Eisdisco!

Eisdisco!

(sorry, text article)

Well, here I am in Germany, visiting my partner’s parents in what has been described by some as sort of a Judgement Day. I am happy to report that they are great, though there is a bit of a language barrier. For the next few weeks I will be exploring the region, centred around Chemnitz in the former communist East. The first, and one of the more memorable moments in the couple of days I have been here is something Linda casually mentioned as we were walking back from the botanic gardens. Eisdisco! Yes, there is such a thing. I expected the best (?) budget East German DJs combined with the fashions of a region that had broken free of communism – all on a slippery ice surface. I was not disappointed.

With childlike delight I roped Linda, who rolled her eyes at the idea (or possibly my enthusiasm), and her brother Steffen into a night on the ice. On the bus I noticed a man in his early forties with a jawline beard, orange cycling glasses and a sweatband on his head, wearing a blue tracksuit. He looked like a man that frequents Eisdiscos. I relayed my opinion to Steffen who told me it was unlikely.

On arrival, the first order of business was to find some skates that fit me. Luckily they did have EUR51 skates, the largest available.

The atmosphere was building as we awaited the doors to the ice to open. I noticed a familiar face in the crowd – Napoleon Dynamite’s doppelganger. Seriously, this guy was identical. Small circles of coloured lights chased each other over the ice and a disco ball rotated slowly overhead. The doors flung open and we were on the ice as quick as a flash.

This is the moment I should mention that I had only tried ice skating once, and it was 20 years ago. I was terrible at it. This time was no different. People in spiky coloured hairdos zoomed past, the orange glasses guy from the bus (yes I was right!) was also there. The music was exactly as I expected. Classical German music such as Rammstein and Scooter blasted from the speakers as I made my way around the ring.

Owning the Eisdisco

I struggled but managed three laps before my first fall. The boots were a little loose, so we exchanged them for another pair, hoping for size 50. They only had 49, which I couldn’t get my feet into at all. So it was another pair of 51s. Upon returning to the ice, I found much to my horror that the left skate would slide out sideways and not grip the ice at all. Nothing I could do would cause it to grip, so we went back to exchange that too. Instead, the big moustached maintenance man with a tummy that strained against his overalls offered to take the boots and sharpen them. Back on the ice, the problem still made gaining speed difficult. So we returned the boots again. The man fished about and found a final pair of skates. These worked as expected and soon I was back on the ice falling over as usual. It was getting hot in my snow jacket so I opted to wear my shirt and jeans. I was the only person not wearing a jacket, so you can imagine I got a few strange looks.

The night was coming to a close and my feet began to hurt. I was becoming much better at this ice skating thing, but maybe that was just the beer wearing off.

9 Amazing animals from the cold waters of Southern Australia

 9 Amazing animals from the cold waters of Southern Australia

Well everyone, 2015 has been a rather hectic year. No rest for the wicked, some say. Right after leaving the Wet Tropics, it was straight down south with my favourite biologist and partner Linda for a “meet the family.” Yes, she did very well, but no doubt you’re more interested in what we saw under the sea… More information for each image can be found by following the Flickr link.

9 Dragons of the Sea

Now these little guys are about the most amazing members of the Seahorse and Pipefish family (Sygnathidae). There are three types of Sea Dragon found in Southern Australia, two kinds of Weedy and one kind of Leafy. The common Weedy Seadragon is far more abundant than you may realise. In one snorkelling session I spotted over 40 of them! It does take a trained eye, and they sit at a depth of 3-6m among seagrass and sea nymph beds. Like other seahorses and sea dragons the male is the one that looks after the eggs under his tail until they hatch. This was the first thing we saw on the first day. Not a bad start!

Weedy sea dragon (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus)

Weedy sea dragon (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus)

Weedy sea dragon (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus)

Weedy sea dragon (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus)

The long tubular snout is used to suck up tiny shrimps

Weedy sea dragon (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus)

Weedy sea dragon (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus)

In the sea nymph beds they can be a little tricky to spot…

8 Little Sea Dumplings

Unknown to most people that visit the beach, at night a strange little character emerges from the sand, peering out with big, bulbous eyes.

