Jack’s back

My favourite lizard at the Mountain was the cheeky Jacky (Amphibolurus muricatus). I missed him.

But after six months in my new home, I think one of his cousins has come to live here.

He was stretched out across my makeshift plastic-covered hothouse for carrots, catching the last of the afternoon sun.

I ran for the camera but he was quick to dash away. I laughed aloud with delight to see that familiar high-legged splayed gait, long needle tail held out stiff and straight behind — just like a mini-dinosaur.

It looked like a Jack was back in my life.

This one bore different colours from my Mountain mate, but they do vary a lot with gender and temperature. He ran under the house on to a pile of timber, where I couldn’t get a good photo. But enough to marvel anew at those delicate toes and the intricate studded patterns of his stripes. If he’s not a Jacky lizard, he’ll still be Jack to me… and very welcome too!

Screen creature

This striking silhouette met me the other morning. ‘Let me in!’ or ‘How the hell do I get down?’

The screen door wire is a bit floppy and it can’t have felt comfortable or secure for this creature.

I worried that its ultra-long and delicate toes would be stuck in the mesh…


Gently sliding the door open, I looked him in the eye. I know you, I thought.

It’s a Jacky Lizard, my favourite of old, too seldom seen here.


An extraordinary creature, a miniature marvel, with its stony camouflage, needlepoint tail and fine digits, although the camouflage was not so great for screenwire…

I don’t know what he was seeking or where he was headed but you’ll be pleased to know he retreated with fingers and toes intact, and I have since seen him on the deck. Or at least a quicksilver glimpse before he flipped off the edge and out of sight.

My scaly residents

I have always loved seeing the Jacky Lizards here, but the other day, for the first time in over 30 years, I saw a different Dragon lizard on my place.

It was bigger, with a different head and different colouring. It looked even more prehistoric than my Jacky, not really able to called ‘cute’ at all.

When I looked it up, I think it’s a Bearded Dragon. I am delighted to have it here, but as I watched it lower itself into a stalking position, I am glad it’s smaller than me.

And of course, my regular scaly but much shinier mate has been showing itself around the house almost daily. Or I may have two.

I have now seen one disappear into several log/rock places, so I know to expect one to be right near me, unseen, just about anywhere I need to be, like next to the tap or the steps.

I depend on its shyness to respect my right to get about, as I do for it.

Woko waters

Recently I made my first visit to the Woko National Park near Gloucester, New South Wales. I was tagging along with the Upper Hunter branch of the National Parks Association, which I’ve joined.

The camp site was perfect, flat and grassy and right beside the clear and fast flowing headwaters of the Manning River. You could just float on the current, or skim along — but avoid the rapids if you’re a wuss like me.

Others, like Alan, (pictured) even tackled the log jam run left after an obviously mighty flood.

A fair-sized goanna came to see what riverside picnic lunch leftovers were on offer, but raced up the nearest tree at our chattering attention. Once again, I marvelled at the intricacy and variety of the patterning of this ‘prehistoric’ creature; and just look at its blue chin and neck!

There was water of a far more gentle sort in the dry rainforest  behind the camp, with several small waterfalls.

These were places to stop and listen and look, as the water fell perpetually and lightly down the gully. No roaring or rushing majesty here, but peace.

A good place to sit and take a tea break, except for the need to be on the lookout for the many leeches seeking to begin their ascent up your leg! Spraying insect repellent on socks and boots seemed to help — although one still found its way up under my shirt.

Being used to leeches, the walk was well worth the risk. Some others didn’t think so.

Maggie moments

It’s that time of the year when the magpie young are relentlessly pursuing their parents, whining nonstop. They may be as big as the parents, but you can pick the young by their mottled brown and grey colouring; the adults’ crisply dashing colours are not actually just black and white if you look closely.

Other giveaways are the oft-open beak and the gimme-gimme whinge that comes out of it.

My more northerly friend Christa has lots of magpies in her riverside garden, but she also has a creature or two I don’t.

She sent this photo with the tale ‘The water dragon in my garden is chasing magpies who dare to take a bath in one of the large palmbowls. Loud magpie protests don’t stop him (her?) from charging again — until maggie takes to the air. ‘

‘But what,’ I replied, ‘is a water dragon?’

And this is her reply, the tale of her first encounter with a water dragon:

‘I had never seen it before. There it was at the corner of my garden where there were quite a lot of ripe coco palm fruits on the ground. The purple swamp hens like them. So do the dragons. Two hens were busily pecking fruit. This large and colourful one (I have been told the colouring has to do with the mating season — not sure if it’s true) charged at the two hens.

‘They fled down the river bank. I had just come out with the camera in hand to take photos of the hens. The dragon saw me and came at me at full speed. I have no idea whether he thought he could chase me away too or saw me as a source of food. Anyway, I got a bit frightened when it jumped up on the verandah, but managed to take this photo.’

And if dragons and magpies can’t live happily together in reality, Christa, being a bit of a whizz with Photoshop as well as a camera, has created a fantasy union — the Dragonpie!

