Wild South East

a nature blog of south-east Victoria, mostly Gippsland


Leave a comment

Bald Hills Wetland Reserve

On a relatively warm day last week I had a wander at the great little patch of bush on Gippsland’s Bass Coast, Bald Hills Wetland Reserve. This little pocket rocket of a reserve is relatively small at 135 hectares but has a great variety of ecosystems to keep a nature nerd busy for hours! This was my first serious effort at trying out my new telephoto lens and what it’s capable of.

DSC_0868

Info board at the start of the walk. Bird life around here was amazing.

 

A walking track leads from the carpark and takes you through open woodland, crossing over a seasonal creek lined with both the Scented and Swamp Paperbark and continuing on through mostly Messmate and Narrow-leaved Peppermint woodland.

DSC_0869

After walking almost a kilometre you reach a wide wetland where there was once a bird hide that was unfortunately burnt down by an arsonist several years ago.  The wetland at this time of the year is often very low and the birdlife not that numerous but in its peak season the number of waterbirds can be amazing.

DSC_0745

Masked Lapwings were very common.

 

DSC_0734

Grey Teal and Masked Lapwings

 

DSC_0723

Silver Banksia Banksia marginata catching the sun

 

Damselflies mating. Bald Hills Wetland, Vic. 16.4

Damselflies mating

 

I snapped off a few shots but I had other things on my mind to photograph, those of the scaly kind. There is a little ephemeral wetland to the left of the main wetland which is full of reeds and sedges and I remembered from my last visit seeing a Lowland Copperhead snake around this area. I thought I’d try my luck at finding one but little did I realise how successful my search for them was to be!

Bald Hills Wetland Reserve, Vic (2)

The ephemeral wetland. Copperhead central!

 

Scouting around the edge of the swamp in the open sunny areas where the reeds and sedges merge into paperbark thickets and woodland I manage to glimpse a large Copperhead which slid away into some dense sedges. No luck with a photo yet. This time I moved stealthily, scanning every potential sunning spot where they might be hanging out. Finally some luck! One was moving amongst some reeds heading in my direction, apparently oblivious to me. I stood completely still and watched as it moved even closer. I realised I should have put a smaller lens on the camera as my telephoto has a minimum focus distance of around 2 metres and the snake was currently almost 2 metres from me.

DSC_0762

Lowland Copperhead hunting amongst the vegetation.

 

I managed to snap a few terrible photos as it moved in and out of the reeds, probably hunting frogs, before it became too close to focus. I was about to step backwards to keep the snake in focus when I thought I’d better check behind me so I didn’t trip on anything. Luckily I did as there was a large Copperhead right behind me less than half a metre from my foot! I stood still watching it as it tasted the air around me with a few flicks of it’s tongue. It finally realised there was something suss about me (or maybe I just had bad B.O.) and it moved off out of sight. I turned my head back to the other snake to see its tail disappear into thick vegetation. Straight away I put on a more sensible lens and went ‘hunting’ again. This time I had more luck and got some half decent shots of some.

Copperhead- Austrelaps superbus

Lowland Copperhead- Austrelaps superbus (2)

Overall I counted at least 10 or 11 Copperheads in this wetland. Looking out over the top of the reeds I could see where a lot of the snakes were moving as the vegetation was flicking and bending, plus you could hear them moving around. As a lot of you who read this regularly know I love my reptiles so I was in scaly heaven, albeit a little bit of a risky heaven at times!

Woodland birds were very common in the reserve, especially at the start of the walk. Most obvious were Golden and Rufous Whistlers, Grey Shrike-thrush, Red-browed Finch, White-browed Scrubwren, Superb Fairy-wren, Grey Fantail, Silvereye and eight honeyeater species (White-eared, White-plumed, New Holland, Yellow-faced, Brown-headed and White-naped Honeyeaters, Red Wattlebird and Noisy Miner).

Grey Shrike-thrush. Bald Hills Reserve, Vic. 16.4.17 (RT1)

Grey Shrike-thrush

 

Superb Fairy-wren. Bald Hills Reserve, Vic. 16.4.17 (RT)

Superb Fairy-wren strutting his stuff

 

Yellow-faced Honeyeater. Bald Hills Reserve, Vic.16.4.17 (RT1)

“Oi, what you lookin’ at?”  Yellow-faced Honeyeater

 

I was hoping to see some Koalas on this walk as I’ve seen them in the carpark area before and their droppings are everywhere under the trees. No luck this time though.

Apparently this reserve explodes in spring with orchids and flowers so I’m going to check it out again in Sept or Oct.

 

Advertisements


2 Comments

Around the traps

It has been a busy month for me so far. Not only was I involved in a long awaited survey near the Gippsland Lakes for the threatened New Holland Mouse but I’ve also just purchased a whole new camera setup. The only problem is I’m still learning the buttons and settings of this camera plus getting use to my new lenses. Apart from a bridge camera (cross between a compact and DSLR) I haven’t purchased a proper DSLR since 2007 and a lot has changed since then!

