Sunday, April 14, 2013

Last Foray into the Great Western Woodlands

Apologies to those anticipating the next chapter in the Borneo series. You'll just have to wait a liiiittle longer as I amass the appropriate photos etc. Here instead is a more up-to-date account on my recent working field trip into the arid scrublands, sandplains, and woodlands about 500km East/NE of Perth (North of Southern Cross). Some of you may recall my rained-out adventure back in late November. Well I finally got to go back, and it didn't rain! I was the "bird guy" on a team of environmental consultants, aiming to survey the fauna of the area to the best of our abilities, concentrating on threatened/endangered species, and "SREs" (Short Range Endemics-- eg. scorpions, spiders, millipedes, isopods, etc.), that might be impacted by the proposed iron-ore operations in the area.
Most of this area is decidedly flat, but it's these iron-rich hills that the mining companies are interested in.
Outside of birding, the rest of the vertebrate team monitored these traps. A pipe or bucket  (pit-trap) dug in at the center, with directional fences on each side, and funnel-traps at each end. This is mainly for reptiles like skinks, geckos, and snakes. We also had a few Elliot/Sherman traps and live-cage traps set up for mammals.
Below are a few of the critters we saw out there.
Jordan holding a Common Scaly Foot (Pygopus Lepidopodus). This is a legless lizard that I've  posted a few pics of in previous posts. This one was different though in that it dropped it's tail (despite being handled correctly), and click HERE to see what happened next! Usually when a reptile drops it's tail, the lost appendage flops around for 5-10 seconds, but this was something else! Not only did it carry on for close to 5 minutes, but it actually was able to move through the leaf-litter like a live snake, and when I picked it up, (the tail) wrapped around my fingers and started wiggling frantically.
Diplodactylus pulcher
Southern Shovel-nosed Snake (Brachyurophis semifasciatus). These guys are burrowing snakes so it was a bit surprising that all four of our captures came from rocky areas. Probably seeking out reptile eggs in the leaf-litter etc at the base of eucalyptus trees.
I forgot to get a snap of the only Rosen's Snake of the trip (Suta fasciata), so I  nabbed one off Google (note credit in bottom right--thanks Steve!). The tiger-like striping on ours was much blacker, but you can still see that it is a cool-looking snake. Tip: Do not get bitten by one of these.
This was definitely the herp highlight of the trip for me. Having fancied their photos in fieldguides and on the internet, I finally found this guy by chance as I walked back to the truck from a bird-survey. This is a Pebble Dragon (Tympanocryptis cephalus), which I would NOT have found if it didn't move.
Find the Pebble Dragon! Other than the fact that I've placed it right in the centre, the best way of picking them out is by their tail... which kind of looks like a euc twig.
More "Pebbling"--the next generation of planking/owling.
Monk Snake (Parasuta monachus) beside a funnel-trap
Bynoe's Gecko (Heteronotia binoei)
Ctenotus uber (Subspecies unknown--could be new? Don't ask me)
Burton's Snake-Lizard (Lialis burtonis)
My first Black-headed Monitor (Varanus tristis), and by far the smallest Goanna/monitor I've ever seen.
Cute wittle baby.
For the sake of variety, here is a mammal! No pygmy possum this time I'm afraid. This is an Ash-grey Mouse.
And yes I did see a few birds, although overall it was a very quiet survey. One exception were the Gilbert's Whistlers (pictured), who were quite vocal and provided me with some nice looks at this uncommon mallee specialist.
Australian Owlet-Nightjar hiding in a hollow branch. This guy was actually found roosting in one of our pipe pitfalls, and only reluctantly moved to this more natural setting.
Another big highlight of the trip was searching for "SRE" invertebrates--especially the scorpions and trapdoor spiders.  Because of the dirty work involved and extra weight, I usually didn't have a camera with me so I don't actually have any photos of the numerous scorps and spiders, but here's a shot of one of the awesome trapdoors built by a (probably undescribed) spider. Not the size, and the intricate leaf/stick arrangement around the base.
Closer look. Some of these spiders can live to be over twenty years of age!
Another trapdoor, this one using grass fronds. Unfortunately this was likely abandoned  due to  disturbance from  vehicles and heavy machinery.
On our second last evening, Jordan and I headed up the hill to stake out a small waterhole. Bird activity was slow, but there were some very cool aquatic inverts lurking in the pools as well as a few frogs. We also got destroyed by mozzies and flies! As night fell we put in an hour or so of spot-lighting but only managed a few geckos etc.
At least one was a lifer for me--a 4cm-long Clawless Gecko (Crenadactylus ocellatus)
Looking down upon the massive expanse of dry eucalyptus woodland. Whiles this might seem like a large area of native habitat, it is dwarfed by the surrounding "Wheat Belt" of SW Western Aus, and even this patch is threatened by increasing mining pressures.
The sun sets on the Great Western Woodlands, where my adventures in "W.A." began in the first place.  Big thank you to BirdLife Australia, DEC, and Ecologia, for bringing me out into these little visited areas. There ain't a single tourist in history that's seen this tree! ;)
And finally--we also got another THORNY DEVIL! I didn't grab photos of this one, so lets take a nostalgic (VIDEO) look back at the one Liz Fox and I found back in November.

Coming Up Next on the RUSS BLOG: Final thoughts on Australia, and a continuation of my Bornean adventures. Back in Canada in less than a week!

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