Sunday, October 22, 2017

Taste of Cape York Peninsula

By Jen.

After the rainforest, we figured we would head just a bit further north into the Cape York Peninsula. It really doesn’t take long before the rainforest turns into dry eucalypt forest. Literally, after the first range of “mountains”, the land is too dry to support a rainforest.

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You can see how the first hill is covered in rainforest, but the ones in the background are much drier.

First up was the Black Mountains. There are 2 mountains standing next to each other that have very little vegetation and are covered in large black rocks. They give off a very strange feeling, which is accentuated by the loud bangs and “mournful cries” that you can hear if you get close enough. Apparently the crumbling rock has created pockets and tunnels and there is water running under the rocks. Definitely creates prime conditions for mystique and intrigue.

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We then made our way to Cooktown, where Captain James Cook and his crew spent a while, repairing his vessel and trying to find a way out from the reefs.

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An odd-looking bug there.

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View from the hill where James Cook looked out to find a way out. His conclusion was to sail north along the coast.

After that, we swung back and went to the Split Rock Art site south of Laura. It is the only rock art in the peninsula that you can see without a guide.

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Then we returned to Cairns area.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Daintree Rainforest

By Jen.

Leaving the cool Atherton Tablelands, we descended into the warmer coast and into the Daintree Rainforest near Cairns.

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Walking through rainforest is truly a different experience. While completely absent of grass, the forest below the canopy is entwined with living things. It truly is a plant-eat-plant world there, where everything uses its surroundings, including other plants, to get its essentials. Some plants, like epiphytes, form a symbiotic relationship. Others like vines and strangler figs are harmful and parasitic. Many plants form vicious thorns, needles, and poisons to fend off others doing like themselves. Mosses, fungi, and lichen cover nearly everything. What surprised me most was how few bugs were actually interested in us. In a rainforest, I expected mosquitos and other life-sucking insects to be plentiful and swarm, but we actually never even had to use DEET to get the bugs to avoid us.

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An (I believe “elkhorn”) epiphyte on the limb, trying to get sunlight through the leaves. It also uses its own leaves to funnel dead leaves, water, and other nutrients to its core, which in turn also benefits the host tree.

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We hiked through Mossman Gorge to get a taste of the UNESCO World Heritage Daintree Rainforest.

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Apparently some trees in the forest bloom from their trunks!

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Ever since Mossman Gorge (so several days by then), we had been searching for this beauty. It is a Boyd’s Dragon. For such a remarkable creature, he blends in really well. We only spotted him because some tourists ahead of us did.

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Even the fungus here is different!

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Jonathan found this large Cane  Toad in the nook of a tree, right along the path where he was about to step.  He was probably about 4-6 inches from back to front.  Another invasive species, cane toads were introduced to eat cane beetles.  It turns  out they don't really like the beetles, and since the toads are super poisons, they have pushed  out native frogs; poisoning  many predators in the process. 

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Sadly, nearly all the rainforests in the lowlands have been logged to grow the crop that is the bane of the first world: sugarcane.

Equipment Update: Apparently being in the humid north put another nail in the coffin for my camera. Something either liquid or dust, got on the inside and brought out that nasty purple smear you can see in most of these images. The motor drive (for the zoom) started shuttering seizing a bit when you turn it on. Apparently I am too tough on cameras. I had planned on getting it fixed while I was in the states and didn’t need my camera, but I didn’t realize that authorized dealers can’t work on “gray market” (bought in another country) cameras at all (even not under warranty). So, I will be looking for another (cheap) camera when we get back to Cairns.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Northern Queensland

After deciding to skip the tortuous drive up the Cape York Peninsula, we headed east towards the coast and Cairns.  Bordering on the coast is the Atherton Tablelands.  This area is at about 2000ft of elevation, and has a unique weather and biosphere.  As you approach the coast, the yearly rainfall continues to increase until it becomes full-on rainforest.  Sadly the vast majority of this highly unique forest has been cleared for livestock and sugarcane. 

The terrain and rainfall make for lots of great waterfalls.
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Some local wildlife.
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It was also a fowl day. First we found this. This is a Bush Turkey, they are native to most of the wet tropics.  Surprisingly they are not related to North American Turkeys closely.
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Then some introduced wildlife came to find us (for a meal, presumably).
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Lastly, we found their scrub fowl.
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One of the more interesting trees in the rainforest is the Strangler Fig.  Starting life as a poppy-sized seed, a bird drops it on an upper tree branch.  Slowly growing its roots down through the air, it hits the ground. After decades pass, it completely encircles its host tree and strangles it.  After 500 years or more it may become the biggest tree in the forest.
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This fig tree is over 72m (150ft) around its base.  It’s canopy covers over 2000 square meters (20,000 square feet).  It is at least 400 years old.
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This region also has a number of crater lakes formed in the caldera of extinct volcanos.
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Some forest wildlife.
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We managed to finally spot a platypus as well.
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This is a pair of very wet Curlews.
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