Mount Fox

volcanic cone
Mount Fox

Mount Fox is an extinct volcano South-west of Ingham, not too far away from Townsville but well off the beaten track. I have been hearing about it from time to time ever since arriving in Townsville but had never actually been there until I finally indulged my curiosity last weekend.

The drive from Ingham (see map) takes you through the canefields towards the rampart of the Great Dividing Range and then winds up to the crest, with a couple of spectacular lookouts on the way, and gradually down the drier inland side. It’s much like the more familiar road up to Paluma and down to Hidden Valley, and in fact there is a back road from Mt Fox to Hidden Valley (but I would recommend asking a local before tackling it in a conventional vehicle).

landscape
Canefields with the ranges behind them
landscape
Cattle country: open woodland near Mount Fox

The way in to the small Mount Fox National Park centred on the crater was not difficult except that it wasn’t obvious. The only sign on the road was a brown-and-white finger-post (so old that it was really brown-and-brown) saying “Mt Fox Crater”, pointing to a road blocked by a gate. The sign on the gate only said “GATE” – which I thought was unhelpfully redundant – but it was the only road in anywhere near the right location (I drove a bit further to check) so I opened the gate, drove in, closed it and drove a few kilometres to another “GATE” and (thankfully) better National Parks signage confirming I was in the right place. Another few kilometres of dirt track took me to the foot of the volcanic cone.

The cone is the result of a relatively recent eruption, 100,000 or 560,000 years ago, according to the National Parks site or Volcanoworld respectively (the latter is worth visiting for a nice aerial photo). It is a pile of ejected rubble rather than solid rock, and the surface is composed of rocks from pebbles up to car size, with just enough dirt between them to support grass and thin scrubby vegetation.

The mountain rises 120 metres above the surrounding plain, so climbing it is a worthwhile but eminently achievable challenge: it is steep and strenuous but straightforward, and there is no possibility whatsoever of getting lost. The crater, when you get there, is just a shallow bowl which is obviously swampy after rain and must be a significant water resource for the wildlife of this dry country. The major rewards of the climb are the spectacular views from the top:

savannah ladscape
View approximately NE from the summit of Mt Fox, towards Abergowrie, Ingham and Hinchinbrook Island

I was also delighted by close views of a trio of Wedge-tailed Eagles (Aquila audax) circling around the peak.

eagle in flight
Wedge-tailed Eagle
rocky path
Part of the foot track, showing the loose surface of the volcanic cone

The foot-track to the top is so rough that I chose to pick my own way down (it was not much more difficult) to go closer to one of the vine thickets that break the bare slopes. In the end I opted not to explore the tangled scrub, in spite of the possibility of discovering dozens of new species of invertebrates – isolated pockets of habitat are great for this.

Intending visitors need to be aware that there are no facilities at all in the National Park and (most of the year) no water at all. In these days of taken-for-granted mobile phones, I should probably also warn urbanites that there is no mobile coverage in the area. Once you get over the crest of the range, anywhere in North Queensland, you’re in a different world. It’s an unforgiving world, but one whose challenges are balanced by freedom and a wonderful sense of limitless space.

Forts Walk, Magnetic Island

koala
Koala in a gumtree beside the Forts walking track

We visit Magnetic Island several times per year, often to share its pleasures with visitors from other parts of the country or overseas. Two of each were in town this week and we walked up to the Forts with them yesterday morning before spending the early afternoon around Alma Bay and Geoffrey Bay; I came home with enough wildlife photos to be worth sharing with a wider audience, so here they are.

half a dozen brown bats
Microbats clinging to the ceiling of a WW2 building

Five different species of microbats (i.e. not flying foxes) are listed for the Island. These may be Little Bentwing Bats but I’m not at all sure because I see bats so rarely. The whole cluster is only about 100 mm across.

lizard with orange head
A small skink beside the Forts track

Skinks are more familiar to most of us than bats but present a greater identification challenge: twenty species have been recorded on the Island, Steve Wilson devotes one third of his excellent  Field Guide to Reptiles of Queensland to “this large family” without saying how large it is, and Australian Geographic reckons there are nearly 400 species in Australia.

