Date: Sunday, 18th October 2020

Time: 7:00am

Location: Eungella National Park, QLD

Nights left of trip: 8

Awaking to a beautiful morning at Finch Hatton Gorge, Ben & Jono made light work of packing their stretcher beds and eagerly sipping their Up&Go’s before snapping a few photos of wildlife and the adjacent boulder-strewn creek. Unfortunately, time was not on their side, as before them lay 1000kms and 12 hours of driving to reach their next destination of Black Mountain, just south of Cooktown – so it was time to hit the road!

A new day breaks at Finch Hatton Gorge

A new day breaks at Finch Hatton Gorge

Black Mountain is a unique landform along the Mulligan Highway in the Cook Shire. The imposing mountain range consisting of enormous black granite boulders rises above the horizon as you approach. Both dry savannah/woodland and rainforest meet at the range, and the unique combination of flora and geomorphology provide refuge for a wide variety of flora, including several endemic species (species found only at Black Mountain). These include several reptiles, and one frog.

Black Mountain, well just a part of a boulder field that makes up the mountain

Black Mountain, well just a part of a boulder field that makes up the mountain

The Black Mountain Boulder Frog (Cophixalus saxatilis) is the largest of the boulder frogs/nursery frogs, and lives exclusively among the jumbled boulder fields. Males call from deep within the boulders, but humans climbing down into the crevices is fraught with risk. Tales are told of cattle disappearing upon entering the ominous boulder fields. Whilst Jono has visited Black Mountain in 2018 and seen the boulder frog, this would be Ben’s first time. Unfortunately, the rains had yet to grace northern QLD, but having seen the frog under dry conditions two years before, the two had not written off their chances.

The long journey north was assisted by audiobook, discussions on the remaining trip itinerary but hampered by multiple sections of roadworks. One such section of roadwork was made interesting when the red traffic light at the bottom end of the Wooroonooran Highway turned green, and the Ranger, first in the cue, began travelling uphill only to meet a truck coming down the single lane from the opposite end – followed by a convoy of cars. Thankfully, the road-worked closed lane was almost complete, allowing the Ranger to veer off onto it and continue travelling north on the wrong side of the road.

↑ At the time of shooting, this most definitely was not the place to be (has it ever been?…) (Note: this comment refers to the extreme lockdown the state of Victoria had been place under during the Coronavirus pandemic).


 

Date: Sunday, 18th October 2020

Time: 8:00pm

Location: Black Mountain National Park, QLD

Nights left of trip: 8

The final stretch of the day’s trip was done after the sun had set, and the intrepid froggers were soon staring (by aid of headtorch), at Black Mountain. To their disgust, a recent bushfire had burnt to the base of the boulder field, burning through some patches of fig that surround the extent of the boulders. The air too, was thick with the smell of smoke. And so the two froggers began their search, climbing and hopping over boulders, often distracted by the many reptiles, including the two endemic species that share the same habitat.

But to their great disappointment, no boulder frogs were seen or heard. But so that you too are not disappointed, given the build up to this search, here’s a photo of the Black Mountain Boulder Frog Jono photographed two years earlier.

Black Mountain Boulder Frog (female) (Cophixalus saxatilis)

Black Mountain Boulder Frog (female) (Cophixalus saxatilis)

They did however find plenty of these geckos. Plenty.

Cooktown Ring-tailed Gecko (Cyrtodactylus tuberculatus

Cooktown Ring-tailed Gecko (Cyrtodactylus tuberculatus)

Given this trip had allowed for two spare nights in-case targets were not achieved on the first attempt, Ben and Jono decided to use one of these on their return later in the week. And so they traveled onto their second destination of the night; the northern end of Cedar Bay National Park, where another nursery frog lives; the Northern Tapping Nursery Frog (Cophixlaus exiguus).

The two searched through the rainforest with ears cocked for the sound of the frog’s call, occasionally distracted by insects and arboreal fauna. The night was getting on by this point, and again it seemed as if the unbroken dry spell of weather was hampering their efforts. At some point past midnight, they setup their stretcher beds, had a shower (courtesy of a camp shower set-up on the side of the Ranger), and had a tin of food before calling it a night.

Northern leaf-tail gecko (Saltuarius cornutus)

Northern leaf-tail gecko (Saltuarius cornutus)

He’s not sure why he woke up just before 5am, but Jono was just conscious enough that his keen hearing heard a calling frog. Still half asleep, he thought it was a broodfrog, but no, the habitat was wrong, as was the geographical area. It was instead the call of one, two, three distant Northern Tapping Nursery Frogs! He explains:

It wasn’t really even a question if he would get up…of course he did! However, not long after stepping through the rainforest towards the closest frog, the dawn bird chorus fired up and very quickly it became impossible to hear the frog over the birds. “Stupid birds” he would mutter. He did manage to record the call though:

Following a breakfast of rice cream, the campsite was dismantled and the somewhat disheartened froggers headed back to Lakeland before turning right where the next several days would leave them craving a bit of bitumen again.

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