Shark Bay

Today we’re heading up to Shark Bay, the first stop on our two week adventure. I’m heading out with Dean Bradshaw and Farhan Bokhari. As we left Perth I noticed that the latest in hair fashion has only just arrived in Perth.

The latest in hair fashion
The latest in hair fashion has just arrived in Perth

After a very long drive (and some very oily servo food) we arrived late at night in Francois Peron National Park, stopping only to take in a fairly spectacular sunset.

Dean Bradshaw at work
Dean taking a shot of the setting sun

We set up camp and went for a drive. Just 20 metres outside our campsite we saw the first reptile of the trip, a western spiny-tailed gecko (Strophurus strophurus). This species is easily identifiable by the pale bands on its tail.

Western spiny-tailed gecko (Strophurus strophurus)
Western spiny-tailed gecko (Strophurus strophurus)

Western spiny-tailed gecko (Strophurus strophurus)
Western spiny-tailed gecko (Strophurus strophurus)

The entire Peron Peninsula is separated from the rest of Australia by a solar-powered electric fence, constructed in 1995 to try to keep out feral animals. There are still plenty of feral cats inside the fence, but a baiting program both inside and outside the fence seems to be keeping the fox numbers down. A number of rare species have been reintroduced onto the Peron Peninsula through the Department of Environment and Conservation’s Project Eden. Bilbies, brush-tailed bettongs, malleefowl and rufous and banded hare-wallabies have all been released behind the fence. Sadly the two hare-wallaby species died out, but the other three species are doing well. We were lucky enough to see a bilby (Macrotis lagotis) on our first night in the park. I have to admit that I’m not surprised they’ve been decimated by introduced predators, as they seem like incredibly stupid animals. The one we saw was bumping into trees and bushes as it was walking around. Of course, it was smart enough to get away from us before we managed to get a picture, so the below picture is of a captive bilby at Barna Mia.

Bilby (Lagotis macrotis)
Bilby (Lagotis macrotis)

The interesting thing is that the electric fence was constructed at the narrowest point of the peninsula, which means that the nearby town of Denham is inside the fence. Residents of Denham are able to keep cats and dogs, which seems a bit counter-intuitive when the fence was constructed to keep these ferals out.

We were hoping to see some woma pythons (Aspidites ramsayi) whilst driving around at night, but we unfortunately didn’t. Womas have been doing really well on the peninsula since the fox population has been reduced. Over the next couple of nights we did manage to see a western hooded scaly-foot (Pygopus nigriceps), Bynoe’s gecko (Heteronotia binoei), smooth knob-tailed gecko (Nephrurus levis occidentalis), a sleeping western bearded dragon (Pogona minor), an echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus), a large katydid and lots of scorpions.

Western hooded scaly-foot (Pygopus nigriceps)
Western hooded scaly-foot (Pygopus nigriceps)

Western hooded scaly-foot (Pygopus nigriceps)
Western hooded scaly-foot (Pygopus nigriceps)

Bynoe's gecko (Heteronotia binoei)
Bynoe’s gecko (Heteronotia binoei)

Smooth knob-tailed gecko (Nephrurus levis occidentalis)
Smooth knob-tailed gecko (Nephrurus levis occidentalis)

Western bearded dragon (Pogona minor)
Western bearded dragon (Pogona minor)

Echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus)
Echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus)

Scorpion
Scorpion

Scorpion
Scorpion

Giant enemy katydid
Giant enemy katydid

The landscape on the peninsula is red soil and spinifex as far as the eye can see, with the occasional tree scattered around. It’s amazing that this habitat runs right up to the sea. It’s so different from the east coast!

Francois Peron National Park

Francois Peron National Park

During the day we saw some emus, an emu skull, lots of sand goannas (Varanus gouldii), a dead shingleback (Tiliqua rugosa), and lots of western bearded dragons (Pogona minor).

Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) skull
Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) skull

Sand goanna (Varanus gouldii)
Sand goanna (Varanus gouldii)

Dead shingleback (Tiliqua rugosa)
Dead shingleback (Tiliqua rugosa)

Western bearded dragon (Pogona minor)
Western bearded dragon (Pogona minor)

Western bearded dragon (Pogona minor)
Western bearded dragon (Pogona minor)

We went right up to the tip of Peron Peninsula, where two strong ocean currents converge. We saw a manta ray (Manta birostris) ‘hovering’ in the shallows and I tried to swim out to it. Unfortunately it was in the convergence zone of the currents and I was in danger of being swept out to see, so I had to give up on my dream of riding atop a gigantic ray. There were several thousand live cormorants on the beach and several dozen carcasses scattered around. We were speculating about their cause of death when a wedge-tailed eagle (Aquila audax) swooped down and nailed one. The whole event happened too fast to get any decent pics. We went back the next afternoon to try to get some pics. We saw the eagle on the ground near the cormorant colony but he took off and didn’t come back. We packed up and headed to our next destination.

Things seen but not photographed:

  • Ctenophorus scutellatus
  • Ctenophorus maculatus
  • Bilby (Macrotis lagotis)

Things not seen and not photographed:

  • Woma (Aspidites ramsayi)

Update:
Thanks to Shark Bay’s own Nicole Noakes for clarifying the status of womas in the park.

About Stewart Macdonald

I'm a wildlife ecologist living and working in Queensland, Australia. I spend most of my time in the bush finding and photographing wildlife.
This entry was posted in Animal photos, Western Australia - Jan 2008. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Shark Bay

  1. myrmician says:

    great writeup man! i still havent gotten my photos off dean so its good to see a recount of what we saw and the adventures we had 😀

  2. MattB says:

    I hope you didn’t let Dean get in the way of all your sunset shots :) That’s spectacular! Nice effort to show off the tail of the Strophurus also.

  3. Beth Mantle says:

    Such great photos, Stew! Very impressive.

    It was interesting to see the skull of the dead shingleback: I have a shingleback skull with the plates intact over the bone, so I’ve never seen what the bare skull looks like. Now I do!

  4. Hi Stew,
    great pics, especially love the strophurus – a personal favourite of mine. Just a word – we actually didn’t release the Woma’s, they’re extant and numbers have recovered since the foxes were brought under control.

  5. Michelle says:

    Hi Stewart,

    Love the pics! This is exactly the kind of photography I would like to get into. Have you been up to the Territory at all? I was hoping to head up there next easter to embark on my first attempt at amateur nature photography.
    I am, however, a bit lost as to where to go to look for wildlife, particularly herps (and also, particularly geckos, a bit of an obsession of mine!!). Is it best to set out by foot? Or better to go by 4WD? I would love to do a few night walks as well as I believe I will see more herps.. Again, is it better to set out by foot or by 4WD? I’ve been trawling the net for information about this but not found anything useful.

    Thanks in advance for your time and help.

    Kind regards

    Michelle

    PS. Re the part in your bio about your PhD.. I know exactly what that’s like, 7 years down the track and I’ve still not finished writing that dreaded thesis!

  6. Stewart says:

    Hi Michelle,

    I’ve been to The Territory, but I was only there for a few days. You certainly don’t need a 4WD to see amazing places and animals around Australia. A 2WD will get you to many great places. Have a look at my Herping page for more info on finding and photographing reptiles.

    Stewart

  7. Danielle says:

    OMG, awwwww. The Echidna is so cute. I love those little guys—-aside from them, I don’t know of a lot of species that are so hardy. Do you know if it was sleeping or active, male or female, or maybe if it was angry? Why were those spines so flat?

    Hope it wasn’t dead :(

    But it’s so cool to see a species that isn’t endemic, that looks like that. Even better to know it’s illegal to transport Echidnas outside of Australia, since they’re so darn cute. (I think so, anyway, aren’t there strict laws against exporting Australian wildlife?)

    – Danielle (Who adores Australia to death.)

  8. Hi Danielle,

    It was active on the road at night. I don’t know if it was male or female, and I suspect it was surprised rather than angry (I think I would be too if a two-ton hunk of metal with blinding spotlights came tearing down the road towards me).

    Stewart