Australia and Tasmania: First Tasmanian Day

The following account first existed as a chat session between me and the lovely Erika, so the pictures aren’t in chronological order.

I’m in Sheffield, Tasmania, at a local rotary club diner. People’s local accents are so thick here that I can only barely understand them. You ever have one of those dreams where people speak to you, and you can hear every sound clearly, but not a single word emerges? It’s like that. It’s English – the words are all English – but unless I concentrate really hard, they all run together into a kind of vocal slurry. To add to the surreality, the folks at the bar just fired up the jukebox and it’s blaring honky-tonk music.

I’ve been riding all day and seen AMAZING THINGS!

Bizarre stands of trees, neat spiders, a whole mess of mud crabs wandering around, a beautiful swampy region, a pooped dragonfly that walked on my gloved hand for many photos, a lakeshore TEEMING with tiny frogs, so thick they had to hop out of the way en masse with each footfall, wild parrots, a local bicycle race, wild CHICKENS, a big ol’ snake sunbathing, many tame llamas and cows and sheep, a freaking SKINK (recently dead in the road, alas), ants as wide as my thumb … HUGE buggers! … Geese and trails of goslings, enormous ferns … Oh and at least five dead marsupials by the side of the road that I couldn’t quite identify. And I only rode through a tiny, well populated piece of Tasmania, too.

Traveling by bike is the shizzlick.

Dude. Just look at that. Lush and foreign-looking – unfamiliar plants all around – but with each plant filling a niche so it all adds up unmistakably to a riverbank.

And here I am riding straight through a thicket! This is a stand of Ti trees, I believe. They look just like ginormous shrubs. In both of these scenes I could hear a very intense, high buzzing sound, from all the millions of insects in the vicinity. It was much louder than any equivalent sound I’ve heard back home.

Oddly enough, I didn’t get bitten by anything. I didn’t see a single mosquito either. Wrong season perhaps.

Here’s another view of those trees. They’re very top-heavy. It’s like they’ve evolved to compete for sunlight very fiercely with each other, and their tactic versus other plants is to grow so close together that they starve out everything beneath them.

And, the swamp is very mucky! Good thing I’ve got nice new shoes to go stomp around in it with.

Go ahead and try to count the crabey crabes in this picture!!! 1. They’re purple, and 2. They’re numerous.

It’s CrabeOpolous! I looked out at the mudbank in front of me and saw at least A HUNDRED of them moving around. They blend in very well. They’re Camocrabes! Precisely the color of the mud.  I bet it didn’t take many hundreds of years either, for the birds to apply enough selection pressure, in isolation on this island.

As I watched, they competed for territory by waving their claws up in the air at each other, in a kind of haranguing gesture that put me in mind of a New York pedestrian arguing on a crosswalk. “I’M WALKIN’ HERE!!!”

Which reminds me. I need a cheap t-shirt of Christopher Walken with his arms up in the air, and the caption, “I’M WALKEN HERE.” Make it. Make it now.

I will buy it.

Time for another round of CrabeCount 2011! Twenty at least! And lots of pointy snails!

By the way. I call them crabes, instead of crabs, on account of a joke Ken Bell and I made in our UCSC days, about twelve years ago. We originally found the spelling in an old Red Meat comic. Imagine a four-year-old running around shouting, “OH NO! CRABES!”

These fellows were all hanging around scooping bits and pieces out of the puddles left by the receding tide.


Skink, with bike tire for size reference. They’re portly little guys.  Looks just like the live one I saw at the Cal Academy.

They’re pretty low-key as far as lizards go, but you wouldn’t wanna get chomped by one without gloves – it could break the skin and transmit disease. They have tiny teeth but robust jaws, like the alligator lizards they resemble from the forests I tromp through back home. I used to catch alligator lizards by grabbing them in one hand and then offering them a finger from my other, which they would bite and gnaw harmlessly on for a little while, exhausting themselves into docility. Then you could just carry them around and show them stuff. You wouldn’t want to try that tactic with a skink of course.

Around here, bugs just fall out of the sky and land on you as you go. I hear it’s a good thing I didn’t smoosh this guy because the species lets out a repulsive stink.

I was biking slowly up a long hill, and I glanced to my left over the edge of the embankment into the woods, and I saw a CHICKEN HEAD looking back at me.

I thought “what the heck is going on here?” and stopped.  The chicken head turned to follow me.

I thought “it’s picture time,” and I unwrapped the camera, put it on, took off the lenscap, and flipped the on switch, and the whole time, the chicken stood there gawking.  So I started talking to it and walked closer. The chicken held its ground as I walked to the edge of the road, and over the edge I could see a second chicken, just ten feet into the woods.

I took a few photos, chatting the whole time, then walked back to the bike and got out some chocolate mint popcorn I’d bought earlier that day.  I threw a few bits out, and the chickens stepped eagerly up to the bike to investigate.  They didn’t eat the popcorn – must have smelled wrong – but they stood there while I got a few more photos.