So far everything has been perfectly harmless, even the enormous Golden Orb-weaver whose net spanned our path (I wrote about them here and won’t repeat myself) and our English visitors were beginning to think that our gleeful stories of dangerous tropical wildlife were entirely fanciful. They weren’t, of course – we do have crocodiles, sharks and box jellyfish, even if we don’t really have drop-bears – but the most dangerous animals we saw on our walk were insects:

paper wasp nests
Paper wasp nests dangling from twigs just off the track

Paper wasps may be small but they defend their nests vigorously. Each wasp can sting many times (unlike a bee) and anyone disturbing a nest is likely to be attacked by all of its inhabitants. I wrote about them here (mostly about a different species but the life cycle is the same) and a close-up of these wasps (Ropalidia) is here.

black and gold beetle
Tortoise beetle – about ladybird size

This pretty little beetle is not dangerous at all unless you happen to be a plant. It is a Leaf Beetle (Chrysomelidae), a member of a large and varied family of mostly-colourful small beetles, and this kind is known as a Tortoise Beetle because of its shape. If we call it a Leaf Tortoise Beetle, as some people do, we know what it eats as well as what it looks like.

After the walk we took the bus back to Arcadia and spent most of the afternoon nearby. Our visitors enjoyed a low-tide stroll on Geoffrey Bay beach and loved the curlews around (and in!) the hotel, and the rock wallabies near the old car-ferry jetty. Rock Wallabies (Petrogale assimilis) are quite numerous on the island according to the Magnetic Island Wildlife site (“island-wide on rocky slopes, will use lowlands also when food or water are scarce”) but I have only ever seen them in this one location, where they are regularly fed:

Rock wallaby at feeding station
Rock wallaby at feeding station
two wallabies on rock
A smaller friend arrives
smaller rock wallaby with food
In sole possession

More information:

  • National Parks people have put together a good overview of Magnetic Island habitats and their non-human inhabitants.
  • Koalas are not native to the island but have been introduced. For general information about them, visit the Australian Koala Foundation or (especially for their evolutionary history) Wikipedia.
  • Curlews and a reef walk on Geoffrey Bay have already featured on Green Path.
  • There is more about curlews (my photos but not my text) here, on the Wildlife Qld branch blog.
  • More about the Rock Wallabies: Rootourism

Platypus watching at Broken River

I left Cape Hillsborough (previous post) after only two days to squeeze in a visit to Eungella National Park, an hour and a half inland, in the hope of seeing platypus in the wild.

The established platypus viewing area is a few kilometres past the township of Eungella, at a spot where the road crosses the Broken River. On the near side of the river there’s an eco-resort (a couple of decades old) on the right and a so-new-it’s-raw National Parks camping ground on the left. Across the bridge are picnic grounds and walking trails to both right (downstream) and left, with several viewing platforms.

The most likely time to see platypuses is early morning so I was on the move just after 5.30. Others were already on the viewing platforms under the bridge and a hundred metres upstream from it but weren’t seeing any activity, so I thought I would go further upstream along the walking track to a likely-looking pool I had seen the day before.

Once there, I sat on a boulder and waited …

trees, dark against dawn sky
Early sun touches the topmost branches of the rainforest
rocky pool in river
The quiet pool
My first glimpse of a platypus, just a swirl in the water
My first glimpse of a platypus, just a swirl in the water

After watching “my” platypus here for some time (and enjoying a visit from a wandering scrub turkey) I walked back to the bridge. There I found an audience of perhaps a dozen, rapt in the activity of one or two platypuses. From the bridge itself I was able to see the entrance to a burrow, half-hidden under nondescript plants, on the resort side of the river.

platypus under river bank foliage
Platypus (mid-left) near the entrance to its burrow
platypus from above
Looking straight down on the platypus as it swam under the bridge

Later in the morning I spoke to someone who had seen a platypus from the river bank just below the camping ground; I might say that my walk had been superfluous, except that solitude in the rainforest at dawn was a reward in itself.

My experience suggests that it is not hard to see a platypus in the wild at Broken River. What about elsewhere? I’ve seen them at Carnarvon Gorge, but that (as far as I remember) is all. However, they do occur right down the east coast from about Cooktown to the SA border (see the Platypus Care page) and they are so unobtrusive that there could be more around than we think; in fact, Wildlife Qld has a citizen-science project, PlatypusWatch, aimed at improving our knowledge.

I’m told that platypuses on Hervey’s Range were well known to local people 80 years ago, but I don’t know if they are still there. Similarly, they were common enough in Victorian country districts in the 1930s that David Fleay had no trouble finding animals for his Healesville Sanctuary but they are adversely affected by human activity and are probably uncommon in farming areas these days.

Incidentally, Fleay’s 1980 book, The Paradoxical Platypus, was republished in 2009 as I discovered by visiting the eco-resort’s dining room and browsing its small library, and is well worth reading.

