It's all about the flora and fauna: Part three

28 March 2020

So, to the slightly less cuddly and the downright dangerous beasts Australia is so famous for!

Australia promises a great deal in terms of dangerous wildlife but in reality, and very thankfully, they are as hard to find as the koala or the wombat and we encountered hardly any.

But first, those carnivorous marsupials.

Well, to our disappointment and despite all the warning signs we did not spot a Tasmanian Devil in the wild.

However, if our encounters with the island’s eponymous marsupial at Lone Pine and Devils@Cradle were anything to go by they are pretty lazy carnivores. Or maybe it’s just in captivity that they have more time for sunbathing!

And quolls? Who knew they were even a thing?! They are the devils’ smaller, spotty cousin and equally as lazy it seems. We did see a quoll in the wild – sadly though, a dead one on the road. It was before we even knew they existed and we wondered if it had been a baby devil but were confused by its markings. It wasn’t until our visit to Devils@Cradle that we put two and two together.

Equally illusive in the wild were Australia’s legendary sheep (and sometimes baby) eating dog – the dingo. We think we might have heard some in the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park but our actual sighting were restricted to a sleeping dog in a wildlife park and Ernie the stuffed dingo at Trilby Station. The unimaginably long dog fence through South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland tells us that there are still enough dingos out there that need to be separated from the sheep stations of the south east.

Did you know that Australia’s echidna and the duck billed platypus are the only two remaining species of monotremes? Nope, us neither and we had never heard of a monotreme.

I was overexcited to see my first echidna on our drive into the Kinchega National Park. It was hurriedly trying to cross the road and I had to jump out to photograph it. We went on to see plenty including one in the front garden of a house in Kingston SE which curled itself into its protective ball as I got too close.

The echidna’s water cousin was, however, far more elusive.

At Fern Glade Reserve in Tasmania we tried really hard to see a duck-billed platypus in the wild but it wasn’t to be. They were pretty hard to photograph in captivity, being remarkably quick in the murky water, but I managed a blurry impression at the Walkabout Creek Discovery Centre.

Australia’s waters seem to house some of the most dangerous beasts, big and small. Box jellyfish, coneshells, stone fish, they all sound innocuous but are completely deadly and it’s fair to say that, tempting though it looked, I was reluctant to get in sea on their account.

None of these, however, give more fear than the shark.

Happily these were the only sharks we came anywhere close to but the dangers were no less real. Two British tourists had chunks taken out of them (though incredibly survived) a shark attack in the Whitsunday Islands whilst we were there. One not so lucky man disappeared off the coast of Western Australia.

The other big sea creatures we saw seemed far less angry. We watched the sea lion colony at Baird Bay from the cliff top and left swimming with them to Michael and the children. The water was freezing and it was some hours before they thawed out!

Stefan turned all animal rescue when we found this bull sea lion up on the shore front at Beachport. He had some injuries and didn’t seem very well at all. A call to the wildlife rescue people suggested he might just be exhausted from a long fishing trip. We called back with updates and he eventually moved himself back to the beach and then was gone, back to sea safely we hope.

The Eyre Peninsula also delivered some rather more edible sea creatures. I had my first taste of oysters at the festival in Ceduna and surprised myself by liking them. So much that I went back for more in Coffin Bay. We had a great chat with a crab fishing couple on the jetty in Cowell which resulted in a later delivery of cooked crab. I wasn’t such a big fan of that.

Australia’s sea shores offered lots of other sea creature encounters, none better than the soldier crabs of Victoria Point who made the sand look like it was moving. The noise the tiny crabs made collectively was quite extraordinary as was the way they all quickly disappeared into the sand and became invisible.

Walking along the beach always delivered strange looking sealife, alive and dead but the invisible man’s poo, or more correctly the egg sacs of the moon snail, were the most entertaining. We were also glad to encounter the stinging bluebottle jellyfish on the sand rather than in the water.

Now I have to be honest. The one thing that I was least looking forward to meeting were the lizards of Australia. I am not a big fan. Being completely honest, just a little bit terrified of them. Give me a spider or snake any day. My concern about the number and size of Australia’s lizard population may have something to do with Stefan teasing me with tales of their being absolutely everywhere and enormous. My mind was filled with visions of dragon sized blue tongues in his former back garden so I was more than trepidatious!

I needn’t have feared. We saw relatively few and those we did kept a respectful distance. The goannas were the biggest we saw, maybe a metre long until we got to the Hawkesbury River where in the caravan park, alone and without my camera, I had an encounter with an enormous yellow striped one that managed to make itself appear at least half my height. I scuttled passed and hoped it didn’t fancy a walk round to our tent.

We were much happier with the company of one brilliantly friendly lizard in our campsites. The rather pedestrian shingleback skink was a regular sight. We grew very fond of them and they even enjoyed (or at least endured) a cuddle.

The shingleback’s cousin skinks were regular encounters in all their different shapes and patterns.

But what of the fearsome snakes we hear so much about? The tiger snake, the red bellied black snake, the python, the taipan, the common death adder. None sounded that friendly and heading into more remote areas felt a bit daunting.

But this was the only deadly snake, in fact the only snake, we nearly didn’t see in the wild. This encounter came unnervingly soon after we heard the story of an Australian man killed by an eastern brown snake in the Northern Territory. We were definitely careful not to walk in long grass again without a careful lookout.

Australia’s creepy crawlies have an equally deadly reputation and I expected trap door spiders jumping out at me at every opportunity but again we were spared any close encounters. The closest we got to a Huntsman spider was one on the tent when we were putting it up in Beachport. It was an easily batted away, rather beautiful brown tarantula type spider. We saw much evidence of red back spider webs but none of their actual red backs and given that Stefan has survived a bite from one in the past they didn’t seem so scary.

We saw lots of huge bull ants, some as big as an inch long but even running their gauntlet in flip flops we avoided being bitten. That, and the odd sandfly and mosquito were the only real biting things we found.

It was the flies that were the biggest and most persistent pest on our travels but nowhere worse than in the Outback and on the Mornington Peninsula. We quickly learnt the sideways Outback wave and not to forget our nets!

So that’s it, a lot of flies and kangaroos interspersed with some of the most brilliantly diverse and largely extremely safe animal encounters.

But we haven’t even started on the birds and we have saved the best until last…

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