Gum Creek Field Weekend Report

 Gum Creek Station Field Weekend May 2018 

A total of 11 participants attended the field weekend to Gum Creek Station, the eighth in a series of events held by Northern Gulf Resource Management Group’s Wildlife Management Project in conjunction with the North Queensland Natural History Group to investigate the natural attributes of a property in the Northern Gulf Region. The project is funded by the National Landcare Program. 

Gum Creek Station is the first property in the Gulf Plains bioregion to be investigated. It is located west of Croydon. The Gulf Plains are low in elevation and characterised by extensive alluvial plains. The vegetation comprises mainly eucalypt and tea-tree open woodlands. Exploring the property, it was obvious that much of these low lying plains had been inundated during recent heavy rain with much of the grass cover showing signs of being knocked over by flooding water. 

A Red-backed Kingfisher (Todiramphus pyrrhopygius) sitting on the fence. Photo by Eleanor Duignan.

 

This field weekend included a full fauna survey of six 1 hectare plots including pit, cage and camera trapping and bird counts under the permit of Dr Noel Preece (see attached report). This also involved active searches and spotlighting of the sites and the property in general, especially waterholes and creeks. The woody plants of the plots were investigated and a list made of plants encountered. Due to the large size of the property only a small portion could be investigated in the time available. 

In all there were 92 species of bird, 19 species of reptiles, 10 species of amphibian (one introduced), 3 species of mammal (2 introduced), 4 species of butterfly and one moth species identified during the field weekend. Total bird species including two preliminary visits was 97, and an extra 2 native mammal species were sighted on previous visits bringing that total to 5. 

Mammals 

The only native mammal sighted during the weekend was the Agile Wallaby (Macropus agilis). A feral cat (Felis catus) was recorded by remote camera and a dog or possibly dingo (Canis familiaris) was sighted fleetingly. On a previous visit to the property Little Red Flying Foxes (Pteropus scapulatus) were seen feeding on flowering Silver-leaved Box (Eucalyptus pruinosa) and Northern Nailtail Wallabies (Onychogalea unguifera) were seen active at night. 

Little Red Flying-foxes (Pteropus scapulatus). Photo by Michael Anthony

Amphibians 

There were a number of amphibians present, due to the recent rains and water remaining in creeks and dams. These included a range of tree frogs, ground-dwelling and burrowing species, and the ubiquitous introduced Cane Toad (Rhinella marina). Tree frogs included a species endemic to the northern gulf and adjoining regions, the Buzzing Tree Frog (Litoria electrica). This species inhabits savanna woodlands and riparian habitats and is rarely found active outside the wet season. Specimens were found by an ephemeral stream and in the cistern of toilet at the homestead. This species is similar to the Little Red or Ruddy Tree Frog (Litoria rubella) which were also sighted on the property. Two further tree frog species include the Green Tree Frog (Litoria caerulea) and the Northern Laughing Tree Frog (L. rothi). Two species of ground-dwelling tree frogs or rocket frogs were the Bumpy Rocket Frog (Litoria inermis) and the Pale or Pallid Rocket Frog (Litoria pallida), so named for their sharp snouts and exceptional leaping ability. Four species of burrowing frog encompassing four different genera were present, ranging from the largest species, the Wide-mouthed Frog (Cyclorana novaehollandiae) measuring up to 100 millimetres down to the tiny Gungan (Uperolia sp.) reaching a maximum of 30 mm. Ornate Burrowing Frogs (Platyplectrum ornatum) have highly variable colour and pattern and were commonly sighted; a number of Northern Spadefoots (Notaden melanoscaphus) were found in pit traps. 

 

Buzzing Tree Frog (Litoria electrica). Photo by Michael Anthony

 

Reptiles 

The best represented group of reptiles was the geckos, with 6 species – the most common being the mostly arboreal Dubious Dtella (Gehyra dubia) and mostly terrestrial Bynoe’s Gecko (Heteronotia binoei). Two more arboreal species, the Zigzag Velvet Gecko (Amalosia rhombifer), Northern Velvet Gecko (Oedura castelnaui) were encountered, as well as two terrestrial species, the Eastern Fat-tailed Gecko (Diplodactylus platyurus) and the Box-patterned Gecko (Lucasium steindachneri). 

