Wednesday, 2 December 2015

The Natural Gem of Australia - Springbrook, Lamington, and Tamborine National Parks

This blog entry is meant to be a candid photographic account of my recent trip to 3 National Parks in Queensland. I planned this trip together with my wife so obviously, the itinerary did not just revolve around spiders and bugs but it also included other activities such as shopping, cafe-hopping, and visits to popular tourist destinations. There are tonnes of Trip Advisor reviews on Gold Coast's Best, so I am going to leave those out and take you straight to the "Good Stuph."


I probably took a million photos on this trip, and judging by the latest scale-reading on my Lazy-O-Meter, I would probably finish uploading all of them by Year 2099. So this is what I am going to do - I will publish some photos first and periodically update this post with more when I can. Do come back from time to time! 

* Click on the Images to Enlarge*

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7 hours on the plane and I was already 'dying' to set foot on land. I was never a fan of flying in the first place, and it didn't help that the coffee served onboard our flight tasted horrible. Gold Coast Airport was a welcoming sight and the first order of the day was to collect our rental car and head straight to Bellakai for a well-deserved breakfast. Coffee and Egg-Benedict never tasted so good! We then checked into our beachfront serviced apartment where we rested before exploring the adjacent shopping malls and cafes. Our initial plan was to visit my Alma mater on the first day but decided to forgo the 1-hour drive due to the impending bad weather and lack of sleep. Nothing much transpired the next 2 days except for a day trip to Dream World. We also visited some local spots for a quick round of urban landscape photography.


View from our Serviced Apartment in Gold Coast.

The following day, we set off for Springbrook National Park at around noon-time after getting our supplies from Woolworths Supermarket (Australia's equivalent of NTUC Fairprice). It was an hour and 45 minutes drive to The Mouses House Rainforest Retreat, our accommodation for the next few days, and despite taking longer than we had expected, it was absolutely worth it! Nestled in the heart of the National Park, the Rainforest Retreat provides great access to all that Springbrook has to offer.

Springbrook National Park - The Natural Bridge Trail


Such a welcoming sight - The road leading to Springbrook National Park. Photo courtesy of my wife who is a leading expert in iPhone and Nokia phone photography. ;)


We are finally here!


Our cosy abode for the next few days.

After dinner, we drove for another 45 minutes to our destination called the Natural Bridge with the hopes of finding Glow Worms. We parked our car close to where the trail head was and proceeded the rest of the way on foot. The trail leading to the cave was wet and slippery, so thankfully we were dressed appropriately and wearing the right footwear.




Warm-up shot of a tiny ant i found on a wooden railing near the trail head. (<5mm)


Along came a more exotic-looking ant, albeit too fast for me. One blurry shot and it is gone. (<15mm)


I had barely walked another 5 metres when i saw this beautiful beetle resting on a leaf. (<20mm)


My wife reminded me that the walk to the cave would take quite a while and suggested that we kept moving.


My wife had the stronger torchlight and was walking ahead of me when all of a sudden, she stopped walking and started waving enthusiastically my way, pointing towards a small tree. I thought it was a skull of fairy vampire. Upon closer inspection, i realised that it was indeed a spider. (<10mm)


I later learnt that this spider belongs to the Family Araneidae and its scientific name is Arkys cf. alatus. The most visible physical characteristics of spiders from this genus are the four spiny projections extending from the abdomen as well as two pairs of eyes that are laterally positioned. Awesome find by the Missus!


Neoscona sp.?


An opportunistic shot of a very large ant (Camponotus sp. ?) that was crawling nearby. It started to drizzle so no more photographs till we reach the cave. (<30mm)



Okay i lied. Just one more! It is always one more when you know your gears are waterproof! (<30mm)


When we finally reached the cave, it was close to midnight. We were drenched, cold and hungry, but when we saw the glow worms, we were able to briefly forget our discomforts and allowed ourselves to be immersed in the grandiosity of the moment. It was all good till the other tourists started talking loudly in their native tongues and waving their torchlights like they were in a rave cave-party. We were immediately reminded of just how drenched, cold and hungry we were.

