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

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