Wild South East

a nature blog of south-east Victoria, mostly Gippsland


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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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Burgan Kunzea sp

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 


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Southern Serpents (Gippsland’s Reptiles- Part 2)

Now spring has arrived snakes are starting to show their faces and as I tend work in prime snake habitats every year I couldn’t be happier (although some of my fellow workers have other thoughts on this). I have a soft spot for snakes and a lot of respect. This following blog describes some of the common species likely to be encountered in Gippsland, Victoria.

Although not as diverse as in the warmer parts of Australia, Gippsland’s snakes have evolved to withstand the bitter winters of the southern part of the continent. All species in Gippsland go through a period of semi-hibernation called torpor where they shelter under logs or in burrows during the cooler months. On warmer sunny days in winter many often emerge to feed before returning to a state of torpor in a shelter.

One species which has evolved to withstand at least some resilience to the cold is the White-lipped Snake Drysdalia coronoides.

White-lipped Snake Drysdalia coronoides. Morwell River wetlands, Morwell.

White-lipped Snake Drysdalia coronoides. Morwell River wetlands, Morwell.

This small, inconspicuous species often enters torpor later than most snakes and emerges earlier at the end. It’s also found in higher elevations than other snakes in the alpine regions for the same reasons. In the reasonably mild summer of 2014/15 I saw them more frequently than usual and this could have been due to the milder conditions being favourable to them.

Growing to a length of around 40cm it is generally an olive-grey or rusty brown colour with an orange to pink belly. The underside of juveniles is often much more brightly coloured as can be seen in the photos below. This individual was found in grass tussocks in the Latrobe Valley and was only about 25cm long. When disturbed it flashed it’s vivid belly at me and this is probably a defence mechanism of the species.

White-lipped Snake (juvenile)

White-lipped Snake (juvenile)

White-lipped Snake (juvenile) in 'defence' posture

White-lipped Snake (juvenile) in ‘defence’ posture

Skinks are the primary food of White-lipped Snakes with some frogs and small mammals taken also. Although venomous they are generally not regarded as life-threatening to humans. They can be found in a large variety of habitats from the coast to the alpine country.

The Lowland Copperhead Austrelaps superbus is probably the most commonly encountered species in the region and as it’s name suggests it is mostly found in the lowlands or plains. It can also be found in some elevated areas.

Lowland Copperhead Austrelaps superbus. Morwell, Victoria

Lowland Copperhead Austrelaps superbus. Hernes Oak, Victoria

Lowland Copperhead

Lowland Copperhead

Lowland Copperhead

Lowland Copperhead

Copperheads, although being highly poisonous, are not renowned for their aggressiveness and have caused few deaths in Australia. They feed mostly on frogs and lizards and will also eat small birds and mammals. The White-lipped Snake has been recorded as prey of this species. The Lowland Copperhead can grow up to 1.7m in total length but most adults encountered are between 1 and 1.5m.

The Highland Copperhead Austrelaps ramsayi is very similar to the Lowland species but differs by having more prominent white streaks on the labials (lip scales) and the head scales behind the eye are slightly different. This species can vary from brown or rusty-brown to almost black. It is found mostly in the high country and foothills and occasionally in lowland areas.

The Tiger Snake Notechis scutatus is a reasonably common species throughout Gippsland and grows to a length of 1.5m.

Tiger Snake Notechis scutatus (sub-adult). Yallourn, Vic

Tiger Snake Notechis scutatus (sub-adult). Yallourn, Vic. The striped markings of juveniles and adults gives the snake it’s common name.

Tiger Snake

Tiger Snake

Juvenile Tiger Snake

Juvenile Tiger Snake

Due to their taste for frogs they are often found near swamps and other wetlands and are capable of swimming and climbing very well.

Tiger Snakes are very good swimmers.

Tiger Snakes are very good swimmers.

