Herping with Phil near Brisbane
I left Cairns and soon landed in Brisbane Airport. The sky was clear and the air was cooler and drier than the humid, clingy hot conditions further north in Cairns. A far cry from the major winds and flooding of a week prior. Phil Lewis lives in Brisbane, so we planned to catch up and go out to the forest on a “critter hunt” that night. After navigating the streets and eventually finding the bus stop I was on my way across town, through the seedy zones of Fortitude Valley and out to the house Phil, his partner Keeley and a bunch of others are renting.
Phil was waiting for me with his usual broad smile and “unique” sense of humour and Liverpool sayings. I stuffed down my dinner of sushi rolls. Deciding to save the rest for later, Phil suggested I “lassie band it” to keep the box from opening. What the hell is a “lassie band” anyway?
We were to be meeting up with a friend of Phil’s who was going to drive us out and show us around, but she doesn’t believe in using a mobile phone, even though she has one. And as a consequence her car had broken down and she was stuck out in the hinterland somewhere. However two others, Alex and Mark were coming anyway, so we hitched a ride with them. The destination was to be the area around O’Reilly’s in Lamington NP, to the west of Brisbane. Renowned for its bird life, especially bowerbirds, our goal was to get a look at some of the reptiles and amphibians. My main goal was to find the marsupial frog.
The drive took two hours, the road was unbelievably windy, doubling back on itself constantly. Soon we were at the guest house and drove over to the camp ground where some slightly shocked campers (it was 11pm by this stage) told us there were no streams or waterways within 5 hours walk. Slightly let down, I grabbed a brochure from the information booth and we discovered two tracks nearby that seemed to be what we wanted. Python Rock and Moran Falls were both less than 1.5 hrs return. We figured we would be faster than average anyway.
The paths were strewn with debris from the storms. Trees had been stripped of foliage,much of it was around our feet as we walked. Branches covered in moss and orchids had smashed on the track in many places but it wasn’t long before I found one of the things I was looking for. Red eyes glared back at me as I approached. Sitting on the track was a leaf tailed gecko (Saltuarius swaini) with another on a tree next to it. Phil was ecstatic. I was pleased too, but not so excited as Phil as I had photographed the near identical northern leaf tailed gecko not three nights prior. This was Phil’s first ever leaf tailed gecko ever.
We continued down the path, spotting several more of these remarkable reptiles. Soon we were at Moran Falls lookout. The water from the heavy rains was still running hard in the streams, but it had fallen enough to look for frogs. After searching a stretch of creek, we found two lovely Pearson’s tree frogs (Litoria pearsoniana) calling with their musical “eeek… cruck” calls from plants overhanging the water. After some quick snaps, I remarked at how wonderful it would be to find a Mixophyes. It would make the night…
Seconds later I thought I was imagining it when I heard a guttural grunt in a small tributary nearby. I followed it to its source and found a juvenile barred frog (yes, a Mixophyes!) but I was unsure of the exact species. Its eyes were rich orange and its legs were barred like the adult’s. We photographed it right away, and I knew the calls were not coming from the juvenile, so I listened again and heard the call again. I crept closer and tried to imitate it.
“Grunt grunt, cough…” I said to the forest in general.
The frog answered with an agitated grunt. I soon found him buried under the leaf litter, as male Mixophyes tend to do when displaying. Unsure of the species we carefully photographed him. We had our suspicions that it may be the Fleay’s barred frog (Mixophyes fleayi) but I had never really looked into identification of this genus in any real detail until now. It turns out both the juvenile and adult were in fact the Fleay’s barred frog and as such I was very excited. But we had more to explore and time was getting away fast.
We made it back to the car and followed the Python Rock trail in the hopes of finding another frog Philorialoveridgei. But it was very windy and dry on this track, so any hope of them calling was soon dashed. It was time to head back to Brisbane. Only three new species for us but it was well worth it!