Dumpling squid (Euprymna tasmanica)

Dumpling squid emerging from sand (Euprymna tasmanica)

With a coating of sand stuck to their bodies, they switch on a light from an organ within to cancel out their shadows from predators and prey below.

Dumpling squid with sandy coating

Dumpling squid with sandy coating

Dumpling squid with curled tentacles

Dumpling squid with curled tentacles

If disturbed, they become even more adorable.

Dumpling squid (Euprymna tasmanica)

Dumpling squid (Euprymna tasmanica)

Dumpling or Bobtail squid are relatives of true squid and cuttlefish. Many species are found around the world’s oceans, and they are nocturnal, coming out after dark to hunt shrimps. The sand sticks to their bodies and can be shed in one lump with a spurt of ink if the animal needs to make an escape. The sinking blob of sand must look and smell like the squid and may distract a predator long enough for the little dumpling to jet away to safety. These little critter live only about 3 months. I had to brave the freezing cold water by myself to get these images after dark!

7 Colourful Cowfish

I really don’t know how a six-horned fish with a tiny mouth and psychedelic fingerpaint coating got the name “cowfish” but these Temperate Boxfish are very common on deeper reefs and seagrass beds in southern Victoria.

There are two species, the Shaw’s

Male Shaw's cowfish (Aracana aurita)

Male Shaw’s cowfish (Aracana aurita)

And the Ornate.

Aracana ornata 008

Ornate Cowfish

They get around picking at small invertebrates on the pylons of piers, rocks and reefs. We saw loads of these on the dives and some while snorkeling. Shaw’s were most common on reefs inside Port Phillip Bay and the Ornate was abundant on the seagrass beds around Flinders Pier.

6 Blue Devils

There is no need to explain the reason these fish are the major bucket list species of the Southern Sponge Gardens. At Portsea Hole we saw a number of Blue Devils just hanging around at about the 20m mark. On slack tide they emerge to sit in midwater to feed. Blue Devils grow to about 40cm.

Blue Devil (Paraplesiops meleagris)

Blue Devil (Paraplesiops meleagris)

Paraplesiops meleagris 025

Blue Devil in sponge garden

5 Leatherjackets

Hard sounding fish, no doubt. Leatherjackets are also known as Filefish. Allied to the tropical Triggerfish, they are prolific in Southern Australian waters. They are all carnivores, feeding on worms, jellyfish and anything else that they can scavenge. Like their Triggerfish cousins they have a sharp, barbed spine on the back of the head which makes it hard for predators to swallow them. The skin is usually rough, like sandpaper. Here is an overview of some of the species we saw: Pygmy Leatherjacket

Pygmy leatherjacket (Brachaluteres jacksonianus)

Pygmy leatherjacket (Brachaluteres jacksonianus)

The only Gunn’s Leatherjacket I have ever seen

Gunn's leatherjacket (Monacanthus gunnii)

Gunn’s leatherjacket (Monacanthus gunnii)

Bridled Leatherjacket. A small species often seen in huge swarms in warmer weather.

Bridled leatherjacket (Acanthaluteres spilomenlanurus)

Bridled leatherjacket (Acanthaluteres spilomenlanurus)

Female Southern Leatherjacket

Southern leatherjacket (Meuschenia australis)

Southern leatherjacket (Meuschenia australis)

The unusual Mosaic Leatherjacket – a juvenile

Mosaic leatherjacket (Eubalicthys mosaicus)

Mosaic leatherjacket (Eubalicthys mosaicus)

Male Southern Leatherjacket

Southern leatherjacket (Meuschenia freycineti)

Southern leatherjacket (Meuschenia freycineti)

The very distinctive Horseshoe Leatherjacket    

Horseshoe leatherjacket (Meuschenia hippocrepis)

Horseshoe leatherjacket (Meuschenia hippocrepis)

Yellow Striped Leatherjacket

Yellow striped leatherjacket (Meuschenia flavolineata)

Yellow striped leatherjacket (Meuschenia flavolineata)

4 Octopus

Well, the Occies didn’t disappoint either. On every night dive we found them. In the freezing cold, we tried our luck at Mornington Pier. It was blowing a gale from the north which is very bad news for conditions. However we did manage to find a few nice creatures, but the octopus were the real treat. This Southern Keeled Octopus sat patiently for photos before vanishing down a hole in the mud.

