Herpetofauna of Europe : australia (october-november 2019)
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Herpetofauna of Europe European Amphibians & Reptiles

Herpetological trip to Australia
October 15th – November 6th 2019

Unless specified otherwise, pictures (c) of Jeroen Speybroeck.


not all, but most sites of observation

While the amphibian and reptile faunas of Australia may be not as colourful as those of some other parts of the world, there is more to be found than just loads of brown skinks. My main Australian target species were easy to guess. Like so many herpers, Thorny Devil Moloch horridus has fascinated me from early age on. Weird, cute, unique,... the whole deal packed inside a small alien lizard. Undisputable second: finding a Green Tree Python Morelia viridis in the jungle of Cape York. Furthermore, I was looking forward to finding large pythons, death adders, colourful frogs, ... Seeing a salty aka Saltwater Crocodile Crocodylus porosus surely also had to happen. While the list just keeps going on, let me throw in monitors, blue-tongue skinks, Frilled Lizards Chlamydosaurus kingii and a huge gecko diversity as Australia's herpetological essentials.

Attractive species being on the menu is one thing, finding them another. And how was I going to dance with large elapids and survive, totally lacking experience on that front? Fortunately, Australian Wildlife Encounters (AWE) was running a trip to Moloch country that I could attend. While I had promised myself never to do any organised group trips again since doing just one back in 2004, I wanted to enjoy the benefit of the skills and knowledge of local herpers, especially since I could not persuade any of my regular herping buddies to join me. What I found out about AWE through Facebook friends and others seemed very promising, so I registered for their Central Desert Tour from Alice Springs to Darwin. The main species, Thorny Devil, was to be on the menu, so that was already one box ticked. How about that other beauty? Surely, targetting Green Tree Python as well within the same trip would be too much? Let's go all the way! I told AWE that I would leave five days before the end of their desert tour and booked myself a final solo adventure of seven nights in the Iron Range plus one final night near Cairns. I took great, lazy pleasure in having a skilled herping guide for the first two weeks, and (very much unlike me...) largely restricted my preparations to drooling over green python pictures.

Many thanks to a top-notch herping guide (Lockie Gilding) and the crew of the first part of the trip (Justin Coburn and Simon Greppler, and also a little bit one-day European herping buddy Matthijs Hollanders). Many thanks to Susie Adamczyk for a lot of useful information, pointing out a couple of species, and the friendly chat in green python land. A guy from the UK named Ed also showed me a skink when we were cruising the same road one night, so thanks for that. For info before and during the trip many thanks to Shane Black, Tom Charlton, Jack Gamble, Jannico Kelk, Alexandre Roux, Andre Schokman and Rémon ter Harmsel. Finally, many thanks to the nice people I met at Lockhart River, including Paul Piva from Lockhart River Car Rental and Lynn and others at the Greenhoose.

CHAPTER 1 – Central Desert tour (South Australia & Northern Territory)

Autumn came to Belgium after yet another hot and dry summer, as I flew to the opposite side of the world and the opposite season, if you will. Flights from Brussels over Dubai and Melbourne finally dropped me into Alice Springs, straight into the heart of Australia's deserts. I had finally made it to this reptile wonderland. At the airport I was met by Lockie Gilding from AWE. Over the course of the next two weeks I would get to know this highly motivated herping hero as extremely knowledgeable and skillful in the art of Auzzie herping. His great sense of humour, positive mindset and warp speed added up to making him the perfect man for the job. He tried his very best and then still some more to lead us to the best sites along our route and went out of his way to feed my insatiable hunger for herpetological biodiversity. Besides myself, two other guys completed the crew: Simon Greppler from Germany and Justin Coburn from Canada. Both were returning AWE customers, so I was the only Australia newby. Travelling in such a small group kept things efficient and manageable. One thing I dislike about group trips is their pace, with things only getting in motion once everyone had a snack and a toilet break. No such nonsense here: Lockie kept us on edge in pursuit of a maximum of herp diversity given the sites, conditions and available time. A job very well done, which means a lot, coming from a difficult and demanding herpeto maniac.

