Frogging in Thunderstorms – Mt Nebo & Mt Glorious
In late November 2012 myself and Debbie from the Brisbane Frog Watch Group decided to go for a drive up into the ranges of Mt Nebo and Mt Glorious to look for frogs at night. That day it rained heavily and so the night looked promising with more rain predicted. It was only the second decent downpour since the start of summer and remained so, well into January 2013. Before we set off into the ranges we first visited a local park not too far Debbie’s house near Enoggera to see if the depressions she was telling me about had flooded sufficiently enough so as to catch frogs breeding. Unfortunately they had not, but we still managed to spot a Graceful Treefrog (Litoria gracilenta) perched on a branch and took some good photos of it. As it was only the second one I had ever seen I was pretty excited. My first had been several weeks before at Karawatha forest. This is an extremely attractive frog species having a bright green body, gold or red iris, yellow lips, abdomen, feet, flanks and limbs. The backs of its thighs are a rich purple or purplish brown. This is a widespread and adaptable species and can be found in most habitats east of the Great Dividing Range except higher altitudes and dry west.
On our way out of the park I noticed a Gladiator spider of the genus Dinopis it is also known as the Ogre faced spider or Net casting spider. They are found in eastern Australian forests. For a spider it has a relatively long and thin abdomen and a small cephalothorax. They demonstrate a remarkable technique when hunting. First the spider creates a frame between branches of a bush using a dry silk. Holding onto this, a small square net is constructed by it, using a sticky and very elastic silk. Dinopis then removes it and holds it between the two pairs of forelegs, then hanging down from a silk thread, it hovers a few inches above the ground. When an insect walks by, Dinopis launches, ensnaring the unfortunate insect in the net! Brilliant!
Mt Nebo and Mt Glorious are part of the D’Angular mountain Range and are just a 45 minute drive north west of Brisbane. Mt Nebo sits 550m above sea level and is the first part of the range you come across when heading up there. The rain was pretty heavy and there were small frogs hopping over the road but it was too dangerous to stop and look at those. We found a safe place to pull over and got out and had a look on the road and along the sides. The first frog we seen was the ornate burrowing frog. As I had seen many of these before I didn’t risk my camera getting soaked in the rain and so didn’t photograph it, instead I just picked it up off the road and placed it near a stream at the side.
I carried on searching and caught eye shine in the distance of what I thought was a cane toad sitting head up high on a curb at the side of a small bridge. As I got closer I could not believe my eyes….it was the great barred frog (Mixophyes fasciolatus). Not being from Australia I’ve been waiting years to see one of these frogs! I scooped it up and shouted to Debbie “Oh my god I’ve just found me first a great barred frog…Get in!” To me the barred frogs are something special. I absolutely love huge ground dwelling frogs, I am absolutely fascinated with their ability to ambush and swallow huge prey items such as the huge “wetta” crickets, cockroaches, centipedes, other frogs and even small reptiles including frog-eating snakes! The mouth of these frogs are very large and once it has secured its prey, providing it is not too large, all it has to do is stuff it in using its forearms and close that mouth shut and gulp it down with a blink of its eyes and its game over! Astonishingly if the prey item is large enough you can actually see the frog’s stomach moving around where the trapped animal is moving around in the stomach obviously looking for a way out! Can you imagine? What a way to go….suffocating and dissolving in stomach acid! Nice! I have witnessed European common frogs swallow huge worms and then watched as the worm wriggles around in the stomach and sometimes pushes out of the mouth with the frog continuously pushing it back in with its forearms and gulping it down with eye blinks!
Finding the great barred frog was worth risking getting my camera out in the rain and getting some shots of it while Debbie held her straw over my camera. They are large frogs ranging from 65 – 100mm. Smooth with a dark iris and a rounded snout. Body is beige, fawn or brown with a pale upper lip. The flanks are cream or yellowish with black spots and blotches. The legs have thin black bars with wide ends, abdomen is white to yellow. They are found in wet forests and adjacent habitats and although they are mostly found along forested streams they will also breed around ponds and dams on adjacent farmland.
Heading higher into Mt Nebo the steady rain turned into torrential rain and thunderstorms. When the lightning struck the forest looked like day time for a second or two it was incredible. The rain was so heavy by now we could barely see more than a few meters in front of the car. Your eyes began to play tricks on you with the rain bouncing up off the road giving the impression of frogs jumping! We did stop occasionally when we knew we had seen one such as when a large green tree frog appeared at one point but when I got out to double check, it bounced off and vanished into the rain, same with a striped marsh frog we saw. Then I managed to catch a stony creek frog Litoria wilcoxi but the rain was far too torrential to photograph it and so I put it back which was most annoying as I had never seen one of these despite them being common. We were listening out for the orange-eyed tree frog Litoria chloris in areas where Debbie had found them before whilst getting soaked as we wound down the window to have a listen. I really wanted to see one of these, have done for years but this night it was not to be. It was likely a little early in the season for them.
