I do say “wet tropics” which is the official name that the rainforest block of far northeastern Australia is known as, but on this occasion it was dry. Not to worry, I hired a car from Cairns and headed for the hills around nearby Atherton.
A fairly high altitude town (by Australian standards anyway) it’s mostly farm country but there is a bit of rainforest still around, and my primary area was to be the Crater Lakes area around Lake Eacham and Lake Barrine.
The first stop, Barrine, is a lovely clear lake nestled nicely in the rainforest. It, like Eacham is an old volcanic crater that has filled with water. Not having a suitable lens on hand I didn’t get any pictures, but it wasn’t the lake I was there to see anyway…
I took the circuit track for a few hundred meters and noticed something rustling about nearby. I carefully peered through the foliage and lo and behold I saw my first ever Musky Rat Kangaroo (Hypsiprymnodon moschatus). These little treasures re-define cool as far as I am concerned, they are a kangaroo, but only the size of a rat! I saw many more as I walked along, they seemed fairly unconcerned most of the time, more absorbed in the task of digging up fungi than caring about my intrusion. Photos were near impossible to get, they were in the densest of undergrowth but I did manage one picture, though not a good one…
As the sun set I arrived at Lake Eacham, a smaller but still nice crater lake. I headed out from the carpark and almost right away noticed something on a tree trunk. Surprised I could see it at all, I was thrilled at my first ever Leaf Tailed Gecko (Saltuarius cornutus) sitting head-down. These are remarkable creatures, blending in with the tree trunks in a way that makes them practically invisible. They are even flat to minimize shadows. Not closely related but near identical in many ways are the Leaf Tailed Geckos from Madagascar that are similar in almost every particular. During the course of the night I found many more of these, but all around the car park. They are not small either, the total length (including tail) of some of them was around 20cm! Check one on my “most wanted geckos” list…
Crossing the road later on was this gorgeous Chameleon Gecko (Carphodactylus laevis), which coincidentally was number 2 on my most wanted list! Another large gecko with incredibly spindly long legs and a fat tail they too sit on small trees facing the ground to ambush passing prey. I moved him off the road and took some pictures. Later I found another sitting on a sapling. The most remarkable feature of these geckos is the weird tail. When handled roughly (usually they will deal with handlers roughly…) these geckos, like most will drop the tail. This is where it gets weird. The tail twists and jumps about making a squeaking noise! I didn’t want to test this out so I let him be.
But paths had to be explored. Cane toads were all over the place, hopping and crashing through the undergrowth but I noticed some very large eyes staring back at me with a red-purple glow. This was no cane toad, so I headed over and saw my very first Northern Barred Frog! There are three similar species (two new have been assigned) which were once considered one species (Mixophyes schevilli) and this specimen may be the Cogger’s Barred Frog (M. coggeri). Northern Barred Frogs have eluded me on every other Wet Tropics trip which is weird as others tell me they are very common!
Further along the path I nearly face-planted into this lovely juvenile Boyd’s Forest Dragon (Hypsilurus boydii). These are relatively common in the tropical forests and adults are very spectacular primitive looking creatures. Photographs of adults still elude me.
A quick look at a waterfall at Wright’s Creek revealed a number of beautiful Green Eyed Tree Frogs (Litoria serrata). Perfectly at home above faster water in the rainforest in ferns and trees these frogs are wonderfully camouflaged and have an oddly quiet knocking call. It’s a wonder females can find males at all, but they seem to as the species is very common.
All along the creek in trees and on rocks were Jungguy Frogs (Litoria jungguy) which are a species recently split from the Stony Creek Frog (Litoria lesuerii complex). These breed in clear water whether fast moving or still, so long as it is in suitable habitat, usually rainforest. These are very familiar to me and are very similar in so many ways to the Torrent Frogs of Borneo, in the quiet calls, habitats, habits and general appearance.
Next to the car on the road, a loud beeping call was heard. Another familiar species, it was the Ornate Nursery Frog. These are from a group known as Microhylids and all Australian species breed out of water, laying eggs in moist areas that hatch into tiny frogs, totally skipping the tadpole phase. Males often guard clutches of eggs. The Ornate (Cophixalus ornatus) is distinguished by having false eye marks on its lower back.
It was now time to head back to Cairns, and on the way down in the dry forest I saw a lizard run off the road, so I stopped the car and went after it. Another one on my “most wanted” list, it is the Pink Tongued Skink (Cyclodomorphus gerrardii). Like a slender, partially arboreal, nocturnal Blue Tongue in appearance and diet, it replaces Blue Tongues (Tiliqua spp) in eastern rainforests. It writhed around and pumped out volumes of poo all over my hands. Yuk! But I managed a few pictures and sent him on his way.
Frogs were calling around a tiny pool next to the road. I managed to find and photograph this lovely Orange Thighed Tree Frog (Litoria xanthomera) before heading back to Cairns. This frog was recognized as being distinct from the very similar Orange Eyed Tree Frog (Litoria chloris) of further south which differs in having brilliant purple thighs.
So in a short night in the dry version of the Wet Tropics wasn’t too bad, disagree?