Anyway, below are some of my pics from the last 1½ weeks around various sites in Gippsland.

DSC_0163

Grey Shrike-thrush. Darriman Reserve, Giffard.

 

 

DSC_0207 (RT)

Sunset from Eagle’s Nest lookout, Inverloch.

 

 

DSC_0451 (RT)

White-lipped Snake found during the New Holland Mouse survey. Gippsland Lakes, Vic.

 

 

DSC_0473 (RT)

Agile Antechinus. Gippsland Lakes, Vic.

 

DSC_0373 (RT)

Agile Antechinus getting revenge!

 

DSC_0422

New Holland Mouse, Gippsland Lakes, Vic

 

DSC_0481 (RT)

Xanthorrhoea in the early morning. A favoured habitat for the New Holland Mouse.

The New Holland Mouse has only been recorded at 3 locations in Victoria in the last 15 years and these are Wilson’s Promontory, Providence Ponds and Gippsland Lakes, all within the Gippsland region. Originally the species was widespread throughout south-eastern Australia but is now restricted to fragmented areas of NSW, QLD, Victoria and Tasmania. We ended up trapping over 20 of the little guys near the Gippsland Lakes so this was a major success. We also had infra-red cameras set up which detected them as well.


1 Comment

THE GREEN DRAGON IN THE LAND OF GIPP

There is a place in this world called the Land of Gipp, an enchanted land many will say. In this land the locals whisper in hushed tones that a green dragon lurks in the cool valleys of the forested hills. It is said that it lives on land but will take to water if it feels hungry. People say the male dragon has a throat of fire but no one has known a single person to be harmed by it. In fact, those who have seen it with there own eyes say it is friendly but very, very shy and will dive in the water if it sees a human approaching.

berrys-creek-morning-3

The magical Land of Gipp

So, what is this mysterious green dragon? I was curious. But where do I start my search for such a beast when the Land of Gipp is so big? Speaking with an old villager one day he said that many people call it the Water Dragon and that he himself had once caught a glimpse of it while fishing on a river bank when he was a child. When I asked him to describe it he told me “It had piercing red eyes with large sharp spines running from the top of its head down the length of its emerald green back. From across the river bank it saw me and it rushed to dive in the water but as it did so I saw its fiery throat. That sight has stayed with me forever”. When I asked this man if he knew where he saw this creature he did not know as it was over 70 years ago and his memory was fading.

I now knew roughly what it looked like and that it can be found in and along rivers so this was some help to begin my search.

I started my travels from the western end of the Land of Gipp looking for a river to begin my search for this puzzling creature. The western part of Gipp has only small amounts of forest, the trees cleared by farmers so they have enough grass to raise their cows, and the rivers here were small and few so I decided to push on to the misty mountains I could see on the far horizon.

IMGP5413

For what seemed an eternity I eventually reached the mountains and entered large areas of steep forest where the trees reached to the sky like enormous hands.

P1080565

It is said here in the Land of Gipp that the largest flowering trees in the world grow and after what I saw I believed them as it seemed like the trees were never ending in height. After a while I came across a small bubbling creek lined with thick ferns which had trunks the thickness of my body and towered over my head, shading out almost all the sunlight. I had a drink and refreshed my face in the cool stream and then had a thought. If there’s a creek then it should hopefully flow downhill into a larger creek, then maybe a river. This might be the place to find my dragon.

I began travelling back downhill again, this time keeping to the creek.

IMGP5956 (2)

It had started as a trickle, then began jumping and crashing over rocks before joining with another creek and rushing as one down through the dense forest to join with a mighty river in the valley, just as I had suspected. The sun was close to setting so I set up camp in a small clearing and found some delicious wild fruits to eat. In the fading light I walked along the river peering at the bank hoping for a glimpse of the curious animal but it was nowhere to be seen. I decided to return to camp and get some sleep as I had been walking all day.

The next day I went for another stroll along the edge of the river. This time the sun was higher and shone on the bank revealing many large rocks along it’s edge and in the middle of the river.

P1110217

I expected to see as much as the day before, nothing, so I had a quick search up and down the river and then turned around to head back to camp once more. Suddenly I heard a small splash from near one of the large rocks in the water but when I looked there was nothing to be seen. I slowly sat under a small wattle tree, mostly hidden from view and waited. I sat there for nearly an hour looking at the river when to my right I heard something moving in the leaves only metres from me. Then it stopped. I wasn’t scared at all as I knew if it was the dragon it would be friendly. Then, in the blink of an eye, I saw a green and orange flash almost a metre long scuttle down the bank and crash into the water. Was that the dragon? I wasn’t sure.