I didn’t have the resources to adopt chickens just then, though I was tempted, so I said goodbye to them, ordered them to stay out of the road, remounted the bike, and rode on.

I saw so many things today that I would have NEVER seen if I’d been in a car, or on a motorbike … and I’d never have seen it all if I’d been walking.

Note:  NOT forced perspective.  The small ant was barely larger than the large ant’s head.

This is a bull ant. I hear that being bitten by one is quite painful. I stayed a few steps back out of respect for that.

… Then I turned over some bark and found an ant nest.

Gah, look at all those ants. They were dragging their eggs around to hide them – an act that almost evoked pity in me until I remembered that even without disturbing them, they would have happily chewed my leg off. If I’d laid down on their nest they would have cut me into sections and fed me to their larvae.

Near this pond I found many wondrous things. I have some sound recorded for you, of the various birds and bugs making noise.

I captured it on my phone but the environment was so quiet that it still came out quite well.

A FROGIE! Striking pattern with the green stripe down the side. I’m pretty sure it’s this species.

The lakeshore was teeming with them. Every few steps, I saw them jump out of my way in groups of two or three. Their tadpoles fluttered just under the water. If this is an indigenous species, it’s been unique to Tasmania for a long time … Amphibians cannot cross ocean, so this frog can only be here by means of plate tectonics or human interference. (Salt water is lethal to amphibians at any life-stage.)

Here’s a frog still in transition. This would have been a better shot except I had to go with the preliminary, because when I got close, the little bugger bounced right off that tree and leapt into the water in less than a second, in one emphatic squiggle.

Honk honk!!

A dwagginfly perusing the marsh.

Nice catch, eh? Now check this out…

And that’s why I love this camera.

This guy was clinging to life even though he’d been smacked by a car and damaged his “lungs”.

When I picked him up he had ants all over him already, trying to dismember him, but I shook them off and crushed them. He had just enough strength to hold on against the wind. I set him down to ride along the back of my bike for a while.  One last trip through the air. About half a mile later I checked, and he was gone.

Also found this critter. I usually don’t photograph much roadkill, but I was a bit taken by the things I found today.

A companion blue wren, this one in the marsh. Alive and well.

This fly would make a tasty snack for that wren!

The marsh was a fascinating place to explore. The sheer density of plants and the unstable ground made it into a kind of maze, and you know how I love mazes!

Often the best way to proceed was by walking from one fallen branch to the next.

When I emerged, I had streaks of pollen on my clothes. Good thing it wasn’t the kind that gave me sneezing fits.

And now, apropos of nothing, it’s a little gnome treehouse shrine hotel! WTF?? Well, why TF not!!

Also apropos of nothing, the All Saints Church of England Cemetery. Maintained by the Central Coast Council and the family of Ernest Mason, who is buried somewhere around here in an unmarked grave.

Did I mention sheep? Well then, it’s about time I did.

Sheep gotta have big rolls of toilet paper. Gotta.

(Yes, I know; it’s hay.)

I find this Humerus.

WHAT crossing?!

I also find this Humerus.

The road towards central Tasmania. I didn’t go very far inland – not enough time, and too much altitude change.

The farmland is quite pretty here. The stripes of different foliage are intense and the soil is rich.

Guess the crop.

Give up? It’s poppies. Serious Business in Tasmania.

Generating electricity is also Serious Business here. This infrastructure is attached to a hydroelectric power station.

Massive power lines march the energy away to the coastal cities. See those white cement markers near the base of each pole? I’m pretty those are to stop the locals from running donuts around the power pole and possibly smacking into it.

The ferns can grow pretty large here.

Celia tells me this is a Banksia tree. She used to have a fear of them because of how they were depicted in a well-known Australian childrens’ book. The little tufts of leaves on the branches were said to be tiny demons that could jump off and cause mischief.

Here’s a closeup of the little demons.

And now, CrabeCount 2011 Part 2, The Crabening!

A broader view of the delta, with the tide all the way out. An awful lot of mud crabs live here.

Just after my midday snack, as I was biking along listening to Terry Pratchett’s I Shall Wear Midnight on the iPod, I came across a bicycle race.

So I joined in. Well, more like, I rode ahead, and was then passed by every single cyclist, and then passed again as they rode back down the hill.

My race time wasn’t improved by my tendency to stop and take photos of everything. Here it looks like the woods were damaged by a brushfire, then filled back in with ferns.

As the day passed into evening, the trees cast cozy shadows over the farmhouses.

Sunset in Sheffield. At this point I’ve finished my fish and chips from the rotary club (they were decent, but the chips were too soggy) and checked in to a motel. To my great surprise the drinks in the mini-fridge came with a note saying “These are complementary, for our thirsty travelers.” First time I’ve ever seen that before. I was so impressed by it that I told the owner of the place.

“I salute you!” I said.

“Why thank you!” he replied, grinning.

And thus ended my first full day in Tasmania.

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