Beside a frog-filled swamp I have seen a Black Rock Skink Egernia saxatilis moving about on a log within two metres of a basking Tiger Snake, seemingly aware that the snake posed it little threat and possibly using the snake for protection from predators. They will occasionally eat lizards, as well as small mammals and birds, so the skink was living dangerously!

Tiger Snakes are one of the most dangerous snakes in the world due to their aggressive nature if provoked and the high toxicity of their venom. Most human deaths from Tiger Snake bites occurred in the 1800’s and early 1900’s, probably due to the draining of wetlands for agriculture and housing which forced the snakes to become more mobile. They were possibly much more common and widespread than they are now. The majority of deaths in Australia since the mid 1900’s have been primarily due to the Eastern Brown Snake Pseudonaja textilis (see below) and the Western Brown or Gwarder Pseudonaja nuchalis.

The Eastern Brown Snake Pseudonaja textilis is a large species growing over 2m in length and is found throughout Gippsland but is more common in the drier parts.

Eastern Brown Snake Pseudonaja textilis. Snowy River National Park

Eastern Brown Snake Pseudonaja textilis. Snowy River National Park

Eastern Browns are responsible for a large proportion of human deaths in Australia due to their aggressive nature and toxic venom. While hiking I have stumbled accidentally across a pair of mating Eastern Browns and as a result the male has flung itself at me very aggressively. They feed on a wide range of vertebrates, particularly reptiles and small mammals.

The Red-bellied Black Snake Pseudechis porphyriacus is found throughout Gippsland in a wide variety of habitats from the high country to coastal areas.

Red-bellied Black Snake Pseudechis porphyriacus. Giffard, Vic

Red-bellied Black Snake Pseudechis porphyriacus. Giffard, Vic

Red-bellies account for almost no fatalities in Australia despite being highly poisonous. This is due to the fact that they are quite reluctant to bite and will flee rapidly if threatened. My daughter had an encounter with one recently that burst from a bush near her feet and dived in a stream. See my post in January https://wildsoutheast.wordpress.com/2015/01/03/camping-along-ben-cruachan-creek/

They can grow up to 2m but most individual seen are usually around 1.5m. The belly can be vivid red or pale pink-red depending on the region and individual. Their diet consists mostly of reptiles and frogs but will take other vertebrates.

Red-bellied Black Snake showing it's typical vivid red belly

Red-bellied Black Snake showing it’s typical vivid red belly and jet black body

Red-bellied Black Snake

Red-bellied Black Snake


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Gippsland: The Skink’s Domain

I’ve been fascinated by reptiles since I was a child and whenever I get the chance I’m trying to ‘hunt’ them down to observe and photograph them in the field.

Since moving to the cool climate of South Gippsland in southern Victoria several years ago I was surprised at the number of reptiles encountered on my trips to the bush in this region. It soon became apparent that although there were quite a lot of species there wasn’t that much diversity in terms of representatives of the reptile families. Skinks (Scincidae) dominate the reptile fauna in Gippsland with 32 official species listed. There are some families such as Geckos (Gekkonidae), Legless Lizards (Pygopodidae), Pythons (Boidae) and Front-fanged Snakes (Colubridae) which are typically dry land or tropical species and these have little or no representatives in the region.

Gippsland includes much of Victoria’s alpine and highland country as well as the eastern coastal plains. The majority of reptiles in this region go through a type of semi-hibernation called brumation in which they become inactive over the cooler months of the year, occasionally emerging briefly on warm days in winter to replenish themselves.

Due to the cool temperate climate of Gippsland many reptile species are viviparous where the young are born live instead of in an egg. This is because eggs usually require some degree of warmth for incubation and as such the egg stage is completed in the mother. In general most of the smaller skinks lay eggs and these are often laid in communal nests occupied by a number of adults, often with two clutches per year. Not only are these eggs relatively safe due to numbers but the warmth created by the communal habits may help with the incubation. Most of the medium to large skinks tend to be viviparous (live bearing). The small skink Bougainville’s Slider Lerista bougainvillii is unusual in that it gives birth to live young in it’s southern distribution in Tasmania, lays partly calcified eggs which hatch after almost immediately after being laid in southern parts of Victoria and lays eggs in it’s northern distribution in Victoria, NSW and SA.

