Photos from a trip to the Red Centre

Accounts and photos of non-captive reptiles in their natural habitat outside of South Africa. Try to record with your account details such as time of day/night, temperature, weather conditions, lunar cycle, sex, rough age of reptile, and so on.

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Photos from a trip to the Red Centre

Postby moloch » Sun Jan 13, 2013 7:53 am

Over the Christmas break, I had the opportunity to make a quick trip to the Red Centre. It is a place that I've wanted to see for many years but never could find the time to get out there. Australia is a big place and the drive to the middle of the continent is a big one from the east coast. I left early on a Sunday morning from Melbourne and returned to Wollongong on the following Saturday. All up, I drove slightly less than 7,000 km in 7 days so I spent a fair bit of time watching the outback flash by my windscreen.

This year has been a hot one in Australia. I missed the worst of the heat but still experienced temps as high as 44C (111F). Unfortunately, the summer wet had not commenced and the area was very dry. Reptile activity was subdued and I encountered far fewer species/individuals than I had hoped for and much less than others have reported at the same time last year. Still, it was great to see the areas and I know several places now that I will be happy to re-examine some year after summer rains.

I will include a number of habitat shots in this post that hopefully give you an idea of what a trip to the centre would be like.

I left Melbourne at about 4:30 am. By noon, I passed through the Ngarkat Conservation Park in South Australia. This area was burned a few years ago but plant regeneration was underway.
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It was quite warm when I took a short break and walk in the park. Eventually, I found a few Mallee Military Dragon (Ctenophorus fordi). The little dragons were hard to see in areas with litter. Their disruptive colour pattern works well.
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After stretching and taking a few photos, it was back in the car for another 12 hours. I eventually stopped for the night at a roadside rest near Glendambo. Fuel stations were far apart in this area and most were only open until 8pm. That made it a little awkward to travel at night.

I did a little night driving in the Glendambo area and eventually found two geckos. The night was quite even though the temps were warm.

Beaded Gecko (Lucasium damaeum). This was a nicely marked gecko and only the second that I've ever encountered. I think that they are common but their distribution is mainly in southern Australia and I rarely travel in this part of the continent. This one held its tail high when running on the road. It had dropped a little when I took this shot.
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The second gecko was a Fat-tailed Gecko (Diplodactylus conspicillatus), a wide-ranging species. These little geckos will partially inflate their throats and then flutter this like an amphibian.
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I refueled as soon as the station opened the following morning then continued with the drive north. I liked the following sign, only 300km more to the "corner store".
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Before long, I passed through Coober Pedy, one of the big opal fields in Australia. The climate here was hostile and many people live underground to escape the extreme conditions. It was an aesthetically-challenged area as was most of the northern half of South Australia.
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This shot was of typical habitat in northern South Australia. I stopped briefly since this area is the home of two dragons that I have not yet seen, Gibber Dragon (Ctenophorus gibba) and Ochre Dragon (Ctenophorus tjantjalka). The crumbling hills looked perfect for the latter but I did not see either of my targets. It may have been too hot for these to be in the open.
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Eventually, I did see a single lizard, one of the widely distributed Eyrean Earless Dragons (Tympanocryptis tetraporiphora). These are heat tolerant lizards and will often stand dinosaur-like on the top of a rock even when it is hot. This one, however, was disturbed by my presence and attempted to hide.
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Further on, I saw a single Central Netted Dragon (Ctenophorus nuchalis) that tried to hide when I stopped the car.
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Even though it was dry, there were a few flowering plants.

Mulla Mulla (Ptilotus sp.), a member of Amaranthaceae
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Solanum sp.
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a composite:
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The habitat improved a little near the Northern Territory border. I stopped and searched a few trees for lizards but did not find any reptiles.
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I did see a group of six of these beautiful Mulga Parrots. I often see this species in the interior but they are not usually cooperative for photos.
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Wedge-tailed Eagles were, as always, common along the way. They feast on road-killed kangaroos and all to often end up as road-kills themselves. This one appeared to have a problem and was missing feathers from its head. It looked almost vulture-like.
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Finally, in the late afternoon, I arrived at the West MacDonnell Ranges NP. I found a nice place to camp and set up the tent.
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... view from my campsite:
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The rocky hills were beautiful. I especially enjoyed the scenic Ormiston Gorge with its red rocks, yellow spinifex and white-barked Ghost Gums. Here a few photos of the area.
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That night, I went driving along these hills ...
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... and found two of these gorgeous creatures. Desert Death Adders (Acanthophis pyrrhus) are one of the most brightly coloured of the Aussie elapids. I found a small juvenile and a large adult. I love their defensive display when the flatten their bodies and flash the yellow bands.