Five species of skink were identified, with one large species of Ctenotus, possibly C. spaldingi, proving too elusive. The Short-footed Ctenotus (Ctenotus brevipes) was the most common skink found in the pit traps. One each of the Northern Soil-crevice Skink (Proablepharus tenuis) and Wide-striped Four-toed Slider (Lerista zonulata) were caught in pit traps, with Common Dwarf Skinks (Menetia greyi) being more common. Numbers of snake eyed skinks (Cryptoblepharus sp.) were seen with the few caught for examination proving to be the Ragged Snake-eyed Skink (C. pannosus). 

Three species of goanna were encountered, the most common being the largest, the Floodplain or Yellow-spotted Monitor (Varanus panoptes) with 6 individuals sighted, active during the warmer parts of the day. The Gulf Plains and the floodplains of the larger rivers appear to be the stronghold for this species that has been badly reduced in numbers from eating cane toads. It has made a comeback in areas of optimal habitat but is still rare in some areas where it formerly occurred. Two smaller species of arboreal monitors were also recorded. The Freckled Monitor (Varanus tristis) utilises trees in this area but in general favours rocky areas. One animal was captured in a pit trap. The Spotted Tree Monitor (Varanus scalaris), was found on the same plot, active on the ground before scurrying up a small dead tree. 

 

Volunteer Justin with a Floodplain Monitor.

Two species of dragon lizard were seen regularly active during the day or sitting on termite mouinds or other vantage points; these were the smaller Yellow-sided Two-line Dragon (Diporiphora magna) and the larger Gilbert’s Dragon (Lophognathus gilberti). 

Two snake species were encountered during the weekend. A Stimson’s Python (Antaresia stimsoni) was found on one of the station tracks late at night. Two Black-headed Pythons (Aspidites melanocephalus) were encountered. The first one was on a dirt road at night and the second was observed in the process of swallowing a Gilbert’s Dragon while suspended from a small tree in one of the survey plots. The snake had most likely found the lizard asleep on the tree, then constricted and swallowed it. 

Black-headed Python (Aspidites melanocephalus) swallowing a Gilbert’s dragon (Lophognathus gilberti). Photo by Michael Anthony.

 

Birds 

The total of bird species observed over the field weekend was 92, bringing the total for all visits to the property to 97. 

Australia’s largest bird overall, the Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) was sighted (one individual), as well as numbers of Australia’s largest flying bird, the Brolga (Grus rubicundis). Its close relative the Sarus Crane (Grus antigone) was also present. 

Nine diurnal raptor species were recorded, including the Brown Goshawk (Falco longipennis), pictured below. 

 

Brown Goshawk (Falco longipennis), drinking from a roadside pool. Photo by Michael Anthony

Four nocturnal bird species the Australian Owlet-nightjar (Aegotheles cristatus), Spotted Nightjar (Eurostopodus argus), Southern Boobook (Ninox novaeseelandiae) and the Tawny Frogmouth (Podargus strigoides) were also present. Masked Lapwing (Vanellus miles) were also heard calling at night as well as a group of ducks flying overhead. 

A number of dams and creeks were investigated for water birds of which there were many species. All of the three larger dams yielded Pacific Black Duck (Anas superciliosa), Grey Teal (A. gracilis) and Straw-necked Ibis (Threskiornis spinicollis); Yammer Dam had a further 11 species of water bird, along with a further 15 bird species including Bush Stone-curlews (Burhinus grallarius) by night, Australian Ravens (Corvus coronoides), Blue-winged Kookaburra (Dacelo leachii), Restless Flycatcher (Myiagra inquieta), Rainbow Bee-eaters (Merops ornatus), Jacky Winter (Microeca fascinans) and a range of honeyeaters, parrots and raptors by day. 

Invertebrates 

While not specifically targeted four butterfly and one moth species were identified. 

Butterfly species included the Blue Argus (Junonia orithya), Meadow Argus (Junonia villida), Caper White (Belenois java) and Tawny Coster (Acraea terpsicore), a recent immigrant to Australia that has spread quickly from the top end of NT right across Queensland and is now a commonly observed species. 

A pair of mating Spotted Clear Winged Snout Moths (Genduara punctigera) were sighted. This species is known to breed on plants from the family Santalaceae (Sandalwoods) of which the Northern Sandalwood (Santalum lanceolatum) is present on Gum Creek. The male is much smaller and has clear wings, most unlike the female, pictured above.

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