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StephenZozaya

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Salutations forumites,

First a few warnings. There is quite a lot of text in this post as a consequence of the amount of material. Feel free to skip it and look at the pretty pictures if you please. Also, the photos in this post were taken with both a Canon DSLR and an Olympus point-and-shoot camera, so image quality is pretty variable.

Back in May, Jeroen-- a friend I met through Field Herp Forum--invited me to join him for a week-long trip up to Iron Range National Park on Cape York Peninsula, Queensland. I gleefully accepted after assessing how many of my lectures and practicals I would miss. Once I sorted out the repercussions I immediately scheduled a bus ride up to Cairns for the following night and a plane flight home on the morning of my first final exam. Yikes! Jeroen organized a rental 4WD to take us up to the national park. After doing a bit of supply shopping we headed out of Cairns around noon for the ~800km drive north.

Our first stop was near the town of Julatten. On the road heading up the range there is a lookout over the town of Mossman and the coast. Jeroen lifted his camera to take a photo and was greeted with what any photographer would find as a horrendous and gut-wrenching site.
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His view-finder was filled with ants! The above photo is of the mirror, the ants themselves were in the view-finder. It seemed that during his time working in Mission Beach ants had decided to begin nesting in some of his belongings, including his sunglasses case.
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Luckily the ants decided to vacate by the next day, but not before forcing Jeroen to take several photos of a few snakes and landscapes while looking through a mess of black legs and white eggs.

We continued north and after a while reached the Peninsula Development Road. We took a quick stop in Lakeland to refuel and grab a few snacks before turning off onto the main road up the peninsula. Rather quickly after the turnoff we spotted our first reptile of the trip on the road, a good sized eastern brown snake (Pseudonaja textilis). Sadly neither of us managed to get any photos of the snake. A few minutes after that we found our second snake on the road, a lesser black whipsnake (Demansia vestigiata).
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On the way up the peninsula. Bad photo, but you get the gist.
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We continued on for several more hours without seeing much on the road other than a few roadkill Varanus panoptes. Night fell as we were about 100 kilometres south of Coen. Pretty soon after it got dark we began coming across brown-headed snakes (Furina tristis).
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These seem to be rather common snakes on the Peninsula. We encountered 3 that night as well as a few (live and dead) within Iron Range National Park itself. One of these we actually came across in rainforest, which surprised me a little.


After spending some time trying to get the first snake to sit still we realized that the fuel station in Coen would likely be closed by the time we arrived there, which was a bit of a problem considering that we had planned to make it to Iron Range that night. We arrived to find our suspicion confirmed. After a bit of contemplation we decided to continue on a bit further and find a nice spot to spend the night. Luckily, we reached Archer River Roadhouse, which provides fuel until pretty late, before finding a place to camp. And so we continued on to Iron Range! About 20kms after Archer River is the turnoff to the park. The final stretch! The road from the highway is about 130kms and takes about 3 hours to get through due to a number of creek crossings and a decent river crossing.

A short while after the turnoff from the main highway we came across a beautiful little black-striped snake (Cryptophis nigrostriatus). These are one of my favourite small elapids.
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There are no shortage of these snakes on the peninsula and we encountered several more during our time in Iron Range. Unfortunately, this little guy refused to not have dirt on his face at all times. Even after we made an effort to remove it the little bugger decided to replace it almost immediately!

Sometime after 2am we finally arrived in the national park. We made a quick stop to get a camping permit for the week and proceeded to search for one of the campsites. While on the way we found a couple of snakes, which is always nice. The first snake we encountered at Iron Range was a slaty-grey (Stegonotus cucullatus). It was the first non-venomous snake of the trip but by far one of the most aggressive snakes we encountered. It took a lot of effort to get it to sit still. The following photo makes it look almost dead, but I assure you, it was very alive and very angry.
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Not long after leaving the slaty-grey we came across a brown treesnake (Boiga irregularis), which I did not photograph. A bit before reaching the campsite we found a small scrub python (Morelia kinghorni), which was the first of many that we encountered. The national park seemed intent on not allowing us any sleep but we nevertheless managed to set up camp and get a bit of food into us. We awoke later that morning to a symphony of unfamiliar bird calls. Excellent! We ate a bit for breakfast and set out to begin exploring Iron Range.

Before continuing on with the animals I should first explain a bit about the area for those who are unfamiliar. Iron Range National Park is a mosaic of habitats, including a portion of the largest remnant lowland rainforest in Australia. Despite this, the majority of the park that is easily accessible is anything but rainforest. A large part of the area is heath and eucalypt woodland with patches of vine thicket, Melaleuca woodland and riparian rainforest. It is a bit strange to go from scrubby heathland straight into thick tropical rainforest with almost no sign of a gradient. The really special thing about the area is that it is a refuge to a variety of New Guinea wildlife in Australia, including the very special green tree python (Morelia viridis). So as not to get any hopes up I will tell you right now, we didn't find a single green python. Despite the hours and hours we spent looking we didn't even catch a glimpse of one. Nevertheless, we saw a good deal of other interesting reptiles, including a few endemics and other New Guinea species.

