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!