This is the second story relating to my quest to take my lifetime list of Australian reptile species to 250 before the end of 2009. For previous instalments, read the introduction and the first story.
I was on a high after the success of my mission to find Lampropholis couperi (species 248 out of my target of 250). The next species on my list was the eastern crevice skink (Egernia mcpheei). Split off from Egernia saxatilis in Wells and Wellington’s 1984 paper, Egernia mcphee is found along the Great Dividing range in southern Queensland and northern New South Wales. A couple of my friends had recently seen this species on a walk in the Binna Burra section of Lamington National Park, so this was where I’d planned to start searching. Ryan and I headed down on Wednesday to try our luck. As we started driving up the mountain, the heavens opened up. Really opened up. We could hardly see the road in front of us. This wasn’t looking very promising, but we weren’t going to let a little water get in the way. We pressed on. When I was trying to convince Ryan to accompany me on today’s mission, I told him that it would be just a short walk. As we drove closer to the park I thought I should tell him that it would actually involve a 10km return walk. I personally don’t mind walking 10km for a little brown skink, but Ryan doesn’t really share my enthusiasm (or aerobic capacity).
We arrived at the park and stopped in at the visitor centre to see if they thought the rain would clear any time soon. We chatted to the friendly volunteer visitor centre lady for about half an hour, during which time it continued to rain steadily. The rain did, however, eventually stop. I looked out the window to see sunshine and a large, black skink.
We took this as a good omen, quickly grabbed our gear and headed down the walking track. It continued to drizzle as we walked, but every now and then the sun would poke its head through the clouds. Reptile activity along the walking track was pretty low. We saw a little Saproscincus scurrying through the leaf litter, but didn’t get a good enough look to be able to identify it. I saw more movement out of the corner of my eye, as this Murray’s skink (Eulamprus murrayi) retreated into his burrow underneath the buttress root of a tree. I waited a few minutes for him to emerge so I could get a photo.
The walking track left the dark, dense rainforest and entered a brighter, more open casuarina forest. On the side of the track, in a patch of sunlight, we saw another land mullet.
That this reptile was out in the — let’s face it — miserable conditions provided a ray of hope. Maybe his congener would also be out. We continued walking and eventually reached the rocky outcrop at which my friends had seen eastern crevice skinks.
It was spitting, but the sun was desperately trying to come out. The conditions weren’t ideal, but I was still hopeful. We commenced clambering around the cliff face. I soon spotted a swamp snake (Hemiaspis signata) soaking up some sun. A short time later I found another swamp snake moving along a path.
The snakes were interesting, but they weren’t why we were here. We continued searching, looking in rock crevices for sheltering skinks. After about 30 minutes I was ready to give up. I sat down on a rock; disappointed, defeated, destitute, damp. As I stared at the ground in front of me, a familiar shape materialised before my eyes. Eureka! It was species number 249 on my list, Egernia mcpheei! While the sun might not have been shining strongly on me, the herp gods certainly appeared to be.
I got out my camera and sneaked around to the other side of the rock. My intrusion caused the skink to drop out of sight, but he didn’t seemed too bothered by our presence and soon re-emerged.
We spent about 15 minutes photographing him, before the light drizzle started to get a bit heavier. We packed up and headed back towards the car park. Ryan’s leg cramps, leech infestations and near cardiac arrest were all small prices for me to pay for the opportunity to tick off another small, brown skink. Even though Ryan was constantly flicking leeches off his legs, I seemed untroubled by these blood-suckers. But when I got home I found that I had indeed fallen victim, with three of them attached to my left foot under my sock.
Two down, one to go. It looked like I was going to have no trouble reaching my goal.