In case you're wondering - Glow Worms are the larvae of a small fly. These larvae uses bioluminescence to attract insects from the cave floors and traps them with their snares made of silk and sticky droplets.


Using a small red torch, I painted the ceiling of the cave for a long-exposure shot, creating a rather interesting effect.

Springbrook National Park - Twin Falls Trail


View from one of the observatory decks at Springbrook National Park the following morning. We decided to explore one of the more readily-accessible trails (also reads: lazy trail) that would eventually lead us to the Twin Falls.



First find of the day and arguably the most interesting; Arkys curlutus. (7mm)


 At resting position, the spider arches its prosoma backwards towards the abdomen. From this angle, it looks like a tangled mess of legs and eyes! See if you can spot all of them.


Once in a while it would stop arching its back and when it does, it looks more recognisable as a spider.


Okay..back to looking weird..


A beautiful caterpillar on its way. (7mm)


Probably on its way to the salon. *flicks hair*


And then there was the beetle equivalent of David Blaine. Now you see it...


.... now you don't. Antennas and parts of mandible - gone. (<30mm)


Right under the slab of rock that my wife was resting on (while eating my homemade sandwich) laid a very interesting cocoon. At first glance, I thought that some evil caterpillar had taken another caterpillar hostage in a cage made up of human hair. I was wrong. Apparently it is the pupae of the Tiger moth (Family Arctiidae) which constructed a basket cocoon using its own spines. In this picture, you can see the exuvium of the caterpillar outside the cocoon, presumably of its final molt before entering its final stage of metamorphosis.  (Size of basket <15mm)



A stick insect nymph hiding under some leaves. (10cm)


I clipped on my Raynox dcr-205 conversion lens and went straight for the head shot.


A rather large skink (Egernia cf. major) making its way to a burrow.


A few seconds later, something popped out of the burrow to greet Mommy! Such a privilege to witness this!



An unidentifed damselfly soaking up the afternoon sun. (50-60mm)



This long-legged fly (Heteropsilus sp.) can commonly be found on leaves all over the National Park. (<25mm)




The weather was rather cold at Springbrook (Sub 15 degrees Celsius) and to be honest, I wasn't expecting to see any jumping spiders. It was only after we descended to a much lower elevation that I found my first Salticid - at a Fudge Shop, of all places! We were enjoying some freshly brewed coffee when it decided to show up on the wall.



And so like a man on a mission, I ran to the car, grabbed my camera and politely asked the Manager if i could take some photos of a spider that was on the wall. It was probably her first time hearing such a request and understandly she took quite a while to register my request before giving the go-ahead. I managed to bring the spider down for a couple of shots before returning it back to where i found it. If you look closely at the chelicerae, you can see that it has four distinct fang-like projections on them. I have never seen anything like this on a Jumping Spider. How peculiar! Thanks to Michael Duncan for suggesting that it is a Opisthoncus mordax. (15mm)


After dinner, we decided to explore a clay bank that I had seen the day before. There were a small cluster of burrows that were similar to those found in Fraser's Hill (Malaysia), and I was pretty certain that they belonged to spiders from the Theraphosidae Family. I knew they were there; it was just a matter of being there at the right time - at night . 

The golden question.... was anybody home?



Definitely a Theraphosid but what exactly was it? Still waiting for one to surface!


Finally, one appeared right at the doorstep! (Arbanitis cf. longipes


It started to drizzle, and I was soon covered with mud from lying on the mud bank. Can you see the tiny spiderlings in their own little burrows?


An unidentified Click Beetle (Elateridae sp.)


Mandatory close-up shot.


The Twin Falls, I think....

Byron Bay - Eastern Most Point of Continental Australia


We took some time off from the mountains and decided to visit some place warmer. Warmer weather could only mean one thing - jumping spiders!


I was feeling tired after the long drive from Springbrook National Park and somehow missed packing spare camera batteries into my day pack. As a result, I had to make do with what i had which was a half-drained battery that was in the camera from my previous hike the day before. Thankfully, the trail that we had picked to explore in Byron Bay wasn't that long to begin with.