THE SKINKS

In spring and summer any trip to the bush or in a well vegetated garden on a sunny day will yield a variety of skinks.  A frenzy of activity is usually seen in spring and summer when many species emerge from their dormancy to mate. During this period many skinks develop their breeding colours and often territorial displays are seen between males.

One of the most abundant species encountered in Gippsland is Guichenoti’s (or Garden) Skink Lampropholis guichenoti. This small species is often encountered in large numbers in residential areas (as it’s other common name suggests) and is also found in a wide range of habitats from wet forest to heathland. The similar Delicate Skink Lampropholis delicata is also a very common species and can be found in gardens as well as a range of habitats throughout the region.

Top: Lampropholis guichenoti. Darlimurla, Vic in damp forest. Bottom: Lampropholis delicata. Yallourn North, Vic in lowland forest.

Top: Lampropholis guichenoti. Darlimurla, Vic in damp forest.
Bottom: Lampropholis delicata. Yallourn North, Vic in lowland forest.

L. delicata can often be distinguished from L. guichenoti by the lack of prominent flecking and stripes down the length of the back and sides.

Several other small species are similar in appearance to Lampropholis and these include the genera Pseudemoia, Acritoscincus and Niveoscincus and these usually require examining their head scales with a magnifying glass for identification.

Pseudomoia tend to be more common in the alpine areas than the lowlands but one species, the Southern Grass-skink Pseudemoia entrecasteauxii , is also found in areas of grass tussocks and forests of the coastal plain.

The Glossy Grass-skink P. rawlinsoni  is a near threatened species and is becoming increasingly less common throughout it’s range throughout Victoria. This is possibly due to the draining of swamps and other wet areas for development as it tends to inhabit grassy habitats immediately beside wetlands and watercourses. This species does however seem to have at least some resilience as I have found populations in highly degraded areas in the Latrobe Valley. It often has bold stripes and a glossy olive-grey colouration.

Top: Pseudemoia entrecasteauxi. Mirboo North, Vic in damp forest. Bottom: Pseudemoia rawlinsoni. Yallourn, Vic in highly degraded grassland beside a swamp.

Top: Pseudemoia entrecasteauxi. Mirboo North, Vic in damp forest.
Bottom: Pseudemoia rawlinsoni. Yallourn, Vic in highly degraded grassland beside a swamp.

Spencer’s Skink Pseudemoia spenceri is predominantly a highland skink with some populations extending into the more elevated areas of the coastal plain. It has a distinctive mottled appearance and is often found on tree trunks and fallen logs in some alpine areas. Another species with very similar habits and habitats is the Tussock Skink P. pagenstecheri. This species can be very common in suitable habitat and in the breeding season develops a prominent red stripe along it’s side. In snowgum woodland near Lake Tali Karng in the Alpine region I have found this species to be abundant on and around nearly every log and tree stump I saw.

Top: Pseudemoia spenceri eating a beetle. Alpine NP, Vic in open woodland. Bottom: Pseudemoia pagenstecheri. Alpine NP in open woodland.

Top: Pseudemoia spenceri eating a beetle. Alpine NP, Vic in open woodland.
Bottom: Pseudemoia pagenstecheri. Alpine NP in open woodland.

One other species of Pseudemoia in Gippsland is the Alpine Bog-skink P. cryodroma, an endangered species which is restricted to the alpine region’s bog swamps.