juvenile:
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adult:
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The next night, I found this little Unbanded Shovel-nosed Snake (Brachyurophis incinctus). It was lucky to have survived the night. I spotted this little snake at the same time that a 4x4 approached at high speed. I could do nothing but pull off and hope for the best. Somehow, the tires missed the snake and it lived to eat more gecko eggs.
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I found two Orange-naped Snakes (Furina ornata). These little elapids never stop moving so I just took a quick record snap and continued on.
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Other nocturnals included several Prickly Geckos (Heteronotia binoei), a widespread species.
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... and, depending upon your taxonomics, the equally widespread Tree Dtella (Gehyra variegata):
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Also seen were several Fat-tailed Geckos (Diplodactylus conspicillatus):
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One of my targets in this area was the Centralian Knob-tailed Gecko (Nephrurus amyae), the most massive of the Aussie geckos. I did not see any on the road so decided to walk up into the hills. I followed a trail into this area:
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This proved to be productive and during the walk, I found two juvenile knob-tails that literally jumped onto the trail in front of me. Unfortunately, I did not see a big adult but these kids were nice to see.

... gecko 1. As expected, they were good albeit careful rock climbers.
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gecko 2:
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Another interesting sighting was a pygopodid in the top of a spinifex. At first, I could not see the head so was not certain of the species. Eventually it lifted its head and I could see the pointed snout of a Burton's Snake-Lizard (Lialis burtonis). More interesting though, was what it was holding. It had just captured the smallest of the Aussie geckos, a Clawless Gecko (Crenadactylus ocellatus). I have only ever seen the rock-inhabiting race from the west coast. This race in the centre looked very different with its striped pattern. The Burton's chewed on the head of the gecko for several minutes before quickly swallowing it. Here is a sequence of photos of the event:
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A surprise to me was spotting a few of these Desert Cave Geckos (Heteronotea spelea). I thought that they were restricted to the Pilbara of WA but found out after my return that their known range was expanded recently and includes the red centre.
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By day, I saw few lizards. I think that this was the first time in the interior when I did not see any Ctenotus skinks at all. The most common lizard seemed to be the Long-nosed Dragon (Amphibolurus longirostris). "Elegant Dragon" would be a more suitable name for these lovely lizards. This one shimmied up the smooth bark of a young Ghost Gum like someone climbing a coconut palm. Once high enough, it sprang out to side branches where it could move more normally.
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Also found one evening was the female Gilbert's Dragon (Amphibolurus gilberti).
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This Dingo completely ignored me. It acted like a dog on a mission in the suburbs as it trotted down the road.
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Here are more photos of the habitats of the West MacDonnells. It really was a lovely area.
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Mt. Sonders, the high point along the Larapinta Track through the West MacDonnells.
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One of our native Coral Bean Trees (Erythrina vesptilio)
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Mistletoe: I saw a small honeyeater here but none of the beautiful Azure butterflies that I had hoped to find.
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A native hibiscus (Hibiscus sturtii):
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Solanum sp.
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... more later
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Re: Photos from a trip to the Red Centre

Postby Mamba no 5 » Sun Jan 13, 2013 9:03 am

Incredible shots mate. (Yes, these pictures are of Australian origin and that allows me to call you "mate")
But these really are exceptional photos, you are lucky that you have the opportunity to experience a place like that and have the skills/equipment to take these shots.

BTW Which Camera/lenses and settings did you use? I Must know.
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Re: Photos from a trip to the Red Centre

Postby coral snake » Sun Jan 13, 2013 10:21 am

That's one epic trip dude! Nice! Awsome finds,but the Death adders top my list as the best!!
Brown House snake 0.2
Corn snake normal 3.1
Corn snake Albino 0.1
Leopard Gecko 0.0.1
Western Hognose 1.0
White lipped Tree viper 1.1
Yellow anaconda 1.0
Bahai scarlet birdeater 0.1
Fire Red birdeater 0.1
Curly hair 0.1
Chilean rose 0.1

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Re: Photos from a trip to the Red Centre

Postby Bushviper » Sun Jan 13, 2013 2:04 pm

Its a little disappointing for a 7000 km journey just to get there, unless you are hiding more pics from us? The heat must have made you worry about being stranded? Do you carry lots of water and have a sat phone for if something goes wrong (like a vehicle overheating or breaking down)? Did you travel alone?

