Aprasia action

Last week I jumped away for a couple of nights with Owen Lishmund and Dan Ashdown up to the North-west of Victoria to search for the breeding Ground Cuckoo-shrike and a number of reptile species, in particular the very range restricted in Victoria – De Vis’s Banded Snake (or Mud Adder as I like to call it) We headed off at a respectable hour stopping off at Mount Korong for the fossorial skink Hemiergis decresiensis or Western Three-toed Skink at a site Dan knew and he quickly found one. A new reptile but one that is hard to be too excited about. After a lunch stop at the over-hyped bakery at Wycheproof we hit up Lake Tyrell looking for dragons without much success. Its amazing the development that has been done here for the tourists that come for the salt lake experience – I think I preferred the old rutted tracks and isolation to be honest.

Hemiergis decresiensis

Hemiergis decresiensis

From there we went into the Northern part of Wyperfeld to look for the recently nesting Ground Cuckoo-shrikes – these are normally an extremely rare visitor to Victoria and an even rarer breeder. They were first reported during lockdown in Melbourne which was painful but had stuck around to raise two broods so were still here. We started by seeing two distant adults but then had no fewer than seven birds very close as both broods now mobile and seemingly reasonably curious – very different to how I have seen them elsewhere! This was a new Victorian bird for me and I was a little bit excited! We didn’t want to bother them too much so took a couple of happy snaps in the harsh light of day then left. This was my closest and longest view of the species despite having seen now in every mainland state and the NT previously.

Ground Cuckoo-shrike

Ground Cuckoo-shrike

Ground Cuckoo-shrike

Ground Cuckoo-shrike

Near the edge of Wyperfeld we poked around a couple of bush blocks where Dan again turned up the goods with an Aprasia under a log atop an ant’s nest. Aprasia are small, worm-like members of the Pygopodidae (Legless Lizard) family that feed on and live amongst ant colonies – this one was about the size and thickness of a HB pencil (if that). Owen and Dan were immediately very excited – firstly because we had found an Aprasia which are rarely seen and secondly because if was the rare and range restricted Aprasia aurita or Mallee Worm-lizard which is only known from a handful of locations in Victoria and one in South Australia. Based on atlas records it does look like we found a new site. Only 18 months ago I had never seen a Legless Lizard of any description and now I have seven species under the belt.

Aprasia aurita

Aprasia aurita

Aprasia aurita

Aprasia aurita

We were on a bit of a high as we left towards Mildura but unfortunately I had to euthanize a badly injured Eastern Brown Snake on the road which dampened everything. We picked up supplies (and beer) in Mildura before heading out NW towards a billabong where we were going to search for the snake this evening. De Vis’s Snake was only found in Victoria in the last 20 years and is restricted to the very NW part of the state where it nocturnally hunts frogs. After a good steak and a couple of beers we headed out quickly picking up a couple of gecko species which seemed promising. But an ill cool wind blew up and we searched for many hours without result before retiring to bed. There were a few frogs around but things seemed to go very quiet after an hour or so as the temperature dropped away. We were a bit late rolling out bed as we cruised around on a relaxing day. Starting with a morning coffee and bacon at Cullulleraine we did finally see some live Eastern Brown Snakes and then Eulamprus quoyii or Eastern Water Skink which again only just creeps into Victoria here – this is a big unit and significantly larger than its southern cousins. After poking around along the Murray we went south into Murray-Sunset which was quiet in the heat of the day.

Back at the billabong the evening temperature was significantly higher and as dark fell and we ventured out we felt much more positive with at least 5 bats on detector, geckos up and about and insects teaming. Down around the billabong there were many, many frogs up and about so we thought for sure there must be predators about. But after a number of hours of searching we had to give up again. back at camp we had a couple more beers to commiserate before planning the next visit. Unfortunately the next morning we had to get up and head for home – stopping to bird in a few likely spots on the way home. Mud Adder is now in the same pot as Long-footed Potoroo – time to go try for again ASAP. Still with the Aprasia and Ground Cuckoo-shrike this was a very successful trip and looking forward to heading out with Dan and Owen again soon.

Lymnodynastes fletcheri

Lymnodynastes fletcheri

Litoria spenceri – a frog expedition

Those of you who read my posts (this one is a few weeks late) would know I am a great supporter of the formation of a Great Forest Park in the Central Highlands around Melbourne. I have spent many nights out observing, recording and photographing some of the key species that make these forest home including Leadbeater’s Possum and Sooty Owl. One species that is considered a key endangered species found in the proposed area that I had not seen is the Spotted Tree Frog – Litoria spenceri. This endangered frog was never common and has declined and disappeared in many of its rocky mountain stream habitats due to a combination of Chytrid fungus, habitat degradation and potentially competition from introduced trout. A friend had suggested a few areas it was worth a try for this species so Scott Baker and I decided to go for a look. I think it is fair to say that I was unaware of just how much it had declined in other parts of its range ahead of this mini expedition. We picked up another friend Susan Myers and headed up to the Rubicon State Forest near Eildon for a bit of late afternoon birding and exploration.

Litoria spenceri - habitat

Litoria spenceri – habitat

Litoria spenceri - habitat

Litoria spenceri – habitat

It was a lovely area of state forest bordering Eildon National Park with a nice mixed understory and decent canopy. A baby Tiger Snake was a good distraction as we setup camp and feasted on a Ploughman’s dinner with a couple of beers. On dark we wandered up the road and almost immediately heard a Litoria spenceri calling from the creek below. These creeks are regularly fished by trout fishermen so it was relatively easy to get down to the river for a look. Very quickly we found a frog perched up on a rock in the stream which was found to be a Spotted Tree Frog! great success and only 10 minutes of looking. This frog jumped in the water and swam strongly away but soon after we found another which allowed a number of photos. Aware of the threat of Chytrid fungus we at no time handled or got close to the frogs photographing them in situ. We spent the next couple of hours wandering up and down some streams and rivers and found perhaps a half a dozen frogs and heard more.

Spotted Tree Frog - Litoria spenceri

Spotted Tree Frog – Litoria spenceri

Spotted Tree Frog - Litoria spenceri

Spotted Tree Frog – Litoria spenceri

Spotted Tree Frog - Litoria spenceri

Spotted Tree Frog – Litoria spenceri

Spotted Tree Frog - Litoria spenceri

Spotted Tree Frog – Litoria spenceri

These are beautiful little frogs with a very cool range of colours although were often hard to spot calling from thick vegetation. Further spotlighting away from the rivers produced a range of common forest bat species, three glider species (Yellow-bellied, Greater and Sugar) and several Boobook owls. We ended up clocking off relatively early for a spotlighting night after a few more beers and a chat. Up early the next morning we did a bit of birding – of interest we heard the frogs calling in a number places from the road during the day. A very successful expedition in 24 hours door to door. It was only after returning home I realised just how rare this frog now is but seems to be persisting quite well in this area which is close to roads and well visited by trout fishermen. Yet another reason to declare these forest a Great Forest Park #GFNP

Rubicon State Forest

Rubicon State Forest