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Aug 26, 2006
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I was very fortunate on this trip to travel with two enthusiastic young herpers that I met on one of the Aussie herp forums. Gus helped me tremendously in the Townsville and Mackay areas and showed me several of the range restricted Leaf-tailed Geckos (Phyllurus). Gus had searched the literature and had gone on reconnaissance trips before my visit to locate the homes of some of the really special geckos. I never would have seen these animals without his help and I am most appreciative.

After leaving Gus at Townsville, I drove 9 hours north to Cooktown where I stayed with Nick and Holly. They are a lovely couple that just amazed me with their hospitality. Nick kindly offered to take me to the Iron Range National Park, a place that I have long wanted to visit. Nick has explored the park on a number of occasions and knew good areas to visit and also knew of a nice place to stay. Getting to this park requires a 4x4 since the road is unpaved and can turn to muck with a heavy shower. Our visit coincided with the start of the wet season and there was a heavy downpour in central Cape York the night before we left. The wet immediately brought out animals at night and we ended up seeing several species of snakes. It also made the drive out rather interesting when we found ourselves trapped for awhile by a road train that could not pull itself out of a river crossing.

The Iron Range is a special place and really is like a piece of New Guinea that has been trapped in Australia. Many plants and animals are only found here. It is an essential destination for Aussie birders and it would be the equivalent of the Chiracahuas or the lower Rio Grande Valley to birders in the States. On our three-day visit, we saw most of the special birds and Nick even found the first reported Red-bellied Pitta of the year.

When travelling east into the Iron Range, the road initially passes through these heath covered hills. This is the Mt. Tozer area. There are many strange plants here including a climbing Pitcher Plant and orchids. Unfortunately, we did not have time to try and find these.

We returned to this area once at night but this was before the rain arrived and it was quiet. We did not see any reptiles at all. We did see these interesting inverts and plants:



The Iron Range seems to be a mosaic of Eucalyptus woodland with patches of rainforest. Forest like this was common and it proved to be popular with the parrots. We were told of a special eucalyptus tree that we visited. It had several hollow branches and these were the nesting sites for two pairs of Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, two pairs of Eclectus Parrots, one pair of Rainbow Lorikeets and nearby, a nesting pair of Palm Cockatoos.

Palm Cockatoo -- These spectacular birds were new to me. We ended up seeing perhaps 18 birds in different parts of the park. We even saw and heard them flying over the cabins where we stayed near Lockhart River. Their calls were loud like Sulphur-crested Cockatoos but also included strange warbling sounds.



Sulphur-crested Cockatoo -- these were nesting in hollow branches of this gum.


Eclectus Parrot -- this is a lousy shot but it shows the incredible sexual dimorphism of Eclectus Parrots. The green male can be seen at the lower left of the photo and the red and purple female is in the open. This species would be one of the few parrots where the female is more brightly coloured than the male.

Closed-litter rainbow-skink (Carlia longipes) -- these were common in dry, grassy areas.
breeding male:

female (I think)

This was a very large Carlia so I think it was C. longipes rather than C. dogare even though it has 2 lobes on the anterior opening of the ear.


We found this odd little scorpion under a piece of metal:

Most of our time was spent exploring the rainforest of the Iron Range since this was the home of the animals that we wanted to see the most. This view shows the forest along the road. In most areas, the rainforest was not particularly tall but there were areas along rivers where the forest was better developed.

We saw the eye shine of a small crocodile here at night.

We found a few Scrub Pythons (Morelia kinghorni).

This one was crossing the road:

And this one was hunting in the forest along a creek:

I am very interested to know the identity of these big Gehyra. We found two of these while searching (unsuccessfully) for Giant Tree Geckos (Pseudothecadactylus australis). The first animal below was huge and when Nick pointed it out to me, I thought that it must have been our target species. I don't know what they are and there is nothing in the field guide that is large like this from the Iron Range. I suspect that they are an undescribed but probably known gecko or possibly a large species that is known from the Torres Strait Islands.


Wood Frog (Rana daemeli) -- our one and only species of Rana.

I am not certain but think this to be an oddly marked Graceful Tree Frog (Litoria gracilenta):

Black-tailed Bar-lipped Skink (Glaphyromorphus nigricaudis) -- We saw these skinks during the day as well as on our night walks.




Shrub Whiptail Skink (Emoia longicauda) -- another new herp. It looked a little like an oversize Cryptoblepharus but was not particularly nervous and allowed us to closely approach it.


Chestnut-breasted Cuckoo -- This is another bird that is restricted to Cape York. It is similar to the widespread Fan-tailed Cuckoo that I see in my yard in Wollongong.

White-faced Robin -- Another Cape York restricted species.

We explored this patch of rainforest ... and found something special!



The highlight of the trip was locating the following species. Green Tree Python (Morelia viridis) was at the top of our wish list but we did not think that our chances were good to see one. We were positively stunned one afternoon when we spotted this snake about 4m up a tree. It blended so well and was hard to see even though it was curled around a branch in the open. Finding this species was extremely satisfying!



