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…