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Reflections on the Cooloola BioBlitz


In May earlier this year, I had the honour of being invited to participate in the Cooloola BioBlitz as a Team Leader. Over the course of a weekend, I led two groups of lovely people around various sites near Rainbow Beach, searching for and identifying as many life forms as we could find. These sightings were then uploaded to iNaturalist in order to paint a full picture of the biodiversity occurring on the Cooloola Coast. Here I will share some of the highlights from the weekend!

MISTLETOES

Both groups I took out into the bush found amazing mistletoes! The most stunning of them all was a long-flowered mistletoe (Dendrophthoe vitellina) parasitising a paperbark, which then had two other species of mistletoe on it—a layer cake of parasitism! With the help of LaTrobe Natural History lecturer Gregg Müller, those two species were identified as the leafless jointed mistletoe (Viscum articulatum) and the golden mistletoe (Notothixos subaureus). It was such a fascinating find that I returned with the next day’s group as well, but we also found a beautiful mistletoe at Inskip Point which targets the grey mangrove. Called Amyema mackayensis, it is an uncommon species in South-east Queensland.


MARINE WETLANDS

Having been one of the last Team Leaders brought on to the project, I looked at what the other groups would and wouldn’t be surveying and decided to “fill a gap” by taking my group to the sheltered marine shores nearby.

On Saturday, we found a population of mudskippers at Bullock Point, risking their lives on the mudflats under the watchful eye of a kingfisher. At the time, I thought they were silverlined mudskippers (Periophthalmus argentilineatus), but a careful review of my photographs later indicated they were actually slender mudskippers (P. gracilis). As mudskippers are essentially tropical creatures, keeping track of their southernmost distribution limits in Australia may be informative for climate change purposes.


Sunday’s group of naturalists were treated to a ramble along the shores of Inskip Point. One of my favourite sightings there was of a beautiful shrub growing amongst the mangroves. It too was a mangrove, just one that I’d never seen before, called the myrtle mangrove (Osbornia octodonta). As the name suggests, it is more closely related to the eucalypts than it is to other more familiar mangroves, but it is adapted to a semi-aquatic marine lifestyle nevertheless. The Cooloola coast forms the southernmost limit of its distribution in Australia.

GOPRO SURVEYING

One activity which both groups really seemed to enjoy was surveying the underwater life at Seary’s Creek using a GoPro. Lowering the camera into the tannin-stained waters below the viewing decks, I obtained video of the different fish and invertebrate species present at the site, and then reviewed the footage with the group after. Highlights from this are in the video below.


INSECTS

After arriving at the BioBlitz on Friday afternoon, I headed out with a nocturnal frog survey team as a guest participant. In between searching for frogs, I scoured the sandy wallum tracks for other small creatures and found an inland ringtail (Austrolestes aridus). This small arid-country damselfly has not been recorded from Gympie and the surrounding regions before, at least according to the iNaturalist and ALA websites anyway. Damian White, Narelle Power and Chris Burwell comment in their excellent dragonfly publication that while previously considered a rare vagrant to South-east Queensland, this species appears to be establishing permanent populations. This story is one that has played out before with various bird species as well—there was a time when crested pigeons and galahs were not a common sight east of the Great Dividing Range either.


Another interesting insect was seen with Saturday’s survey group. It was a leaf beetle called Eurispa vittata, and it was found at Seary’s Creek on its food plant, the red-fruited saw-sedge (Gahnia sieberiana). Fellow BioBlitz participant Tony Eales and I have both noticed that SEQ populations of this beetle lack the white-bordered pronotum trim that southern populations seem to show. It is possible then that this is a different, undescribed species of beetle occurring in the region, and future surveys in the area should ideally capture and preserve specimens for expert examination.

BIRDS

Although the focus of a BioBlitz is usually on smaller, more cryptic forms of life, as a more ‘generalist’ survey group, I knew that people would also appreciate some good quality bird sightings. On the first day, we encountered large numbers of scarlet honeyeaters (Myzomela sanguinolenta) at Seary’s Creek that were taking advantage of flowering paperbarks. They allowed a fairly close approach and therefore some great photographic opportunities also. Interestingly, they were almost completely absent at the same location the next day, perhaps due to windier conditions. That day’s group was nevertheless treated to the spectacle of witnessing topknot pigeon (Lopholaimus antarcticus) flocks traverse the coastal waters off Inskip Point.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I would sincerely like to thank the Cooloola BioBlitz, including all organisers, sponsors and associated organisations, for hosting such a wonderful event. I am very honoured to have been invited to take part in it and extend a massive thank you to Maria Miller and Lindy Orwin for the opportunity. To each of the people that I met there, especially all the lovely people I spent my days out in the bush with, thank you for your wonderful company, and I hope you all enjoyed yourselves as much as I did! 


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