Heading southeast.....

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November 18th 2019
Published: November 19th 2019
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After an amazing time at Adels Grove (&Boodjamulla NP) we headed south towards Mount Isa. As Mark is also a wildlife ecologist, specialising in Frogs in particular, (& as we are up to seeing new animals) we decided to search for some frogs and reptiles one last night as there had been a sprinkling of rain which often brings them to life, esp after such a long dry. We waited for sunset and once dark, started searching. We came across so many critters it was amazing. We then called it a night and decided to drive to our next spot so we could be there first thing in the morning. It was a good drive, with lots of sugary rubbish consumed to keep the adrenaline going. We arrived safely, very early in the morning, set up and hit the sack (3:30am). A few hours later we were up (5:45am)and the boys were out searching for some birds they were after. By early morning (8:30) they were back and all smiling- a successful trip not only seeing these special creatures but got some terrific photos as well.

On we travelled into Mount Isa to fuel and stock up and then we were on our way to BladesburgNP, just south of Winton. Again this was a lovely campspot with fabulous wildlife- lots of euro's, budgies and woodswallows. We had an early night as we were exhausted and next morning we were going to be on the road again. The boys went searching while Ina and I had a lovely morning at camp. After another successful mission we packed up and headed for Opalton, which is 100km south of Winton. On the way we were really keen to visit the Age of Dinosaurs museum. We had visited this back in 2013 on our first trip and loved it so was interested to see what had changed. It was still amazing and fascinating to realise that since finding Banjo and Matilda (therapod and sauropod) they had since found more dinosaurs- the first Pterosaur (the most complete one to ever have been found)which they have lovingly called 'Butch' and another sauropod, Wade. We again went into the working laboratory and Merlin was lucky enough to hold one of the toe bones from Matilda. Keep in mind these gentle giants ( similar species to Brachiosaurus and Diplodocus) would have weighed about 30 tonnes so a toe bone is huge by comparison!! From here we made it into the little fossicking locale called Opalton. In years gone by it was a thriving little town, founded on Opal finds and today is a great bird haven and remains a registered fossicking site for individuals ( ie not for companies to come and dig it up).

Again the landscape was extremely dry, with the exception of a few small waterholes. We were now very much back into the dry heat (unfortunately!!) and as temperatures were around the 40 mark it was sweltering. Luckily we had some great shade from the undercover shelters so spent the heat of the day playing games, doing computer work and of course, homework. During the next 2 nights the boys went out in search of reptiles and found some great geckoes Kristin's Spiny-tailed Gecko (Strophurus Krisalys) and Prickly knob-tailed Gecko (Nephrurus Aspa). In the mornings and evenings it was bird time and they generally had success finding and photographing the special critters. Unfortunately next morning, it was time to say goodbye to our friends Mark and Ina as they were heading back home and we were needing to get moving to our next spots. It was fabulous to spend time with our wonderful wildlife loving mates. As we headed out we came across a spectacular Yellow Spotted monitor ambling across the road- incredible!! We hopped out to get a closer look and of course some pics. What a stunning animal- smaller than a Perentie but its body shape and general movement was much the same. A golden yellow with intricate spots and markings all over its back and a long, thin whip-like tail. After spending some time with it, it head off and we got back in the car on our way. Unbelieveably, not 50 m down the road, we came across another one- this never happens!! How lucky were we??

We continued on, headed for Myall Park Botanic Gardens to see the Golden-tailed Gecko. This was one reptile which we were all really, really hoping to catch a glimpse of. On the way we stopped the night at Blackall and was amazed at this little pocket- the landscape here had obviously received rain as it was a green oasis compared to the surrounding areas we had come through. Continuing on we arrived at Myall Park and set up. This was founded in early 1940's by Dave Gordon who, with others, collected seeds from all around Australia's arid and semiarid regions and then cultivated them into this botanic park. The renowned grevillea Robin Gordon originated here and named after his wife and then subsequently others were named after his daughters. It was easy to imagine that this park would be stunning in normal climatic conditions. The lack of water has really impacted it's health but its obvious the quality and diversity here is incredible. We had an early dinner to be ready for sundown. As soon as it was dark we were off, all with excitement and a hint of trepidation - we really wanted to see this is little guy and their range is pretty restricted. Anyway we started searching the trees and unbelieveably after only a little while, Chris exclaimed, 'I've got one!!!!' We came over and sure enough there it was in all its glory this gorgeous gecko with a white/grey body, small black spots and the most exquisitely patterned orange/gold from its rump to the tip of its tail. After hi fiving (yes we are weird), we then kept searching for more. On we searched, finding a few more and one (much larger than the others and who was sloughing) whom we lovingly named GiGi. Anyway after quite some time photographing this very obliging, cuddly and friendly little guy, we popped him back in his tree. It was such a brilliant experience with a very special animal. The next night we again had luck, finding some different species of geckoes, again ones we hadnt seen before and simply stunning- the Eastern Stone Gecko (Diplodactilus Vittatus) and Elegant Velvet Gecko (Oedura Elegans). The following day it was time to move on so we packed up and headed out.

