Serpentine Gorge lives up to its name

While temperatures continue to reach around 40 degrees day after day, boiling clouds and thunderstorms are becoming more common in Alice Springs. These storms seem to bring both rain and fire as lightning strikes quickly set the dry grass ablaze. But the combination of hot nights and damp ground also brings out the critters. 

Serpentine Gorge, West MacDonnell Ranges, NT

One particularly warm night, only a few days after some decent rain, we set out for Serpentine Gorge in the West MacDonnell Ranges with a couple of friends, armed with cameras and torches. With a bright moon and flashes of lightning to the south and west, we navigated the paths fairly easily. A number of Australian Owlet-nightjars (Aegotheles cristatus) were calling, around us, both adults and juveniles, tantalisingly close. After many merry minutes dashing up and down the path trying to catch a glimpse of one, we were rewarded with a single bird perched fairly out in the open. Sadly, the logistics of juggling a torch and a camera while battling with focus in the dim light got the better of me and I did not manage to get a single shot off before the bird disappeared back into the night. 

Within the gorge itself, the moonlight reflected off the pale rocks and sand while a hundred frogs chorused. The two species we saw were the startlingly green Centralian Tree Frog (Litoria gilleni), and the much smaller Little Red Tree Frog (Litoria rubella). Golden eyes peered down at us from cracks and tiny ledges in the rock walls, the occasional ‘plop’ breaking the monotony of calls as a tiny diver took to the water at the base of the walls. 

Chris Watson had barely finished the sentence ‘With this many frogs, keep your eyes out for snakes,’ when I spotted the Stimson’s Python (Antaresia stimsoni) stretched out casually on the sand. The small snake (only around 80 cm long) calmly allowed us to approach and posed perfectly for the macro lens. A charming animal, that really deserved much more attention than it got, but we were all distracted by the discovery of the much less common and much larger Centralian Carpet Python (Morelia bredli).

Although significantly larger than the Stimson’s, the Centralian Carpet Python was considerably more wary of us (as we were of it), and remained coiled until it was confident we would approach no closer. The beautiful red, cream and black snake had surprisingly blue eyes and violet tongue to match. With a reputation of being quite ‘bitey’, I was not prepared to get in for the close shots of the Centralian that the Stimson’s allowed. But the smooth undulations of coils sliding over one another as the animal shifted position were simply mesmerising. The almost metallic gleam of its scales suggested to me that it had probably just finished a moult. 

Eventually, confident that we meant it no harm, the striped snake stretched out and headed up out of the gorge, displaying its full length as a touch over two metres. 

The next morning, there was no sign of either snake and only the sporadic call gave the frogs away. Instead, the water was visited by large flocks of fluorescent Budgerigars (Melopsittacus undulatus), hesitant Painted Finches (Emblema pictum) and discreet Diamond Doves (Geopelia cuneata).

For my first visit to Serpentine Gorge, I was very pleased that it lived so brilliantly up to its name!