After snaking through mountain roads we came out on top of Mt Glorious which sits 680 meters above sea level. We began to descend it trying to avoid squashing frogs as we went. We pulled in to the right as Debbie said there was a good frog pond there. As soon as we parked there was a barred frog right next to the car and also a striped marsh frog Limnodynastes peronii. Striped marshfrogs are an extremely common and widespread species ranging from the wet tropics of north Queensland right down the east coast and across the southern half of Victoria into the south east corner of South Australia also being found in the northern part of Tasmania. The adults can be very attractive with some individuals being a light brown with dark brown to black stripes, sometimes having short reddish dorsal stripes as well as a thin, dark edged, pale vertebral stripe. This is a very hardy and aggressive species and thrives in most habitats except rainforest. They do well in disturbed areas such as parks and gardens and can even tolerate polluted water.
The pond was noisy with different frog species. I walked around it precariously at times as some banks were bordered by vertical shaped rock and so I had to cling onto trees to get around those parts. I could see 2 Tyler’s treefrogs (Litoria tyleri) both males calling, which were a first for me.
I had left my camera in the car as the rain was so heavy and the position I was in watching them would have made it impossible to photograph them anyway. I carried on around the pond and could hear plenty of sedge frogs (Litoria fallax) but couldn’t locate one. I could also hear a lone male barred frog but again was unable to locate it. I came full circle aroundto the start of the pond and there was a lot of activity. I was able to spot a few sedge frogs and several Tyler’s treefrogs, this time I was able to photograph them. The Tyler’s treefrogs we spotted were calling from vegetation around the pond which is typical of this species. They are really attractive looking frogs especially the yellow phase which some individuals are. These were more of a pale fawn to brown colour having a yellow throat, lips, flanks and upper forearms. Their call is a short staccato laughter sounding noise. These frogs prefer wetter forests and coastal freshwater wetlands (especially Melaleuca swamps) throughout the eastern part of south east Queensland spreading down into southern New South Wales covering an area of approximately 73,000km2.
The sedge frogs calling from around the pond were bright green. Some individuals can be brown or brown and green. They are very small even when fully grown reaching around 25 – 30mm in length. They have a gold iris and a white stripe running from below the eye to shoulder merging with a pale lip. They also have a dark stripe running from the nostrils to the eye and carrying on behind the eye covering the tympanum. Its lower flanks are white while the upper flanks are green. The back of its thighs are orange. They occur in most habitats except rainforest and are common in disturbed habitats, including suburban gardens.
In the same area but on the ground next to a tree was a Peron’s or emerald spotted treefrog (Litoria peronii) as it is sometimes known. Peron’s is one of the most attractive and best known of the three species of brown or laughing frog.
Its slightly warty mottled whitish, grey or brown body has numerous emerald green dots. Its eye has a four cornered iris. The groin and back of thigh is boldly mottled in bright yellow and black. From just above the tympanum to above the arm it has a black edged skin fold. It is widespread in most habitats especially around large gumtrees and near creeks, rivers and lakes. During the day they rest beneath loose bark and feed on insects near the water at night. The male I encountered was calling from the floor next to the pond. Females lay eggs in still standing water such as the pond we were at.
Debbie pointed out a couple of small frogs amongst the pine needles in what looked like a wrestling match! I’m not sure whether it was a demonstration of male- male competition or an attempt to position themselves into the position of amplexus.
They were Sandy gungans (Uperolia fusca) which I not had the chance to see yet. These are small frogs that look more like toads and only grow to a length of 30mm. They have a small gland on the side of the neck and a slightly raised gland may be present above the groin. Brown to dark grey and covered in contrasting spots and blotches they have dark edged orange or yellow patches in the groin and back of the thigh. They are the most commonly encountered gungan in coastal and high rainfall areas of South-east Queensland. Either way we didn’t want to disturb them too much and took a few quick photo’s and let them be.
After getting a couple of shots of the wrestling pair of gungans I noticed three barred frogs not too far from the car by catching their eye shine. I beamed my head lamp along a dirt path for vehicles going into the forest and spotted another set of eye shine knowing it would be another barred frog. After inspecting it I beamed the torch light further into the forest and there further down the track were more barred frog eye shine. I kept repeating this and Debbie eventually asked me “How do you know that it’s a barred frog every time?” I said “Look at size of the eyes and the distance between them, its consistent time and time again.” I was leading us deeper and deeper into the forest as there was one sitting on the floor every 10-15 meters even coming across 3 sets of eye shine right next to each other at one point. I got so carried away walking up to the next one and then the next one that eventually Debbie said “Right let’s call it a night soon” and I don’t blame her to be fair as I would of kept at it until we were a several kilometres away from the car at the rate I was going and the continuing presence of more and more barred frogs! But I was just amazed how many there were and was grateful we had picked the right night for them. So my first encounter with coming across the great barred frog turned out to be coming across 20-30 of them! I was over the moon! All in all we seen 9 different species that night and out of those 3 were new to me. It was a real success and well worth braving the thunder storms that were unleashed on the ranges that night.