December was somewhat tumultuous this year. Between the summer thunderstorms, the influx of local wildlife, the regular end of year chaos and facilitating the move down to Melbourne, it was very difficult to get my priorities in order. The need to stuff possessions into boxes inconveniently superseded the desire to run about in the rain tracking down wildlife and attempting to capture lightning ‘on film’. However, we still managed to squeeze in a couple of mini adventures close to town before the road trip south down the Stuart Highway.
A few of us headed out from town and found an excellent spot to set up tripods and cameras to watch one of the evening thunderstorms roll in from the west. Having never attempted to photograph lightning before, I found the experience very challenging. Eventually the encroaching darkness rendered the autofocus inoperable and I really struggled to manually focus on the clouds and continually adjust the camera settings to match the changing light conditions. A remote shutter release and a decent tripod made my Christmas wish list. From hundreds of images, I managed to catch exactly one lightning strike. When the rain drove us back to town, we headed to Anzac Hill where a large number of locals were enjoying the show. While the photography side of the evening was more than a little frustrating, being out in such a beautiful storm was exhilarating.
The thunderstorms brought some decent rain and the frogs of Simpsons Gap came out to sing and breed. Spencer’s Burrowing Frog (Opisthodon spenceri) and the Centralian Tree Frog (Litoria gilleni) were the more prominent species, but a few Desert Tree Frogs (Litoria rubella) and Main’s Frogs (Cyclorana maini) put in an appearance as well. An almost full moon made it fairly easy to walk through Simpsons Gap at night, but you had to be careful where you put your feet. Spencer’s Burrowing Frogs are well camouflaged against the coarse sand of the riverbed and usually much smaller than a golf ball.
The cacophony of frogs calling was impressive, each species singing its own distinctive song. Interestingly, the deeper into the gap we went, the more distorted the calls became as the sound waves ricocheted between the walls, interfering with and cancelling out sections of the calls. Sadly, there were no sightings of snakes, but an Eastern Barn Owl (Tyto javanica) and its fledgling drifted occasionally, like ghosts, through the edge of the torchlight.
Packing up the house was interrupted by the discovery of Redback Spiders (Latrodectus hasseltii) in the shed and Long-nosed Dragons (Amphibolurus longirostris) displaying around the birdbath. Having never seen the Long-nosed Dragons around the house before, we suddenly had quite a number of males competing for perches, each higher than the last, from which to wave and do push-ups in an attempt to attract a female. These sweet little lizards seemed to have tails twice the length of their body, which inevitably aided their balancing when running at full speed on their hind legs.
The gender of many agamid lizard species can only be determined based on these arm waving and push-up behaviours. Generally females arm-wave while males do the push-ups. However, males will also arm-wave on occasion and it is thought that they do this to confuse competing males to prevent conflict.
As the departure date grew ever closer, last minute visits to the Alice Springs Desert Park, the Telegraph Station, the Olive Pink Botanic Gardens and other prominent places around town were necessary. While there are numerous advantages to living in Melbourne, the ability to step out your door and be immersed in nature within ten to fifteen minutes was an aspect of Alice Springs that I never took for granted.
Finally the cars were packed, and farewells said. Three days later we pulled into good ol’ Melbourne and I was reminded just how much I love the ocean. While this may be the end of the chapter on Alice Springs, we will definitely be back – I still have so much of the desert to discover. The adventures will definitely continue, with new challenges to face and overcome, new wildlife to find and new environments to explore!