Stats and Other Numerical Reflections of my Aussie Adventure

Number of airline flights taken: 10


Number of time zones crossed: 15


Number of ocean beaches visited: 17

Number of photos taken: 2989 on my camera, 36 on borrowed camerasNumber of nights in a tent: 12

Number of nights in a sleeping bag: 26

Number of insect bites: Oy

Number of days it took my hiking boots to dry once I returned to Boston: 9

Number of endemic Australian animals I got to see in the wild: 32 plus invertebrates TNTC

Number of new tropical fruits I tasted: 5

Number of people I met whom I hope to see again somehow, somewhere: 23

Bests: waterfalls, surfing, new friends, beaches, research projects, coffee

Next time:

•take Glenn with me

•tour wineries in various regions

•see Uluru and some of the Red Center

•spend time around Brisbane

•See the other half of Tasmania, especially the mountainous National Parks

•go to the Blue Mountians for hiking (Okay. Maybe we’ll have to go with a few people.)

•do a bike trip (somewhere where there is room for bikes on the road)

•eat more tropical fruits

•see a wombat

Of Waterfalls and Mud, and the Road Trip back to Cairns (Wetterer Tropics Part II)

One of the highlights of my entire Australian adventure was a visit, via serious 4WD bush road, to Annan Falls, one of several waterfalls sacred to the Aboriginees of the region. Steve, being a kindred spirit in the realm of sanctioning a water-junkie habit, took many of us there for an afternoon swim while 4 members of the group were on a backpacking overnight to survey the 800m and 1000m sites, accessible only by foot since the road washed out to a degree even the Troupie couldn’t navigate.  Imagine this setting, surrounded by bush, with even the walking track obscured. image

Scalp and shoulder massage - gratis.image

AD and Steve, happy as water ouzels.image

Nadiah and Anndy doing water ballet without a coach.image

Content much?? We returned one more time with everybody because, well, we had to!image

Another afternoon we were taken on a hike by Denny, ranger from the station in previous photographs, to look for tree kangaroos. Contrary to popular belief, tree kangaroos are not relatives of drop bears, but actually do exist, though they are not always easy to find. Steve, Nadiah and I had spotted one while listening for birds earlier that morning. We heard a huffing sound that was similar neither to the feral hogs nor the emerald doves, both grunters of the forest. Steve recalled haveing startled a tree kangaroo once, and it dropped (a controlled fall?) out of a tree and stared him down while making the same noise. We scoured the tree tops, and lo and behold, there was a meter-long furry tail hanging from a canopy branch, with a vague furry shape attached to it. WooHoo! Just like the yellow sign!image

We never did see any tree kangaroos, or any non-human mammals, for that matter, on the hike with Denny, but we passed a lot of enormous termite mounds.image

And the increasingly gray skies opened up for a drenching deluge that heralded the beginning of supremely soggy last few days of the expedition. image

We rock-hopped and waded across the swollen river at the beginning of the trip (quite treacherous) but found a natural bridge for the return leg.image

Some of the trees were blanketed with the exoskeletons of huge cicadas. I wore one as a brooch for the rest of the day (and evening dinner excursion into “town.”)image


Sometimes it looked like the sun might come out, but the rain kept on raining.image

When we arrived earlier in the week, the road into camp was dry. So was the space where Adrian had pitched his tent. Bring out the shovels, and commence to trench!image

Wet ground enabled us to see dingo footprints. We saw dingos, too, both in camp and while spotlighting. They were curious, as were we, and we just looked at each other until they walked away.image

James ducks under the kitchen roof to miss the worst of a downpour.image

Our view from the “living room,” now under an enormous blue tarp with an Eski coffee table, complete with candles to illuminate the card games.image

A dampened fungus sprouts a mushroom.image

More weird fungi in the forest.image

Solar drier - epic fail!!image

Our final excurison before leaving camp for good was a visit to the sacred Black Mountain, a granite boulder escarpment that is home to an endemic lizard, bat, and some plants. Steve has used the area for research, but the surface temperature black rocks can exceed 60°C, and what look like pebbles in this photo, are actually car-sized boulders with similar sized caves and chasms. We did a little climbing around in the relatively cool weather, image

and saw lots of skinks.image

The view from the base of the mountain.image

Though we got about 180mm of rain in two days, we had a bit of a reprieve in that it was not actually precipitating (at least, not much) when we packed everything up for moving out on the morning of the 24th. With all hands being handy, the final phases (tent strikes and packing, tarp strike and folding, gear and equipment collection, etc. took only a couple of hours. Loading the trailer and the three vehicles took another 30 minutes, and we were on the road en route to Cairns.image

I rode shotgun in the Hi-Lex with Alex at the helm and Carolyn and Kirsty for entertainment.image

Some of the roads were still under water, with more rain on tap.image

A clear patch of sky, with Queensland cattle (Brahmins and Brahmin-hybrids becuase of their tolerance to heat and resistance to ticks)image

Sugarcane fields - another part of the less than laudable history of Australian colonization (but the source of real cane sugar, rather than high fructose corn syrup, in all sweets and soft drinks in Australia!)image

Banana plantations, with protective, uh, bags on the fruit.image

View heading southimage

More views as we wend our way downimage

Cairns in the distance, illuminated by an auspicious patch of sunlight. Cue the heavenly choir.image

My last three days in Oz were scheduled to be spent out on the reef. Though I did get there, the boat pitching in wavey seas did not agree with my constitution, and after a few swims among the fishes, I spent 24 hours in my bunk before beign returned to shore. The up side was that I did get to meander in the botanic garden (see a previous post) and watch the flocks of ibises alite on the palm trees outside my hotel window. And 33 hours after I left said hotel, I was back home!


What a long, strange trip it’s been. I can’t wait to return some day!!

A story: Not for the Ophidiophobic

I had taken my customary afternoon swim in the sacred pool near our campsite, and was sitting on shore drip-drying and chatting with colleagues. I looked up, and from a tad downstream, on the opposite shore, Alex caught my eye and beckoned me to come over. He was looking intently at something in the forest on shore, so I dove in excitdely and waded across the rocks and through the riffles to join him. “What did you find?” I asked, full of wonder. “A death adder,” he relpied, not in the least nonplussed. “You got me back in the water to get close to a @$#!% death adder?!?” I incrudlously, and indecorously responded. Alex proceeded to explain that though they are the fourth most deadly snake in the world, and there is no antivenin for their polyvalent venom, they are slow moving, non-aggressive reptiles that rarely kill humans. Much appeased (not) I apologized for my vulgarity (I never heard Alex utter profanity in the two weeks I spent with him) and, quite timidly, gained purchase on a branch and peered down at the small leaf brown animal. Wading back across the stream, I was overtaken by Alex who had to “run and tell the others.” In short order, Alex returned with Collin and Steve, and most of the rest of the team trailed, cameras in hand. Alex and Steve carried snake-catching tools.

The boys romped through the forest at the edge of the stream, looking to me like 8-year old boys catching frogs (or themselves catching anything with a backbone), until  they successfully held a pillowcase full of snake. They worked their way back across the stream (Collin and Steve each lost a flip flop, an inadvertent sacrifice to the river gods as thanks for their good fortune) and handed the bag to me.

Back in camp, Collin double-bagged the quarry, gave it an appropriate hazard warning label, and hung it (where else?) at the front of the kitchen tent where it remained over night.

The following afternoon, there was time to collect data from the hapless beast.

For starters, the species had to be determined, as there are two similar ones in the region (Acanthophis antarcticus and Acanthophis praelongus I think), distinguishable only by counting the number of scales ringing the snake’s body.