I sat there for a while longer searching the water and land when I caught something moving amongst the rocks heading for the river’s edge. Suddenly, a light green reptile about 80cm from it’s head to the tip of it’s tail emerged from out of the water and onto a fallen tree branch.  I was shaking with excitement! Here was the mighty dragon I had hoped to see for so long and it was in full view!

Gippsland Water Dragon- Physignathus lesueurii howittii. Yallourn, Vic

It then moved onto the muddy bank amongst some vegetation and there I got a closer look. I could see that the scaly skin on it’s throat was a magnificent orange, yellow and black colour. This must be what people were saying about it’s fiery throat. And yes, there were the spines running from it’s head to it’s back as well as the fiery red eyes.

Gippsland Water Dragon

I opened my backpack and pulled out my Complete Guide to Reptiles of Australia. There it was on page 410, the Gippsland Water Dragon Intellagama lesueurii howittii.

FACT: The Gippsland Water Dragon is a real reptile which lives in Gippsland in southern Victoria, Australia. It can grow up to 1 metre in length and lives along rivers, lakes and even along rocky beaches. Only males have the bright orange-yellow (and sometimes blue) throat and a light green body. Females are smaller and are mostly light and dark grey and both males and females have faint stripes, mostly on the tails. It is harmless to humans and they eat all kinds of things from fruits and leaves to fish and yabbies. Incredibly they can stay underwater for up to 1½ hours! In New South Wales and Queensland the colour of this lizard changes. There they have darker stripes and the male has red patches on his throat and belly as well as a dark line through the eye.

Keep an eye out for the spectacular Gippsland Water Dragon next time you’re near some water in the Land of Gipp, I mean Gippsland.

This is the first part of a regular ‘Land of Gipp’ series. These stories are targeted towards young kids and the aim is to portray nature with a sense of wonder and mystery. Hopefully this encourages them to get out of the house and explore! Please share this with any children you know. See also one of my previous posts Human:nature where the inspiration and reason for this series originated.

 

 

 


Leave a comment

Swamp Skink

The Swamp Skink Lissolepis coventryi is one of my favourite animals but unfortunately is becoming increasingly threatened from human-induced changes to its wetland habitats as well as predation by foxes and cats. It is currently listed in Victoria as threatened under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act (1988).

swamp-skink-bass-coast-apr-2015-craig-boase-1

Swamp Skink Lissolepis coventryi, Bass Coast, Vic

Swamp Skinks grow up to 250mm in length and have a distinctive colouration. It’s body is typically a light olive green colour with two prominent black stripes along its olive-brown back. Its sides are black with light olive spots and patches. It can be confused with other species, particularly the similar sized and patterned White’s Skink Liopholis whitii (see photo below).

whites-skink-liopholis-whitii-euc-consideniana-woodland-with-kunzea-understory-hernes-oak-w-of-morwell-vic-16-3-2011retouch

White’s Skink Liopholis whitii, Hernes Oak, Vic

The habitat of White’s Skink is typically drier and it doesn’t seem to prefer wetland areas. The two skinks, however, were previously lumped together in the genus Egernia but recent studies have separated both these species from genus.

swamp-skink-bass-coast-nov-2015-craig-boase-1

Swamp Skink

 

swamp-skink-bass-coast-nov-2015-craig-boase-2

The current distribution of the Swamp Skink is the coastal plains of Victoria with populations extending slightly into coastal South Australia and NSW. The majority of these populations are highly fragmented and subject to increasing pressures. Swamps, wet heathland, saltmarshes, sedgelands and watercourses are the preferred habitats for the species and many of these have been drained for development or agriculture. Many of the small isolated patches of habitat left are subjected to further pressures from disease, pollution, weather events, poor drainage, amongst others. Some areas though have been protected and have a relatively stable population but much more sites need protection through habitat restoration, pest animal and weed control, and minimizing disturbance to existing habitats.

swamp-skink-bass-coast-sep-2016-craig-boase-1

Swamp Skink ‘condo’, Bass Coast, Vic.

If you live along the coastal plain of far S/E Australia keep an eye out for this species and submit any sightings to relevant departments. A great platform for the general public to submit sightings is the Atlas of Living Australia.  This citizen science based website collects data on Australia’s flora and fauna from a wide range of sources and can be accessed for information on species as well.

A fantastic article to read in relation to their requirements and management is the Swamp Skink management guidelines for the Mornington Peninsula (Clemann and Robertson 2015).

 


1 Comment

Southern Africa

Some of you may be wondering why I haven’t posted for a while. Well, my family and I have just been to southern Africa and recently returned. I know my blog is usually to do with S/E Victoria but I thought I’d post here anyhow. I literally took thousands of photos on our trip, most being of wildlife, and below are some of these.

It was the first time any of us had been to Africa and we did have a few concerns before we left. These were mostly to do with our safety and health, especially travelling with our two girls aged 7 and 9 in a campervan for most of the time. We were relieved that these weren’t as much as a worry as we thought as long as we were smart about taking all the necessary precautions.