The first few nights we spend in the rocky desert west of Alice Springs. Night time was the ticket for herping throughout the entire trip, but this was definitely also true here. Overall, conditions were harsh. Prolonged drought had us finding fairly low densities of often visibly suffering animals. Luckily, water-holding canyons offered some solace. Well now, I surely had not expected to be swimming through a narrow cold-water canyon straight after getting off the plane! Caught in this natural death trap, Lockie secured our first snake, a King Brown or Mulga Snake Pseudechis australis. What a cool experience... The first nights of the trip were characterised by high gecko diversity, as we tried to pick up from Lockie how to find them. The canyons held our first few frog species. We soon recorded our first python species, Stimson's Python Antaresia stimsoni, and a first round of excited boyish cheers followed roadcruising a Desert Death Adder Acanthophis pyrrhus. It was on!


entering the Red Center


© Justin Coburn


Mulga Snake Pseudechis australis


Sharp-snouted Delma Delma nasuta - © Justin Coburn


Burton's Snake Lizard Lialis burtonis - © Justin Coburn


Southern Spiny-tailed Gecko Strophurus intermedius - © Justin Coburn


Centralian Knob-tailed Gecko Nephrurus amyae - © Justin Coburn


Mesa Gecko Diplodactylus galeatus - © Justin Coburn


Stimson's Python Antaresia stimsoni - © Justin Coburn


Myall Snake Suta suta - © Justin Coburn


Red Tree Frog Litoria rubella - © Justin Coburn


Centralian Marbled Velvet Gecko Oedura cincta


Inland Snake-eyed Skink Cryptoblepharus australis


Desert Death Adder Acanthophis pyrrhus


Unbanded Shovel-nosed Snake Brachyurophis incinctus - © Justin Coburn


Centralian Tree Frog Litoria gilleni - © Justin Coburn

On the 3rd day, October 17th, we started a one night back-and-forth further south to Coober Pedy. The barren and desolate habitat of the Inland Taipan Oxyuranus microlepidotus did not charm me too much, I must confess, although it certainly blew my mind that a large snake could survive in the subterraneous universe of this place. Especially given the dry conditions, we didn't stay here much longer, and would even have cancelled this detour, if not for some bird targets Simon wanted to grab here.








Tessellated Gecko Diplodactylus tessellatus

On the 18th we fled back north again.





Central Bearded Dragon Pogona vitticeps


Central Bearded Dragon Pogona vitticeps


Eyrean Earless Dragon Tympanocryptis tetraporophora

Before briefly revisiting the surroundings of Alice Springs, we first headed towards Yulara. This was not just any destination, no, no, no - the red sands around the famous Uluru rock are where we meant to look for one of the most bizarre herp species in the world, and one which has been in my global top 3 of bucket list species since forever. In the late afternoon, even before re-entering the Northern Territory, there it was already, sitting in the middle of the road! Thorny Devil Moloch horridus! Sheer utter joy! I cannot remember when I lost my $%&# like that when finding a new species... I may be responsible for some hearing loss for my travel companions. What a fantastic, out-of-this-world little creature..... There and then I had no idea how great the rest of the trip was still going to be, but the 31st species on the growing list was enough to make this an outstanding trip all by itself.


Thorny Devil Moloch horridus


Thorny Devil Moloch horridus


Thorny Devil Moloch horridus


Thorny Devil Moloch horridus and me - © Lockie Gilding

The following two nights added among others another five species of gecko to our findings.


Beaded Gecko Lucasium damaeum


Pale Knob-tailed Gecko Nephrurus laevissimus


Pale Knob-tailed Gecko Nephrurus laevissimus


Smooth Knob-tailed Gecko Nephrurus levis


Western Hooded Scaly-foot Pygopus nigriceps


Monk Snake Parasuta monachus


Desert Banded Snake Simoselaps anomalus

Snakewise things were relatively slow, but no one was complaining, especially as we turned up a second Thorny Devil.


