Mounting Mt Lewis

After doing pretty well in the Cooktown region, we headed south along the Bloomfield track and then back up the range to Mount Lewis. I’d been up to Mt Lewis several times, but it had always been too dry to find most of the frogs I was chasing. Aaron was meeting us there, having left Cooktown a couple of hours before us to drive back the inland way. Chris, Jordan and I headed straight up the mountain when we got there, while Aaron was organising accommodation at Kingfisher Park at the base. I knew we wouldn’t get reception at the top of the mountain, so we simply organised to meet Aaron that night up the top where all the good frogging was.

On the winding drive up to the top, we stopped for a number of frogs on the road. The one I was particularly interested in was the Mount Carbine barred frog (Mixophyes carbinensis). The other two species of Mixophyes that are found in the wet tropics (M. coggeri and M. schevilli) are pretty easy to come across, but M. carbinensis is only found at higher elevations on the Carbine Tableland. We stopped at each creek we crossed on the way up and listened for calling frogs. I didn’t know what M. carbinensis‘s call sounded like, but I knew the other two and figured we’d just listen for something like that and then try identify the caller visually. It didn’t take long for Jordan to track a calling mixo down, and we were delighted to ID it as M. carbinensis.

Mt Carbine barred frog (Mixophyes carbinensis)
Mount Carbine barred frog (Mixophyes carbinensis)

Fry's frog (Austrochaperina fryi)
Peeping whistling-frog (Austrochaperina fryi)

We continued slowly up to the top, keeping our collective eye out for reptiles, frogs and the piercing red eyeshine of arboreal mammals. I’m sure we saw interesting things, but I didn’t photograph anything and I have no recollection of events prior to our reaching the top. So we’ll continue from there… The frogs were out in force at the top. As we got out of the car, the air was filled with what sounded like hundreds of marbles bouncing on a solid surface. The identity of this frog was no mystery: Cophixalus aenigma was the only Cophixalus species I’d seen up here, and I knew its call well. While I’d been lucky enough to find two calling individuals the last time I was up here, on this occasion there were hundreds of males out looking for a good time. And a good time we showed them (if being blinded by a dozen flashes counts as a good time).

Mysterious nurseryfrog (Cophixalus aenigma)
Tapping nursery-frog (Cophixalus aenigma)

We then spent the rest of the night tracking down the other two species, in between wondering why Aaron hadn’t shown up yet. We eventually found the other frogs, but not the other frogger.

Mountain nurseryfrog (Cophixalus monticola)
Mountain nursery-frog (Cophixalus monticola)

Hosmer's nurseryfrog (Cophixalus hosmeri)
Hosmer’s nursery-frog (Cophixalus hosmeri)

We camped up the top overnight, and then drove back down the next morning. As we drove back into reception, I received a flurry (and not the good kind) of text messages from Aaron. Turns out he’d become slightly bogged at one of the creek crossings, sat there for a bit assuming that we’d come looking for him (which, in retrospect, would have been the sensible thing for us to do), gave up on us, managed to extricate himself to the downhill side, chose not to attempt the crossing again, and went back down the mountain without getting to the altitude at which the very frogs he’d coming looking for start to occur. We’d managed to find the Black Mountain frog that morning and we’d found all of the Mt Lewis endemics that night, and I don’t even like frogs! But poor Aaron, a frogger to his core, had dipped out on them all. To add insult to injury, the Bartle Frere frogs that had been so abundant just a week or two beforehand also managed to elude Aaron when he climbed the mountain a short time after his dismal night at Mt Lewis. It was heartbreaking. But I’ll restate my promise to you, Aaron. The next time you come up to the Wet Tropics, I will take you under my wing and show you everything you want. Or I’ll get Stephen Michael Zozaya the Fourth to show you. He’s pretty OK at finding stuff.

After that we just drove back home to Townsville. Chris and Jordan were flying out the next day, so what had blossomed into a beautiful friendship was shortly about to come to an end.

Mixophyes carbinensis
Cophixalus hosmeri
Cophixalus monticola

Atherton scrub-wren (Sericornis keri)

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.
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