Our basic itinerary included four countries in almost three weeks (South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Botswana) and we began by flying in to Johannesburg (or Jo’burg as the locals call it) in South Africa. Here we hired a campervan and began a two week drive along the eastern part of the country. In our view this was better than going on a tour as we had the flexibility to visit wherever we liked and to stay the night at spots which looked nice.

Map of holiday

Map showing the areas we visited.

There were some mind blowing sights in SA and the highlights of the two week drive were the Drakensberg mountains, Blyde River Canyon, St Lucia, Hluluwe Umfolozi NP and Kruger NP.

The first major highlight was the enormous Drakensberg mountains west of Durban. Rising out of the rolling hills this mountain range extends hundreds of kilometers north and south but some of the biggest peaks surround the tiny mountainous country of Lesotho. We unfotunately didn’t have time to visit this landlocked country but apparently it is beautiful and the way of life has similarities to some parts of highland South American cultures.

P1120779

Drakensberg mountains near Winterton, South Africa. Beyond these peaks is the highland country of Lesotho.

The escarpment below Lesotho in South Africa was an awe-inspiring sight with towering peaks and deep valleys. As it was winter it was very cold (often well below zero at night) but it was also dry as most of the rain falls in the summer period. This area is a good spot to observe the endangered Bearded Vulture but unfortunately we didn’t have much time and didn’t get to see any. We weren’t going to spend the night there in sub-zero temperatures in a campervan!

P1120740

As you can see road safety is taken very seriously in South Africa

Another fantastic spot was the area around the forested seaside town of St Lucia. This area includes the World Heritage listed iSimangaliso (Greater St Lucia) Wetland Park. We touched on the southern part of the park and the area was abundant with birds and mammals. Hippos apparently were known to regularly walk down the main streets at night in St Lucia and occasionally their droppings were seen in the streets around houses and on lawns. They probably find the lawns very tasty.

We were lucky to see two male Hippos fighting in the water. There was some immense power in the fights but they didn’t seem to inflict much damage on each other, more bluff I think. Still wouldn’t want to mess with one!

P1120867

iSimangaliso wetlands near St Lucia.

 

St Lucia

Clockwise from top: Vervet Monkey, Red Forest Duiker, Crested Guinea-fowl and Banded Mongoose.

Inland from St Lucia our next stop was Hluluwe Umfolozi National Park (actually two National Parks joined together). This relatively small park was loaded with an array of plants and animals and this was our first glimpse of the larger mammals iconic with Africa. The girls had their faces almost permanently plastered to the windows of the campervan as we drove through the park looking at them.

P1130034

Hluluwe Umfolozi National Park, South Africa.

 

Hluluwe Unfolozi NP

Clockwise from top: Chacma Baboon, Burchell’s Zebra, Elephant and Impala.

Next on the list was the small country of Swaziland. This country has a lot going for it such as several game parks, traditional villages, beautiful scenery and relatively good infrastructure. The border crossings in and out of the country were mind-numbingly slow though.

Sophie with frog

Sophie with a Reed Frog.

 

Driving back into SA we visited an unexpected highlight of our trip and one which is not very well known outside of Africa, Blyde River Canyon. We never imagined we would see something like this on our holiday and it left a lasting impression on all of us. Unlike Australia they don’t believe in many safety barriers at places like this so we had to keep an eye on the girls a lot of the time!

P1130107

Aloes growing precariously on a cliff face at Blyde River Canyon.

 

P1130177

Spectacular scenery at Blyde River Canyon.

 

Blyde River

Some of the flora and fauna around Blyde River. Clockwise from top: Jameson’s Red Rock Hare, Rock Hyrax, Aloe species and Pseudoselago serrata

Not far from Blyde River Canyon on the lowveld (plains) was Kruger National Park, a massive 19,500 square kilometre game reserve and SA’s first national park. We entered just above the central part of the park and travelled south staying at four camp sites over five days. There was no camping outside the designated, fenced campsites for obvious safety reasons but during the day we did our own game drives in the campervan. One thing that slightly disturbed us was the fact that the campsite gates were left open during the day so anything could wander in! They did too! Some antelopes, monkeys, baboons and warthogs were regularly seen inside the camps.

Almost every kilometre travelled in the park resulted in a new sighting and a tick off our list. Occasionally a herd of elephants or some zebras would wander seemingly oblivious to our presence across the road directly in front of our campervan with squeals from our girls. Animals and birds were used to seeing gawking tourists and we could drive up to them pretty close before they ambled away. As the speed limit was 40km/hr on dirt and 50km/hr on bitumen there was not a single roadkill seen over the five days.

Lilac-breasted Roller. Kruger NP, South Africa. 28.7

Lilac-breasted Roller, Kruger NP.