Thorny Devil Moloch horridus


Thorny Devil Moloch horridus


Thorny Devil Moloch horridus


Thorny Devil Moloch horridus


Fourteen-lined Ctenotus Ctenotus quattuordecimlineatus










After Yulara, a second, shorter stay at Alice Springs had Justin finding us a gorgeous Centralian Carpet Python Morelia bredli, surely not an everyday find.


Centralian Carpet Python Morelia bredli


Centralian Carpet Python Morelia bredli


Centralian Carpet Python Morelia bredli

Heading further north, we got a Centralian Bluetongue Skink Tiliqua multifasciata on the road. It too seemed in suboptimal state, so not too much tongue flicking going on.


Centralian Bluetongue Tiliqua multifasciata


Centralian Bluetongue Tiliqua multifasciata


Spinifex Slender Blue-tongue Cyclodomorphus melanops


Green Tree Frog Litoria caerulea


Green Tree Frog Litoria caerulea

The next day, October 22nd and day n°8 of our trip, we finally got up close to some monitor lizards too, starting with a Spencer’s Monitor Varanus spenceri in a very poor state. Next, Lockie and I followed the tracks of a large Yellow-spotted Monitor Varanus panoptes to its burrow. The animal was way too big to fit into the hole it had chosen, so we managed to get it out for a meet and greet.


Spencer's Monitor Varanus spenceri


Spencer's Monitor Varanus spenceri


Yellow-spotted Monitor Varanus panoptes


Yellow-spotted Monitor Varanus panoptes


Yellow-spotted Monitor Varanus panoptes


Yellow-spotted Monitor Varanus panoptes

After some fairly unproductive birding attempts for Simon, we reached Edith Falls at the end of the 22nd, our 8th day. Lockie had promised us a herping and swimming paradise and he had not been lying- what a wonderful place! Some new frogs, more geckos and a couple of new snake species were found. One tree overhanging the rapids thus getting some spray humidity and cooling held a beautiful golden Common Tree Snake Dendrelaphis punctulatus and two 'night tiger' Brown Tree Snakes Boiga irregularis.








Cane Toad Rhinella marina


Saw-shelled Turtle Wollumbinia latisternum


Mitchell's Water Monitor Varanus mitchelli - © Lockie Gilding





Northern Marbled Velvet Gecko Oedura marmorata


Brown Tree Snake Boiga irregularis


Brown Tree Snake Boiga irregularis


Common Tree Snake Dendrelaphis punctulatus


Common Tree Snake Dendrelaphis punctulatus


Common Tree Snake Dendrelaphis punctulatus

The next night, we got our first Water Liasis fuscus and Olive Python Liasis olivaceus. Such cool animals...


Water Python Liasis fuscus


Olive Python Liasis olivaceus


Children's Python Antaresia childreni


Northern Spiny-tailed Gecko Strophurus ciliaris

While at night with some dedication you could get quite good viewing of Freshwater Crocodile Crocodylus johnstoni, swimming up to basking Mertens Water Monitors Varanus mertensi was one of the most entertaining experiences of the trip. We stayed for three nights. I wouldn't mind living there permanently.


somebody’s been sleeping in my shoe





Mertens' Water Monitor Varanus mertensi


Mertens' Water Monitor Varanus mertensi


Mertens' Water Monitor Varanus mertensi


Greater Black Whipsnake Demansia papuensis

After spending one night in Katherine on birding business, the remaining four nights I had with the group were run out of Darwin. Lockie got us an AirB&B apartment, and it was great to get some sleep in a real bed, while heading out in all directions for some sweet herping. An iconic species we found inside the city was Frilled Lizard Chlamydosaurus kingii.





Frilled Lizard Chlamydosaurus kingii


Frilled Lizard Chlamydosaurus kingii


Frilled Lizard Chlamydosaurus kingii

Wading through mangrove mud to find three mudsnake species and staying clear of water that might be home to large bity things was another fun herping adventure.