The first jumper that I found was a large and stunning Opisthoncus cf. parcedentatus


It is an attractive spider nonetheless despite being a common species along the bay area.



It moved to the under-side of the leaf.


A truly beautiful spider!



Another jumper sighted - what could this be?


Checks with some of my Australian friends came up with nothing concrete. Some concluded that it might even be a new species.


Let me know if you have any ID suggestions for this beauty!


I spotted this huntsman spider (Heteropoda sp.) on a wooden railing en route to the Cape Byron Lighthouse.


How i wish i had looked up more often. What a view.


This species looks similar to the common Heteropoda sp. which are commonly found in Singapore. It was quite large, about 2 inches in leg span.


I found quite a lot of these jumpers but I wasn't sure what they were.


What an adorable face! 


Last shot of this Salticid before it jumped onto the forest floor (<10mm).



A gorgeous-looking pair of Long Horn Beetles (Cerambycidae). They measured less than 20mm in length.



I took my shots from a distance as I did not want to interfere with their sexy-time! 


I spotted a similar-looking but much larger Long Horn Beetle. (<35mm) 



Is this a Shield Bug? (<20mm).


A nice-looking planthopper (4mm)


We made it to the top of the trail in no time and there she was! (The blue tongue skink, not my wife.)

Lamington National Park 


Parrots, parrots, everywhere! (Platycercus sp.) 


These are wild parrots but they have learnt to associate human presence with food. Good call!


My best impersonation of Chris Pratt from Jurassic World. With 1 real and 2 imaginary parrots.


Supposed to look something like this.


Back to the Beetles. They were aplenty too!


I am rather bad at identifying them. Help, anyone? (5mm)


Close-up of a Lepispilus cf. rotundicollis (Thanks Nick Monaghan for the ID.)


I spotted this beetle crawling away from me. You can run but you can't hide!


A nondescript-looking beetle. Could it be another Click Beetle?


Close up shot of its antennas.  


Another perspective showing off its beautiful bronze coloration. (<15mm)


My only shot of this tiny weevil. (<5mm)


What an ant! Look at its jaw!



Another weevil (Curculionidae?) but with far more impressive coloration - Look at the colours!


It did not stay still, making it quite a challenge to get a clear shot. The weevil reminds me of mint-flavored M&Ms.


 It was times like this that I was able to fully appreciate the awesomeness of the in-built 5-axis stabilisation onboard the Olympus EM1.  (<25mm)


Just like the weevil, this Long Horn Beetle was moving and facing everywhere BUT towards my camera!


What it lacks in coloration, it makes up for it by being photogenic (<50mm).


Spotted this crawling across a leaf (2mm)


Briliantly coloured despite the minute size. Could this be a mite? Does anyone have an ID for this?


I wasn't quite sure if the Suspension Bridge could hold my weight. It was swaying ALOT!


Despite my fear of heights, i decided to do a little bit of hunting at Canopy-level.



A fly (Tabanidae?) with a human-shaped head! Why so grumpy? (<20mm)



Extremely cryptic Opiliones, commonly known as Harvestman. They belong to the same class (Arachnida) as spiders and scorpions.



I had to deploy the use of my Raynox MSN-202 Conversion lens for this shot. The body of this Harvestman was probably between 3-5mm across. Extremely tiny!



My wife spotted this beautiful red and black spider (Theridiidae?) enjoying its dinner. At closer inspection, dinner appears to be a bee!



Understandably, she thought it was a red back spider. I had to reassure her that it wasn't. What an awesome find by my wife - We couldn't help but to continue admiring it long after the last photograph was taken.


A beautiful Pholcid caring for her delicate egg sack (<20mm).


Head or tail? I couldn't make out what it was either. Both ends looked pretty much the same!


Slug?


Shooting the 'Slug'.


A mean-looking 'Fun-Size' Robberfly (Asilidae). I was actually admiring an ant (Componotus sp.) when I saw it perching on the tip of a branch. (<5mm)


A cluster of newly hatched spiderlings. 


