Last weekend I went to the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. It has been known to be among the top ten least visited national parks. Mostly because it is in a region of the USA that is rarely part of a destination trip for most travelers. I did not go to summit the highest peak in Texas, I went to the see the salt basin dunes. It was a tough hike in triple digit heat, but I maintain that it was worth it
This last weekend the Texas Herpetological Society (THS) had a split field trip. Some of the members went to Big Bend Ranch State Park. Other members, including myself, went to Dalquest Desert Research Station (DDRS). The lower age limit is 18 for visitors and researchers using DDRS facilities, this is why the field trip was split, so those who wanted to bring younger THS members could still find a place to gather and look for reptiles and amphibians. What follows are some of the pictures that I took of the landscape, flora and fauna, and my beloved 4runner.
On New Years Eve day I took a day trip with my wife to Ellery Creek Water Hole in the West MacDonnell Ranges National Park. With the last jolt of energy from my camera’s battery I managed to capture the following images of a long-nosed water dragon (Lophignathus longirostris) that captured and ate a cockroach. These lizards are abundant and easy to observe at Ellery Creek.
On November 19th rain was in the forecast and it has rained off and on since November 20th. Prior to the storms I placed three rain gauges around Uluru; One 500 meters due north, one 500 meters due south, and one 500 meters due east of the base Uluru. I have checked the rain gauges after every rain shower, and to date roughly 50mm (nearly 2 inches) of rain has fallen on Uluru. On November 24th and 28th roughly 10mm of rain fell in just a few hours during the evening. That’s enough to encourage the frogs to exhume themselves from beneath the sandy soils of Uluru Kata-Tjuta National Park. After these rain showers I spend most of my day at water holes at the base of Uluru. However, after dark, the National Park is closed to the public. Other than a handful of park staff returning home from trips to the grocery store, the roads are totally free of traffic. Two nights ago I drove back and forth on a roughly 10km stretch of road, here’s some of what I saw.
Neobatrachus sutor – Shoemaker Frog-There were also hundreds of these out on the road.
Notaden nichollsi – Desert Spadefoot – This frog was the main reason I was out driving around. When I was working here from December through May I only saw one of these guys and I didn’t have my camera at the time. When I was out on the 28th I found a couple dozen of these guys. Compared to the other two species, these frogs have attitudes. The other frogs sit calmly while you take their picture, and if you pick them up to reposition them for a better shot, they generally cooperate. However this frog continuously turns its back on the camera, and usually just before the shot is clicked off. The second image is what they do when they are irritated by the cameraman; they puff up their body, pull their legs in and exude a white sticky fluid that is pretty difficult to wash off. Overall I think they are pretty handsome frogs, that is, when they choose not to manifest their irritation with the photographer, .
Diplodactylus conspiculatus – Fat Tail Gecko – There were lots of these running across the road, and for awhile I ignored them as I see them pretty regularly. I got out to investigate one though, and noticed the water that was beaded up on it’s head and back, so I did my best to get a good photo. I’m generally a bad photographer, but this image came out alright.
Tiliqua multifasciata – Centralian Blue Tongue – There are two species of blue tongue lizards in the park. When I was here from December to May of this year I saw a few of the Western Blue Tongue Lizards, but could not find the other species. This lizard has been very high on my “want to see it” list since my arrival to Australia over a year ago. I nearly always stop to investigate roadkill; this guy was laying belly up when I pulled over to investigate. As I approached it, I said to myself “please don’t be what I think it is”, and then I yelled “Dammit!” as I flipped it over. It must have been hit by a tourist or tourist bus leaving the park just after sunset, as it was laying in the outgoing lane and I had not seen a single car go by for a couple of hours. Roadkill is always interesting, but I prefer critters to be alive the first time I see them. Luckily I saw a lively one crossing the road less than 15 minutes after taking a drive to the grocery store on the evening of the 29th.
I saw two snakes while I was driving, but I was only able to get a photo of one
Simoselaps fasciolatus – Narrow-banded Snake – A very small and very attractive snake.
I only photographed the amphibians and reptiles that were on the road; even then, I didn’t photography two roadkill Moloch horridus (Thorny Devils) that I saw. I also neglected to photograph any of the hundreds of centipedes or orthopterans (grasshoppers, crickets and katydids) that were sitting on the roads. Both the centipedes and the orthopterans that I saw were impressively large and they seemed to be feeding on their roadkill counterparts, which is gruesomely cool. When it rains in the desert, there’s a lot going on, and it’s impossible to take it all in.