Keeled octopus (Octopus berrima)

Keeled octopus (Octopus berrima)

And anywhere we went on the sand on any other night we were rewarded with the Sand Octopus, a species that hides under the sand by day, emerging after dark.

Southern sand octopus (Octopus karuna)

Southern sand octopus (Octopus karuna)

They are absolutely everywhere! Especially at Rye. We found them hunting in ankle deep water.

Southern sand octopus (Octopus karuna)

Southern sand octopus (Octopus karuna)

Southern sand octopus burying itself

Southern sand octopus burying itself

3 Sealing the deal

What trip to southern waters would be complete would goofing around with the resident seals? These playful mammals are easily found at Chinaman’s Hat in Southern Port Phillip Bay.

Australian Fur Seals (Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus)

Australian Fur Seals (Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus) Or Sea Lions?

Australian Fur Seals (Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus)

 As soon as we arrived they greeted us, leaping into the water and rolling around, stopping to check us out before jetting away at full speed. They were too fast for any good images, but it was a blast.Actually, on second thought they might be Sea Lions. I’ll have to check…

Australian Fur Seals (Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus)

 

2 A lonely cuttle

It was a surprise to only see one Cuttlefish this trip. We were diving at South Channel Fort and I saw him in a little cave. He came out and just sat there, in a miserable looking cuttlefish pose. I did get some cracker shots though. The wide angle lens worked a treat.

Giant cuttlefish (Sepia apama)

Giant cuttlefish (Sepia apama)

Giant cuttlefish (Sepia apama)

 

1 Deadly beauty

Without a doubt the most attractive of the octopus is the Blue Ringed. There are several known species, all of which have saliva loaded with a cocktail of toxins that will kill you (after making you completely paralyzed in no time flat) if you handle one and get bitten.

They are shy and retiring creatures, the Southern Blue Ringed has been a major bucket list species for me for a long time. Here are three I found in as many days: This little fella is doing his best not to be seen. They do not like coming into contact with people and usually sneak away quietly.

Camouflaged blue ringed octopus (Hapalochlaena maculosa)

Camouflaged blue ringed octopus (Hapalochlaena maculosa)

When disturbed they do change immediately, turning yellow with black blotches. In each blotch is a bright blue ring.

Displaying Blue Ringed Octopus

Displaying Blue Ringed Octopus

This one was spotted on the bottom under Rye Pier late one night. I was the only one in the water as it was too cold for anyone else. This one was so big I thought it was a Keeled Octopus. It was about the size of a tea saucer- far larger than I thought they reached.

Disturbed blue ringed octopus (Hapalochlaena maculosa)

Disturbed blue ringed octopus


Well, that’s about it for now. There is more coming when I get some more spare time, but in the meantime enjoy my Flickr album for more images. (Opens in new window)

 

 

 

Into the Wet Tropics part IV – back through the Daintree to Tully

On the way back from Black Mountain, the heavy rain brought out a variety of rainforest frogs. Long, drawn out groans belonged to the Dainty Green Tree Frog (Litoria gracilenta). Standing on branches on their tip-toes, they sucked air into their bodies until they looked like they would pop, then with great effort pumped it into their bubble-like vocal sacs. They were tremendously noisy, hundreds gathered around the puddles in the shrubs.

Dainty green tree frog (Litoria gracilenta) calling

Dainty green tree frog (Litoria gracilenta), a beautiful frog found in swamps and drier areas on the edge of rainforest.

Dainty green tree frog (Litoria gracilenta) calling

 

Away from the puddles, in the streams we could hear the shorter, repetitive groans of the Orange Thighed Frog (Litoria xanthomera). On mossy boulders and overhanging branches they gathered in loose groups.

