagoon, South Australia

The Lace Monitor

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A Lace Monitor Varanus varius taking refuge in a gum tree in Chowilla Game Reserve, South Australia.

It was a hot summers day and we had been paddling our kayaks for a few days through small back creeks in Chowilla Game Reserve in South Australia. The milky water made vortices swirling around our paddles as we went, and the cool water on our hands provided respite from the scorching heat.  Stands of small River Red Gums lined the water’s edge, providing refuge from the sun for numerous birds. In the distance the kek, kek, kek of a Sacred Kingfisher could be heard, and a pair of curious Apostle Birds cruised low in the over our boats watching us intently.

Chowilla Game Reserve is on the South Australian broader with New South Wales on the northern edge of the Murray River. The reserve contains floodplains and wetlands that provide an important habitat for waterbirds. The plains are studded with stands of River Red Gums and Black Box eucalyptus, and the numerous creeks that flow through the reserve provide good kayaking opportunities with plenty of places for bush camping.

We paddled out onto a straight stretch of creek that turned left after several hundred meters. Through the heat haze on the far bank I could see an animal. Long and low to the ground, but standing as upright as it could on its four legs. As we got closer the large lizard, well over 1 m long, came into view, and it was clear this creature was a Lace Monitor prowling along the bank. The monitor slowly wandered over to some small sapling gums trees at the water’s edge and climbed one but remained in sight. We watched for a while as the large lizard peered down at us before leaving it to its business.

Any large lizards are impressive creatures but Lace Monitors have the added bonus of a fantastic pattern over their body. On a dark background there are light coloured dots that form bands around the body and tail of the animal. Some bands are formed by larger dots with bands of smaller dots in between. This resembles the pattern of lace, and hence their name. Their heads are quite long and their throat droops down below, making them a robust looking animal. In parts QLD and NSW there is another form of Lace Monitor called the Bell’s form, which instead of having dots has broad yellow and black bands around its body.

Lace Monitors are the second largest lizard in Australia reaching 2.1 m long, only 30 cm short of the Perentie which can grow to a whopping 2.4 m. Lace Monitors are predators and will eat birds, birds eggs, small mammals and other reptiles, but they will also take the opportunity to eat carrion including road kill. Females lay their eggs in termite mounds which are either on the ground or in trees. She will dig a hole into the mound and lay around a dozen eggs inside. After she is finished the termites close up the hole sealing the eggs inside. The mound protects the eggs from predators and provides a constant temperature for them to develop in. When the eggs hatch after 8-9 months the female is thought to return to the mound and dig the young monitors out so they can begin exploring and surviving in their new environment.

We saw almost half a dozen of these large lizards on this trip and they are always impressive to see. They reside in areas well-wooded with trees from dry woodlands to temperate forests on the eastern margin of Australia. So next time you are out in woodlands or forests to the east, keep an eye out for these large beautiful lizards, and hopefully you will see them before they see you and disappear up a tree.

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Chowilla Game Reserve, South Australia

The Black Honeyeater

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Male Black Honeyeater Sugomel niger

I woke one morning while camping near one of the lakes in Hattah-Kulkyne National Park to golden light spilling over the horizon across the lake and through River Red Gums. The incessant cheep of Noisy Miners filled the air with the occasional chatter of parrots. The sun light illuminated flying insects that presented themselves as glowing undulating entities in the air. Light reflected off the water onto the underside of the trees casting beams of light across them like a printer scanning a document. Various Grebes patrolled the shallow water looking for food to eat, and a dad Emu with 15 chicks strolled by camp picking vegetation as they went. This is just a snapshot of what goes on in Hattah-Kulkyne National Park in Victoria. A fantastic place to see wildlife and explore nature, and boasts a range of habitats including mallee, low scrub, open pine woodland, lakes and creeks that provide homes for numerous interesting creatures. Late one morning we decided to go for a walk out to a lookout not far from the campground. My wife alerted me to a small honeyeater with a black head and distinctive tapering black line down its chest. A Black Honeyeater! I said excitedly. I tried to get a good look at the bird and a picture but this male was preoccupied with chasing a female around and darting from bush to bush. Despite a number of trips over several years to Hattah-Kulkyne and other areas that could have Black Honeyeaters they had proven to be elusive.

