Tuesday, 10 September 2013

North Queensland Trip, Part 1.

Eungella National Park


Eungella National Park location;
Image courtesy of Google Maps.
My home state of Queensland is a huge place. Bigger than any of the United States, it is considered the sixth largest sub-national entity in the world, behind such remote provinces as Nunavut in Canada, and the Danish territory of Greenland. Though I've lived in and travelled through Europe and Canada, much of my birthplace remains a mystery to me. To rectify this situation, I planned a road-tripping holiday this year with my sister and her partner, in the Northern section of the state. My first visit to anywhere in the Tropics, I have since returned home with some of the most amazing wildlife experiences possible!

Our first leg of the road trip saw us drive six hours to spend the night with our Dad in the mining town of Calliope, just outside of Gladstone. The next day, another six hour journey was needed to reach our destination of Finch Hatton, in the Mackay Hinterlands. We pitched our tents in  'Platypus Bush Camp', a creekside property owned by the no-nonsense 'Wazza' and patrolled by his dog, 'Dog'. It is an incredibly beautiful location.

Platypus Bush Camp, Finch Hatton Creek

It didn't take long for the local wildlife to come out of hiding, with Long-nosed Bandicoots (Perameles nasuta) hopping through the undergrowth beside us as we assembled our tents in the evening. There were plenty of these marsupials around the campsite, in all sizes and ages. The key to their breeding success is an incredibly fast gestation period of 12 days - the female bandicoot pretty much gives birth to an embryo that does most of its growing in her pouch. Fifty days later, the breeding cycle starts all over again! Mostly though, I'll remember them for their cheeky personalities as they hopped around the campfire, looking for crumbs.

On an early walk around the property the next morning, I had fleeting glimpses of an Emerald Dove (Chalcophaps indica), as well as this Brown Cuckoo-Dove (Macropygia amboinensis).

Brown Cuckoo-Dove, Finch Hatton

On a roadside near the camp, I almost stepped on this beautiful Four O'clock Moth (Dysphania fenestrata).

Four O'clock Moth, Finch Hatton

North Queensland has quite a large number of day-flying moths, many of which rival butterflies in their beauty. This particular species is named for the time of day it is most commonly seen in summer.

Finch Hatton Gorge; Photo by Lana Perrin
A mid-morning walk in the nearby National Park proved very rewarding. Encompassing several different areas in the Eungella Range, we chose the Finch Hatton Gorge section so that we could refresh ourselves with an icy swim after an uphill 4km walk. The track passes through closed forest that is home to beautiful birds like the Wompoo Fruit-Dove (Ptilinopus magnificus) and the Spectacled Monarch (Monarcha trivirgatus). 

On a moss-covered sunlit boulder, I spotted a Lemon-barred Forest-Skink (Eulamprus amplus). Restricted to just a few localities in the surrounding mountain ranges, I believe this is the rarest species I encountered on my holiday.

Lemon-barred Forest-Skink, Finch Hatton Gorge

Not far away, the skink would have done well to avoid a patrolling Lace Monitor (Varanus varius). Growing up to 2.1 metres long, this massive reptile is one of the apex predators of the Gorge, using its sharp talons to tear into nests, burrows and shelters to eat the inhabitants inside.

Lace Monitor, Finch Hatton Gorge. Main photo by Lana Perrin

Walking back down the track after a swim, the tropical sun lured another reptile out of hiding, this time a Common Tree Snake (Dendrelaphis punctulatus). If this beautiful, friendly and non-venomous species doesn't convert you into being a snake fan, then nothing will!

Common Tree Snake, Finch Hatton Gorge

Broken River; INSET: Saw-shelled Turtle and Long-finned Eel
Later that afternoon, we drove up the steep range to the township of Eungella, which offered fantastic views back to the Mackay coast. Ten minutes further in the car saw us arrive at the Broken River section of the National Park, where we hoped to see one of the world's most unusual animals. Arriving at the prime viewing location, we were immediately impressed by the array of river wildlife on display, including many Saw-shelled Turtles (Wollumbinia latisternum) and a large and curious Long-finned Eel (Anguilla reinhardtii).

And then we saw it - a Platypus!

