Murramarang dragons

A quick expedition to photograph Jacky lizards of the NSW south coast

We had a relatively early start on 18th February, leaving campus in Melbourne at around 0700. Making only a few short stops along the way, we made good progress on the road and made it to ANU’s field station a little before 1700. The Kioloa Coastal Campus (Edith and Joy London Foundation) is located on the NSW south coast about 20-30 min from Bateman’s Bay. The campus is a wonderful asset to The ANU and in addition to being a base and site for research and teaching, is also an active farm and hosts a very impressive community garden. 

The region is recovering after bush fires directly impacted the area in November/December 2019 and continued to threaten during early 2020. The journey after leaving Braidwood, down the Clyde Mountain, is usually a lovely drive through wet forest of luscious green foliage. This is currently replaced by the charred remains of tall eucalyptus trees. Signs of a recovery are there – epicormic growth and re-sprouting ferns – but the contrast with previous trips down the mountain is incredible. 

Fire affected landscape of the NSW south coast (2019)

Our goal for the trip was to locate and photograph Jacky dragons (Amphibolurus muricatus). Jon was targeting as many as possible. One of us thought a dozen in two days would be a great outcome – Jon told us later his hope was 20 individuals. The first morning was a picture perfect Kioloa morning and we began the first full day searching the campus, and it didn’t take long until we found a few – around the homestead was always a good place to start. We went to the beach in front of the campus – well in fact the sand dunes just before the campus that are still part of the campus. Our successful start continued at our second location, picking up a few more lizards. These were located in the unburnt area; no lizards were observed in the burnt area. From there we took a short drive to the Kioloa boat ramp and found one almost before we left the carpark. Following this we walked the nearby headland (O’hara Head) and found a few more. We had enjoyed a fantastic run in the morning but the clouds started to gather above us so our late lunch was eaten with a little bit of nerves of whether we could achieve our goal. We decided to spend the rest of the afternoon walking around the campus. We caught another one – though the local poultry and other farm animals made things a little tricky for us. 

On day two we woke to another postcard perfect day. Leaving Kioloa we drove a little further south to another part of Murramarang NP, around South Durras and Wasp Head. Our success from the previous day continued and we enjoyed a morning catching and photographing lizards. We achieved Jon’s target of 20 individuals by lunch time! By this time we were even a little more selective in which lizards to photograph to ensure we achieved a good sample of sizes and a near even number of males and females. We celebrated our success with lunch at Batemans Bay.

The successful day and a half of catching gave us the chance to explore the area around the campus. We walked Racecourse Beach and the Murramarang Aboriginal Walking Track. We continued to see lizards – everywhere. A walk of campus also ensured we ticked off another common reptile on campus – the red-bellied black snake.

Red-bellied black snake Pseudechis porphyriacus

We celebrated with a drink, nice dinner and an evening stroll. Our walk brought a number of other locals, including the blue-mountains funnelweb spider and various frogs, including Litoria fallax.

Blue mountains funnel web spider Hadronyche versuta

We woke early the next morning for our return journey. We chose the best two days for our activities as our final day was wet and foggy. The drive up the Clyde Mountain was as confronting as our drive down. The fog made the charred remains of the forest even more eerie. We enjoyed a great meal at Bungendore and then made steady progress back to Melbourne, stopping only at Wangaratta for a coffee and snack. We made it back to campus by 1700. A very successful road trip that not only hit the mark for Jon’s project but also showed off the beauty of the NSW south coast. 

Recently hatched Jacky dragon admiring the view of Kioloa