Black-headed Oriole on Aloe flowers. Kruger NP, South Africa. 2.8.2016 (1)

Black-headed Oriole feeding on Aloe flowers, Kruger NP

P1130338

Baobab tree with Giraffe in background. Baobabs are close relatives of Australia’s Boab tree.

P1130603

A shallow river in Kruger NP.

 

Birds, Kruger

Clockwise from top: Go-away Bird (Grey Lourie), Lappet-faced and White-backed Vultures, White-bellied Sunbird and Helmeted Guinea-fowl,

 

 

Birds, animals, Kruger

Clockwise from top: Hyaena, Variable Skink, Tree Squirrel and Crested Francolin.

 

Above: Leopard Tortoise and Blue-headed Agama

Southern Ground Hornbill. Kruger NP, South Africa. 30.7.2016 (3)

The enormous Southern Ground Hornbill. This species is highly endangered and we were lucky to see two separate groups of them in Kruger. This one has leg bands and was reported to ranger staff.

 

Kruger 1

More of the animals seen in Kruger. Clockwise from top: Klipspringer (a species restricted to rocky outcrops), Wildebeest, Giraffe and Kudu (male).

We managed to spot some lions which were high on our list to see. This was on a safari tour we took from one of the camps in Kruger during the late afternoon and in to the night. The second photo the female has her cub with her.

Burchell's Zebra.  Kruger NP, South Africa. 29.7.2016 (3)

Zebra at sunset

We often knew when there was a good sighting up ahead as there were usually a few cars parked haphazardly across the road with cameras out the window. Road rules were completely thrown out the window when something amazing was seen.

It was always good to see the critically endangered White and Black Rhinos but sad to read that in Kruger NP alone a few hundred are killed by poachers each year despite a major effort by wildlife rangers to catch the culprits.

White Rhinoceros. Kruger NP, South Africa. 31.7.2016 (3)

White Rhino, Kruger NP.

Kruger and a lot of other parts of southern Africa are unfortunately in the midst of a mild drought so many rivers and waterholes were low and animals tended to hang around these areas. It was the middle of the dry season as well so much of the vegetation was in the process of dropping their leaves. These two factors meant many of the animals were easier to see.

After reluctantly leaving Kruger we had to get back to Jo’burg in a couple of days to return the campervan so we could fly up to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. Vic Falls township was our base while we went on a four day package tour of Zimbabwe and Botswana.

The first night in Zimbabwe we visited a large restaurant called Boma where they served up traditional meals. Many of the dishes though included a lot of the game animals we saw in the wild such as Kudu, Buffalo, Ostrich and Crocodile so it felt wrong to try these! One thing I did try (with a lot of encouragement from the girls!) was a mopane worm, actually a caterpillar of the large Emperor Moth similar looking to the Witchetty Grub. I don’t recommend it!

The next part of our package tour was a boat trip down the Chobe River in Botswana. This was fantastic and allowed us to get very close to a lot of animals and waterbirds. There was also no shortage of Nile Crocodiles, some of which were pushing 4m in length, and the tour operator wasn’t shy about getting our dinghy close to some decent sized ones.

Many of the water birds were very similar to, and some the same as, Australian species. Birds like Glossy Ibis, Great Egret and Little Egret are the same species as ours. There were also Darters and Cormorants which superficially looked like our ones too but were African species.

Chobe 1

Clockwise from top: Glossy Ibis, Great Egret, Little Egret and African Darter. Chobe River, Botswana.

 

P1140066 Red-billed Ox-peckers on Impala.Chobe River, Botswana. 5.8.2016 (2)

This female Impala seemed like it was enjoying the attention from these Red-eyed Ox-peckers who were eating parasites off it. Not so much in its ear though!

 

This part of Botswana is one of the best places on the African continent to see huge numbers of Elephants and they didn’t disappoint. At one stage large groups of Elephants appeared out of the dry scrub and assembled along the banks for miles. They were used to seeing tourists so we got relatively close to them in the boat.

Elephant. Chobe River, Botswana. 5.8.2016 (8)

Elephants on the Chobe River.

Several groups of Elephants started to nervously enter the water, most likely checking for crocs first. They then began to swim across the river in single file to reach the green grass on the islands in the centre. One young one who couldn’t reach the bottom was coaxed along by the mum at the back who occasionally dived under the youngster and lifted it out of the water while it alternated between using it’s trunk as a snorkel and or holding onto the dad’s tail with it’s trunk.

 

Video screenshot- Elephants, Chobe

A still photo taken from a video showing the young Elephant holding it’s dad’s tail while being pushed by the mum. Chobe River, Botswana

Birds, animals, Chobe 2

Clockwise from top: Nile Crocodile, Slender Mongoose, Kori Bustard and Grey Heron.

Birds, animals, Chobe

Clockwise from top: Pied Kingfisher, Hippo (definitely male!), Waterbuck (male), Waterbuck (female). Chobe River, Botswana.