So, make sure the head is accounted for, and count!

Um, one more time.

So, one species has 19-22 scales in a ring, and the other has 21-24. This one has 21. It’s a toss-up. Write down some other relevant information for posterity.

The bright yellow at the end of the tail is used as a lure to entice geckos, the death adder’s normal prey, close enough for Elapidae work.

And then we say good-bye and ceremoniously march the asp back whence he came.

Steve, not in OSHA approved snake-releasing attire, places the adder next to a cosy dead tree.

Nature-nerd papparazzi ready for a good shoot.

Subject seeking safety from the flashing mob.

The coiled position and flattened body are a warning that we should back off. George’s lens was mere centimeters away from the snake’s nose at this point. No harm was done to any living thing in the making of this photo documentary. Everyone (including the snake) emerged unscathed.

North to the Wetter Tropics Part I

Our official R&R over, we packed the Troupie, re-loaded and hooked up the trailer. While the loading of the other two vehicles was being finalized, Steve took off with Salome, James, and me for some people swapping. We picked up Tiana at the airport, and dropped Salome off in Cairns. Sad to have her leave the group, but she had work to do back at the Uni.

Sleepy Weasle called Angry Gerbil on the CB, both patched in to Chowchilla, and the whole show was on the road, heading up the coast, through the Daintree (and across the river of the same name on a little cable ferry – beware of crocs!)image

to northern Queensland and Shipton Flats campsite. A refresher for thiose who didn’t read the post about the previous week.image

En route, stopped to see beautiful Ellis Beach just for the view (Carolyn Nichols photo),image

and for lunch at Lynchaven Café. The mango smoothie and grilled fish “burger” were delicious, and the snakes, baby crocs, and parrots displayed in the mini-zoo were extremely cool.image

Nadiah and Emily stretch their legs (and arms) on Noah’s Beach. Swimming contra-indicated due to presence of stinging jellies and large crocodiles. On the positive side, it isn’t crowded! (photo by Carolyn Nichols)image

While playing on the beach, I noticed these very very weird little sand-bubble arrays. It turns out they are made by sthe and bubbler crab (Dotilla fenestrate) when it excavates a protective hole. More extraordinary natural wonders!image

There were daily reminders that the threat of litigation does not dictate life in Australia. This bridge was being repaired, but recognizing that we had three laden vehicles that needed to cross the river, the workers took a recess, covered th holes in the deck with cardboard, and bid us pass. Really?!?image

The rightfully famous signs alerting motorists to the possibility of various animal crossings are ubiquitous. In Tassie I saw wombat, echidna, wallaby, kangaroo, and Tasmanian Devil signs. On my mainland travels I added yellow diamonds with crocodiles, kangaroos, and tree kangaroos to my life list.image

We saw several cassowary-crossing signs, and quite a few “bump” signs, but we all appreciated this creative embellishment.image

And why did the Cassowary cross the road? So I could get a photo of his rump disappearing into the bush!image

Carolyn’s Cassowary

We knew that we would be camping on lands recently returned to the Aboriginies, so this sign, after many kilometers of rutted, bumpy dirt roads, this indicated we were getting closer to our new temporary home.image

And as promised, a kilometer down the road, was the ranger station. That green tent houses, among other things, a satellite phone, and there is running water in the green-sided buildings behind it.image

Love the logo. It looks great on the rangers’ khaki shirts.image

The first few days on site were remarkably dry. Our living room needed no roof. Invisible in this photo are two important features of the site: my tent (same one as on the previous site) and “the long drop,” a 3-walled, tin-roofed outhouse built specifically for Steve and his reasearch teams who spend time on site half a dozen times a year. Alas, the drop is not so long any more, and a variety of wildlife visits those using the facility. It was just unpleasant enough that I risked dehydration rather than venture a visit in the middle of the night, particularly later in the week when we experienced torrential rain. I must be getting old.image

We knew from the Earthwatch-published expedition briefing that we would be welcomed to this part of the world in a traditional Aboriginal smoke ceremony. I feared major-league hokeyness, but it was counter-hokey. Marilyn, and elder in the community, returned permanently to this area, her ancestral homeland, when the region was returned to the Aboriginies in 2009. Her predecessors had been forcibly removed from the area, and her parents, like other native Australians, attended a Australian/British school where they were not allowed to speak their mother tongue. (Sound familiar?) Sensibilities were beginning to change in the 1960’s when Marilyn was a small child, and when he was able, her father moved her family back to this area. Marilyn is dedicated to teaching her children and grandchildren the traditions and language of her people, and in sharing the prodigious knowledge of the rainforest that she and her ancestors acquired. She is a down-to-Earth, warm ambassador whose rambling tutelage was as entertaining as it was fascinating. We all felt extremely privileged to be so welcomed, and appreciated the perspective she brought to the adventure.image

The smoke was generated by bark from a paperbark tree (Malaleuca quinquenervia) which has myriad traditional uses including household vessel construction and shrouding the dead, and green leaves from another kind of tree whose name I don’t remember. We all stood in a circle with our hands toward the fire while Marilyn spoke in language, then we all turned our backs to the fire as she continued. Evil spirits thus warded off, we sat in our “living room (see photo above) having tea and discussing traditional prcatices such as a woman never directly addressing her mother-in-law, but depending on her husband to serve as the intermediary. She also explained traditional interpretations of weather events, recognition of appropriate seasonal activities based on observations of the natural environment, pollution from a nearby tin mining operation, and so forth. And the most lasting lesson for our group was Marilyn teaching us the “yalada,” which is an oft-used word meaning, fine, okay, copasetic; extremely useful, and much more prosaic than the tried English language alternatives.image

We resumed our customary daily activity roster with morning bird transects (adrian and Alex “looking like field researchers” for the photo op)image

and me getting distracted by the vegetation.image

There is a Flooded Gum (Eucalyptus grandis), I think, that has green bark that can perform photosynthesis in the dim light of the understory.image

Climbing is an adaptation of many species of herbaceous plants and woody vines.image

Some vines are as thick as my thigh and hundreds of years old. They hang in coils in the forest, their original support trees having rotted away, while newer growth has found younger trees to climb. Head-conking, body entangling, and tripping hazards abound, especially if one is looking up up up while trying to walk through the undergrowth.image

Buttressed roots can be found in a variety of taxonomic groups, and as I think I’ve mentioned perviously, are just enormously cool!image

Carolyn posing for a break-in-the-action photo.image

Seed pods from one of the many many species of Eucalyptus found in the Queensland wet tropics. I like these because they look like little scotch glasses.image

A golden orb weaver’s nest strung across the road high in the canopy. Watch out birds and hang-gliders!image

A golden orb weaver spotted at night. The body of this one was at least 4 cm long. These guys are toxic, but not as dangerous as our own black widow spiders. Take that, noxious Aussie beasties!image

These very pretty green ants covered my tent (almost exclusively on the outside, thanks to my gingerly entrances and exits) and were capable of nasty stings. Their bite contains acetic, not formic acid, and hurts, but the pain dissipates fairly quickly and leaves no lasting wound. We saw them by the thousands, though there were probably only many hundreds on my color-coordinated home.image

I was told this centipede can inflict a really nasty toxic bite, and at 10 cm in length, it had the forcipule power to do it. But it didn’t, at least not to me.image

Other invertebrates were just fabulous, in every sense of the word, and in spite of their shocking appearance, were delightfully harmless. image


This katydid hitchhiked back from the field on the spare tire of the Troupie.image

This dude would be invisible on a vine or branch without leaves. It’s an aptly named spiney katydid (Phricta spinosa).image

Can you find the frog?image

The biggest frog of our spots while spotlighting = Cogger’s frog (Mixophys coggeri).image

Stop the car! Brown tree snake  (Boiga irregularis) catch! And release.image

George and an amethystine python (Morelia amethistina)image

Spotlit Boyd’s Forest Dragon (Hypsilurus boydii)image

Carolyn’s notebook. Awesome!image

Nadiah and the tools of the tradeimage



These Melastoma cyanoidesare edible,image

and as their name implies, they make one’s tongue turn blue.image

Green-eyed tree frog (Litoria serrata)image

Love flower (Pseuderanthemum variabili)in a patch of sunlight!image

Schelhammera multifloraimage

This post has gotten quite long, so I will finish talking about my final week in the bush in a separate chapter. Cheers!