The Metallic Skink Niveoscincus metallicus is superficially very similar to Pseudemoia, in fact it used to be included in the genus. It requires a magnifying glass to see the frontoparietal scales on the top of the head (fused in Niveoscincus, paired in Pseudemoia) and Metallic Skinks often have a dull orange-pink belly. Although common, this species has a reasonably restricted distribution in Victoria, confined mostly to the west Gippsland coastal plain. It is also found throughout Tasmania. These skinks can be found in a wide range of habitats but in Gippsland I have found this species mostly in and around forests. The other member of this genus in Gippsland is the Snow Skink N. coventryi. This species is confined to wet forests of the alpine region in Gippsland.

Metallic Skink-Niveoscincus metallicus. Mirboo North. Damp forest.

Metallic Skink-Niveoscincus metallicus. Mirboo North. Damp forest.

The Weasel Skink Saproscincus mustelinus is a small but highly distinctive species found throughout Gippsland in a range of dry and wet habitats. This skink can easily be identified in the field by it’s prominent white streak behind the eye and a rusty-brown tail. Some individuals have bold stripes running lengthways along their undersides. This species usually lays it’s eggs in a communal nest and I have found up to 30 eggs under the one log.

Weasel Skink- Saproscincus mustelinus and it's egg clutch.

Weasel Skink- Saproscincus mustelinus and it’s egg clutch. Traralgon South in open forest

If you happen to be wandering amongst coastal and near-coastal vegetation in central and western Gippsland you are likely to come across the Eastern Three-lined Skink Acritoscincus (sometimes listed as Bassianaduperreyi. It is widespread in Gippsland but doesn’t reach the level of abundance as on the coast. This species develops a flush of orange-pink on the throat in the spring breeding season and together with the stripes running the length of the back, sides and tail it can usually be easily identified.

The Red-throated Skink Acritoscincus platynotum is not encountered until you reach east Gippsland and this species usually inhabits dry forest and woodlands. Similar in most respects to P. duperreyi , including reddish throat, but many of the stripes are lacking. The overall body colour is silvery-bronze.

Top: Acritoscincus duperreyi. Golden Beach, Vic in coastal woodland. Bottom: Acritoscincus platynotum. Snowy River NP in dry woodland.

Top: Acritoscincus duperreyi. Golden Beach, Vic in coastal woodland.
Bottom: Acritoscincus platynotum. Snowy River NP in dry woodland.

Bougainville’s Slider Lerista bougainvillii is a species which looks out of portion with its greatly elongated body, tiny legs and a sharp, beak-like snout. This small skink is the only representative in Gippsland of the Australia-wide genus Lerista, a group of reptiles highly modified for living on and under sandy soils. The sharp snout is used similar to a shovel and allows the skink to hunt for insects and other arthropods under the soil surface. Some other species of Lerista have legs so greatly reduced they no longer function. In Gippsland the Bougainville’s Slider is found almost exclusively in sandy coastal and near-coastal soils.

Bougainville's Slider- Lerista bougainvillii. West of Golden Beach in Banksia woodland.

Bougainville’s Slider- Lerista bougainvillii. West of Golden Beach in Banksia woodland.

Maccoy’s Skink Anepischetosia (formerly Nannoscincus) maccoyi is another slender species and is found in wet forests throughout Gippsland. This skink is a very secretive species and I have never seen any basking in sunlight as many reptiles tend to do. Instead it spends it’s time burrowing under sun-warmed leaf litter and other debris hunting for arthropods. Most specimens I’ve found in Gippsland tend to have a vivid lemon-yellow belly and this along with it’s unique shape makes identification very simple.

McCoy's Skink- Anepischetosia maccoyi. Morwell west in wet forest.

McCoy’s Skink- Anepischetosia maccoyi. Morwell west in wet forest.

The Copper-tailed Skink Ctenotus taeniolatus is a widely distributed medium-sized skink found throughout south eastern Australia. In Gippsland you are likely to encounter it in the north-eastern high country and neighbouring plains, particularly in the drier woodlands.  This strikingly patterned species is boldly striped and has a brown or coppery coloured tail. As with a lot of Ctenotus skinks in Australia it has long back legs and toes to enable it to move swiftly from predators and to hunt (it can be a pain to photograph!)