Before getting to the bulk of the animals that we found in the park I'll share a few habitat shots to give a feel of just how variable the area is.

Mt. Tozer and heath environment.
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Tropical rainforest (I didn't actually get anything close to a decent habitat shot).
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Tropical eucalyptus woodland.
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The Chilli Beach area. Beach, monsoon forest, vine thicket and paperbark/pandanus swamp.
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Towards the end of the trip we visited a beach near Lockhart River Community.
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Our first bit of exploration involved visiting Chilli Beach in order to decide whether or not we would move camp to there or stay at one of the rainforest sites. Chilli Beach is a beautiful area with a constant cool breeze, a notable lack of mosquitoes and some promising nearby habitat. After chasing a few skinks here and there we decided to move camp.

My accommodations.
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Our first lizard of the trip, an eastern cape litter-skink (Carlia sesbrauna).
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And another.
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The most abundant reptile in the area was definitely the closed-litter rainbow skink (Carlia longipes). It was hard to take a step in some areas without having one quickly scurry off.
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Lunch.
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(I kid)

Northern treesnakes (Dendrelpahis calligastra) were by far the most abundant snake that we encountered in Iron Range. They are a VERY fast and agile snake. We found them quite often, both on the road and while walking. I didn't make too much of an effort to photograph them due to the difficulties and the fact that I already have a few photos of this species from the Wet Tropics area. This was one of the first individuals we came across.
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We explored the campsite at night before heading out to the rainforest. Almost immediately I managed to pick out the eye-shine of a large white-lipped treefrog (Litoria infrafrenata). These are Australia's largest treefrog and one of the more common frogs in Iron Range. Many of the individuals we saw were very large, with this first individual being the largest I have seen yet.
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The campsite further provided us with a Nactus eboracensis, which is a terrestrial gecko endemic to Cape York Peninsula and the southern islands of the Torres Strait. These cute little guys were a fairly common sight around Chilli Beach at night.
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During our nightly walks around Chilli Beach I kept a watchful eye out for giant tree geckos (Pseudothecadactylus australis). However, the little turds refused to reveal themselves during the entirety of our trip. Oh well, next time!


We headed off for the rainforest but didn't get far before spotting a slender whistling-frog (Austrochaperina gracilipes) hopping on the road. We found two of these during our time in Iron Range, the second being found under a log.
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On the way to the rainforest we came across another brown treesnake (Boiga irregularis) on the road as well as this impressive 3+ metre scrub python (Morelia kinghorni), which was sitting quite happily in the middle of the road in an area of mostly heath vegetation.
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The Australian wood frog (Rana daemeli), Australia's sole representative of the frog family Ranidae, were extremely common in rainforest and along waterways. They were easily the most commonly encountered (and heard) frog on the trip. The forest was an absolute cacophony of their laugh-like call every night. I think I will forever associate their call as the “sound of the Iron Range.”
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During the night we came upon a beautiful sleeping (previously) frill-necked monarch (****s lorealis).
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The following morning in camp we were greeted by a species of bird that we were very intent on seeing, the palm cockatoo (
).
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This is a large and impressive cockatoo which occurs throughout New Guinea and Cape York Peninsula in Australia. Unfortunately, the birds refused to be at all photogenic and were usually observed from a great distance, flying, or behind a large amount of vegetation. The above photo is the best shot I was able to get of one. I'd be much more pleased if it at least had its crest up! Oh well.

Another bird we were intent on seeing were the stunning eclectus parrots (Eclectus roratus). We saw a few individuals in flight over the week but did not manage to snap any photos of them.

After a short walk filled with the sight and sound of rapidly fleeing Carlia longipes we headed off once more to explore the national park. We spent a while walking around the rainforest hoping to find something even slightly resembling a lengthy track that would make hiking through the thick vegetation somewhat more enjoyable. However, the Iron Range is absolutely devoid of any decent walking tracks. There are a few short paths and the Old Coen Track is decently long and full of reptiles but is largely composed of dry eucalypt woodland. While it was indeed full of herps, including what must have been a massive Pseudechis australis (Which I decided not to chase through the tall grass), the track was too dry for what we wanted, which was green pythons and canopy goannas.

We walked down a few creeks in lieu of the lack of walking tracks. Near one of the creeks we spotted a frog quickly hopping away from us. We chased it, missed it, and chased it some more until it dove into the creek. I decided to sift through some submerged leaf-litter in case it hid there. I didn't find the frog. I did, however, spook a tiny saw-shelled turtle (Wollumbinia latisternum) which was hiding amongst the leaves.
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These turtles were pretty common in the area. We saw several adults basking on logs over the course of the trip, all of which were rather skittish and took to the water at the mere hint of us.


