Day 1: Sunday 4th
Hey guys! How are you going? I hope you are enjoying the comfort of your warm beds and hot showers back home. We are now in the far North Queensland Rainforest. More specifically we are 700 metres above sea level on the Atherton Table Land, in an area called the Lamb Ranges. Professor Steve Williams picked us up at the airport and from that point on it has not stopped raining. It’s literally been raining cats and dogs! Our camp has been set up – in the rain of course and I got my tent set up by the expert campers! So it should keep me safe and warm!
I just realised I have forgotten my waterproof pants though. Not very happy!!
We have now been introduced to all the scientists accompanying us on the trip. There is Professor Steve Williams, Collin, Luke, Jeff, Tammy, Arnoud and Andres. All of these guys are doing separate studies on the affects of climate change on biodiversity and are completing PhD’s on a range of topics.
This should be an interesting week!
Day 2: Monday 5th
Today we got up at 7am and had breakfast in our communal tent. There are 20 of us here and we split up into groups and set out into the rainforest to conduct separate surveys. The rainforest is amazing! It’s hot and wet, but quite different habitat at different altitudes. Throughout the week we’ll be conducting studies at 700, 900 and 1100 metres to compare the different results in each environment.
We came across some interesting and crazy tropical plants today. One particularly unusual plant is called the ‘Wait-A-While’. It has reversed barbs on it and can suspend you off the ground if you are unlucky enough to get caught up in it – ouch!? Another plant called the ‘Stinging Tree’ gives a nasty sting that is likened to kneeling in hot coals. The pain can last for up to 6 months! So I will be avoiding those two things if at all possible!
Did you know that there are about 48 million leeches in this forest! I had about 30-40 on me in the first day. But I am not complaining because another teacher, Cath, got a leech in her eye! It moved behind her eyeball and sucked her blood from her eye-socket. It stayed in her eye for one hour! She was very brave. I would have panicked for sure!!!!! Amazingly enough they are very clean, and don’t cause any damage to you……but it’s not very fun!?
Day 3: Tuesday 6th
We went spot-lighting late last night and I still had to get up at 7am this morning! This is certainly not a holiday?! Last night on our survey we caught six barred frogs for our biodiversity audit. We weighed, measured and took DNA samples from all of them for addition to the Universities database which logs species from different areas over a long term basis. We also spotted a Green ring-tailed possum with a baby and a Lemuroid possum, which was fantastic!
We use spot-lighting as an auditing technique to see if the abundances and distribution of species alters over time due to climate change. Steve’s study is looking into the effects of climate change on the distribution of vertebrates. He predicts that the longer periods without rainfall and prolonged heat will make many species retreat up into higher altitudes of the forest – which is not a great long term solution!
There are other PhD students here completing studies on geckos and micro-climate, bat colonies and another study on microhylids - a type of frog the size of your finger nail. They have brought lots of special equipment up here with them like thermometers, humidity readers, chambers for testing different temperature environments on the animals and also a DNA kit for taking genetic samples of some of the geckos and other reptiles. These DNA samples get sent off and monitored to ensure the correct species has been identified and logged. All animals that get caught and tested are always safely returned back to the exact position where they were caught. The scientists mark the spot with a pink tape so they know where to return them to. All the animals are treated with great care and respect and are never harmed.
IT’S PRETTY COOL! AND IT’S STILL RAINING!
Day 4: Wednesday 7th
Today I had a sore tooth and I went into a small town called Atherton to the hospital. I got some antibiotics and some pain-killers and luckily I was back on track then!
It was nice to get out of the rainforest and see some of the surrounding countryside on the way there – and also to eat a meat pie and some ‘non-camp’ food! I slept the afternoon away before helping pitch in and prepare the dinner for the camp.
During the night I went ‘Geckoing’! Basically, it involves traipsing around in the muddy forest in the middle of the night looking for tiny camouflaged geckos! We didn’t find anything due to the terrible weather!
Day 5: Thursday 8th
It rained all morning today so we were confined to camp – I used the time to learn how to play 500 – a card game. I picked it up pretty quickly but wasn’t sensational at it! Helped to pass the hours under the communal tarpaulin.
The highlight of today was going out with Tammy the ‘bat woman’ in the afternoon. We set up a harp trap and miss traps on either side (for any bats that try to fly around the net) and sat in the dark hoping to catch a bat or two from 7pm until 10pm. Unfortunately we didn’t catch anything! We were aiming to net some microbats so that we could process it – eg measure, weigh, identify species and then tape the release call for a bat database of calls they are creating. These bats are amazing! Tiny little, little bats about half the size of a sparrow. Tammy is doing a study about how the microbats live and behave in their communities.
