I woke with a crick in my neck and a gearstick poking into my leg, recrimination for spending the previous night sleeping in the passenger seat of the 4WD after a six hour drive from Perth to Ravensthorpe in Western Australia’s Great Southern Region.
The original plan had been to set up the tent, but arriving at Floater Road in the Ravensthorpe Range at 11pm, there was a biting wind driving across the range and bunking down in the 4WD seemed a far more appealing option than setting up the tent in the baltic conditions. During the night I was woken by the sound of rain on metal as showers passed over.
At 5am bleary-eyed I stumbled out of the 4WD to a cool, humid and overcast morning. As the first hint of light penetrated the gloom from the East it felt as if mother nature had woken in a foul mood.
Daybreak over the Ravensthorpe Range.
I found myself in the Ravensthorpe Range in Mid-October to photograph one of Western Australia’s more unusual species of Banksia, the attractive Tennis Ball Banksia (Banksia laevigata.) An early morning stroll down Floater Rd in the pre-dawn light however, revealed the banksia was late flowering, perhaps a result of the unusually wet and cold recent Winter in Southwest WA.
This was most disappointing after the long drive, and lamenting the bad luck I was returning along Floater Road to the 4WD when I noticed a large stick on the track ahead. I had two simultaneous thoughts….I don’t remember that stick being there, and that’s not a stick it’s a snake!
I wasn’t sure from a distance what type of snake I was looking at, but as I approached I could see it was an exquisitely-patterned Southwest Carpet Python (Morelia spilota imbricata.) The Carpet Python is a slow moving snake and this reptile was certainly in no hurry undulating across the track.
The labial pits are situated below the eye and are clearly visible in the above photo above. These are heat detecting and are used to locate prey. In the case of adult snakes, warm blooded small mammals and birds, although smaller pythons will feed on other reptiles.
The snake climbed into the flowering heath at the far side of the road and camouflaged itself amongst the vegetation to wait for a meal. It was a great opportunity to observe the fabulously coloured blue-tongue as it flickered in and out of the mouth collecting scent particles.
In my mind it was a bit cool for snakes so I figured the activity was a result of the humidity. Indeed looking at instagram the following week, I noticed postings of Carpet Pythons in the Darling Scarp East of Perth and at Dryandra Woodland. It seemed that the moist lick drawn down from the tropical North had increased reptile activity throughout the Southwest land division that weekend.
The name Carpet Python results from browns and yellows being common colours of carpets back in the day, but what a terrible description. To see the beautifully coloured scales of this Python up close you would have to agree that the names splendid, spectacular or majestic python would be far more suitable!
See here for other Python encounters:-
I left the Carpet Python to make the short drive to the town of Ravensthorpe for brekkie. It was unfortunate the Banksias at Floater Road had not yet flowered, but there was another chance for this species.
Ethel Daw Lookout, situated off the Ravensthorpe – Hopetoun Rd, is another renowned wildflower hotspot. Only a 10 minute drive from Ravensthorpe it was worth investigation.
It paid dividends when exiting the car on Elverdton Road I immediately saw the ethereal form of a Tennis Ball Banksia on the cusp of flowering.
Tennis Ball Banksia (Banksia laevigata.)
Ethel Daw Lookout is nearer the coast and at a lower elevation than the Ravensthorpe Range. The resulting warmer temperatures at this location translated to more flowering banksias. One inflorescence had even fully matured and did indeed resemble a tennis ball.
Tennis Ball Banksia ( Banksia laevigata.)
The Tennis Ball Banksia wasn’t the only banksia flowering at Ethel Daw Lookout in October, the hillsides were also dotted will the scandalous yellow of Lehmann’s Banksia.
Fitzgerald River National Park
The day was finally starting to warm, and being only 40km from the South Coast, I made the drive to beautiful West Beach in Fitzgerald River National Park for a cooling dip in the Southern Ocean. As if often the case with beaches on the South Coast I had it entirely to myself, and spent the next 40 minutes washing off the dust of the bush while bodysurfing waves.
West Beach – Fitzgerald River NP.
Suitably refreshed I gave thought as to where I might camp that night to break up the journey home the following day and settled on Dragon Rocks Nature Reserve 200kms to the Northwest.
Driving Northwest along Hamersley Drive still within Fitzgerald River National Park I came across one of Western Australia’s four ground flowering banksias. This species was Banksia repens more commonly known as the Creeping Banksia. It’s habit of flowering nearer the ground means it’s main pollinators are the small mammals found in the flowering heath of the South Coast.
Creeping Banksia (Banksia repens.)
The banksias were common growing on the margins of the sandy Moir Track and as I took a short walk admiring them it became clear that this habitat was also excellent for Bull Skinks that were burrowing into the sandy banks of the track.
Bull Skink (Liopholis multiscutata.)
Lake Magenta Nature Reserve
As I left the South Coast the low cloud that had been a feature of the day began to break up. I passed through Lake Magenta Reserve and found plenty of Bobtail Lizards crossing the tracks.
Bobtail Lizard – Lake Magenta NR.
As I approached the town of Newdegate I passed a Monitor Lizard basking at the side of the road and swung around for a closer inspection. It was a Gould’s Monitor easily identified from the yellow tail tip. This little fella must be right at the Southern limit of his distribution here and is replaced further South by the Southern Heath Monitor.
Dragon Rocks Nature Reserve
It was late afternoon by the time I arrived at Dragon Rocks and I set up the tent at the rudimentary campground before making my way up onto the granite outcrop for sunset.
The Wheatbelt put on an impressive sunset as thunderclouds hovered about the land turning a series of pinks, mauves and greys as the daylight faded.
Thunderclouds at Dusk – Dragon Rocks.
I slept soundly in the tent under a bright moon after the previous night in the truck and the many hours of driving. Sunday morning I had a leisurely breakfast before packing up and heading back towards Perth.
The reptile tally continued to rise on the drive out of Dragon Rocks when a Southern Heath Monitor was encountered basking on the spoilheap created by the road grader. The nearby burrow had been created in the loose pile of sand and rock.
Southern Heath Monitor (Varanus rosenbergi.)
The Holland Track.
The final reptile of the trip is undoubtedly my favourite reptile. It was a Thorny Devil eyes closed in ecstasy as it soaked up the warmth of the suns rays. I’m not sure it was even aware of my presence such was the depth of it’s heat-induced trance.
As I drove the remaining kilometres back to Perth I reflected on how a trip to see a single species of banksia can turn into so much more. As always for those getting off the couch and into the bush the rewards are varied and great….