Australian Bockadam Cerberus australis


Richardson's Mangrove Snake Myron richardsonii


White-bellied Mangrove Snake Fordonia leucobalia


White-bellied Mangrove Snake Fordonia leucobalia

We started seeing more frogs, especially in Litchfield NP, although also in the more humid Top End we didn't get huge rainfall amounts leading to massive bursts of herp activity.





Swamplands Lashtail Amphibolurus temporalis


Swamplands Lashtail Amphibolurus temporalis


Mertens' Water Monitor Varanus mertensi

/
Mertens' Water Monitor Varanus mertensi

/
Wotjulum Frog Litoria wotjulumensis


Roth's Tree Frog Litoria rothii


Northern Territory Frog Austrochaperina adelphe


Rocket Frog Litoria nasuta


Marbled Frog Limnodynastes convexiusculus


Giant Frog Cyclorana australis


Ornate Burrowing Frog Platyplectrum ornatum


Northern Dwarf Tree Frog Litoria bicolor


Copland's Rock Frog Litoria coplandi


Keelback Tropidonophis mairii


Children's Python Antaresia childreni


Brown Tree Snake Boiga irregularis


Orange-sided Bar-lipped Skink Eremiascincus douglasi


Northern Ridge-tailed Monitor Varanus primordius

One day, I joined an organised boat trip on the Corroboree Billabong to get up close with freshies, but also and mainly Saltwater Crocodile Crocodylus porosus. Definitely the way to go if you want to get good viewing in (and not become a snack). Such beasts!

















Freshwater Crocodile Crocodylus johnstoni


Freshwater Crocodile Crocodylus johnstoni


Saltwater Crocodile Crocodylus porosus


Saltwater Crocodile Crocodylus porosus


Saltwater Crocodile Crocodylus porosus


Saltwater Crocodile Crocodylus porosus

We kept at our nocturnal routine combining roadcruising with checking for File Snake Acrochordus arafurae, which we eventually found several of in one particular creek. Wet socks filled with gravel, as Lockie would say, and definitely the weirdest snake I have seen so far. A second death adder species later that night turned it into another one to remember.


Arafura File Snake Acrochordus arafurae


Arafura File Snake Acrochordus arafurae


Top End Death Adder Acanthophis rugosus


Top End Death Adder Acanthophis rugosus


Top End Death Adder Acanthophis rugosus

As their relatives further east are less good looking, I was pleased to hike up here already a beautiful Black-headed Python Aspidites melanocephalus during my last night with the guys. Before I left for a whole new trip chapter, European herping buddy currently living in Australia Matthijs Hollanders joined in, with a one day overlap. Great to catch up with him, even just for a day!








Black-palmed Monitor Varanus glebopalma


Black-palmed Monitor Varanus glebopalma


Black-palmed Monitor Varanus glebopalma


Zigzag Velvet Gecko Amalosia rhombifer


King's Dtella Gehyra koira


Bynoe's Gecko Heteronotia binoei


Northern Marbled Velvet Gecko Oedura marmorata


Toadlet sp. Uperoleia sp.


Children's Python Antaresia childreni


Children's Python Antaresia childreni


Northern Small-eyed Snake Cryptophis pallidiceps


Freshwater Crocodile Crocodylus johnstoni


Olive Python Liasis olivaceus


Macleay's Water Snake Pseudoferania polylepis


Black-headed Python Aspidites melanocephalus


Black-headed Python Aspidites melanocephalus


Black-headed Python Aspidites melanocephalus

And then it was time to say goodbye to the guys. While I knew I would probably miss out on Pig-nosed Turtle Carettochelys insculpta and other cool species, I just had to try to go find that n° 2, Green Tree Python.


a few…

CHAPTER 2 – Northeastern Queensland

Allowing ample time, I had booked 7 nights at the amazing Greenhoose at Lockhart River, which would then be followed by a single final night near Cairns. I was anxious to find out if I was going to succeed in turning up a green python, all by myself and during the driest part of a dry year. The 'you will get one' support of many did not help in keeping the pressure in check.