Copper tailed Skink- Ctenotus taeniolatus. Snowy River NP in open woodland

Copper tailed Skink- Ctenotus taeniolatus. Snowy River NP in open woodland

Egernia is a genus which includes some medium-sized to large skinks. One species which is relatively common in Gippsland is the Black Rock Skink Egernia saxatilis. The common name for this species is often a misnomer as it not only inhabits rocky areas but frequents logs and tree trunks, particularly ones with a large number of crevices and holes. I have seen this species basking in the sun at the top of a 20 metre high dead ‘stag’ tree above a forest canopy. Black Rock Skinks are highly inquisitive and when frightened will often re-emerge within a minute or so in a different place but still in full view.

Black Rock Skink- Egernia saxatilis. West of Morwell in lowland forest.

Black Rock Skink- Egernia saxatilis. West of Morwell in lowland forest.

The threatened Swamp Skink Lissolepis coventryi is a highly secretive species which inhabits the vegetation along the margins of swamps and other wetlands. Due to extensive clearing and drainage of its habitat for farming and development as well a predation by cats and foxes this species has experienced a massive decline in numbers. Isolated populations exist throughout southern Victoria and Gippsland and I’ve just recently been able to get half decent photographs of this species.

Swamp Skink- Lissolepis coventryi. Lower Powlett River in swamp scrub.

Swamp Skink- Lissolepis coventryi. Lower Powlett River in swamp scrub.

Swamp Skink- Lissolepis coventryi. Lower Powlett River in swamp scrub.

Swamp Skink- Lissolepis coventryi. Lower Powlett River in swamp scrub.

White’s Skink Liopholis whitii is one of the most spectacular skinks found in Gippsland and either comes in two colour forms, the spotted (as in the photograph below) or the plain form (this is where the spotting is greatly reduced). White’s Skink, as with most larger skinks, gives birth to live young and these adults dig a short burrow to protect themselves and their young. These are found in a wide variety of habitats from forests to heathland.

White's Skink- Liopholis whitii (spotted form). Hernes Oak, Vic in heathy woodland. Inset: White's Skink burrow

White’s Skink- Liopholis whitii (spotted form). Hernes Oak, Vic in heathy woodland.
Inset: White’s Skink burrow

Two common species of Water Skinks are found in Gippsland and another two are restricted in distribution. The name Water Skink is often a misnomer as it is frequently found a long distance from any major water source. That said, they can be reasonably common around bodies of water and I have seen these species often diving into water when threatened and swimming quite well.

In western Gippsland you are most likely to come across the Southern Water Skink Eulamprus tympanum and in the east Yellow-bellied Water Skink E. heatwolei. Both these species are widespread in a variety of habitats from forests to heathland. An easy way to determine the species in the field is E. tympanum has a broad dark brown line starting from behind the eye and extending along the flanks. E. heatwolei has this line start from the side of the face at the nostrils. E. heatwolei can also have a cream-yellow belly whereas E. tympanum is white.

Top: Eulamprus tympanum. Yallourn North in lowland forest. Bottom: Eulamprus heatwolei. Lake Tali Karng, Vic

Top: Eulamprus tympanum. Yallourn North in lowland forest.
Bottom: Eulamprus heatwolei. Lake Tali Karng, Vic

Two of the most familiar skinks in Gippsland are the Blotched Blue-tongue Tiliqua nigrolutea and the Eastern Blue-tongue T. scincoides. These are the largest of Gippsland’s skinks and can be found in nearly every habitat, including people’s backyards.

Blotched Blue-tongues can vary from light brown with pale blotches, especially lowland forms, to darker brown with orange-pink blotches in the alpine region. I have seen individuals which are a vivid rusty colour in the foothills north of Bairnsdale.

Blotched Blue Tongue- Tiliqua nigrolutea. Yallourn North, Vic in lowland forest.