Gladiator skinks

Following my last post (Skink family?) on my cute Southern Water Skinks, web visitor Darian Zam told us of his skinks:

‘I have a lot of these. I thought having the screens fixed would stop them getting in the house and running around this summer. It didn’t and it’s worse than ever this year! It’s quite annoying. They poop on everything. I got some great shots of two battling it out dramatically last week — they were biting each other on the head and then flipping in the air together. It was a pretty dramatic fight over who gets to claim the back of the refrigerator, I believe.’

Intrigued, since my skinks so far seem non-aggressive, managing to divide territory quite amicably, I asked Darian to send some of those photos and with his permission I share these three below. Thanks, Darian!

The flipping over is clear and they contort like wrestlers, but I am astonished that they bite the head, not a soft, vulnerable part like the stomach. I wonder if many lose an eye this way.

Perhaps they hold firmly with their jaws — to flip — rather than bite?

I will now be on the lookout for battle wounds on my skinks, of which there are now five zipping about on the verandah. Glad my screens work!

Skink family?

Two of the skinks who adorn my verandah and surrounds were enjoying a steamy break between rain storms. There is a smaller one too but it’s very lively and rarely ‘basks’. You know what kids are like.

Given that I’d only photographed and posted on them a few weeks ago (‘My special skinks’), I thought they looked different. More rounded, fatter, especially the one on the left.

Comparing those two sets of photographs, she definitely is. Now does this mean she is pregnant or have they both just shared a large meal and she got most of it?

And will you just look at those amazing toes?!

My special skinks

I have a family of skinks who frequently dive under a flap of the dampcourse of my cabin footings, thence probably into a chink in those footings; a small pointy nose is sometimes to be seen poking out of the underfloor vent grille.
 But most of the time they pose like statues and await slow-witted insects to pass by. 

I think they are Southern Water Skinks of the Warm Temperate Form (Eulamprus tympanum WTF, more recently renamed Eulamprus heatwolei). They are fat and fearless, about 250mm long, and seem to operate in distinct mini-territories.

This one stays on the verandah front rails and steps and comes much closer to me and my doings. She is quite inquisitive, far less inclined to dart away — or to dart at all — and doesn’t mind a bit of shade as she often hunts amongst the greenery.

I have absolutely no idea why I think this one is a ‘she’, as I have no idea how to sex lizards.  When she feels like a bit of sun, she chooses the rocks on the front side of the steps, and shows her gorgeous metallic colours.

I can sit and admire her for ages; just look at the intricacy of her patterning, the ebony and lacework side trims and the woven bronze of her back. That pink nose, that elegantly lidded eye, that perfect earhole!

The other skink, who occupies the rear side of the steps and darts off when I pass, happened to be sunning himself there at the very same time as his greenie friend was out the front, so I was able to take photos of them both, in the same light, to compare. 

Is it my imagination or does the one below have a more pinkish coppery tone to his back? And is the nose a less distinctly differentiated pink?

Either one is a jewelled beauty, as well as cute; who needs garden gnomes, bronze statuary or even trendy rusty iron sculptures when I can have these?

Lizard guards

During the recent wet spell and see-sawing temperatures, my resident skinks must have had trouble finding warm dry spots. I have what I think is a mother and child as the smaller one is getting bigger and less nervous of my approach.

I often see them on the steps, where they dash under as my foot hits the top one. The other day they were ranged one either side of the edge of the verandah that leads to the steps. Symmetrically placed and statue-still, they remained like that for so long that I worried they were not alive.

But they were fine, only guarding the entrance, immobile and at attention, like any good sentinel. And no doubt too cool to run fast!

My reptilian residents

jacky-lizardAs the weather warms up so does the action round here — at least as far as my cold-blooded residents are concerned.

My favourite is the sprightly Jacky lizard; perky and patterned and with such dainty digits!

I wouldn’t mind a few more of these little blokes darting about the yard.
My least favourite is the red-bellied black snake. Impressively muscular as it ripples across my grass and into my gardens, I see it almost every day now, always in a different spot. So my eyes are engaged in a constant flicker to check where it is, as I don’t want to startle it and cause it to panic my way.

I also have to thump about with the hoe first to check in any clumps I want to work on, because it can become invisible in a surprisingly small amount of cover.

This is the first year I have been sure I had a resident black snake rather than a visitor, just passing through. There’s nothing I can do about it – but I don’t like it! I wish it was winter again.

Mountain goanna

Last week I saw a goanna on my ridge. It was an occasion of great delight because, over 30 years, this is only the second goanna I have ever seen up here. They have both been Lace Monitors.

My new goanna ran up on to the base of a large horizontal tree trunk that had been snapped off and smashed down in a storm some years ago.

As you can see, the camouflage is perfect – greyish, pinkish, blackish; ripples and spots, patches and strips. And look at that exquisite needle point tail!

Perhaps there are more goannas here than I thought: I just haven’t had my goanna eyes tuned in.