Nothing special, not until you zoom in real close. Who knew they looked so beautiful with their amazing splashes of neon colours? (2-3mm)


Zodariidae?? My eyes were starting to hurt from staring endlessly at tiny subjects! (<5mm)


A Sac Spider (Clubionidae) sandwiched between the base plate of signboard and a screw that held it all together.


Passport photo taken with a Raynox dcr-250 teleconverter lens attached. (<15mm)


A rather colourful stick insect (Phasmatodea), unlike those commonly seen in Singapore. 


What a handsome/pretty little thing! (50mm - 60mm)


Tamborine National Park

A friend of mine from Down Under, Michael Duncan, who happens to be a Peacock Spider Aficionado, recently re-discovered a Maratus species and was kind enough to share several GPS coordinates of Maratus 'hotspots' with me. They were all at least 2 hours away from where I was staying but I knew that I would absolutely regret my existence should I allow this opportunity of finding my first Peacock Spider slip away, and so, armed with a GPS device, a camera in one hand, and my wife in the other, I set about on my journey to document the Don Juan of the spider world. No idea what I am talking about? Watch this video and you'll understand.




Video Courtesy of Jürgen Otto. All Rights Reserved.


"With the GPS coordinates it should be easy," they said. Could not have been further from the truth but i was up for the challenge.


Try looking for a spider so small that even the native ants tower over it. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack, quite literally. 


"Look for the smallest thing you can find moving on a stick and zoom-in on it".


 "Try looking for a spider that looks something like this..." ( Photo Courtesy of Michael Duncan)


"Or this." (Photo Courtesy of Michael Duncan)


"Or perhaps...this?" (Photo Courtesy of Michael Duncan)


Okay.. nothing of that sort but I found this fella right here.. 



Hmmm.. not a Maratus for sure but Omoedus orbiculatus (<15mm).


Another extremely tiny Salticid, no larger than 3mm! 


Nope, not a Maratus either. Probably an unidentified species. 


Another minute and unidentified jumping spider (<5mm).


Wait.. After 2 hours of backbreaking work under the hot Sun...Is this what i think it is??? (3mm)


That night I showed this photo to Michael over the phone, and he immediately knew it was something he had never seen before. We were both excited but the excitement slowly died down after i showed him the dorsal shot of the spider.


"Sorry Faiz, I am afraid that it is not a Peacock Spider but hey, if it is of any consolation, it could possibly be an undesribed Salticid species".

And there you have it. Travelled 4 hours to and fro with the best possible leads anyone could have and still no photos of Peacock Spiders to show for it. Was i disappointed? To be honest, yes probably a little, but hey, that is the raw reality of Wildlife & Travel photography. You can't always have it your way. When Mother Nature throws you a curveball, there is absolutely nothing you can do about it but to graciously move on.

 Next year again, perhaps? :)


On hindsight, I should have planned to cover more of Tamborine Mountain. That place had so much potential. Sadly, we only had a window of three hours to explore the place.


Like this beautiful bronze Clubionid.


Dorsal shot. You can see the slight chevron marking on its abdomen.


Close-up perspective. (<30mm)


A strange-looking Crab Spider (Thomisidae)


Can you see the spinnerets, the organs of which it uses to produce and spin its web? (<5mm)


Arachnura sp., commonly known as the Scorpion-tail spider. You can perhaps see how it got its name.


A real treat to be able to see all this creatures live and in the flesh.


So yeah, that about wraps up this trip. Everything about this trip has been amazing. Even the ants were beautiful!



... and their cockroaches too!


View of the Hinterland from our apartment on our last day in Gold Coast.



We would definitely be back again next year and spend more time at lower elevations.
 Maratus sp... We will be coming for you! ;)

3 comments:

  1. ...a man on a mission! Brillant work and very funny to read! My kind of holidays!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks buddy.. hope you would document your trips to Thailand too! :)

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  2. Nature really surprises me. There are a lot of things to discover in this world.

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