Orange thighed tree frog (Litoria xanthomera)

Orange thighed tree frog (Litoria xanthomera) looking at the camera

In the leaf litter was a frog I had never heard before, a series of short whistles gave them away. Fry’s Frog (Austrochaperina fryi) is a tiny leaf-litter dweller distantly related to the Black Mountain Boulder Frog. Tracking these down is a nightmare. They call infrequently, and when you get close they simply stop. So you must dedicate all of your effort to one individual, waiting for the call, moving closer, waiting again silently until you have the location pinpointed to less than twenty centimeters square. Carefully lift some leaves and you mightfind the frog. Maybe. If not, sit back for ten minutes until it starts again and repeat. I had accumulated many ant and leech bites by the time this frog was found.

Fry's frog (Austrochaperina fryi)

Fry’s frog (Austrochaperina fryi). This tiny species is one of te most cryptic and very hard to find. Like other Australian Microhylids they lay eggs in moist areas that will hatch directly into little frogs.

Just before turning in that night, the rising water flushed a python out of hiding, it turned out to be a small Amethystine or Scrub python (Morelia kinghorni) and it quickly made its way up a branch to a small limb where it bunched up in a ball, safe from the swelling stream. A few photographs later, we settled in for the night, ready for more misery.

Scrub python (Moreleia kinghornii)

Scrub python (Moreleia kinghornii). These harmless snakes have particularly iridescent scales.

The tent was living up to its reputation so far, the water pelted through the roof and sides, splattering on our faces and flooding the floor. Surprisingly, we both soon dozed off, to awake in the following day. The creeks were flowing hard and fast, leaves and branches swirled through the back eddies. Clearly, underwater photography was out so we elected to stay closer to the ferry for the final night and explore the wet roads. For one last time we set up the filthy, soaked tent and mouldy, foul smelling swag in the pouring rain. As night fell, we were treated to a loud frog call. A series of explosive “WHARK” sounds gave the culprit away as a Cogger’s Frog (Mixophyes coggeri). A large ground dwelling rainforest frog, they are very well camouflaged in the heavy leaf litter where they live.

Cogger's barred frog (Mixophyes coggeri)

Cogger’s barred frog (Mixophyes coggeri)

There were loads of other frogs calling. Driving the roads revealed many more Cogger’s Frogs and more Dainty Greens and Orange Thighs. Another pleasant surprise were large numbers of the Giant or White Lipped Tree Frog (Litoria infrafrenata). Possibly the largest of all the tree frogs, this species may reach around 150mm, about as big as a tree frog can effectively get.

Giant [White Lipped] tree frog (Litoria infrafrenata)

Giant [White Lipped] tree frog (Litoria infrafrenata)


Walking a short track revealed a large Boyd’s Forest Dragon (Hypsilurus boydii) on a branch. I had glimpsed adults before, but never had the chance to photograph one. This individual was displeased at being awoken, but sat long enough for a shot before climbing a vertical trunk.

Male Boyd's forest dragon (Hypsilurus boydii)

Male Boyd’s forest dragon (Hypsilurus boydii)

The following day was spent driving back to Cairns to return the hire car. The best news was that Phil’s insurance had come through and they were willing to pay for five nights in a motel with a hire car.

With the Hilux back at the rental yard, we were given a smaller, brand new RAV4. Hardly an off-road vehicle, it would have to do. We were told the deal included unlimited kilometers, so the plan was to test it with a drive south to Tully after leaving the gear in the motel. The gorge is one of my favourite places ever. When I lived in Queensland from 2005-2009, I frequently came here to fish or explore. Phil had been looking forward to it for a long time. When we arrived late in the afternoon, rain had been falling all day and had raised the streams, though they were not the usual clarity as they carried a burden of leaves and tannin. Not overly concerned, we tried photographing tadpoles in the streams and some over/under habitat shots.