 

 

Yellow-billed Stork and Black Heron, Chobe

This Black Heron had an interesting relationship with the Yellow-billed Stork. It would follow the stork around and when the stork probed the ground it would fan its wings. Any small invertebrates or fish would try and seek shelter from the stork under the heron’s wings which it would then eat.

 

After the boat trip we piled into an open-aired safari car and went on a game drive of Chobe National Park. This park was much drier and sandier than Kruger so it was interesting to see a lot of different species. Another species seen which is similar to an Australian one was the Kori Bustard, Africa’s largest flying bird and national bird of Botswana. This is very much like the Australian Bustard’s plumage but is larger than our species.

P1140095

Game drive in Chobe NP, Botswana.

 

On one of the days we went on a three hour paddle in an inflatable raft down the Zambezi River which bordered on one side with the country of Zambia and the other with Zimbabwe. Apart from our guide and a rower we were the only ones in the boat so it was good to sit back and take it slow for a change. We didn’t see as much wildlife as on our boat trip down the Chobe but we all had a nervous moment when we came out of a set of small rapids into flat water to find a Hippo not far away from us. The guide and rower exchanged some nervous looks and hand gestures and they managed to move us away without any trouble.

P1140185

Hippo footprint on the edge of the Zambezi River.

One place high on almost every visitor’s list in Zimbabwe is Victoria Falls, the world’s largest waterfall. It’s native name is Mosi-oa-Tunya which means ‘the smoke that thunders’. This comes from the enormous cloud of mist thrown into the air by the force of the water hitting the base of the gorge. Nothing could prepare us for the enormity of the falls and halfway along the top of the walking track it seemed like it we were caught in a windy rain storm as the billowing mist saturated us in seconds. On our last day we went on a helicopter flight over the falls and got to see it and the town in a different perspective.

In the township of Victoria Falls wild animals were free to wander into town and we saw a few different species in the streets including a small herd of elephants one night wandering on the edge of the main street. Talking to one local he said lions have been known wander the streets but they know that if there are buffalo moving into town there are lions around. This is because buffalo feel protected from lions in towns. A very crude early warning system and not one I’d trust 100%!!

The town is set up primarily for the tourist trade and is not all that big in size. It’s a bustle of activity for both tourists and locals but not far out of town life is much slower and the way of life more traditional. We visited a village where families still live in grass and mud huts.  One family showed us around their small patch of land of about 1 acre and it opened our eyes to how difficult it is for them to live off the land and support their family. Water needed to be carried from a well nearly 1 km away and food was a struggle to grow in the very impoverished soil. Not only that but they had to deal with bird flu a while ago where all the poultry in the village died. To make an income so they can buy extra food and other items they can’t produce themselves many of the villagers make crafts to sell at Victoria Falls markets or they transport animal manure to local farmers with donkey and cart. We definitely take our own luxuries and way of life very much for granted.

P1140244

Our girls checking out the village.

P1140240

The village ‘mobile phone’. This drum was used to communicate with other nearby families. Certain drum beats indicated different things such as a lion is nearby or if it’s party time. This guy had a great sense of humour despite many of the hardships his family faced.

P1140243

Weight lifting on the cheap. This was made by pouring concrete in milo tins.

 

Southern Africa was well worth the visit and I’d recommend it to anyone who hasn’t been yet as it will blow your mind. As long as you research the areas you will travel and speak to locals if you have any concerns it’s reasonably safe and hassle free.

..and yes, if you’re wondering, we did see the big five (Lion, Elephant, Buffalo, Leopard, Rhino) but were amazed how much it was plugged at every tourist place we travelled!


Leave a comment

Gippsland’s Reptiles Part 3- Dragons and Monitors

This is part 3 of a photo essay on Gippsland’s unique reptiles, this time to include dragon and monitor (goanna) lizards.

Although not highly diverse as much of the rest of Australia, particularly the arid parts of the continent, Gippsland’s dragon lizards (family Agamidae) include a handful of interesting species. Their distribution extends throughout the Gippsland region and each has specific habitat and diet requirements.

On the coastal plain of Gippsland you are likely to come across the well camouflaged Jacky Lizard Amphibolurus muricatus, particularly in the drier woodlands and coastal parts of the region where it can be found on the ground or perched on branches. It is found in the coast and ranges of SE Australia from South Australia to south east QLD.

Jacky Dragon-Amphibolurus muricatus. Open Red Gum woodland, Fernbank,Vic. Sept 2013 (3)

Jacky Dragon. Fernbank, Vic.

 

 

Jacky Dragon- Amphibolurus muricatus. Dutson Downs, Vic. Heathy woodland. 16.9.2015 (1)

This species is relatively common in open woodlands and coastal scrub and can be easy to miss when walking through these areas as it blends in well with its surroundings. Growing to a total length of almost 400mm it is very similar to the much smaller Mountain Dragon Rankinia diemensis which also occurs in the region. Jacky Dragons can be identified from this species by the inside of their mouths being bright yellow as well as having no enlarged spines at the sides of the tail base. Mountain Dragon’s mouth is blue inside and they have small spines at the sides of the tail base.