A Day off in Paradise

We achieved our mid-morning departure goal from Johnson Creek, and drove five hours up to Cairns and the Crystal Cascades Holiday Park. The women volunteers were assigned one cottage, the men another, and the research staff a third. Luxury! We had real plumbing, soft fluffy towels, real beds (I claimed age before beauty and got the big bed while Emily, Carolyn and Kirsty had rather diminutive bunks, but real sheets and pillows), electricity, kitchen facilities, furniture, and AC. The park had laundry facilities (solar driers - everything dessicated in an hour) and a sweet little salt water swimming pool. We had swapped a vehicle en route, and temporarily lost Alex a day earlier when he went to James Cook for graduation. We washed the vehicles so as not to transport seeds or hitchhiking critters to our next site, aired gear, then bathed, did laundry, and swam while Steve, Collin, and Nadiah did a few errands. Eventually, we could all relax and enjoy wine, beer, and pizza on the veranda of Steve et al’s house.

Kirsty, clean and pressed

Moon over the cottages. This is a fuzzy shot and fails to show that the moon waxes (in this case) and wanes backwards… of course.

After a night of comeraderie and frivolity, the research staff headed out to reprovision for the following week after dropping most of us off at the boat docks in Cairns for a day of snorkeling on the reef. George stayed home to rest, but probably spent the day taking photographs.

Leaving Cairns. Yes, it was that clear and beautiful, and the temperature worked its way into the low 30’s°C for the day.

Carolyn was given an underwater camera by her Dad for the trip. With her permission (and attribution), I will add some underwater photos when I get them from her.

This is Rodney who was with us only a week because he had to return to Melbourne and look for work. The somber expression is uncharacteristic!

Michaelmas Cay, our diving destination. There are far (very very far) more birds on the cay than there ever are people. Their greeting was raucous as they dive bombed us at the shoreline, and a common noddy gave me a welcome gift, plopping it right into my snorkeling mask as I was about to suction it to my face. This photo shows about 75% of the cay. It is just a tiny blob of reef that for now, is above water and behaving like a landmass.

There were a lot of birds that looked like variations on the theme of terns, and when I looked them up on our return to dry land I learned that I had seen lesser crested terns (Thalasseus bengalensis), crested terns (Thalasseus bergii), sooty terns (Onychoprion fuscatus), and the prettiest, black-naped terns (Sterna sumatrana). We also saw brown boobies (Sula leucogaster) (teeheehee) perched on this boat when we swam by.

We enjoyed two 90-minute sessions of snorkeling, seperated by a break for a huge and tasty lunch back on board the ship. The reef was gorgeous and in good shape, with an abundance of fish species almost characaturish in their colorfulness and fanciful shapes. The giant clams were, in fact, giant, some measuring well over a meter in length. They were also beautiful, with purple mantles speckled with green or orange or yellow fluorescent dots glinting in the UV rays of the scorching sun. I also saw a cool cobalt blue seastar a couple of times the width of my hand, some gnarly log-sized sea cucumbers, blue, orange, and red tube woms imbedded in round living coral “rocks,” and corals of every shape, fluorescent hue and color ever seen in nature films. We swam with a green sea turtle and dove to touch bottom to feel white coral sand made by chomping parrot fish. It was surreal. I was very proud of myself for being able to dispense with my customary obsessive attention to my appearance, and donned a full-body stinger suit as a hedge against sunburn, there being few to no stinging jellies around this area at this time of year. As I hope to show you when I get Carolyn’s photos, I maintained my normal skin tone and looked, well, dively. With the exception of James, who was recovering from having celebrated his 22 birthday a couple of days too early, we all had a delightful time.

The boat trip to the cay was about two hours, so we had lots of time to chill (in a very warm way) on deck.

A side of Adrian we had not yet met.

Rodney being as demure (?) as Adrian.

Me, happy to be doing just what I was doing, and not being seasick!

Heading back to Cairns: Rodney, James, Adrian, and Kirsty.

The view from the foredeck as we approach land

We were met at the park near the docks, and one car quickly departed to take Rodney to the airport. We were all sad to see him go. Back at the holiday park we rejoined the rest of the team, and were treated to a barby - marinated kangaroo filets (Collins secret recipe that may or may not have included some of the Glenfiddich we’d seen in his possession), lamb sausage, salad, and veggie burgers for those so inclined. The night ended earlier than the previous one after all of us had taken an extra shower, just to front-load cleanliness for the next week in the bush.

Wet Tropics, Aptly Named

I’m taking on the challenge of trying to encapsulate a week in one blog post. And to add a degree of difficulty, I’m writing this post hoc, three weeks after the fact and from my desk at home in the US of A. Let me know how I do!

This is an account of the first week of my Earthwatch Expedition investigating the impact of climate change on the vertebrate populations of the wet tropics of northern Queensland.


Sign at South Johnson camp.image

We camped at Johnson Creek, a few hundred meters from a wonderful swimming hole (soap-less bathtub), and including two composting outhouses with real seats, walls, a roof, and doors, a building with piped-in river water that served as our kitchen, and two picnic tables with roofs erected above them. It was luxurious, by “really roughing it” standards. Mine is the green tent on the right.image

This is the view through the door of my tent.image

It rains a lot in the Misty Mountains, and it is close to the equator and warm. Consequently, there is a lot of greenery, and much of it is larger than one might expect. Note the hygrometer hairdo.image

Outside of the kitchen, the research staff erected a big tarp in advance of the arrival of the 8 volunteers, and set up tables to serve as our dining room and office. Here we are in appropriate work attire. (Kate and Danny - there is a legitimate purpose for the subject matter at hand. Admit it!)image

The first evening on site we received an overview of the research, and a safety briefing. In addition to the terrestrial leeches and ticks to which I had been introduced on the koala study, Steve Williams, our unflappable PI (who included a photo of a leech in someone’s eye, among other delightful illustrations to the briefing) talked about venomous spiders, deadly snakes, “merely painful” bites from assorted reptiles, and the most pervasive threat to our health and well-being, plants-to-watch-out-for. Below is a photograph of a stinging treeDendrocnide moroides. The leaves are covered with miniscule silicon needles which contain a highly irritating neurotoxin. If one brushes up against the leaves, the hairs break off and bring the toxin with them, They can penetrate lightweight clothing, not to mention bare skin, and the intensely excruciating irritation can remain painful for days, weeks, or months. We all got exceptionally good at recognizing this plant, whether it was a 10cm tall shrublet, or 3m tree. Only two people were stung in the two week expedition, and neither over an extensive area of their bodies. Wax strips, such as those used as a depilatory, help remove the glass hairs. Their availability in our camp first aid kit was much appreciated. Swimming (i.e. cold water) apparently makes the pain worse. As noted by the signs of hebivory, there are critters out there that think stinging trees make good eating. Yet another fact in support of my contention that Australia is just plain weird!


