March 27 - First Leech!

Gene arrived this morning safe and sound. After picking him up at the airport in Sydney, we headed immediately North over the Harbour Bridge, and onto the Pacific Highway towards our first type-locality. A type loaclity is that very place where any particular species was first found. If you want to find that species again, you might find it in several places, but to be absolutely sure, you need to get it from the type-locality. Our first is Smith Lake near the Myall Lakes National Park.

On the way, we stopped in Newcastle for a lunch of oysters, fish cakes and veggie pizza. Typically, Gene dove right in with his scissors and forceps taking gill samples from each Sydney-Rock Oyster before they were offered up to the hungry crew. No one seemed to mind, which is considerably different than his expereince in Thailand. There, when seen doing the same sampling procedure from his plate of oysters, Gene was nearly run out of town by the chef who thought he was a health inspector!

If you have a look at the Itinerary on Google Earth that we set up before leaving, you'll see that our first type locality is a freshwater lake separated from the ocean by a strip of sand dune beach. Just beautiful. The road to the Myall Lakes park wound through the coastal region that seems to cater to the holiday set of surfers and anglers. Stopping at a roadside bait shop / gas station Juli and Liz inquired of the proprietor about local leeches near Smith Lake.

Unfazed, he replied that someone had come in the store a week before looking for something to get rid of leeches, suggesting that if we wanted to find them, we might try the Wallingat National Park just of the North side of the road by Smith Lake. Close enough, we figured, and after a few "Good-on-ya's" and "Yer-alright's" we were on our way.

The road through the Park wound up and over a ridge and down to a river bank, all easily negotiated in the 4WD we'd rented. Liz insisted that we have before and after pictures of the vehicle, knowing that the color inside and out would contrast sharply. Our first stop was disappointing. The ground was dry, though a few puddles suggested recent rain. All we could do was wander down to the bank, and in through the undergrowth hoping that a leech would get on one of us, but not expecting it; all the while being wary of venomous brown snakes that may be lurking where we step.

After about a half an hour, heading back to the truck to move on to another location, Juli remarked "Liz, you have a bug on your boot." That was no bug! A nice long, orange and black haemadipsid was inching it's way up Liz's boot toward her ankle!

We won't know if this is Immobdella varia until we get back to the lab in New York. But it was our first leech, and by the time daylight was waning we had another to keep it company. We're spending the night in Forster (pron. fawster, like the beer) and off to the Gibraltar range as soon as we can log up the backlog of dispatches.