Catching the elusive carlia skink

Rock-figs grew in the cracks, their roots like pythons climbing slowly up the yellowish walls.

I had heard a lot about the SWER line before I got to go there. Christine Lambkin, a fly expert from the Queensland Museum, had gone into raptures about the entirely different, unexpected, and mind-blowingly weird species caught there on a previous trip. One of the most elusive of these creatures is the carlia, a medium-sized skink with a bright red throat. Several times we saw one gliding over the leaves, but each time we got close it shot off like an eel. Once we thought we had it cornered, trapped in a crevice under rocks. But it turned out the crevice had a back door, through which it hurtled and vanished.

Ellen and I ran one to ground under a large rock – but when I lifted up the rock there was just a large, weird-looking spider huddled up as though cold. (Into a collecting tube it went. When we showed Barbara, she became excited, saying that the spider was very rare.)

Eventually, Ellen located another carlia – hiding in a rectangular crevice with only one way out. We began removing the rocks that formed the roof of the trap… until there was only one rock between the skink and us. ‘We have to be absolutely ready to grab it,’ said Ellen, ‘because we’re only going to get one chance.’ The two of us crouched, hands ready, while Jamie removed the final rock.

A brown streak shot over the rock, past our waiting hands, and was gone. But no – it had bunted up against Jamie’s boot. ‘There it is!’ Jamie cried. Now it came towards me. I lunged towards it. It was near Jamie again. Jamie grabbed, and the lizard disappeared over the edge of the boulder we were standing on. Bugger! We had missed the best chance we would ever have of catching one.

But the skink was still somewhere near the base of the boulder. Jamie was down there, calling out as he tried to capture it. I was about to jump over the edge and help when I heard him cry, ‘Got it!’

Ellen and I whooped in triumph. We could barely believe it. With trembling hands we helped Jamie gently secure the lizard in a bag.

At the top of the slope we ran into Andrew, who accepted our catch on behalf of the Queensland Museum. The skink will become part of their collection.

Brian, Bush Blitz | Carnarvon Station Reserve

Bush Blitz is a partnership between the Australian Government, BHP Billiton Sustainable Communities and Earthwatch Australia. The innovative program sends scientists out into the field to record the fascinating plants and animals in conservation areas across Australia.