In general, the daily game plan remained the same for both weeks (both locations) of the expedition. Some time before dawn, a subset of the team would get up, eat breakfast, and depart camp to go birding at one of the five elevations where a 1km (in length) transect had been laid out as the sampling site for data collection over a multi-year time frame. The 200m transect abutted the campsite, while 400m, 600m, 800m, and 1000m were at some distance away, so depening on the day, the designated bird brains would walk or drive so as to be on site by 6AM sunrise. The sun really does act like a switch, and though it still feels fairly dark to us humans, the coming light activates myriad avifauna, and a few tweets turns into a cocophany of calls, squawks, songs (mostly songs) in a matter of moments. Alex (“Doctor” Anderson received his PhD diploma from James Cook University a few days after this photo was taken) is a masterbirder (read that carefully) and I witnessed him distinguish and identify as many as 37 different species’ calls at a time.  The remarkable thing was, he could imitate each sufficiently well that I was able to then hear what he heard when I listened hard enough. 

The string Carolyn is trailing in the photo below (with Alex) measures the distance walked along the transect during the 30 minutes in which data is collected. This is done three times, at three different starting points (e.g. 200m, 400m, 600m distance from the transect start point) each morning. In the course of the week, transects at each of the five elevations were sampled once. Steve’s group (grad students, psot-docs, other Earthwatch teams) will visit each site about 6 times a year, and have done so for 10 years. The data set is quite robust.


Sometimes we saw evidence of birds, but not the birds themselves. This, and a footprint I didn’t photograph, are proof that a cassowary walked this way. At least 80 species of rainforest plants are dependent on cassowaries to distribute their seeds through their poo. When this picture was taken, I had not yet seen a cassowary in the flesh, but I could sense the size of the beast. And they deposit such colorful scat!image

This is the first of many photos of impenetrable jungle which we were nonetheless required to penetrate to collect various forms of data.image

When we returned from birding, we would have “second breakfast,” and regroup to do reptile transects. All of the aforementioned transects served for all types of data collection, but we did not usually visit the same transects on the same day for birds, reptiles, and night-time spotlighting. While snakes, tree dragons, an other large lizards were fair game, the most abundant reptiles were several species of tiny skinks that inhabit the leaf litter of the rain forest (Carlia rubrigularis, Saproscincus tetradactyla, Gnypetoscincus queenslandiae). While I was a fair spotter, when it came to dropping to the ground and catching the swiftly evasive little critters, I found I rarely had the requisite agility. Fortunately, my cronies on the expedition were mostly half my age, and more adept at grabbing the little buggers.

Carlia rubrigularisimage

We did not endeavor to nab every little reptile we encountered, but did collect a subset to be measured and massed and made to contribute a tip of tail (which they will regenerate) for DNA analysis.

Steve and his fabulous research assistant, Nadiahimage

Time for Slimfast® for Skinks!image

After the reptile transects were dispatched, we returned to camp for lunch, data entry, and a swim/bath/aqua-frisbee frolic in the river. That was followed by dinner preparation (we served as kitchen-help on a rotational basis, or whenever we felt like it) and consumption. The food was varied ample, and delicious, with equally tasty options for the vegetarians in our midst. After dinner, many or most of us went spotlighting, returning again to our various transects to trace the entire kilometer in search of eye-shine from whatever vertebrate species we were lucky enough to see. This included various species of possums high in the trees, dingos if we encountered them, kangaroos and wallabys, native rats (yes, there are placental mammals indiginous to Oz), geckos on tree trunks and on the ground, snakes in logs and on the ground, frogs on trees and atop the leaf litter, fruit bats in the canopy or in flight, and roosting birds. We left the latter alone alone, and their presence was not recorded, but because they were holding still, it helped us neophytes learn what some species actually look like.

This was my first spot on the first night’s outing, a leaf-tailed gecko (Phyllurus cornutus). It’s a lousy photo, but I was happy of myself for seeing something several other people had walked past and not noticed.image

We frequently didn’t return to camp until close to midnight or even later, and as some of us were expected to wake up at 5AM for the next day’s birding, we slept fast.

This is a photo of the only member of the group who was older than I. George “of the Jungle” Gornacz, a radiologist/wildlife photographer transplanted decades ago from England, will show up in other photos. His photographic addiction generated the several-times-daily uttered camp refrain “where’s George?” One of the researchers almost ran him over one afternoon when George, dressed in camouflage gear, was lying at the edge of the road with his long lens protruding into the brush. I can’t wait to see the shots he got!!image

The locations of each 100 m segmet of each transect is recorded as a GPS coordinate. It is also labelled with lovely pink flagging tape and reflector tape on an easily visible tree by the side of the road or track (pink being visible in both daylight and low light, as it contains pigments reflecting light from both ends of the visible spectrum). Both labels are marked with a 2-letter site designation, a multiple of 100m elevation (e.g. 2, 4, 6…), and the number of meters in along the transect (e.g. 100, 200, 300…). ex. JF2-600 (or something close).image

Another vegetatin hazard is called “wait-a-while” Calamus muelleri. The young shoots are allegedly edible, and the vines without thorns are used to make rattan for weaving baskets and furniture. When tromping through the bush, however, the noteworthy features of this plant are the spiky thorns at the base of the sometimes person-high leaf stalks, and the recurved hooks covering the vines that grow from the base of the plant and can reach many meters in all directions. They catch one’s ankles, hair, clothes, and equipment, and force one to yell “wait-a-while” to colleagues as they disappear into the undergrowth ahead of them.image


In addition to birds, reptiles, and spotlighting, one afternoon several of us embarked on a “refugia” transect. The refuges alluded to are microhabitats on the south sides of mountains where shade and contour contribute potentially to cooler microhabitats. Given the 3°C global temperature rise predicted in the next several decades, many of the species we were studying will be threatened with extinction. Steve’s belief is that if there are areas that remain significantly cooler, there may be hope for the survival, at least temporarily, of some of the species in the uplands of the Queensland wet tropics. One of his aims is to identify such areas. Instead of surveying for animals in this case, we were looking for the 10 tea strainers that served as housing for data loggers that had been recording temperatures and humidity levels on an hourly or daily basis for many months. image

The data from the dataloggers was downloaded on site, and the little double thickness watch batteries (or so they appeared) were replaced.image

Flagging tape “bread crumbs” were tied at strategic places olong the steep slope to aid in the next recovery of the dataloggers. (This is Adrian. You’ll meet him later.)image

It was very wet, very muddy, somewhat treacherous work. The bottom of the transect was at the top of a little waterfall. Pretty!! (though you can’t actually see it in this picture.)image

Adrian, Steve (the PI) Solome (PhD student) and Nadiah (RA) hanging on for dear life lest they slide down the rocks and over the edge.image

The 1000m transect was sufficiently far from basecamp that we packed up the trucks and left at 4AM for a day trip to the site. It was pouring (again) on our arrival, so we set up a temporary kitchen, including the 3-burner propane stove, camp chairs, and a large “Eski” for a table. We ate breakfast, and some people did bird transects (when the rain abated - birds don’t sing when it’s raining) while others of us went exploring. image

Carolyn Nichols, from Brunswick Maine, is trained as both a scientific illustrator and a biologist. She used every free moment to sketch. I want a copy of her journal!!!!image


What Carolyn was drawing. This is lantana, which is beautiful, and some of you may have it in your gardens. Its a genus native to South America that has been introduced and become extremely invasive in Australia. (The Aboriginies who own the land where we camped and worked in the second week of the expedition, have undertaken major eradication efforts in that region.) Carolyn didn’t know it was a bad guy when she started drawing it. She also didn’t know there was a 2 meter red-bellied black snake watching her. She eventually figured that out, and drew him, too. image

As usual, we had lunch and looked for reptiles, then packed up for a trip to Millsfalls and a picnic before heading back to base camp. There were lots of way-too friendly kookaburras, but alas, my camera crapped out and I have photos of none of this. I will append pictures from my colleagues when I receive them from Earthwatch. 

