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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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Outback Queensland

Our next stop in QLD was Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park.  This park is fairly remote, requiring a day's drive on gravel roads from the nearest town.
 
Entry into the park is past a permanent river (spring-fed) which flows quite vigorously all year round. 
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Don’t get washed away!
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What this park is really known for is its fossils.  This area was a series of spring-fed lakes and swamp tens of thousands of years ago.  The calcium content caused the silt at the bottom to turn rapidly into limestone.  Bones from animals which died or drowned in the water were extremely well-preserved.  Many are easily seen from a leisurely walk.
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Below you can see the cross section of a turtles shell.  A fossilized turtle found here was thought to be extinct.  However, a few years later, a population was found hundreds of km away virtually unchanged after nearly a hundred thousand years!  Talk about a throwback.
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Below is a cross section of a crocodile leg bone.  Fossils found here show many species of crocodile that have since gone extinct.  Including a terrestrial (land-dwelling) crocodile that hunted in the open grasslands!
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One of the more interesting fossils is that of an enormous flightless bird.  Weighing between 500 and 650lbs, this monster stood up to 8ft tall! 
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You can see part of a leg bone below, as well as the “gut stones” it swallowed to help with digestion.
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We then made our way north on the Gulf Developmental Highway.

Stopping in Normanton we got to see an artist's rendition of Krys the “Savanna King”.  Krys was a saltwater crocodile shot in 1957 by a government croc-shooter named Krystina King.  He was 28ft 3in long (8.6m) and weighed over a ton.  He was probably over 70 years old.  
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At some point the Australians realized that killing the apex predator in a ecosystem was not a good idea.  So in the 70s, crocs became protected, and the hunting ended.

We also stopped by Undara NP.  This park has a number of volcanic craters and cones, as well as one of the longest lava tubes in the world.
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The dark line of vegetation in this photo is where the roof of the lava tube has caved in.   The eruption that created it started around 190,000 years ago.  It produced 1,000 cubic meters of lava per second, covered over 1500 square kilometers with molten lava.  Total volume ejected was 23 cubic kilometers.
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The evidence of the recent volcanic activity is right on the surface, with swirls and flows in the volcanic rock.
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