Jacky Dragons have a peculiar way of communicating with each other which include complex movements such as head bobbing, arm waving, push ups, body rocking, tail flicks and colour changes. When disturbed they sometimes run upright on their strong back legs to escape at speed.

_________________________________________________________________

The Mountain Dragon, as its name suggests, is typically found in high country but can also extend to the foothills and some parts of the nearby coastal plain.

Mountain Dragon- Rankinia diemensis. Mitchell River NP, Vic. Dry rainforest gully in leaf litter.  29-12-09

The Mountain Dragon showing its brilliant camouflage. Mitchell River NP, Vic.

As with the Jacky Dragon they are very well camouflaged and difficult to detect due to their ability to change their colour to their surroundings.  Mountain Dragons feed almost primarily on small insects found in leaf litter and low vegetation of dry woodlands. I have often seen them in the high country perched on the top of small termite mounds feeding on termites. This is a small dragon and can grow to a total length of up to 200mm.

Mountain Dragon- Rankinia diemensis. Near Ben Cruachan, N of Heyfield, Vic. 31-12-2011 (2)

Mountain Dragon feeding on termites. Note the way it changes colour to its surroundings.

__________________________________________________________________

When travelling along rivers and large streams in Gippsland you are often aware of frequent splashes in the water. This is often due to the presence of the large Gippsland Water Dragon Intellagama lesueurii howittii, a subspecies of the Eastern Water Dragon which is common along the east coast of Australia and is a semi-aquatic species.

Gippsland Water Dragon- Physignathus lesueurii howittii. Yallourn, Vic.  23-2-10 (2)

Male Gippsland Water Dragon. Yallourn, Vic

 

Gippsland Water Dragon- Physignathus lesueurii howittii. Yallourn, Vic.  23-2-10 (7)

Gippsland Water Dragon- Physignathus lesueurii howittii. Yallourn, Vic.  23-2-10 (13)

Female or juvenile Water Dragon. Yallourn, Vic

Gippsland Water Dragons inhabit rivers, streams and sometimes rocky intertidal areas of the coast. They frequently perch on rocks, logs and branches overhanging the water and will often use these for a quick access to the water to hunt or escape predators, similar to the freshwater turtle. They have a strong swimming ability and is reputed to be able to remain underwater for over an hour! It feeds on a variety of terrestrial and aquatic species which includes insects, aquatic organisms, small vertebrates such as frogs, lizards and mice as well as fruits and berries.

Gippsland Water Dragon- Physignathus lesueurii howittii. Yallourn, Vic.  5-2-10 (3)

Water Dragons look almost like a swimming snake when they take to the water.

Gippsland Water Dragon males can grow to almost 1m in length and weight up to 1kg. Males have a brilliant colour pattern in the breeding season which includes a bright orange and green blotched neck and green overall body colour with striping on the tail. The Eastern Water Dragon male typically has a reddish pattern on the neck and chest, a dark patch behind the eye and more prominent stripes and the tail and back. It also tends to lack the green body colour of the Gippsland subspecies. Several feral populations of the Eastern Water Dragon have been found in South Australia and Victoria, including Gippsland (Yallourn), presumably escapees from reptile breeders.

Gippsland water dragon- Physignathus lesueurii howittii. (male) Yallourn North along Latrobe River on willow. 18-3-10 (4)

An Eastern Water Dragon male showing red throat and belly and vivid patterns on the face and back. This is a member of a ‘feral’ population at Yallourn, Vic.

__________________________________________________________________

The Lace Monitor Varanus varius is a large species of goanna found throughout Gippsland but is becoming increasingly rare in the western part of the region. As such it is listed as threatened in these parts. In central and eastern Gippsland, including the high country, Lace Monitors are still quite common in forest and woodland and will often hang around campsites or rest stops looking for scraps. Individual can have a large home range of up to 1-2 km² in summer but will remain almost dormant in winter. They are semi-arboreal and will often climb trees to raid nests of birds and mammals and will often use large hollows to shelter in.

Lace Monitor- Varanus varius. Avon-Mt Hedrick Scenic Reserve, N of Heyfield, Vic. Woodland. 29-12-2011.

Lace Monitors are very adept at climbing using their large claws. Heyfield, Vic.

Lace Monitors are one of the biggest goannas in Australia and males can grow to a total length of over 2m. Their name comes from the network of stripes on the body and neck which can vary in colour and pattern. The typical overall colour is dark grey with a complex series of creamy-yellow spots often merging into stripes. The neck and underparts are cream with dark grey stripes or blotches. Some individuals have a blue tinge to the body, especially the throat.