Platypus, Broken River

Known to scientists as Ornithorhynchus anatinus, the Platypus is as puzzling now as when it was first discovered (and initially dismissed as a hoax). The most obvious physical anomaly is the duck-like bill, except it's nothing like a duck's bill at all. Not only is it pliable and rubbery, the bill is also an electro-magnetic receiver that can pick up the slightest pulse from worms and shrimps under the water. The Platypus is also famous for being one of only two mammals in the world to lay eggs - the other is its relative, the Echidna. To top off all the strangeness, the males of this appealingly cute creature are highly venomous, developing a fighting spur on their hind legs as they mature. In theory, you should be more scared of the Platypus than the Tree Snake!

Platypus and Saw-shelled Turtle, Broken River
Personally, I did not overly dwell on these facts as I watched the little guy below me. I was more enthralled by its diving behaviour, as it surfaced and submerged over and over again with frantic little wriggles of its feet and body. It seemed to be very aware of us spectators on the viewing platform, yet went about its business confidently, which is a sign that it is not interfered with by National Park visitors. Getting acquainted with this one-of-a-kind species was definitely a holiday highlight for me and my travelling companions!

Less pleasant was dealing with the creepy-crawlies back at the camp. The toilet block came alive both nights with Brown Huntsman Spiders (Heteropoda species) and Crickets, including this Penalva species.

King Cricket, Finch Hatton

A walk around the property with a spotlight revealed a Common Brushtail Possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) of the dark-orange Northern variety. Down by the creek, the water teemed with long-armed Macrobrachium Shrimps that nimbly avoided the beam of light needed to take a photo. A sleeping Purple-spotted Gudgeon (Mogurnda adspersa) proved a more stationary photography subject.

Purple-spotted Gudgeon, Finch Hatton

Back at the camp, one last toilet stop went well, with a friend to protect me from the spiders.

Green Tree Frog (Litoria caerulea), Finch Hatton

The next morning, we packed up our tents and set off for Airlie Beach, where the adventure continued!


12 comments:

  1. what a great set of photos! the dove is really amazing. the snake is beautiful. the bandicoots and platypus would be fantastic sights. enjoyed the skinks and monitor as well!

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    1. Thank you, I'm glad that you enjoyed so many of the photos! It's funny that the Dove is so appealing - it's a plain bird but I guess its dimensions are unusual?

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  2. so many beautiful things to see on this post Christian; what a lovely holiday you had. A buzz to sea the platypus, and I loved your photo of the cuckoo-dove; I saw one for myself for the very first time only a couple weeks back but couldn't get such a clear snapshot like you did. The lace monitor was fabulous as too is the lovely tree snake

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    1. Thanks Carole, yes it was an amazing time. The wildlife is just so plentiful and bold up in the tropics! I like the Cuckoo-Dove too - it's the only rainforest pigeon that can offer even a slightly reasonable view. I saw Wompoo and Superb Fruit-Doves and they were backlit in distant canopies with leaves half hiding them every time. So frustrating, but such is the challenge of our hobby! :)

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  3. Hey Christian thanks for the comments and hope we see u again ...Wazza Platypus Bushcamp

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    1. Thanks Wazza, if I'm up in Eungella again, you can count on it!

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  4. Fantastic post Christian. That moth is so beautiful - what a great picture. I'm really enjoying your trip with you, without actually having to camp with the scary spiders - thank you!

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    1. Haha, thanks! I must admit, even as a lover of all things wildlife, those spiders scared me! And yes, I was very taken with that moth's beauty too!

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  5. Great shots of the platypus! I hope to get some in a couple of weeks.

    There is a type of Brushtail that occurs "up north" called the Coppery Brushtail (some classify just as a sub- species of the Grey Rascal!) - so that could be what you were seeing!

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

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    1. Thanks Stewart, yes I just read up about that Brushtail and my field guide says it's a subspecies, but it really didn't act like the Brushtails I know. It was solitary, VERY shy and remained in the tops of distant rainforest trees, watching me the whole time. I wouldn't be surprised if further down the track, it gets full species status!

      Good luck with your Platypus spotting - one of the most amazing wildlife encounters I've ever had!

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  6. HI Chris what a wonderful trip with interesting things found. Photograpahy is wonderful and I love that Moth. Well rally they are are great.

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    1. Thanks Margaret, I'm just glad I didn't tread on the little guy! :)

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