Big Crystal Creek

view of forested mountains
Looking up towards Mt Spec

Last Sunday we went for another walk in the bush with the local Wildlife Queensland people – a bit further from home than our first, and more interesting in that it took us to a place we knew about but hadn’t visited before. We know Paluma, and Little Crystal Creek on the road up the range to it, but had somehow never diverged from that road to visit Big Crystal Creek and Paradise Lagoon. It’s easy enough: turn off the highway as if you’re going to Paluma but then follow the signs (about 7km) to Big Crystal Creek instead of turning left to go up Mount Spec to Paluma.

two yellow-fronted birds on branch
Lemon-bellied Flycatchers

We parked at the Paradise Lagoon picnic ground and walked up the road to the Water Slides area. WQ will soon have a full report on the walk (now here) so I will concentrate on the bugs and leave most of the plants and birds to them. I’m still going to put one bird photo here, however, just because the birds were obliging enough to pose for a series of portraits (as usual, click on it for a full-size image).

As well as these Flycatchers (Microeca flavigaster) we saw a tiny Scarlet Honeyeater and several other birds. Insects and spiders were also abundant, from the mantis and preyed-upon grasshopper I spotted before we even left the carpark, to the grasshoppers preying upon flowers of the native hibiscus (see them here), to the spiders waiting patiently in their webs above the fast-flowing rocky stream. There were lots of butterflies, too – we saw Blue Triangles, Clearwing Swallowtail, Common Crow, Eurema, Common Eggfly, Blue Argus, a Pierid which was probably a Migrant, and an orange butterfly which may have been an Australian Rustic – but they are all species which I have already photographed lots of times and I didn’t try too hard to catch them this time.

spotted beetle
Acacia Longicorn Beetle on twig. They eat bark, so this one is probably responsible for the damage we see here.
mantis with a grasshopper
Mantis and prey
A slender spider, Tetragnathidae, suspended above rushing water
A slender spider, Tetragnathidae, suspended above rushing water
Another slender spider, Cyclosa species, in its web. The strand of 'rubbish' consists of egg sacs (near top), spider and (lower middle) and camouflage including prey remnants
Another slender spider, Cyclosa species, in its web. The strand of ‘rubbish’ consists of egg sacs (near top), spider  (lower middle – head down and with front legs extended) and camouflage including prey remnants.

We returned to Paradise Lagoon picnic ground for lunch and a short walk to the swimming hole:

rocky swimming hole
Paradise Lagoon

Tasman National Park

Tasmania has some spectacular scenery and plenty that is not so dramatic but is very beautiful. When I escaped from Hobart for a day just after Easter, I went down to the Tasman Peninsula for a bit of both. This gallery showcases photos I took at a gorgeous bay on the east coast of the peninsula and the next one will show contrasting locations between Dunalley and Eaglehawk Neck.

The beach backs onto a section of the Tasman National Park, so there is a small camping and picnic ground (and walking tracks for those with more time than I had), and there is nothing but State Forest behind the park boundary. The helicopter I saw may have had something to do with logging operations but it was the only jarring intrusion onto the natural landscape. And the weather was gorgeous – paddling-in-the-ocean weather even for a North Queenslander like myself!

stream running past rocks
A small stream runs into the bay midway along the beach
sand and calm sea
Fine white sand delicately decorated by the wavelets
rocky coast backed by forest
Looking from the beach towards the headland
scrub behind beach
Most of the beach was backed by impenetrable scrub like this, with tall eucalypt forest behind it
black-backed gull
Adult Pacific Gull, Larus pacificus, on a rocky reef
two gulls
The juvenile Pacific Gull at left is far larger than the adult Silver Gull, Larus novaehollandiae.
brown gull flying over beach
Juvenile Pacific Gull, Larus pacificus, in flight.
currawong
Grey Currawong, Strepera versicolor, drinking from a puddle beside the campground track

I didn’t have time for a real walk – not even a two hour walk, let alone the two or three day walks that people plan for weeks ahead – but I did try the beginning of one walking track and was rewarded by the sight of a couple of wallabies, one feeding beside the track and the other placidly grooming itself in a nest-like space in the scrub. They were still there when I came back, and posed for a couple more photos.

wallaby
Bennett’s Wallaby aka Red-necked Wallaby, Macropus rufogriseus, near the walking track
wallaby
Bennett’s Wallaby, Macropus rufogriseus, grooming itself in a retreat beside the walking track
wallaby
Bennett’s Wallaby aka Red-necked Wallaby, Macropus rufogriseus, on a walking track near the campground