P1110252

Lace Monitor showing blue colouration to the throat and face. Buchan, Vic

___________________________________________________________________

Another species, Gould’s Sand-Monitor Varanus gouldii, has historically been recorded from far east Gippsland but this hasn’t been seen for decades and it apparently wasn’t a common species in this area.

___________________________________________________________________

Dragons and monitors probably evolved on the same lineage as snakes very early in reptile evolution in the Cretaceous period. In fact, monitors are the only lizard to share the forked tongue with snakes which they use to smell scents and it is thought that these two are closely related.

P1110239

Characteristic forked tongue of the monitor lizards

 

Although not as common as Gippsland’s skinks, the dragons and monitors of the region are always a pleasure to see.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Leave a comment

Bountiful Buchan

There’s something about Buchan in east Gippsland that draws our family in every time and it’s not the Buchan pies or the ridiculously touristy Buchan Caves Reserve in town (they are both pretty good mind you). We’re always looking for something away from the raucous flocks of tourists and exorbitant prices and after Christmas we found such a place.

Tucked away east of Buchan is a small campground called Balley Hooley at the junction of the Buchan and Snowy Rivers. We had been here two years before but only for a swim so this time we decided to camp here for 5 days from Christmas day.

P1110217

Snowy River near Balley Hooley campground

On Boxing Day it rained on and off for most of the day and the following few days the river rose quite a bit. We spoke with a couple of kayakers who regularly paddle down this stretch of river and they said it’s the highest they’ve seen the river in summer for a while.

P1110258

Early morning on the Buchan River. Dragonflies, mudeyes (Dragonfly nymphs) and Water Striders were abundant here.

Reptiles were common everywhere and although people kept saying they saw Red-bellied Black Snakes I didn’t see a single one!  The ubiquitous Lace Monitors Varanus varius were common around camp looking for scraps and one we saw skulking around was huge and very old.

P1110248

Lace Monitor Varanus varius

In the woodland I saw a few Jacky Dragons Amphibolurus muricatus as they scuttled a short distance before becoming nearly impossible to see in leaf litter.

P1110293

Jacky Dragon Amphibolurus muricatus

Black Rock Skinks Egernia saxatilis were occasionally seen sunning themselves on large logs in the nearby forest. This one below was reasonably friendly and happy for me to approach closely.

P1110297

Black Rock Skink Egernia saxatilis

Along the Snowy River the large Gippsland Water Dragon Intelligama lesueurii howittii was very common and as we approached by canoe many would scramble awkwardly over rocks on the river edge or dive in the water.

aaa

A very large adult male Gippsland Water Dragon

Also near the river bank were Yellow-bellied Water Skinks Eulamprus heatwolei. Like the Water Dragon these lizards are good swimmers and can hunt in the water for small aquatic animals.

At night the girls and I went hunting for frogs by torchlight and found many small frogs (most with remnants of tails) and tadpoles. I’m pretty sure these were Lesueur’s Tree Frog Litoria lesueurii. No adults were seen but they were heard.

P1110311 (retouched)

Young Lesueur’s Tree Frog?

Many plants along the river edges were in full bloom such as the Kanooka Tristaniopsis laurina with its yellow Leptospermum-like flowers.

 

P1110265.JPG

Kanooka Tristaniopsis laurina

 

Also in full bloom was Burgan Kunzea sp. Species within Kunzea, especially K. ericoides have had several name changes and K. ericoides which I’ve been so familiar with is now only a NZ species and the original one is split into 3 species! BOTANISTS! There is a rare Kunzea in the upper Snowy River and this one in the photo may even be it but I’ll leave it to the experts.

P1110269

Burgan Kunzea sp

P1110271

Bursaria spinosa in full bloom

As I’m unfamiliar with a lot of the East Gippsland flora there were many I haven’t ID’d. Here’s a few of them I found along the river near camp:

P1110277

P1110327

Through word of mouth we heard about the nearby Wilson’s Cave which is a free-to-access cave on Parks Victoria land. We finally found it after parking off the Buchan-Orbost Rd and looking for the less than obvious sign. Once we found the entrance down the bottom of a hill we donned our head torches and followed a series of long tunnels and dead ends for several hundred metres before finally emerging back into sunlight through a very tight exit hole and realising we had actually walked underneath the road. It didnt have the brilliant decorations of the more popular caves in the area but the girls (and us for that matter) were absolutely thrilled with the adventure of exploring this underground world.

P1110216

P1110215.JPG

 

P1110205

Another fork in the cave. Which way?!

A drive to another free-to-access cave system at the Potholes Reserve was less successful as they either were padlocked for safety reasons or required abseiling equipment to access. Maybe next time.

I did find at the reserve an interesting looking fossil which at first glance I thought was an imprint of a shoe in mud but turned out to be solid limestone like the surrounding rock.

P1110307.JPG

I’m not sure what it may be a fossil of, even after trolling the internet looking for anything similar. Anyone have any ideas?

Until next year.