Blotched Blue Tongue- Tiliqua nigrolutea. Yallourn North, Vic in lowland forest.

Eastern Blue-tongues don’t seem to be as common in Gippsland as ‘Blotchies’ but you do come across them occasionally, especially in forest. This is identified by the lack of blotching on the upper surface and the presence of a dark stripe (often broken) behind the eye.

Eastern Blue Tongue- Tiliqua scincoides. West of Morwell in lowland forest.

Eastern Blue Tongue- Tiliqua scincoides. West of Morwell in lowland forest.

Although Gippsland doesn’t have the diversity of reptiles as in other parts of Victoria such as the far north west it does have a fantastic array of unique skinks. In future blogs I might do a piece on Gippsland’s other reptiles.

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A reptile fortnight

Finally we managed to get a handful of warm to hot days in the last two weeks but it was only fleeting as the temperatures have dropped again, typical of this year’s unusually mild summer.

My passion for reptiles has resulted in me studying the weather forecasts every day hoping for a warm sunny day to bring them out. The last two weeks definitely lived up to my expectations.

The first of the hot days we were working for a client in wet forest near Trafalgar. While walking through an open section of the forest where sun was streaming through I came across a fully grown Tiger Snake Notechis scutatus. It was partially hidden in vegetation but I managed to snap some photos of it’s head. It seemed unperturbed by me and sat there while I composed my shots before finally slithering off slowly.

Tiger Snake

Tiger Snake

I’ve noticed in the past with very large, fully grown snakes that they are less frightened by people than younger snakes. One of the biggest Tiger Snakes I’ve ever seen was while working for Parks Vic in Wilson’s Promontory and the body of this snake was as thick as my arm! When we accidentally startled it (and ourselves!) it just raised it’s head and looked at us knowing fully well it could protect itself. We were sure it yawned at us too.

In the same forest near Trafalgar the Southern Water Skink Eulamprus tympanum seemed to be common on logs in open areas. This is a very inquisitive species and I managed to get within 10cm or so from it’s head with my camera. Although it’s called a Water Skink they are often found in areas a long way from any water body. They can, however, swim quite well.

Southern Water Skink

Southern Water Skink

Also in an open area of this same forest was a Blotched Blue-tongue Tiliqua nigrolutea.

Blotched Blue-tongue

Blotched Blue-tongue

I did mange to find a bright rusty-coloured individual near Bairnsdale last week but I didn’t have my camera with me.

While working for another client yesterday to the west of Golden Beach in Banksia woodland and dry heathy woodland I was surprised at the amount of reptiles around. We have a joke at this site that whenever we say “Gee, we haven’t seen a goanna for a while” we usually see one within a few minutes. This happened to be the case yesterday where we saw not one but two after we said this!

Lace Monitor

Lace Monitor

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This old boy was in an open paddock next to the woodland and was not worried about us approaching it one bit (it actually was falling asleep at one stage while I was photographing it!) They are known as Lace or Varied Monitors Varanus varius and many populations, especially in west Gippsland, are disappearing and as such are listed as vulnerable in Victoria.

In an area of Banksia woodland this little fella was found, a young Jacky Dragon Amphibolurus muricatus. This species can be common in areas of dry forests, woodland and heath.

Young Jacky Dragon

Young Jacky Dragon

This last one is a common species along the coastal fringe of Gippsland. The Eastern Three-lined Skink Acritoscincus duperreyi often has a pinkish-orange throat in the spring breeding season.  This one was found in coastal dune scrub west of Wonthaggi.

Eastern Three-lined Skink

Eastern Three-lined Skink


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Camping along Ben Cruachan creek

After Christmas we decided on a camping trip for two nights up to one of our favourite spots in Victoria, Ben Cruachan creek in the high country of central Gippsland. This area we stumbled upon in 2011 after following a very steep track with several river crossings from the Avon-Mt Hedrick Scenic Reserve. At this time the very popular Hugget’s Crossing in the reserve was a sea of people and dirt bikes so that’s why we headed bush as far as we could.

