One night in the Watagans

I don’t know what it is but over the last week I have been haunted by an odd pattern when I go out looking for frogs. It goes something like this:

1 Mixophyes barred frog
1 species of stream “tree frog”
1 species of secretive leaf litter dweller
1 species of gecko, specifically a leaf tail

The eye shine… Could it be…?

Last night was no exception. I drove out to the Watagan NP, just north of Sydney in the northernmost reaches of the massive sandstone block that defines the region. It was almost 10pm by the time I arrived, and I wasted no time in jumping out of the car and switching on the camera. The place I was checking out was suggested by Aaron Payne as a good spot to find some of the forest species, and it was spot on the money. Boarding House Dam did not fail to impress on this night.
As soon as I had walked the 30 second walk to the creek I noticed bright, possum like eyeshine on the other side. I had a feeling it was coming from the giant barred frog (Mixophyes iteratus) and I turned out to be correct. A lovely handsome frog with big gold eyes and fine barring on the legs it is the most distinctive of all the barred frogs and also the largest. During the course of the night I spotted loads of them, sometimes three under a single tree!

Giant barred frogs are very imposing and very cool

This type of leaf tailed gecko loves rock faces

Walking downstream in search of the other species in the area I managed to spot leaf tailed geckos (Phyllurus platurus) on the rock faces and multitudes of bright glow worms, making the rock faces look like a sky full of blue stars. A small dunnart (a marsupial carnivore that looks like a mouse but is closer to kangaroos) glared down at me from a boulder and bounded off in search of a juicy spider or scorpion to demolish.

Heading back to the dam I heard leaf green tree frogs (Litoria phyllochroa) calling with their distinctive “eeek…chuckle” call. Managing to get close enough to one for a picture was a great end to my search around the dam.

The beautiful leaf green tree frog

The next area was Gap Creek Falls, closer to the entrance of the park. I parked the car and heard a number of frogs croaking in the soggy grass. It took a while but I did manage to uncover one of the culprits. A beautiful red-backed toadlet (Pseudophryne coriacea). I had seen this species before, but not for about 10 years so I was more than happy to photograph it. Under the belly of these frogs is a lovely vivid marbling pattern. They also rarely hop, generally walking instead.

The innocent looking frog with a dark side…

The walk to the falls was partially blocked by fallen trees but as soon as I got around them I noticed the eye shine of a frog half buried. With great delight I moved the leaves and took some pictures. This is a species I wanted to see for a long time. Known as the sandpaper frog (Lechriodus fletcheri) it is rough to touch and has some nasty skin toxins. Touching your eye or mouth after handling one is not a wise move. But this is not odd in itself. The strange thing about this species is the life style of the tadpoles.

The adults spawn in temporary pools in the forest. Food is scarce so when it runs out the tadpoles turn on each other and become hardcore cannibals. Only the strongest make it out of the forest- pool-cannibal-UFC-octagon as sub adults. Talk about a rite of passage!

“So, how was your brother last night?”
“Yeah, he was tasty…”

Time had run out and I had to get back to Sydney, only two hours away. Next time I hope to visit during some rain!

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