Until then, here are some more shots from the week:

This itty bitty mushroom couldn’t help but catch my eye.image

Bass fiddlehead.image

Funky fungi. Lots of the fungi in this area are phophorescent. Is anyone going to ask me how I found that out?image


There are lots of species of figs (Ficus) all over Australia, but they are not the only trees with butressed roots. It seems to be a highly addaptive growth habit when things are apt to crawl up your trunk and potentially weight you down in an asymmetric way. This is a relatively small tree, a species of Acacia, I think.image

Teeeeeeny weeny mushrooms.image

The day before we left dawned and remained clear enough that we could hang things out to dry, including tent flies and towels.image

And that led to a clear night, and a sky full of stars. The next day was a trip up to Cairns, showers, beds, pizza, and a day off!image

A few photos before I tell you about my adventures in the wilds of Queensland

I last posted as I was leaving Canberra and heading back for a short night at the B&B in Sydney before flying to Cairns to meet the next Earthwatch Expedition group. But I neglected to mention something I found very surprising. The sport obsession of the aforementioned Kara is roller derby! Since I’ve never met any roller derby queens in the US, and I know a lot of crazy women athletes, my sense is that the Americans who play the sport tend not to be members of the geek set. In Oz, however, the same women who play Ultimate Frisbee, have PhD’s, are engineers, or are otherwise of the more cerebral mindset are the very ones who put on helmets, skates, and knee pads and try to knock each other off the track. Who knew?

Jeff and Kara on our ride to the Botanic Garden. Canberra isn’t the most gorgeous city, but there are nice people there.

Didn’t get much time in the garden, but we did see this guy, and many of his brethren and sistren.

And while I’m on the topic of botanic gardens, I spent this, my last day in Australia, at the gardens in Cairns. Cairns has been hot, muggy, drizzly, pouring rain, patches of sun, rinse and repeat. But I had several hours without precipitation while I was taking in the tropical flora and learning about Gondwana’s weird plants. Green is a gorgeous color(s).

Ancient conifer.

This is one of two species of ibises that are ubiquitous in the parts of Australia I’ve visited. My previous attempts to photograph them have resulted in blurs on the grass. Here in Cairns there are also white ibises, spoonbills, and storks, among other avifauna. I have got to take up birding!

Next post will contain some deadly images! Happy Passover to those who celebrate. Can’t wait to come home and eat matzoh. (That’s at least half true.)

Canberra connection and Bye for Now

On Thursday evening, I rode the Hound down to Canberra to visit Kara, the ecologist whom I helped with the tree project in the Otways, and her partner Jeff. Significant others, frequently even official spouses, are referred to in these parts as “partners,” which is, as at home, the same term used to designate close business associates. It’s still confusing.

In any case, Kara met me at the bus depot, and drove me through a series of neighborhoods, each with its own green spaces, sidewalks, and little tiny shopping districts. The centennial celebration of the Australian Capitol Territory will be held on Monday, and this city deliberately planned for human-focused community life, will celebrate in long-weekend style.

We sat in Kara and Jeff’s little back yard with the chooks (including an Australian breed called silkies which resemble white feather dusters), the giant mulberry tree, and the end-of-summer wild vegetable garden, until the “mossies” started to bite. We retired inside for take-out noodles and dessert, and the first TV I’ve watched (ignored, actually, but it was on) in over a month. Somewhere in the discussion Kara noted that I was the only Jewish person, other than herself, to have been in her house. Given the cultural history of the country, I guess that’s not so surprising. That being said, there was apparently at least one Jewish convict among the first group to be transported, and the character of Fagan in Oliver Twist may have been modeled after a guy who was notorious among the convicts Tasmania. There are Jewish communities in Sydney and Melbourne, and there have been synagogues in those cities since the early 1800s. In an academic setting, Kara’s colleagues are literally from all over the world, but most of the world isn’t Jewish.

Yesterday, we went to Kara’s office at CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization) where she and several dozen other physicists, chemists, biologists, and computer sciences investigate climate change from a variety of angles and using a plethora of high and low-tech methodologies. As we walked into the building where labs and offices were divided by glass walls, I was struck by the trees and smaller plants growing in the lobby.  How cool is that?!? Apparently, it poses a bit of a problem because the species selected are now bending against the skylight, and will need to be replaced. Kara contends that the whole garden design needs a re-think, with attention to the species composition and space in which they will be planted. Duh!

 I briefly met a few folks and reconnected with Jessie from the Otway fieldwork. It was fun to see both Kara and Jessie in cute colorful summer civvies instead of grungy field attire that had included tough leather chaps. Kara spent over an hour on Google Earth meticulously mapping out a bike route for me to follow so I could visit the Parliament and see more of the city while she got some work done. She color-printed a 16 page set of maps, with the route overlain (red into town, blue coming home) on the satellite images. It turned out that Google Earth hasn’t updated its satellite imagery of Canberra for about 10 years, but I nevertheless successfully navigated to our rendezvous point by the end of the afternoon.

By the time Kara completed her task as travel agent, it was time for lunch, so we gathered colleagues Peter and Lars and walked over to the abutting ANU (Australian National University) campus for burritos. Apparently, this is one of the better (maybe best) Universities in the country, particularly for the sciences. Kara did her PhD here, and now has a joint appointment with CSIRO and ANU.

 En route to lunch, Peter noticed that the rear tire of Jeff’s mountain bike (my borrowed steed) had several herniations where the tire wall had split. He was concerned that the tube could blow at any time, so Kara took the bike to the bike shop, conveniently located across the courtyard from where we were having lunch (this is one well-appointed campus with some exceedingly funky architecture), and the tire was replaced while we ate.

Kara’s careful instructions prevented even me from getting lost on my ride through the University and a bit of town to the shores of Lake Burley.

I stopped to read all the historical signage and examine a water sculpture depicting all of Cook’s routes in his exploration and mapping of this part of the world. I rode along every little side path and through all the little gardens along the lake shore (new mountain bike tires make that easy), across the bridge festooned with flags heralding the big celebration on Monday, and eventually to the new Parliament building.

I declined to take an official tour so as not to be late with my rendezvous with Kara at 5:30, and instead wandered the galleries, and looked at the city views from the roof. The tour would have included visits to the actual House and Senate chambers, but as congress was not in session at that moment, that didn’t seem so interesting to me.

We could take a page from this play book

Kangaroo and Emu on the State Seal because neither of these animals can move backwards

On the return leg, I got a little twisted around as the satellite view landmarks had changed, and most of the street names were not included on the map. I may well have been better with “turn here, turn there” printed directions. In any case, Aussie kindnesses helped me navigate in several different locations (including one in which a young woman pulled out her iPad to help us both figure out the best direction in which to send me), and I had a lovely ride to the big central shopping plaza, where I waited by a cool fountain for Kara’s afternoon meeting to end.

 Beers and chips, followed by dinner at a delicious dumpling house (with Jeff, Peter, and Lars) ended the day on a full and friendly note.