Since moving to Wangaratta, Merlin has been really keen for a coast fix so we had decided to surprise him with staying two nights up on the sunshine coast before our stay in the rainforest. On the way we had another surprise instore for him. Australia's leading herpetologist and Merlin's favourite non fiction author, Steve K Wilson, is a great guy who lives in Queensland and we had caught up with him on our previous trip. We had organised to catch up with him for afternoon tea on our way to the coast. Merlin was beside himself with joy and it was really lovely to see him and Steve conversing, sharing and learning about all things reptiles over a cold drink and some cake. Merlin got to show him photos he has taken on the trip, the new reptiles we have seen and find out what interesting work Steve has been up to lately. He is so encouraging and for someone so accomplished, just so down to earth. We were very lucky.

On we travelled down towards the coast (avoiding the horrendous fires but not the blanketing smoke which was everywhere), to arrive near Caloundra. Yes, you guessed it we were in a caravan park and i was holding my breath it would be quiet and not too busy. We were lucky in that it was quiet and right on beach. We had a day to enjoy the surf, the ocean pool, some good runs, and lots of fun on the beach- just enough of a coast fix for us all. Unfortunately on the morning we left we realised that during the night someone had taken a liking to my lovely bike (black beauty). After searching and doing all the necessary reporting, we had to get going in order to get to our next spot. I just hope that whoever has Black Beauty enjoys her and looks after her and/or sends her home once they have had enough!!

After a decent drive, we arrived at OReillys Rainforest Retreat in Lamington National Park which stands at about 900m+ above sea level and is quite undulating (great altitude training- ha, just kidding!!). We were really looking forward to this as the last time we had been here was when Merlin was 10 months old and previous to that, in 2001. Our few day stay coincided with Bird week which was great as we would likely meet a few of the guides we knew, and as well, we would catch up with our other very good friends Ross and Jan who were also staying here.

This place is amazing and its lush rainforest (although much drier at the moment) has enabled it to stay safe from fires. The campground was out of action as it is being revamped so we stayed in one of their rainforest villas- wow what luxury!! So amazing to be at eye level with the birds.The next few days were jam packed with fabulous activities and memorable wildlife experiences as well as fun times with our friends. On the adventure side of things we climbed the two treetop towers about 25 and 30m up off the ground in the rainforest. We went on numerous walks which were at various difficulty levels, and wound their way through interesting habitats- rainforests, gardens, heathy grasslands. The highlight though was the 180m long zip line, 30m above the canopy- it was breathtaking- literally!!! I believe on my first turn, i took out the honours in our group for best use of lungs- screaming loudest and longest ( not my intention but you cant fight it!!). We all enjoyed it immensely, with Merlin having the most number of goes because he was the fastest to run back up the hill to the start!

From a wildlife perspective it was magic. I was really keen to see the brilliant black and yellow Regent Bower bird and we were all keen to see a leaf-tailed gecko. We scored two from two with daily views of the birds and at night, came across a number of these amazing leaf-tailed creatures. Picture a larger than average size camouflaged gecko with long thin claws instead of pads and a magnificent tail that looks just like a leaf and this was the spectacular creature we saw several times at night whilst searching for animals- just so special. We came across so many others- lyrebirds, pitta, logrunner and the king parrots, satin bowerbirds and whipbirds. They conduct morning bird feeding here and it is such a lovely feeling have these wild birds come in close to you- you could literally hear them chewing their food!! From a reptile perspective it was also very productive with several geckoes, southern angle headed dragons, a dwarf crowned snake and a beautfiul coastal carpet python. The wildlife encounter activity was also amazing as we saw Russ the resident carpet python, Star a beautiful Barn Owl, some spinifex hopping mice, Des the wedgie, squirrel gliders and the stunning Astral, the Lesser Sooty Owl. The rest of our time was spent doing runs, Merlin devouring their library and swimming in the infinity pool. Overall this stop was just fabulous and with our interests, we could spend so much more time here.

Unfortunately the day came for us to leave here, say goodbye to our good friends Ross and Jan (as they were also heading off), and start the continuous driving trek home. We will send a final update once almost home. We hope everyone is well and enjoying life and will see you soon!! Xx

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