Because rains (although usually hitting rather from December onwards) can rule out driving from Cairns into the Iron Range, I had decided to fly in to Lockhart River. At the airport, I was met by friendly car rental guy Paul Piva. I immediately loved the away-from-it-all vibe of this place. I can only imagine what the rainforest must have looked like before cyclone Terrence made a lot of the larger trees fall earlier this year, but this was still a stunning place. Down the road, Chilli Beach is also very beautiful, and that's coming from someone with not a lot of love for beaches.

My daily routine would focus on herping nights, roadcruising during the first few hours of the night and then hiking along the forest edge and near creeks. Daytime was used for some early morning hikes, while the hottest part of the day was used to get some sleep. This place was quite a different world from the parts of the country I had seen so far, so of course I soon found quite a number of new species. Frog highlights were the large White-lipped Tree Frog Litoria infrafrenata and the Cape York Graceful Tree Frog Litoria bella.














Schmeltz's Rainbow Skink Carlia schmeltzii


Striped Snake-eyed Skink Cryptoblepharus virgatus


Northern Tree Snake Dendrelaphis calligastra


Northern Tree Snake Dendrelaphis calligastra


Brown-headed Snake Furina tristis


Giant Tree Gecko Pseudothecadactylus australis


Australian Wood Frog Hylarana daemeli


Green Tree Frog Litoria caerulea


White-lipped Tree Frog Litoria infrafrenata


Cape York Graceful Tree Frog Litoria bella


Orange-naped Snake Furina ornata


Spotted Python Antaresia maculosa


Spotted Python Antaresia maculosa


Spotted Python Antaresia maculosa

Snakes turned up irregularly but steadily, with the third night standing out with 10 snakes. Those 10 started off with a first Scrub Python Simalia kinghorni shown to me by Susie Adamczyk who I met spotlighting the roadsides. Susie would become very helpful for planning the remainder of my trip later on. I went on to find three more scrubbies that night.


Scrub Python Simalia kinghorni


Scrub Python Simalia kinghorni


Scrub Python Simalia kinghorni


Scrub Python Simalia kinghorni


Scrub Python Simalia kinghorni


Brown Tree Snake Boiga irregularis

By the time snake movement on the road seemed to be slowing down, I was thinking of going to bed, as the previous all-nighters were starting to take their toll on me. But hey, that green boy wasn't going to find itself. First, I went a bit wilder, trying to find a hiking trail the cyclone had obscured. Don't ask me why. Other than getting lost and losing a lot of sweat, this was not getting me anywhere herp-wise. So back to hiking roadsides. Maybe just a few kms and then off to bed. It was only night n°3 after all, still 4 left to reach total exhaustion. So, I started again scanning branches and sticks, spotlighting into the vegetation as far as I could. After only a short while, very close to the ground and right next to the road, there it was! Coiled up so beautifully... What an absolute gem of a snake! I couldn't believe I had actually succeeded in my crazy plan to hit both Auz top species in a single trip. This is about as good as herping gets. Unreal!


Green Tree Python Morelia viridis


Green Tree Python Morelia viridis


Green Tree Python Morelia viridis


Green Tree Python Morelia viridis


Green Tree Python Morelia viridis


Green Tree Python Morelia viridis

The next few days I could slowly and steadily add a few more species, failing however repeatedly at monitor spotting- maybe not my thing somehow... Chatting with Susie, who is highly knowledgeable on the wildlife of northern Queensland, made me leave wonderful Lockhart River earlier, as there was a bunch of cool species waiting for me near Cairns. So, I changed the 7 + 1 night plan to a 5 + 3 plan. First, after finding my green snake target, I still had two days to enjoy Lockhart River some more. What a great place, including splendid accommodation at the Greenhoose! One late morning, while driving to the boat ramp for maybe a basking salty, a big Northern Blue-tongue Tiliqua scincoides was sitting on the road. Amazing creature, with the funniest threat display!