Split view Tully stream

Split view Tully stream

Tully stream underwater

Tully stream underwater

 

Phil snorkelling

Phil snorkelling

As night fell, we sat at the large pool next to the campground. Two platypus swam silently along the surface, ducking down to forage. They would surface, grind up whatever they caught and vanish again under the swirling brown water. After dark we clambered up the small roadside streams to try and locate Lacelids and Waterfall Frogs. Both species were in abundance alongside the Common Mistfrog. Overall the forest was fairly quiet, though we did spot a few birds such as a Lesser Sooty Owl and a Papuan Frogmouth, both on road signs. They did not hang around, instead flying back into the forest when approached. On the Misty Mountains road on the other side of the gorge, we did disturb a couple of Tube Nosed Bats and spot a very large Cogger’s Frog before heading back to Cairns. On the way back, we re-visited an the creek Andy and Henry had taken me to near Innisfail. The water had risen and was much clearer. A longfinned eel left the shallows and headed for the deeper water while Phil and I prepared to get in with the camera. It was easier to photograph the small rainbowfish in the dark, though their colours were not so bright.

Eastern Rainbowfish (Melanotaenia splendida splendida)

Eastern Rainbowfish (Melanotaenia splendida splendida)

Cairns rainbowfish (Cairnsicthys rhombosomoides)

Cairns rainbowfish (Cairnsicthys rhombosomoides)

Bullrout (Notesthes robusta)

Bullrout (Notesthes robusta)

As we prepared to get out, I noticed a very large eel in the pool below. I am very uncomfortable with eels at the best of times, but I wanted a good image of one. So Phil stood on the bank and dropped some roast chicken pieces in the water to entice it out. This worked a treat and soon this massive eel was practically in my face. It didn’t sit still so getting a good shot was not easy, but I am happy with some of the images.

Longfinned Eel (Anguilla reinhardtii)

Longfinned Eel (Anguilla reinhardtii)

Longfinned Eel (Anguilla reinhardtii) resting

Another shot from the side

The room stank back at the motel. The smell of the swag had penetrated every nook and cranny, even though we had left it in the bathroom on the tiles. Something had to be done. We tried to contact Henry and Andy to offload it back to them, but in typical Heiner style they kept missing us. The odor was now unbearable. I grabbed it and ran down the hallway to the carpark, followed by something that looked like green smoke. In the carpark, I pulled the mattress out and stuffed the canvas into the washing machine. The mattress was laid out and sprayed with the fire hose. At this point I did not care if anyone was going to challenge me. Black liquid came out of it. I sprinkled some detergent on it, stomping it in with my feet and soaking it again. Four rinses later, the water coming out of it was still heavily discoloured. Eventually it cleared and I hung it out to dry in the carport. The smell lingered in the room for a couple more days, though we cleaned the bathroom from top to bottom. When Henry came to collect it he remarked that “this swag smells a bit funny…” He had no idea

Into the Wet Tropics part III – Black mountain

Black Mountain Panorama

… Well, the next day eventually came. I stank of rotting matter, the tent was full of water and Phil was floating about on his airbed as wet as a drowned rat. We emerged and set off for the town Of Wujal Wujal on the Bloomfield River. The road wound its way up and down steep, wet clay and eventually we reached the small community. A quick look around was enough, so we set off north for Black Mountain, or Galgajuga (Kalkajuga). A massive pile of black granite rising up from rather normal looking surrounds, it is full of mystery. The road takes you right to a lookout.

Black mountain nursery frog (Cophixalus saxitilis)

Black mountain nursery frog (Cophixalus saxitilis)

The attraction to this place is the sheer beauty of it, the stories of people going there and never being found again (no doubt from slipping down between boulders) and the unique wildlife. There are three endemic vertebrates – the Black Mountain Skink, the Black Mountain Gecko and the Black mountain boulder frog – probably the weirdest of them all.

After dinner at the Lion’s Den pub, with its “unique” collection of dead animals in jars, most of which will kill you we set off after dark. Expecting a long walk over the boulders before finding anything I was shocked to immediately, in the carpark, spot a boulder frog (Cophixalus saxitilis). One of the largest Microhylids in Australia, like its close relatives, it has no tadpoles. Males call from crevices and females lay eggs for the males to guard. Tiny fully formed frogs then hatch and bounce away. Both sexes are bright yellow, though the females more so than males. They really stand out on the black boulders, making them by far the easiest Microhylid frog to find. Other species call from hidden localities and are tiny (some 17mm long!)

