Sullivan Rock Herping

I have been wanting to go out herping in the colder weather for a while now.  It’s a good time when reptiles can be found brumating (the reptile version of hibernating) and can be quite sluggish giving good views up close.

Jimmy was again game to join me with my 4 year old son and we managed to pick a beautiful clear winters day, but with some rain looming in the evening.  We headed out at midday with Liam enjoying the car trip.

Liam enjoying an audio book on the trip out

We headed to Sullivan Rock on Albany Hwy in Mt Cooke – it’s where the Bibbulmun  track crosses the highway and there is a good sized car park.  We crossed the road following the track where it crosses Sullivan Rock.

As we got to the rock we headed East to get to some areas where we thought less people would visit.  Along the way we lifted rocks looking for reptiles – always carefully placing the rock back in exactly the same spot to minimise disturbance.  Many rocky outcrops in the Perth Hills have been damaged with people taking rocks for their gardens, rock cairns being built, vehicles driven on the rocks damaging habitat and rocks just generally being moved.  Many living things use the rocks as habitat – so they must be treated with care.

The first reptile we found was a Barking gecko (Underwoodisaurus milii).  This is a pretty cool gecko that, when threatened, will raise its whole body up on its legs and ‘bark’ like a small dog.  This one was pretty sluggish and ambled off underneath another rock.

Barking gecko @ Sullivan Rock

The next thing we found was a scorpion under a rock – Liam was very keen to touch but we had to insist it was a bad idea!

We enjoyed a picnic lunch on the rock and then kept looking.  There was quite a lot of water seeping down the rock but we didn’t find any frogs under the wet rocks or in some of the rock pools.

We found a couple of small skinks that moved off too quickly to ID or photograph.

We then found a family of Ornate crevice dragons (Ctenophorus ornatus) – there was one larger with three smaller.  Three of them dashed off to another rock but one just sat there, pretty much motionless.

We then headed for home – pleased we had found 3-4 species of reptiles and really giving Liam a good nature experience.  He loved his time and had been so good clambering over the rocks.  He was pretty tired after this and got a few Zzz’s in the car on the way home!

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Rock-wallabies of the Wheatbelt and Frogs that go hoot!

I had been planning for a while to take my 4 year old son Liam to see Black-flanked Rock-wallaby (Petrogale lateralis) in the wheatbelt.  My friend Jimmy had seen them about a month ago – so I had good information that it would be ok to take my son.  Also Jimmy was game to join us – its a 2.5hr drive each way with some walking in the reserve and then rock clambering.  My son was so excited to come – he had been asking only days prior if we were going to see rock-wallabies!

Our destination was Mount Caroline Nature Reserve – one of about half a dozen sites where the rock-wallaby can be found in the wheatbelt.  The rocky outcrops where they live are surrounded by crop fields, so they have become islands in a desert of habitat.  They can also be found in a number of locations across WA and also SA/NT in the central region.

We left at noon, taking a lunch break in York.  We then drove the rest of the way arriving about 3pm, parked up and walked into a habitat corridor that joins the reserve with Gardner Rd.

I had to carry Liam some of the way but once we hit the rocky outcrop he was off and away!  We soon spotted Ornate crevice dragons (Ctenophorus ornatus) scurrying quickly on the rocks.  It was a day with some cloud cover so we hoped the wallabies might be out a little earlier than dusk.

Ornate crevice dragon @ Mt Caroline NR

The rocks had amazing structures – with lots of erosion seen on the boulders and rock-wallaby scat seen inside the caves.

Granite boulder @ Mt Caroline NR

We walked to the top of the rock advising Liam that he needed to be quiet – but he was also very excited!  He threw little rocks off the top even after we said it would scare the wallabies away.  Jimmy did a little recce in front and sighted a Euro (Macropus robustus) dashing off into cover, out of view.  I didn’t see it and the outcrop is classic habitat for them, but not often seen.

Liam with Jimmy @ Mt Caroline NR

Liam was super confident on the rocks but, as his Dad, he had me a little worried….. he clambered everywhere with no fear!  As we got to the top of the rocks and peaked over the Western face we saw our first wallaby dash away – too quick for a photo.  We then saw another jump away and sit on a rock a ways off.  Liam saw this one and was very pleased!

Black-flanked rock-wallaby @ Mt Caroline NR

Jimmy spotted 3 wallabies just over the drop at a feeding station which must be maintained by DBCA (old DPAW) but they had scattered by the time Liam & I got into a viewing location.

Feeding station @ Mt Caroline NR

We started to see more wallabies as it got closer to sunset.  They can be quite skittish and you need to be quiet and not make sudden movements.  The animals know every cave and crevice and can disappear in an instant.

Liam really enjoyed himself – but see the fly net – there were plenty of flies around!  He  also enjoyed pointing out scat in amongst the rocks.

I was finding it a little hard to take photos while keeping Liam safe on the rocks so Jimmy kindly looked after him while I went for a solo explore.  They clambered up a big boulder and chilled.

I had some lovely views of a red-capped robin and grey butcherbird calling.

The sun was beginning to set and it was a lovely view from the top of the rock.

Sunset @ Mt Caroline NR

I then spotted a rock-wallaby sitting on really steep rock face – just glued to the side of the rock.

Black-flanked rock-wallaby @ Mt Caroline NR

Their feet and paws are ideal for gaining grip on the granite rock faces.  The below photo series shows just how dexterous they are.

The light was beginning to fade so we headed back towards the car.  Hard to say how many wallabies were sighted as they may have been repeats – I guess maybe 5-8 perhaps?

Mt Caroline NR from the West

On the way out we could see that the wallabies do get away from the rock and head into the farmers crop by the tracks under one of the fences.

Rock-wallaby tracks under a fence @ Mt Caroline NR

We got back and the light was dropping rapidly – we had a quick picnic dinner and started to head for home.  We had half a plan if it rained to see if we could find some frogs in Chidlow and Liam was keen.  The weather was coming in and we drove through a few rain bands – so that was promising for frogs.  Jimmy had seen Hooting frogs (Heleioporus barycragus) in Avonholme Circle, Chidlow during April (previously after rain).

This was one of my target species for the year so we took the opportunity.  We walked along the dry river bed but no calling was heard – it took about 10mins but we soon picked up the first frog by eyeshine in the spotlight and then found another.

We also found a couple of Western Banjo or Pobblebonk frogs (Limnodynastes dorsalis) – they are recognisable by their central vertebral line and red colouration around the thigh area.

We then found a third Hooting frog which was the most attractive of the 3 found – solid front legs and diagnostic yellow colouration on the flanks.

Hooting frog @ Chidlow

Finally it was time to head for home, getting back at 10:30pm – way too late for a 4 year old – but an amazing adventure for all!  So many new things for Liam, a new frog for me and Jimmy with the patience of a saint to allow me to bring my son!