Day 1- Reptiles

After the airplane adventure to get to Canberra my real adventure could finally begin!

The teachers were greeted at Birrigai Outdoor School and had a briefing outlining safety procedures and the plan for the next week.

My first day of true sampling had me joining the reptile team where we headed to the mountains nearby. The car journey was delightful, it was lovely to see some beautiful topography after the flatness of Darwin. We had our sights set on finding the recently described Mountain Skink (Liopholis montana). This skink is very range restricted and only occurs above 1400 m elevation and loves the granite outcrops that occur on Mount Franklin. Unfortunately, it was very elusive and we were unable to find it. Fortunately we found lots of the Glossy Grass Skink (Pseudemoia rawlinsoni) and were able to practice a new reptile sampling technique, the fish rod noose. A small loop of string is tied to the end of a fishing rod and you have to VERY carefully loop it over the head of the skink and then pull up quickly (but not too quickly!) just fast enough that the skink doesn’t run through your loop. I tried all day to perfect my technique and finally caught one. Just one, but I’m calling it a success!

We then hiked up Mount Franklin that has some interesting history as a ski chalet from the 1930’s where people worked long and hard to clear the mountain slopes to be able to ski down- and then WALK all the way back up!

Ingenuity and determination created a clever solution when people discovered that you could use Harley Davidson motorbike motors to run a pulley system to pull people up the mountain. This then progressed to using a car motor, which they were able to access as it had been used in a robbery and been in an accident, so it was no longer wanted.

There are a few species that I am really keen on seeing on this trip and we saw three of them today! Sadly, two of them were hit on the road. We found a live Highlands Copperhead (Austrelaps ramsayi) who was out basking and darted under some rocks so here’s a photo of us searching for it, because we didn’t get a photo of the snake. We did find an intact copperhead snake skin though.

Road mortality takes its toll on a lot of species, even on remote mountain roads, we saw a large male wombat (Vombatus ursinus) and a Blotched Blue Tongue Skink (Tiliqua nigrolutea) that had been hit on the side of the road. It’s always important to remember to watch for wildlife on all roads, especially at all times of the day as different species are active at different times of the day.

Remember, always brake for snakes!