While driving back to the campsite we found this young and beautifully marked frilled lizard (Chlamydosaurus kingii) basking in the middle of the road.
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At camp we found what I believe to be a translucent litter-skink (Carlia macfarlani). I'm not entirely certain that is isn't a male C. sesbrauna, though.
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Litoria nigrofrenata.
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Papuan frogmouths (Podargus papuensis) were common at night.
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The following morning we had a look at a swamp near the campgrounds. Unfortunately there were not many reptiles around at the time. We did, however, find this whistling spider (Phlogiellus sp.).
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We also found this skink, which I think might be a Carlia vivax. It could just be a male C. longipes in breeding colours but it looked a bit different to the other large males that we saw. Opinions?
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Another walk through the rainforest yielded no canopy goannas or resting green pythons. Luckily, though, we did come across whiptail-skinks (Emoia longicauda) in areas of thick debris near the edge of clearings. They allowed us to get fairly close but we never managed to catch one. Because of low light conditions and vegetation I managed only to get this mediocre photograph.
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We only ever came across the skinks in areas with suitable cover (fallen trees, thick undergrowth) that also received a fair amount of sunlight. Here is some typical Emoia habitat (same photo as before).
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Later in the day while driving back from Lockhart Community we came upon a small goanna crossing the road. We pulled out our telephoto lenses to get a view of it before moving closer and possibly scaring it.
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Varanus keithhornei! The canopy goanna! Unfortunately we were unable to get very close to it before it bolted for the trees. I managed to get an up-close look of it in the chase, but that grainy high-contrast photo is the best shot I could get of it. Here is another photo showing its dorsum. The animal looked fairly dirty and I think it was doing a bit of digging around before we found it.
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That night failed to turn up any new species for the trip. The following day we came across a spotted tree monitor (Varanus scalaris) son the road bordering some dry woodland. After taking the usual photos from the car I stepped out of the vehicle (and into a great deal of mud that I didn't know was there) to see the goanna bolt off into the woodland at lightning speed. We checked a number of likely hides but couldn't turn up the animal.
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Later that afternoon we came across another monitor lizard on the road. This time it was a juvenile yellow-spotted monitor (Varanus panoptes).
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That night was another miss with finding green pythons, but we did come across a very special bird sleeping.

A red-bellied pitta (Pitta erythrogaster)! These are gorgeous birds and I was excited to get so close to one, even if it was at night.
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This black-tailed bar-lipped skink (Glaphyromorphus nigricaudis) was found beneath a log near Chilli Beach along with a Austrochaperina gracilipes. Glaphyromorphus is one of my favourite Australian skink genera so I was pretty pleased to tick off another species.
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The herping gods were kind to me the next morning. They deemed it fit to bless me with a snake I had wanted to see for quite a while.

Coastal taipan (Oxyuranus scutellatus)
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We stopped off at the beach near Lockhart River Community to have a look around. The rocks on the beach are home to coastal snake-eyed skinks (Cryptoblepharus littoralis).
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We also found this desert treefrog (Litoria rubella) hanging out near some beach vegetation. Its a bit weird seeing a frog on beach sand.
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Later that day we spotted a very special bird. While our lenses left much to be desired, the binoculars gave us a great view of this gorgeous magnificent riflebird (Ptiloris magnificus).
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If you know anything about riflebirds you will know that this photo doesn't even begin to scratch the surface in showing how amazing these birds are. For those of who who do not know, riflebirds belong to that famous bird group known as the birds-of-paradise.

That night was our last night in Iron Range. We really wanted to find a green python so we stayed out much later than we had been. Once again we were denied our prize, but we did see quite a few other pythons.

Scrub python (Morelia kinghorni).
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Water python (Liasis mackloti).
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Northern carpet python (Morelia spilota variegata). These guys look just like the carpets in the top end of the NT.
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The next morning we set out of the national park and began the long drive south. Our aim was to reach Black Mountain (Kalkajaka) National Park before sunset. Black Mountain is a very special place. It is a relatively small range composed almost entirely of granite boulders. Black lichen covers most of the exposed boulders, giving the mountain its name. The boulder fields are home to 3 herp species that are found nowhere else. These are the black mountain skink (Carlia scirtetis), the black mountain gecko (Nactus galgajuga), and the black mountain frog (Cophixalus saxatilis). Our main goal was the gecko, although I now regret not looking harder for the frog. Cophixalus saxatilis is the largest of the Australian microhylid frogs and the females are a brilliant golden colour. Oh well, I'll just have to be sure to chase them down next time!