The landscape is gorgeous and some of the animals were probably on your bucket list but what do you do during the day when the temperatures go that high?

Thanks for posting all of this. I am sure not many people brave a trip of that magnitude. Its crazy to think of those sorts of distances.
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Re: Photos from a trip to the Red Centre

Postby Herald_23 » Sun Jan 13, 2013 5:46 pm

You guys have some stunning reptiles!
Those Diplodactylus look a lot like our Pachydactylus. The power of speciation!

Thanks for the share
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Re: Photos from a trip to the Red Centre

Postby Chopper 1 » Sun Jan 13, 2013 6:07 pm

Really nice stuff - please give a detailed report on how and what you did :-D :-D :-D :-D
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Re: Photos from a trip to the Red Centre

Postby michael » Mon Jan 14, 2013 8:46 am

As always, a fantastic and interesting post! Thank you very much for sharing your experiences and interesting critters with us!
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Re: Photos from a trip to the Red Centre

Postby moloch » Mon Jan 14, 2013 12:01 pm

Thanks very much, guys.

Mamba,
I use a Canon 7D with several lenses: Canon 50mm (habitat), Canon 100mm macro (herp shots at night), Tamron 180mm macro (butterflies and day herps) and a Sigma 10x20mm wide angle lens for habitats.

Bushviper,
The number of herps was disappointing. I enjoyed the trip but will wait for summer rains before doing something like that again in a few years. I travel alone and always carry lots of food and water ... 30l or more. During the hot afternoons, I usually am shifting to a new location so there was no problem with the high temps. In the West MacDonnells, I found a shaded area where I could park but stay in the car with the air on and do work on my laptop.



I made a brief stop at Uluru on the return journey. The famous rock was certainly an impressive sight:

... late afternoon:
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... sunset:
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The national park was closed at night so I drove and walked in what looked like good areas near Yulara. I found absolutely nothing at all. It seemed strange since the habitat looked good. I suppose that this was due to the dry conditions.


The next morning, I got up early and drove to the Olgas.
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I did not see a single reptile. The only reptile sign that I found in the area was outside the park. I think that these were the tracks of a sand-swimming Lerista:
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Mt. Conner, a mesa along the drive from the Stuart Highway to Uluru:
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A nice white-flowered Grevillea near Kulgera on the Stuart Highway:
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I drove back into South Australia and stayed a little north of Port Augusta. The highway passed a number of dry, salt lakes like this:
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The next day, I visited the interesting Australian Arid Lands Botanical Gardens.
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The place was rich with chenopods and a number of genera that would be familiar to people in the southwest of the US such as Mesembryathemum, Amaranthus, Atriplex, Chenopodium, Crassula, Euphorbia and Erodium. Are plants of these genera also found in the karoo?
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Once again, I struggled to see a single herp.


My final stop was a night in the Gundabooka area between Cobar and Bourke, NSW. This area has produced some interesting herps over the years. I saw a huge Mulga Snake (Pseudechis australis) but it powered off the road before I could get photos.

Other reptiles included this Eastern Hooded Scaly-foot (Pygopus schraderi):
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Box-patterned Gecko (Lucasium steindachneri):
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Little Corellas at a water hole:
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Red-rumped Parrot;
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I was happy to see these new areas but next time, I won't travel that far unless there have been summer rains. I think that I saw less than 50 reptiles during the entire week of driving.


Regards,
David
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Re: Photos from a trip to the Red Centre

Postby Westley Price » Wed Jan 16, 2013 1:48 pm

Awesome post, and what an adventure that must have been!

I enjoy geckos so much, so this post was a real treat. I'll take gecko observations over snake ones any day.

Your snake-lizards has always fascinated since I saw a Crocodile Hunter episode where Steve was rescuing them from a bush fire. Do local keep them in captivity at all?

Thanx for the great topic
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