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  • Nathan Litjens

Rare fish, bats and fungus gnats!

Wow! I didn't expect quite so much in a short afternoon just behind Coff's Harbour! Located in northern New South Wales, Australia - Coff's is situated in some of the most beautiful countryside you could hope for on the coast. I had arranged to meet up with Brett Vercoe, an underwater videographer for a few hours in the hinterland.

After a quick lunch we were off to a deep pool in one of the local rivers to look for a rare fish. The Eastern Freshwater Cod or Clarence Cod (Maccullochella ikei ), a fish that is restricted to a tiny area of Northern NSW. Along with its restricted range this species was hit hard by changes to the rivers such as de-snagging, water diversion, soil disturbance and overfishing. As an aggressive species they are very easy to catch so can be wiped out with relative ease in some localities. As they are now protected their future should be secure... for now.

We took the road up through the farmland, over crystal clear streams and through rainforest until we pulled up beside a deep, clear pool. Every stone could be seen on the bottom from the shore. A large eel tailed catfish lazily cruised past.

"There's a big eel in here, probably the biggest you will ever see!" Remarked Brett.

It's no secret that eels give me the creeps, though I've become less wary of them. I know they aren't dangerous but can be rather curious and one that is as round as your leg and a couple of metres long can be a little spooky.

The water was absolutely freezing and I had only a three millimetre wetsuit, so I had to improvise. I fished out a polarfleece tracksuit and put my wetsuit on over it. I had never tried this so I hoped it would work.

I stepped into the stream and like icy fingers the freezing cold water seeped in. It was single figure temperatures. Luckily when I fully submerged the suit/fleece combination quickly warmed up and soon I felt perfectly at home - once the cold headache subsided!

As I swam for the deeper water schools of rainbowfish, smelt and tadpoles parted to let me through. Out further was a school of Australian Bass, a bunch of eel tailed catfish and a few turtles. None of them wanted anything to do with me and scooted off out of sight.

About halfway across the pool in the deepest section the cod came into view. Dark yellow with big green blotches and stark white fin edges, he had a brief look at me and headed for the shallows - not as curious as Brett had described. Brett, in fact has video footage of this very cod nosing his camera!


The cod comes into view. Brett says the skin problem has become worse in the last few weeks.

But this cod had a bit of a problem. A skin problem, possibly a protozoan infection seems to be causing him some stress - showing up as white fluffy patches on the back. None of the other fish in the pool had this issue so we can only hope that the cod makes it through the cold winter as warmer water in spring should help clear up the infection.

I looked around and cruising the deepest part was the eel. This thing was enormous! Around two metres long and as thick as my calf she had a very large head as the biggest eels sometimes do. I decided to try for a photo but she had no interest in hanging around, heading off in the opposite direction. Meanwhile I had lost sight of the cod! Brett was standing on the bank and under his feet was a hollow area. I stuck my head in and saw the cod just sitting there. He allowed a few photos before heading back to the deep water.


A closer look at the cod

I decided not to follow him, instead hoping for a bass or turtle. They weren't keen to play either. By now the water was too stirred for any more photos, so it was time to leave.


The next spot was a secret cave not too far away. It's a secret because it is a fragile spot that cannot handle many visitors. Brett and I drove down a series of dirt roads and stopped in a clearing in some Lantana at the bottom of a gully. Nearby was a cave with a tiny entrance, not even big enough to stand up in. Brett explained that there would be bats emerging soon, so we hurried to set up one of my prototype break-beam systems. By the time we had set up, the bats were already fluttering around the entrance. According to the sonograms generated with my Echo Meter Touch 2 Pro they were almost all Eastern Horseshoe bats (Rhinolophus megaphyllus) with the odd Eastern Bentwing (Miniopterus orianae oceanensis) among them. As soon as the flashes were connected the photos started rolling in. The emergence was short lived and I ended up with only four decent photos, the bats mostly triggering the area the camera was not focused on. One of the photos even had both a Bentwing and a Horseshoe in it at the same time!


By pure chance I had two species fly through at exactly the same time! On the left is an Eastern Bentwing Bat (Minipoterus orianae oceanensis) and on the right is an Eastern Horseshoe Bat (Rhinolophus megaphyllus)

An Eastern Horseshoe bat leaves the cave

As the sky became dark the glow worms began to appear, I have seen several species in a number of locations, but none like this! The entire embankment lit up like a galaxy, the cave ceiling glittered like a blue milky way! I couldn't leave without getting a few photos, this one is my favourite:


Glow worms spin sticky webs and attract their prey to them with their lights. The smaller lights are the pupae getting ready to hatch into adults - the fungus gnat, a small slender fly.

I'll be heading back to take some more pictures of the bats and fungus gnats in a few days. What an incredible place!


Coff's Harbour will be within the range of Kaluta's drone and multimedia services once we set up shop in Brisbane. If you want your story told, photos and video from the air or some mapping, let us know at Kaluta on the contact forms or just give us a call!

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