The drive back.
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Pascoe River crossing, a bit west of Iron Range.
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We managed to arrive before nightfall and were able to quickly locate the skinks. The skinks proved to be very entertaining due to their fearlessness and quickly became my favourite species of skink I have seen thus far.
Carlia scirtetis.
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Black Mountain.
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A few travelers who were exploring the boulders nearby us found this nice spotted python (Antaresia maculosa). We had only seen road-killed animals of this species on the trip up to this point.
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I know several people who haven't had much trouble locating and getting great photographs of Nactus galgajuga. Unfortunately, the herping Gods saw to it that that was not the case for us. We saw several large ring-tailed geckos (Cyrtodactylus tuberculatus), none of which I photographed on this occasion, but it was quite a while before I caught my first glimpse of the target species. Three times I saw the Nactus and three times it bolted to an unreachable and unphotographable position. Finally, after we had given up and were walking back to the car I spotted one on the bottom of a large boulder. Luckily this one decided to sit still for us, even if it was a bit far away and upside-down. Determined to get photographic evidence I hung out over nice drop with my camera upside down (so my flash didn't create a shadow) and snapped away. Here are the results.

Black Mountain gecko (Nactus galgajuga).
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I was thrilled that I managed to actually photograph one, even if the quality was pretty poor. With a sense of accomplishment we set back off towards Cairns. We found this grumpy water python (Liasis mackloti) on the way.
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I hope you enjoyed this post! I missed out on a number of target species but had a great time nevertheless. I am really itching to get back to the Iron Range. I feel that I have a score to settle with the place and the next time I'm not leaving before I see a Morelia viridis and Pseudothecadactylus australis.

Stephen
 

Kenno

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Great thread!

Quick question though; the Carpet python looks nothing like any of those found in the surrounding area's. It looks exactly like a Darwin locale, any more info on this?

Cheers
 

Waterrat

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Nice shots Stephen. You're right about the lack of walking tracks at IR. There used to be plenty, two long tracks almost opposite each other half way btw 3-way and Cook's hut, one on the other side of the road from Gordon Creek camp site, the long loop from Smuggler's Tree to the Rainforest Camp and the one behind Cook's hut went a long way across the river. They all got covered with fallen trees and branched during the last cyclone and the QPWS Rangers didn't bother to clear them up. One of them told me; "the less tracks in the rainforest, the less maintenance work for us". There you go.
The Giant Tree Geckos are more common amongst the tee-tree patches pass the Chilli Beach turn off. In the rainforest, you find them in the bamboo thickets where they reside inside the old and broken bamboo segments.

Cheers
M
 

nathancl

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I would reccommend the smugglers tree walk to anyone, great variance in the habitat you go through but as Michael said there are a few fallen logs etc on the walkways up there but well worth the effort.

nice find on the Varanus keithhorni
 

Waterrat

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Times are changing. The Smuggler's Tree is now dead, didn't survive the last cyclone.
The metal spikes were driven into the trunk by bird poachers in the fifties and last time I was there they were almost completely ingrown.



Cook's hut is no longer standing either.
 

Waterrat

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Mainly Eckie's eggs. It was legal in those days. The Palms cockies nest in the dry forest.
 

-Matt-

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Incredible thread and an incredible trip! Lots of great finds, I'm now even more excited about going up there very soon.
 

StephenZozaya

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Thanks guys! Glad everyone is enjoying the thread.

Quick question though; the Carpet python looks nothing like any of those found in the surrounding area's. It looks exactly like a Darwin locale, any more info on this?
I agree. As I said in the post, it looks exactly like the top end NT animals. I'm not too surprised as I have heard that the New Guinea carpets also look similar to variegata (or probably ARE variegata), and the Peninsula has a lot of NG influences.

Very nice. How big was the tai?
Maybe just about a metre. Not very big at all, really. But it is a far more attractive individual compared to other adults I have seen.

Cheers
Stephen
 

waruikazi

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Thanks guys! Glad everyone is enjoying the thread.


I agree. As I said in the post, it looks exactly like the top end NT animals. I'm not too surprised as I have heard that the New Guinea carpets also look similar to variegata (or probably ARE variegata), and the Peninsula has a lot of NG influences.


Maybe just about a metre. Not very big at all, really. But it is a far more attractive individual compared to other adults I have seen.

Cheers
Stephen

A tai is a tai, always good to see no matter what the size!

The pictures that i have seen of the carpets found on the Cape to me resemble the Irian Jaya/Papuan carpets (harrisoni) than Darwin carpets with the only major difference the head pattern. I'm not sure that the name Morelia harrisoni for the IJ carpets is recognised by most herpers or if it is the most current name, i don't know if they are actually the same or different species/subspecies. So just a bit of trivia for you. :p
 
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