Black-tailed Bar-lipped Skink Glaphyromorphus nigricaudis





Northern Blue-tongue Tiliqua scincoides


Northern Blue-tongue Tiliqua scincoides


Northern Blue-tongue Tiliqua scincoides

At sunset on my final day in the Iron Range, I first went to a coastal site to flip some tin. Flipped as much as I could, hoping to be at least lucky enough to see a large highly venomous snake take off like an arrow, while having no clue how to dance with it for photos and be safe. I discovered my snake hook was missing, so drove after dark back to Chilli Beach, to check for my hook where I had parked the car earlier that day. Not the plan, as I meant to focus on jungle cruising for my last night in Lockhart River. It got to 8 or 8:30 pm without a single snake. Slow night. Then, finally a big animal on the road. Can only be another Scrub Python. I thought. But hey, this one looks damn shiny... Too my total and full surprise, a 2m plus Coastal Taipan Oxyuranus scutellatus! I couldn't believe my luck! Maybe because it was dark, I could even take some pictures without the snake shooting off. What an impressive creature! I remember thinking how the alert way it moves gives away that this is an intelligent predator, although that little piece of anthropomorphism may have been fed by my emotions at the time. Well, sure left Lockhart River with a bang!


Coastal Taipan Oxyuranus scutellatus


Coastal Taipan Oxyuranus scutellatus


Coastal Taipan Oxyuranus scutellatus

The next day, I flew back to Cairns, picked up a car and hit a jungle spot after nightfall.







Soon, I found some new frogs and two large and wonderful gecko species - the ground-dwelling Chameleon Gecko Carphodactylus laevis and, glued to the trees, Northern Leaf-tailed Gecko Saltuarius cornutus. I was surprised to see how big and slow-moving both species are. It got very late when I explored some more creek habitat, finding more frogs, with Lace-lid Frog Litoria dayi as my favourite. I decided to sleep in the car, although that didn't go too well.


Green-eyed Tree Frog Litoria serrata


Chameleon Gecko Carphodactylus laevis


Chameleon Gecko Carphodactylus laevis


Jungguy Frog Litoria jungguy


Northern Leaf-tailed Gecko Saltuarius cornutus


Northern Leaf-tailed Gecko Saltuarius cornutus


Northern Leaf-tailed Gecko Saltuarius cornutus


Common Mist Frog Litoria rheocola


Czechura's Shade Skink Saproscincus czechurai


Jungguy Frog Litoria jungguy


Australian Lace-lid Frog Litoria dayi


Australian Lace-lid Frog Litoria dayi


Australian Lace-lid Frog Litoria dayi

In daytime, I quite easily found Boyd's Forest Dragon Hypsilurus boydii and (via another boat ride) Water Dragon Intellagama lesueurii at Lake Barrine.


Boyd's Forest Dragon Hypsilurus boydii in habitat


Boyd's Forest Dragon Hypsilurus boydii


Boyd's Forest Dragon Hypsilurus boydii


Boyd's Forest Dragon Hypsilurus boydii











Scrub Python Simalia kinghorni


Water Dragon Intellagama lesueurii

Given the little time I had left, I decided to focus on finding a Carpet Python Morelia spilota. After three frustrating DORs, I finally managed to find a stunning individual of the beautiful local subspecies on my very last night in Australia. With this final stroke of luck, my trip got a fitting and splendid conclusion.


Pink-tongued Skink Cyclodomorphus gerrardii


Slaty-grey Snake Stegonotus cucullatus - by far the most restless snake species of the trip


Northern Dwarf Crowned Snake Cacophis churchilli


Scrub Python Simalia kinghorni


Scrub Python Simalia kinghorni


Carpet Python Morelia spilota


Carpet Python Morelia spilota


Carpet Python Morelia spilota


Carpet Python Morelia spilota

After all the driving, just for fun, I had to add a little waterfall climb for the weird and very shy Waterfall Frog Litoria nannotis, but then it really was game over.


Waterfall Frog Litoria nannotis


What an absolutely mind-blowing trip it has been... Even without rain, I got to see practically all the species I hoped to see and so much more. I am now deeply in love with this ridiculously stunning country.




Species list







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Last update: November 19, 2019 11:20:04