 This is likely my last post for quite a while, as tomorrow I head into the hinterlands (Daintree Cloud Forest in Northern Queensland) for my next Earthwatch adventure. We will be camping at a site with no power, plumbing, cell phone, or internet access. I have learned from Kara that the trip leaders have phones that can be accessed on emergency channels (some of you may have more of a clue about that) but we minions will be in radio silence.


Be well, stay warm, and I am REALLY looking forward to seeing everybody in the not too distant future. That includes you, my Left Coast buddies. Not sure when or how, but it will happen!






Sydney: Parting shots

The following “totally spontaneous and unposed” photos were taken by Graeme Dodd, the Bikebuffs guy.

Me in a pretty sandstone church built by convicts back in the day. Church is in The Rocks district, just to the west of Circular Quay and the CBD.

Graeme pointed out the differnet patterns of chisel marks inthe stone, showing the different styles and skills of the convict stone cutters. (photo by AD)

Me righting the collapsing bridge.

Yup. I can jump THAT high!


The next two are from Bondi Beach, taken while I was waiting for my second surfing lesson. The lesson, by the way, was a rousing success, beaucse not only did I have fun and not get hurt (goals #1 and #2), I also caught waves by myslef, stood on the board, and steered around some over-sized bathers who were standing in the middle of the “surfers only” zone. The waves were small and gentle, but I DID IT!

So this is why Bondi Beach is perfectly clean and the ramps are sand-free every morning:

Sand plows!

Four little maids from wchool are we.

A Day with BikeBuffs (i.e. Graham leads a tour of Sydney)

Photo op with Bridge

Stuff of nightmares! Amusement Park built after bridge construction on site of construction staging ground. Underutilized, but a definite period (WWII era) piece. 

Lavender Bay Verticals and Horizontals.

Wendy Whiteley’s “Secret” guerilla garden. One of the clandestine highlights of Sydney. For more info, check it out on the web.

After riding around “The Rocks,” Killibilli, North Sydney, Lavender Bay, and a few other areas for a couple of hours, we looped back to the starting point to meet two more people who were either going to join the tour (I was the only tourist up to that point) or just rent bikes. Graham expected a middle-aged Spanish couple. Instead, we met the gorgeous Gracey and Eduardo, newlyweds from Santiago (Gracey is originally Brazilian). Gracey, all legs, blond hair, and an ebullient personality, spent 16 years of her life as a fashion model which took her all over the world. She fell in love with Santiago, moved there, fell in love with Eduardo, and ended up on our bike tour as part of their honeymoon trip to NZ, AUS, and all of Southeast Asia… in three weeks. Eduardo, with his sunglasses on, looks like a slightly taller version of Tom Cruise. He works for Burton (the snowboarders among my followers will well know the company) which takes him all over the place, including annual trips to Burlington and NYC. He’s an avid biker, boarder, kite sailer, motorcycle rider, surfer… He also loves digital gadgets, and had a helmet cam and a excellent Canon digital SLR. He was impossible to keep track of during the tour, but both Graham and I were laid back about the schedule, so we just enjoyed the craziness. The two “kids” (somewhere in their early to mid 30’s, I think) were gregarious and delightful company.

Eduardo, Gracey (trying not to make me feel short), and me and the Replica of the HMS Endeavor, Captain James Cook’s vessel that “discovered” Australia. This actual ship has actually replicated the journey as well.

Eduardo zipping past a fountain on Darling Harbor.

Gracey and Eduardo photographing the koala at the “Wild Life” museum at Darling Harbor (an extension of the zoo, I think). Ho Hum.

Bikers by the Bridge by the Bay (Harbor is less alliterative)

Gracey and I perform at the Opera House

I give BikeBuffs nothing but thumbs up. It was a great way to see the city and surrounds, and Graham, a former antique dealer specializing in Australian pieces, is knowledgeable, informative, kind, friendly, lighthearted, and as laid back as they come. Check it out when you get here! You won’t regret it.

More Sydney adventures, and why I’m skipping a trip to the mountains

I don’t have any photos from the pre-prandial morning walk I took with Mary J (B&B proprietor) but she took me in easterly and northerly directions to see Rushcutters Bay where are berthed the big sailing yachts that participate in the Sydney to Melbourne race, and Darling Point, a posh, hilly, and beautiful neighborhood with huge old trees, many old (by Aussie standards) homes, and gorgeous harbor views.

I also have no photos of my surfing lesson at Bondi beach. I had such a great time, in spite of my inability to actually stand up on the board, that I’ve signed up for another lesson. Plan A had been to take a train trip to the Blue Mountains where, apparently, there is only one day-trip length hiking trail accessible without a car. We have mountains I can get to from Boston. We don’t have surfing beaches with perfect sand, perfect weather, and perfect waves for beginners. All that being said, the next time I’m in this vicinity I will rent a car and spend some time hiking in the Blue Mountains! Who wants to come with me?!?

Friendly sulfur-crested cockatoos. Some were perched on a visitor’s arm, but I couldn’t get the shot in time.


Evening in the Botanic Gardens



Cool light


Magnificent Magnolia


Fabulous Ficus altissima


What’s he pointing to?




I could stay in the Botanic Garden for days! But they close the gates at 8PM.


Not the postcard shot


Men at work - never found out what the project is all about


Sunset refelcted on North Sydney



I’m wrapping up the day (Tuesday, March 5) sitting by Circular Quay listening to a jazz combo playing at the Opera Bar 50 meters away, and watching the tagalong of tourists chatting, strolling, cuddling, and taking an endless stream of Selfies with the Opera House lit up as the backdrop.


Half an hour ago a couple of the brightest stars (they may be planets) started to be visible, and I had hoped that I’d be able to see, and maybe even photograph, the Southern Cross. But with increasing darkness has come increasing cloud cover, and now all I see when I look up are very large bats flying from the eves of the hotel next to me. These warm, breezy, waning days of the austral summer are exceedingly pleasant, and it is easy to see what draws people to vacation here.

And apropos of vacations, I noted that this is the first night in 5 where the cruise ship dock is empty. This harbor can and does accommodate the largest of the ocean liners, and I have chatted with quite a few passengers (on city buses, attempting navigation by the free city maps available at the information booths, in check-out lines watching them fumble for the appropriate AUD denomination, at the zoo, and at various POI’s) who are seeing as many sites as they can pack into their 1-3 day Sydney shore leaves. Their checklists are really impressive!


At the risk of this becoming an exceedingly lengthy post, I’m going to try to summarize my Sydney adventures thus far in fewer (remember what par is for me) words and more pictures. That being said, the first notes will be un-illustrated.

Observation #1: Lots of vacant shop in the suburbs I’ve passed through while on the bus. In Paddington, where my B&B (photo below) is located, the bad news began with the opening of the huge Westfield shopping mall at some point in the past 10 years. The chamber of commerce (or some similar entity) subsequently made the decision to turn the main thoroughfare of Paddington (Oxford Street) into a fashion district. But as soon as the area began to revitalize, the economic downturn (same precipitous direction as in the northern hemisphere) collapsed the market. There remain quite a few small shops with all manner of clothing not meant to compete with the major fashion houses that have stores in the CBD, but for every two, there is a storefront with a “for lease” sign prominently displayed.