Coastal ring tailed gecko (Cyrtodactylus tuberculatus)

Coastal ring tailed gecko (Cyrtodactylus tuberculatus)

We also found many large Ring Tailed Geckoes (Cyrtodactylus tuberculatus) on the boulders looking for a feed.

Black mountain gecko (Nactus galgajuga)

Black mountain gecko (Nactus galgajuga)

The endemic gecko was very hard to spot, though quite common. Only the eyeshine gave them away.

A small furry animal peered out from a crevice, backed in, then re emerged. We got quite a shock to discover it was our first ever wild Quoll! A Northern Quoll, these animals are near extinct in many areas due to feeding on the deadly introduced Cane Toad. For years I have been all through the bush at night and never, ever seen one. What a treat! It was too fast for a photo though…

To top off Black Mountain, one male Boulder Frog started to call, so I managed a recording of this unique species.

Nactus cheverti feeding on cockroach

(Nactus cheverti) feeding on cockroach

 

Into the Wet Tropics part II

… Continued from Part 1…

So, the car had been towed all the way to a mechanic in Cairns, in fact the only one open for business over the New Year break. A short grey, nervous looking fella he looked Phil and I up and down with pale, almost white eyes. Maybe he was deep in thought or maybe there wasn’t much going on, so we nicknamed him “Ol’ Dead Eyes” which became his name for the rest of the trip. He spoke little, stared lots and accepted the car for a check over. He confirmed our suspicions quickly that it was something wrong with the head. So, we left him and went over to a car hire yard to get what may have been the only 4WD vehicle for hire that weekend.

The paperwork went through and soon we had a 4WD Hilux ute equipped for mining operations with a radio, massive aerial and a yellow strobe light on top. If the need arose we could go frog hunting with a mobile disco. It was hideously expensive, but we had come this far. We had originally budgeted for under $1000 for the trip, but already the costs were well past double that. Not looking good so far…

Jungle Perch (Kuhlia rupestris)

Jungle perch from Emogen Creek

Indonesian marbled eel (Anguilla marmorata)

The uncommon Indonesian marbled eel. This species is incidental in the Wet Tropics, the near identical Longfinned eel is far more common.

Pacific blue eye (Pseudomugil signifer)

A male Pacific Blue Eye

We headed up to the Daintree, checking out the tannin stained creeks on the way. Finally we reached Emogen Creek, the beginning of the Bloomfield Track. The afternoon was spent snorkeling the pools looking for cling gobies and other freshwater fish. This went on well into the evening. Phil and I headed further upstream when I heard him call out in his loud Liverpool accent:

Freshwater moray (Gymnothorax polyuranodon)

Finally! A Freshwater Moray!

“Wooooooah! It’s a Moray. Come check it out” (you have to understand how it sounds when he says things. Think Lister from the TV series Red Dwarf)

There it was, my first ever Freshwater Moray (Gymnothorax polyuranodon). Orange with brown irregular blotches it cautiously watched, mouth slightly open like it had just told a joke and was awaiting a response. I managed to snap a couple of macro shots of its head before it vanished under the riverbank. Further up was a massive freshwater longfinned eel which sank into the thick leaf litter. A small saw shelled turtle (Wollumbinia latisternum) cruised by. I badly wanted a shot of the moray with my wide angle lens to fit the whole animal in, but though we search all night no more came out to play.

Saw shelled turtle (Wollumbinia latisternum)

A small Saw Shelled Turtle

It was now time to set up camp, so we backtracked to a camping spot and set up. It had not rained in three months so far, so who would think it would get wet? Well, as Phil was setting up his new, flash looking popup tent the heavens opened with a roar. Soon the ground was soaked. I unrolled my swag in the tent to be greeted by a green mushroom cloud of fungus spores. This swag was borrowed from the Heiner Brothers and had never been cleaned – and was packed away damp months ago. It was now a penicillin farm. The tent was not waterproof, except the floor which meant no water could escape. Soon we were camped in a kiddie pool in a shower. And I was on a swag that stank of dead cow covered in an alcoholics vomit. This set the scene for the rest of the trip…