So, 3 years later our family were back, this time with a few of the extended family in tow as well. After travelling nearly 1 hr north from Heyfield we reached the small but prominent mountain of Ben Cruachan. A short drive to the top and we were rewarded by a fantastic but very windy view to the north and east.

View from Ben Cruachan lookout

View from Ben Cruachan lookout

Next on to the Ben Cruachan Creek which runs to the north of the mountain. Here there are several creek crossings with a couple of small campsites. Our favourite campsite was close to a very deep hole on the creek beside a cliff of which we dived down several times but could not reach the bottom!

Deep hole on Ben Cruachan Creek

We tried fishing in this deep hole but no luck, although there were a few large Short-finned Eel Anguilla australis swimming around.

Creek opposite campsite

Creek opposite campsite

The creek and bush were alive with birds and insects as well as the most Red bellied Black Snakes Psuedechis porphyriacus I’ve ever seen in one place! In one spot we counted 6 within about 50 metres, most of which dived into the stream when we got near and swam to the other side. Our 7 year old daughter is still cleaning her pants out after one surprised her by bursting out of a small bush near her foot and ‘jumped’ in the water! She did the right thing by freezing but she did let out a muffled scream. We thought it might be best if we head back to camp at this point.

Red-belly swimming

Red-belly swimming

A big Red-belly

A big Red-belly

I did notice an interesting behaviour the next day with one Red-belly which was foraging along the rocky stream bank in the cool morning and turning over and rummaging around small rocks with its nose apparently looking for food, most likely frogs I’d gather.

Another reptile along the stream bank was the Yellow-bellied Water Skink Eulamprus heatwoleii which was even more common than the snakes and found along fallen logs.

Yellow-bellied Water Skink

Yellow-bellied Water Skink

These skinks are very inquisitive and if frightened will disappear only to emerge not long after in full view of a wanna-be photographer who is searching the ground at his feet for Red-bellies.

One Gippsland Water Dragon Intellagama lesueurii howittii was seen on the bank but had the very smart idea to be on the opposite side to the snakes although it did scramble up the bank hysterically when I frightened a Red-belly into the water which headed directly toward the Water Dragon.

A single Lace Monitor Varanus varius was hawking around a recently abandoned campsite further upstream, most likely looking for scraps left behind.

Lace Monitor

Lace Monitor

Insects were abundant along the stream. The Arrowhead Rockmaster Diphlebia nymphoides with its striking blue male and golden female were the most common dragonfly seen and many were hunting up and down the stream for insects.

Arrowhead Rockmaster (male)

Arrowhead Rockmaster (male)

Arrowhead Rockmaster (female)

Arrowhead Rockmaster (female)

Other common insects were the Water Striders (Hemiptera:Geridae) which were abundant on the surface of the stream and many of these were mating.

Water Striders mating (smaller male on the back)

Of the Butterflies by far the most common were the Australian Painted Lady Vanessa kershawi and mostly female Common Brown Heteronympha merope.

Australian Painted Lady on Leptospermum

Australian Painted Lady on Leptospermum

Birds were very common in this area and a pair of Sacred Kingfishers were hanging around the deep pool area looking frustrated at our family for disturbing their favourite fishing spot. Some of the birds around camp were Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo, Shining Bronze-Cuckoo, Fan-tailed Cuckoo, Gang-gang Cockatoo, Olive-backed Oriole, Satin Flycatcher, Eastern Whipbird, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, Splendid Fairy-wren, Spotted Pardalote, Eastern Yellow-robin, Crimson Rosella, Welcome Swallow, Silvereye, Pied Currawong, Laughing Kookaburra, Yellow-tufted and Yellow-faced Honeyeaters, Brown Thornbill, Grey Shrike-thrush and Grey Fantail. Southern Boobooks called every night and at one stage two were calling together. This was followed later by a pair courting and both making the unusual continuous ‘por-por-por…’