Wayfinding in Oz


Observation #2: Folks in Sydney exercise a lot, and very publicly. On the beach and the nearby lawns in Bondi, there are individuals and small groups doing all kinds of body-weight work, sprints, calisthenics, and distance running. Six-packs, 7-packs, 8-packs (I exercise poetic license) were all proudly on display by men and women spanning close to 7 decades in age. Similarly, this evening in the Botanic Gardens I noticed there are also hills and long flights of steps for the hundreds of runners to sprint up repeatedly, and wide expanses of lawn for personal trainers to work their clients out. I was walking along one path when all of a sudden, the guy walking in front of me dropped down and started doing pushups. He’s lucky I didn’t trip over his well-toned ass! (I apologize if I have offended anyone’s delicate sensibilities.)



Observation #3: Manly is meh. But the ferry ride out to Manly, even on a cloudy drizzly day, is glorious. I was out on the tiny front deck of the reasonably large (largest of the dozen or so lines leaving from Circular Quay) passenger ferry, and as we approached the Harbor mouth with a view of the Pacific Ocean, the pilot came on the loud speaker and said, “due to larger than average swells, those passengers on the bow deck may wish to go inside.” Anticipating what was coming, I opted to stay out in the air, as did a few other stalwart folks. There was a lot of shrieking from a gaggle of young 20-somethings as we navigated past the gap, but the drenching amused the rest of us.





Observation #4: While the dijeridoo player I listened to in the Queen Vic market in Melbourne did all sorts of fascinating things with his instrument, the four separate dij players I observed entertaining the tourists on Circular Quay were all equally uninspired. They nevertheless drew huge crowds, in part because they were actually of Aboriginal descent, partly because they were dressed in indigenous minimal costume and lots of white body paint, perhaps somewhat because of the novelty of the instrument for many of the onlookers, and significantly because they were all extremely friendly, chatty (not so play-y) and encouraged onlookers to have their picture taken with them, free of charge. Their extreme open-ness made me wonder what they were really thinking.

Dij player with protegee from the crowd


Photos from Sunday: Ferry to the Toronga Zoo and a day with the animals, followed by an evening at the Aquarium and a wander around Darling Harbor.




water dragon image

Mandarin duck






Amazing how many people can’t read.



Darling Harbor - cnference center, mega mall, and tourist mecca



Photos from Monday: Bondi to Coogee cliff walk, with wading at every beach en route, and back again for a real swim at Bondi where there were lockers in which to stash my backpack. Observation #5: Travelling alone means no one can watch your stuff.

Bondi Beach!!



Cliff walk indeed! (Though truth be told, I was not actually on the walkway for this one.)


Ice plant in it’s natural habitat.



Greenest seaweed I’ve ever seen


" Most beautiful cemetery in the world," says the guidebook. Can’t say much about the cemetery, but the ghosts sure get a spectacular view!image

Monday evening: walk across the Harbor Bridge for views of the city at night. Accompanied (another deciphering-the-map situation) by two early 20-somethings (British and Canadian) who had met in a hostel in Indonesia and had been traveling together for 5 months. There are a lot of peripatetic (that’s for you, Mom) kids in that age group in Australia, and they seem to be either going to or coming from New Zealand, Indonesia, and all of the Southeast Asian countries. Best life! (That’s for you, Alena.)


Nothing but a giant Erector Set®





I just spent 90 minutes uploading all of the above (just uploading, not writing or editing or reducing the size of photos) so I will post the next installment later. Off for a bike tour of the city. Reputed to be excellent, as advertised by two of my surf school classmates, and as reviewed on I hope the rain holds off!

Photos from the Phield (courtesy of my Earthwatch brethren and sistren)

There have been requests that I include more photos of myself in this blog. Not being a fan of Selfies (I inevitably end up all nose in front of a crooked horizon) and fequently having no companion to snap the requisite “Anndy in front of (fill in the appropriate landmark, vista, POI), I am required to depend on the kindness of strangers, most of whom, I find, fail at the basic task of point-and-click. 

So here are some photos culled from the collections of my compatriots on the Earthwatch expedition. I no longer remember who took which picture, but they collectively deserve the creidt. I’m always the one in the pink (used to be red) hat. Silly? Yes. Functional? Absolutley!

Our morning commute (about 1 km).


Most days we met up with several of the dozen or so horses the campground maintains for riding lessons. They knew we had apples, and would follow us for handouts. Krystal pulled out her apple at lunch time one day and realized that a horse had bitten through her pack and into her apple. She conceded, and fed it to the nearest equine.


Morning briefing under Wally’s tree. (Do you see Wally?)


Morning tasks always began with tracking, though I wasn’t always the one to do it.


We needed to know the trees as well as the koalas.


In Kara and Jessie’s leaf study, some of those trees were rather large.


This might have been taken after we extricated ourselves from the bracken jungle on our quest for Frank.


Getting set up to weigh one of the caught koalas.


Learning proper transport technique: support the bottom, claws facing OUT!


Setting the motion-triggered cameras and bait canisters.




The cabin I shared with Vicki, Kelly, and Krystal, and in which all the cooking and dining were done.


Totally spontaneous spotlighting picture. (We actually did see a ring-tailed possum at which Tim is pointing.)


Hail hail, the gang’s all here. Obligatory group shot on the last nigth of the expedition.


Coming soon: Sydney adventures.



Mardi Gras Sydney-style is a gay (GLBTQI) pride extravaganzapalloozza parade from Hyde Park in the CBD up Oxford Street for about a mile and thence… I have no idea. The entire populace seems to flock to the event and I found myself caught up in the human wave as I endeavored to wend my way from the ferry dock at Circular Quay toward the B&B in Paddington. 













I, being both vertically challenged and naive about the the fine points of parade-watching strategy, could see nothing of the actual parade, even with the aid of a milk crate booster. No matter. The crowd was a show in and of itself. Warm fuzzy feelings abounded, with the enormous police presence being no exception (photo above notwithstanding). Party on, revelers! I walked about 14 miles today and when the parade had finally passed, I left the ball to avoid pumpkinization. By then it was too dark for more photos anyway, and my guess is things will looked somewhat less pretty as the night wears on.

Apropos of the last comment, when I walked down to the Harbor this morning to meet Kelly at 7AM for a mad-dash seeing of sites before her flight, I passed two clubs that were still open from the night before. The revelers who had stepped outside for a breather were also less pretty than I imagine they had been the previous evening. One young man’s eyes seemed to be focusing in opposite directions. And he was still vertical!(though stationary). This is in sharp contrast to anywhere I was in Tassie, and even the weekend I spent in Melbourne, where they apparently roll up the sidewalks by 11PM or midnight. Sydney really is The Big City in this part of the world.

The Aforementioned Day Off

Our rest day began with Krystal, Kelly, and I waking up at 5:30 so we could fit in a walk down to Station Beach (about 40 minutes through the scrub and over the dunes), Rainbow Falls (another kilometer across the sand along the coast) and maybe the Cape Otway Lighthouse before the group took off for a filed trip to destinations further afield.

The day dawned damp, and chilly (relatively speaking) but we were undeterred. As Krystal said, “it’s now or never!” The terrain around here is shockingly free of rocks. The substrate is quite sandy, and consequently lacking traction, except where vegetation has taken hold. The three of us slogged through the foggy landscape, slowing on the slippery uphills, and sand-sliding on the downhills. At various intervals we could hear the crashing of the surf, but it was a good half hour before we actually got a glimpse of the ocean. The trail morphed into a boardwalk for a few hundred meters. That ended at a very steep sand dune sloping past a pile of surfer refuse down to the beach.



We had originally figured that the 6 km loop from camp to beach to falls to lighthouse to camp could be easily accomplished in the 3 hours we had allotted from alarm clock to van departure. We hadn’t counted on being so thoroughly waylaid by the landscape, the rock formations, the shells, and the tidepools. We all wished we had a marine biologist and a geologist in tow to explain all the weird things we were seeing.