Black Honeyeaters are small nomadic honeyeaters found in the drier parts of Australia. They follow flowering plants across the landscape, and in particular Eremophila sometimes called Emu or Poverty Bush. To impress the mostly grey females, the male Black Honeyeater flies straight up into the air and then glides down with his wings partly open and calling. If sufficiently impressed, after mating the female will build a nest and lay two or three small eggs. Both of the parents assist with the incubation of the eggs and feeding the young as they grow. These honeyeaters are also called Charcoal Birds because the females in particular have been observed eating charcoal and ash from old camp fires. The charcoal is a rich source of calcium and the honeyeaters may be eating it to gain calcium after laying or in preparation for laying eggs.

I failed to get any reasonable photos of the honeyeaters over a couple of days, but on the final morning I could hear them calling along one of the tracks. We went out to investigate and a male was flying between trees and displaying. He would sit in a tree for a bit and sing, then promptly fly to another tree. I watched the trees he was flying to and realised that he was visiting the same trees. I found one that would provide bit of cover for me so the bird wouldn’t see me as it flew in, and give a good photo opportunity. I waited a little while watching him dart about other trees and sure enough he flew in and sat beautifully in the sun on the tree in front of me before zipping off again into the next tree.

Black Honeyeaters are stunning little birds, with some interesting habits. They occur throughout much of inland Australia, but follow the flow of nectar from plants like Eremophila. So if you out in the drier parts of Australia, keep an eye out for these awesome birds and you could be rewarded. It was fantastic to see these beautiful little creatures in such detail and I look forward to my next encounter with them, whenever that may be.

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Hattah-Kulkyne National Park, Victoria

The Shield Shrimp

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Shield Shrimp Triops australiensis found in The Embankment on Mt Ive Station in the Gawler Rangers, South Australia.

Driving around the red rhyolite hills of Mt Ive Station back in November 2015. Heat haze rippled up from the ground with the car telling us the outside temperature was 44°C. We wandered our way along the dusty roads and through a stunning landscape of old warn down hills topped with yellow spinifex and sprawling plains covered with blue-grey bluebush. The station, a working sheep station, caters for the more adventurous traveller who is willing to get off the beaten track.

We were driving around early in the day trying to avoid the heat, looking for a spot that might attract some birds. Not long before we arrived there had been rain which can be sparse and unpredictable in the outback. A small rock walled dam between a couple of stunning spinifex clad hills called The Embankment had collected some water. We made our way up the slope and peered over the wall to find some turbid muddy water. Instead of finding the water only perturbed by the breeze we found a soup with bustling life. Abundant large tadpoles wiggled their way around and what appeared to be Fairy Shrimp fluttered about. But there was something else. Occasionally, dabbing the water’s surface then disappearing into the murky depths another crustacean lurked. After waiting a short while one emerged in the shallows releveling itself to me, a Shield Shrimp! I was very excited. Since hearing about them as a novelty pet in the aquarium trade I always wanted to see them in the wild. They are curious ancient looking creatures that have a very interesting lifecycle.

After it rains in the outback, dusty depressions, clay pans and dams like The Embankment fill up with water. The dust turns to mud and tiny packets of dormant life, the eggs (cysts) of the Shield Shrimp, hatch and spring to life. The larval stage (nauplii) quickly develop to adulthood and are able to reproduce within a few weeks. Life is quick because the water may not remain for long, evaporating in the harsh outback sun and being drunk by thirsty animals. The shrimp swim around their muddy soup using their oar-like limbs that have gills enabling them to breath. The adults can reach 90 mm long as they feed and prepare to lay eggs. The water levels become lower and lower the females disperse their eggs into the mud securing the next generation. As the water disappears the adults perish, and the mud turns to dust once again. The dust and eggs may be blown about for years or even decades experiencing harsh hot and cold temperatures waiting for the next rains so the cycle can start again.

If you are out and about in arid Australia after rain, check out some of the pools of water and you might find some of these fascinating and hardy little creatures that manage to persist in some of Australia’s harshest environments.

blank-australia-maps-thread-map-what-im-doin-inside-outline Shield shrimp
Mt Ive Station, South Australia