Day 6: Friday 9th
Today we went on a reptile audit. We walked through the 700m transect and looked for reptiles in the rainforest. Before we set-off we walked straight past a big carpet python by the side of the road. It was 2 metres long, sitting in the sun in striking position. The colours were amazing, but it was a bit scary!
When we went out on the audit we had to keep track of all the reptiles we saw. All of the species have codes and we record it’s microhabitat, the humidity, the canopy cover, and the amount of sun it was spotted in.
After lunch we went to check the data loggers positioned in the rainforest with Tammy, which were tracking air & soil humidity and some other vital statistics which are part of the study. We took some soil core samples to measure soil humidity back at the lab.
On return to camp we raided the esky for Tim-Tams and then headed down to the creek for a quick dip – actually just a foot bath! After a few days in sweaty boots, this was a welcome relief! I’ll just say that my tent is getting a bit smelly from all the wet, damp clothing.
I checked on Terry turtle and he has now gone missing – I assume he has gone walkabout back into the rainforest. Despite this sad loss, I am pleased that I have not yet been voted off the expedition. Just like the real Survivor…..
The rest of the team are now chopping vegetables for the Putanesca sauce we’re having with pasta for dinner. After dinner we finally managed to catch our first bat for the week – it was great! We removed it carefully from the net and had a group session inspecting it – it was a Horseshoe Bat (Rhinolophus megaphyllus) It was an adult male and weighed around 9 grams. We released it after conducting the processing and it seemed pleased to be out of the lights!
Day 7: Saturday 10th
Today is shower day – hooray! We emerged from the deep dark corners of the rainforest! We got to our AMAZING caravan park and It’s fabulous! Tomorrow back into the forest!
Day 8: Sunday 11th
We had a day off research activities today, so a gang of us went to the great barrier reef for a snorkel. It was a perfect day, 26C and not a cloud in the sky. We caught a beautiful boat from the harbour in Cairns and travelled 45 minutes out to parts the barrier reef.
I was a bit nervous about snorkelling at first, due to my huge phobia of sharks, but I drummed up all my courage and jumped into it! It was so lovely! We saw massive fish and amazing coral formations and underwater sea life. We also went out on a glass bottomed boat and saw some pretty spectacular parrot fish, which were multi-coloured and really pretty.
When we got back on the boat after a morning of snorkelling we had an amazing seafood lunch. We then sunbaked on the front of the boat like Hollywood movie stars….and foolishly got sunburnt!? Ouch.
Home for a nice BBQ and shower before bedtime! A big day ahead tomorrow as we set off from our luxury of the caravan park for our next expedition.
Day 9: Monday 12th
Woke up at 7am to pack our stuff and head back into the forest for more surveying and research. We jumped into the four-wheel drives and headed for Kingfisher Lodge in Jullaten. This campsite is pure luxury compared to the last site (the mud patch) - it has REAL toilets and HOT showers! The best part about this site is that there appear to be NO leeches! Instead of this there are thousands of mosquitoes. You can’t win ‘em all I suppose!
My friend Jodi helped me pitch my tent this time - it seems this ‘camping life’ is a little too complex for a Melburnian like me! After we had set-up camp, the girls had a fabulous idea! We decided while the boys played Ultimate Frisbee, the girls would give each other facials and massages. After 6 days in the forest without showers and mirrors, this seemed like a dream come true!
Jodi and I cooked an amazing dinner of pesto pasta and received a rating of 8 out of 10. Not bad for a novice camp-master chef with limited ingredients.
We then went spot-lighting and found 5 Leafy-Tailed Geckos. These animals are amazing! They completely camouflage to match the colour of the lichen on the trees. Even their eyes are camouflaged! When you point the torch on them in the night their eyes shine a bright orange/red colour!
Day 10 Tuesday 13th
Woke up at 4.50am today to go ‘Birding’. Basically, this process involves walking down the road (called a transect) and listening to and recording all the different bird calls you can identify. Collin, the second in charge of this expedition, is an expert in the language of birds! It’s amazing how he can detect all the different calls as well as noting how many birds, and in which direction the call is coming from. It is important not to confuse the birds or doublecount them to ensure the accuracy of the data collected.
After birding, we went to upload all the data loggers from the 4 different transects. It was quite a process. We had to traipse through the forest initially, looking for pink ribbon markers (flagging tape), then had to find the Malaise trap – an insect trap - and gather all the ethanol soaked bugs caught in it.