Wasp nest

Butterflies were excellent and diverse.
1. A beautiful Northern Jezabel
2. Union Jack Jezabel
3. Orange Aeroplane
4. Cape York Aeroplane
5. Common Aeroplane
6, 7. Hamadryad
8, 9. Lurcher
10, 11 Moths
12. Harlequin -- a lovely butterfly that is the sole representative of the Metal Mark family (Riodinidae) in Australia. It is restricted to Cape York.







Brown Tree Snake (Boiga irregularis) -- This snake exhibited very little pattern.

Brown-headed Snake (Furina tristis) -- another new elapid to me. This one was wild at first but then it settled down and hardly moved while we took a few photos.


A Major Skink (Bellatorias frerei) had its burrow at the base of this buttressed tree:


This was an impressive longicorn beetle (Cerambycid). It was huge!

We visited a coastal area near Lockhart River on one occasion.

... rock with resting Crested Terns.

We found this Nactus eboracensis not far from the beach. It was a new species to us and is restricted to Cape York.



Awesome pics, i wish i could see that much variety of scenery and wildlife where i live. I especially love the GTP and the Nactus eboracensis. I bet that your trip was fun lol
Great shots David, the Iron Range is on my wishlist of places to visit. So many endemic species in the area. That frog is currently known as Litoria gracilenta but I think it is likely it will be split into a distinct species in the future because it is morphologically distinct from its southern counterparts.
Amazing pictures as always! Finding the GTP must have been an amazing feeling.. Visiting the Iron Range is definatly near the top of my 'must visit' list!
looks like an awsome place to go and visit. that gtp is stunning aswell, :)
god ur photos leave me in awe.
fantastic thanks for sharing.
Those are some awsome pics mate very lucky to see GTP.Those creeks up there are wild when it comes to fishing and a great place to wait for wild life.
Great looking animals, Reptiles and great pictures as always.

When i was haveing a good hard look at the GTP pictures you posted (as everyone would have been), i noticed this GTP had lumps on its side is thats normal for GTPs to have that?

You got to love Aussie Greens!

Thanks, all, for the comments.

Aaron, It is interesting to know of an impending split. Thanks for the info.

Niall, I was told that those lumps were skin worms, a subcutaneous parasite.

Here is another cropped shot of the Green Tree Python. It really was a lovely snake with the prominent dorsal stipe made up of white and yellow spots.

We stayed in cabins near Lockhart River. Only a couple are finished and several others are being built at the moment so the grounds were really a construction site. Once completedm there will be 7 cabins that are basic but suitable for a trip like this. There also is a larger building with a communal kitchen and all the mod cons. This seemed to be a great place to meet in the evenings before our trips out for herps. Some of the road crew and a grad student who is studying the cockatoos would stop in for a beer on most evenings.

The surrounding forest was low and rather scrappy but I did not see any cut trunks. I don't know if the area is revegetating or was always like this. Even though the trees were not big, they produced many interesting birds. It was nice to sit out for breakfast and watch the birds work their way along the edge. I saw/heard quite a few of the Cape York specials this way including: White-faced Robin, White-frilled Monarch, Tawny-breasted Honeyeater, White-tailed Kingfisher, Yellow-billed Kingfisher, Magnificent Riflebird, Northern Scrub-Robin, Chestnut-breasted Cuckoo, Palm Cockatoo, Eclectus Parrot, Red-cheeked Parrot. Other more widely distributed species were also numerous. Here is a view of the forest near the cabin:

... and tiny micro-bats that lived under the roof of the cabin:

We did not see any snakes on the grounds but the owner lost a dog to a Taipan bite not long before our trip.

wow, very inspiring! makes me want to take a trip! beutifull pics, hows the wicked looking beaks on those palm cockatoos! And to see the gtp, how lucky!!
what a very nice place for reptile i whent to cape york some time ago and seen a few reptiles up theere from native house geckos {ghyara spp) brown tree snakes and sailtys this was back in 2000 in june the trip took 3weeks and we whent right to the top and to thursday island i want to go again with my herping knolige again to there to see gtp in iron range np and also to see what herps inhabit thursday island and the othere islands form the straght im mmaly intrested finding out were our geckos come from wether thay crosed the land bridge between aus and asia or from africa when australia was part of the super land mass sevral million years ago
What fantastic photos Moloch,what a awesome area too.That would be a huge moment seeing a wild Chondro in its natural habitat...Well done spotting him-her,such magnificent snakes...MARK
Thanks, everyone.

Pat ("snake whisperer") has been analyzing the gecko. Based on the following photos, he believes that my unknown gecko is Gehyra baliola.
Firstly, there appears to be two quite large internasals (as opposed to two moderately large internasals, which suggest G. baliola; although it's not clear whether there's a small medial scale in between them or not.
Secondly, I can definitely see a hindlimb skin fold in the close-up that you've provided.
Last but not least, is the webbing between the third and fourth toes, which appears to be basal only; not marked, as is characteristic of G. oceanica.



This identification, if confirmed, will represent a significant range extension of the species. At the moment, the gecko has been reported from the Torres Strait Islands and not from continental Australia.

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