March 28 - The Long Haul

Today has been spent mostly driving further North. Our objective has been to get up close to the Gibraltar Range and Nymboida National Park. Insofar as Grafton is also a type locality for two species, we decided to head for that town in Northern New South Wales and use it as a base for two days' work. That final objective, though, didn't stop Juli from attempting some surreptitious marine fish leech colecting along the way (see right). Juli, one of Gene's students, is doing her PhD work on the fish leeches of the world. This is an incredibly interesting group of leeches that inhabit fresh water, salt water, feed on everything from perch to sharks, living in tropical to Antarctic waters. So far her resutls are turning our understanding of the group completely on-end. Alas, the anglers on the jetty at Coff's Harbour hadn't had any luck, so Juli left empty handed.

After a late-day arrival at Grafton we found a typical hotel for the region. These places look like something right out of a Spaghetti-Western: a series of rooms for rent on the 2nd floor, reception and a Saloon on the first floor, complete with swinging doors - lacking only a guy playing the wurlitzer, a poker game and a shootout. Just prior to dinner we opted to check Cowan's Creek for Eumobdella yaldwini. The creek runs through pasture now and is enclosed in culverts. This is a problem often encountered when trying to pin down a locality recorded a century ago. Still, some local people mentioned that there was a bird sanctuary further on with a pond that connected to Cowan's Creek (aptly named Cowan's Pond). On arrival, Liz and Mark quickly jumped in bare-legged hoping to entice a few of these enigmatic worms to attach.

Twenty minutes of no luck, and after Gene was sure he'd identified every bird in the pond, we moved back to a section of the creek to try the same technique. Amidst the trickle of flowing water were bizarre looking 3-inch long fish-like insect larvae, water bugs, and... leeches! Juli saw them first (after Mark had certified the place leech-free). Flaccidly hanging on to vegetation prior to being distubed but quite active and graceful once placed in a tube. We aren't sure precisely which species this is, but they are really quite stunning. A bold stripe of maroon down the middle of the back and several olive stripes on either side. In fact, at first glance there might be two species, one being noticably more reddish overall and with a lighter stripe down the center.

We're all hoping that Anna Phillips (starting her PhD on medicinal leeches in the fall) appreciates this find.

Off to Nymboida tomorrow