This algae is called “Neptune’s Pearls.” How cool is that?!?





Rainbow Falls was really just a series of trickles, but they made a lovely sound accompanying the surf, and left a layer of calcium carbonate crust dripping from the surface of the cliff over which they cascaded. I think each of us wanted to stay for hours to explore, but we kept our eye on the time and hoofed our way across the sand, up the dune, and up the trail to the campground and arrived, sweaty and with hearts pounding in time to catch our ride.



As a group (minus Des who had to stay back with a German film crew who are doing a documentary of her work), we drove along the winding coast road, past beef and dairy herds, sheep, tree plantations, dry rolling tan hills, and occasional glimpses of the water. We had lunch in Port Campbell, visited the Twelve Apostles (“The most photographed natural landscape in Australia,”) of which there are only 8 left standing, the rest having been eroded to collapse by the sea, and a few other POI’s along the Great Ocean Road of southern Victoria. I bought some internet time at a hotel in the tiny town where we ate, but it was insufficient to download e-mail and upload a blog post.



We re-provisioned stables like wine, beer, and chocolate, then wended our way back to Bimby Park to make dinner and do laundry. All that getting in and out of the van was exhausting, even more so than chasing koalas and laying out tree transects all day! The change of pace was good for all of us.




A few stats for the final field day

Koalas captured today: 4 – 3 males (Dave, Beast, and Frank), 1 female (Buffy)

Accelerometers removed for analysis: 3

GPS trackers replaced: 2

Bellows evoked with broadcast recorded calls from large male koalas: 0

Species of parrots seen: 7 (gang gangs (Callocephalon fibriatum), yellow-tailed black cockatoos (Calyptorhysnchus vunereus), sulfur-crested cockatoos (Cacatua galerita), galahs (Eolophus roseicapillus), rainbow lorikeets (Trichoglossus haematodus), king parrots (Alisterus scapularis), crimson rosellas (Platycercus elegans)

Kookaburras feeding at my feet when my camera battery died: 2

Kilometers walked each way to find the historic Cape Otway Lighthouse only to learn that even to approach the site cost 18.50 (AUD) and none of us had any money: 3.5

Tracking, catch, and tree data entered into Desley’s enormous database: lots

Photos downloaded for sharing from the participants’ cameras (not including Des’s which she copyrights and doesn’t share): 2236

Some of the animal species identifiable from the thousands of images downloaded from the 20 daylight/infrared cameras set out earlier in the week: swamp wallaby, brush-tailed possum, koala, echidna, shrike thrush, superb fairy wren, little brown bird (?) snake (?); and introduced species - rat, red-tailed fox, rabbit, horse, Jo, Robert, and me

Number of snakes seen by John and Robert on their afternoon walk (and trash collection expedition) to Station Beach: 2 “baby” copperheads (Austrelaps superbus)

Pans of cannelloni baked to feed the masses: 4

This has been an amazing experience! Packing the van now to return to Melbourne and thence to Sydney. 

A little whine with my blog

This was my least favorite day on this expedition. It was rainy and misty and foggy and rainy intermittently this morning as we radio-tracked our animals. I was able to track the beeps at each requisite frequency, and had no trouble locating animals, but when it came time to confirm our sightings by looking for ear tags or numbers on radio collars, the usually lethargic koalas were downright comatose. Even banging on the tree trunks and, where possible, shaking branches didn’t stir them sufficiently to have them raise their heads or show their chests to discern whether they had the male center stripe of brown scent glands, or female creamy white breast. Furthermore, we are supposed to identify the sex of all the other koalas within 20 meters of our quarries. For the first time, I had to resign myself to filling in “unknown” for many of the animals. As I was feeling similarly lacking in energy, I couldn’t really blame these bedraggled looking critters for not wanting to play our little game of “who’s who.”


After lunch, several of us headed back out to the tall trees to do a koala survey – essentially counting every koala we could spot along a 500 meter transect. The trees were very tall (some 50 meters or more, and many that high and up hill), it was drizzling and raining and damp and chilly, I was tired, and after 90 minutes, we had seen no koalas. Then my eyes shifted and I realized there was a leech on my face. If I had been trying to jolly myself out of a bad mood, that finalized my failure. For the next half hour, I was picking leeches off my gaiters and generally feeling squirmy and cranky. I was not the only person elated to leave.

The weather cleared a tad as we drove to another site with blue gums (the tall site turned out to be a different species, but that’s a story of which I’ll spare you the re-telling) and as evidenced by the scat on the ground, more koalas. The trees weren’t as tall, so surveying this transect was both more rewarding and less painful. And we didn’t see a single leech.

Tonight was the night Frank (the campground owner, not the koala named after him) made individual home made pizzas in his brick pizza oven for a few of the groups camping here. In addition to us, there was a group of students from St. Olaf’s College in Minnesota who are in Australia for a 4-month biology semester abroad. Bimby Park, our home for two more days, is a fairly extensive establishment with camper vans, caravans (like VW Vanagons and their ilk – very popular with 20-somethings traveling the country), tent sites, cabins, horseback riding, a climbing wall, nature walks, trails, and Des’s koala study site. Most people fended for themselves for dinner. We all felt very special… and full. Des seems to have friends in all the right places.

More notes from the field

The following day (Tuesday, February 26, if anyone is trying to keep track) Kelly and I volunteered to go our in the field with Kara and Jessie to help them collect leaves along one of their transects (sampling lines). A few days ago, they had run a line 420m up a hill through mixed scrub that included a species of Eucalyptus called “stringy bark,” known to be among the species foraged by koalas. They had identified 8 groups of 4 spaced at 60 meter intervals along the transect, and we had to collect two samples of leaves from each tree, one to be chemically analyzed for its nutritional value and toxin content, and the other for moisture content. Each sample included on the order of 100 leaves, and the leaves had to be from a particular location on the tree and of a particular stage of maturity.

Since some of the branches deemed appropriate fro sampling were considerably out of reach, they required either a pruning pole, and/or a trebuchet and rope to pull them down. Furthermore, once collected, the leaves had to be kept frozen. This required putting them between layers of  -80°C gel packs. All of these sampling materials, as well as our food, water, and personal gear, had to be dragged up the hill, under branches, over pits, through prickly bushes… and then back down again at the end of the day. But at the end of 10 hours, we completed the task with only a few scrapes and one leech (Kara was the lucky blood donor) and no ticks or snakebites among us. Intermittently, throughout the day, Kara would say, “I love my job,” such as when we’d see a flock of galahs or tuck another bag of leaves into the cooler, and “I hate my job,” such as when a branch was particularly hard to access, or there was no where to go but right through the thorn bushes. I’m pretty sure I’m glad I didn’t elect to pursue a similar line of work.


Because the surroundings were so dense, if we put anything down on the ground, we were likely to lose it. That would be bad, so everything fro glasses to backpacks to water bottles to cameras to gear got flagged with pink tape to make it easier to locate. We were stylin’!

We got a treat when we found these orchids in three different locations.

After dinner, we drove back to have a spotlight survey at one of the sites where we had helped lay out a transect among the giant gum trees a few days ago. We saw three ring-tailed possums, four tawny frogmouths, two koalas, a number of bats (not in the spotlights, but flying past our faces) and a wattlebird with its head so tucked under its wing that I thought it had been decapitated. We also heard cicadas and a lot of birds I couldn’t identify, and as we returned to the truck, we found a huge beetle sitting in the road. This is a good way to be exhausted!