Rainforest life.

Unknown Dragonfly
Varied Triller
Ripening palm fruit

Well here we are again – still enjoying the ever changing rainforest just a stones throw from Daintree village. Whilst our surroundings have become more familiar, & the limited tasks required of us routine, our sense of wonder & appreciation for this place has not lessened. We continue to make new discoveries, sometimes learning, sometimes happy to not know, but instead to live with a bit of mystery. The latter sometimes framed in our minds as laziness on our part, & sometimes recognised as acceptance that to know all there is to know of this environment would take a lifetime & so combined allowing us to simply enjoy without guilt. 🙂

We frequently hear new sounds & occasionally discover their source, we observe new flowers, blossoms & growth, sometimes inexplicable in the dry conditions, & have become comfortable about not feeling the need to identify it all. Just maintaining the inescapable immersion in nature that the constant change & extensive biodiversity surrounding us provides, enables feeds & nurtures us.

Pheasant Coucal

A growing familiarity with the property helps to make sense of things. Just the regular chores like mowing, watering & weeding brings knowledge of where is more or less fertile, where the sun has the greater or lesser impact & what has developed as a result. Like this time last year when we discovered the joy of seeing & recognising seasonal changes at Goombaragin, on the west Kimberley coast, it is satisfying to engage in a similar process here, in what is a very different environment, albeit probably a far more complex & undoubtedly more ‘concentrated nature’.

We call this the ‘Avenue of Paperbarks’. but wondered why they had been planted in such neat straight lines. Turns out they weren’t. They are swamp paperbarks & the line of the trees was where flood waters carrying their seeds reached!

Once upon a time as a boy I aspired to be a long distance truck driver – the thought of being paid to travel overland appealed. At a more mature age after having already had a career I wished in hindsight I had become an anthropologist, to understand & protect the enormous body of ongoing knowledge embedded in indigenous cultures, but now should I ever find a magic lamp to rub & a genie to grant me a wish I can think of nothing I would rather be than an experienced ecologist able to bring culture & nature together with understanding of the myriad of detail of the symbiosis between them. As it is, in the absence of a benevolent genie, just the knowledge that the symbiosis exists is sustaining.

I suppose what I am trying to say in perhaps a long winded manner is that the opportunity to experience special places like here & like Goombaragin over extended periods of time bring me closer to the important things that modern ‘western’ life so often obscures & the experience feeds my soul. I think MrsTea feels similarly, but is perhaps better at just enjoying without need to analyse! (She laughed & said “So true” when I read this to her. Ha ha.)

Little Egret
Yellow Oriole
Flowers on a Durian tree

It is my hope in my blog posts not just to share our experience with you, but in doing so to hopefully allow you, at least in some small way, to experience what we experience for yourself, whether simply for vicarious pleasure or to sow the seeds of your own future adventure yet to be shaped. Feedback from many of you over time suggests that by & large I achieve this goal & this makes me happy. It feels right, it is repaying all we have received from others over decades which has facilitated our dreams & gave us the validation & courage to follow them. It is ‘paying it forward’.

Raintree blossoming
Young Pacific Emerald Pigeon
I noticed this female Giant Rainforest Mantis (Hierodula majuscula) as I walked. Extremely well camouflaged under a large leaf, but somehow the leaf didn’t look ‘quite right’ & drew my attention. Have been told she looks like she is about to lay eggs, which they do in a frothy bubble like affair on the underside of leaves. Can also apparently inflict a painful wound with their front claws if handled. Who would have thought that insects capable of catching & eating small frogs existed! Not sure why, but it felt quite bizarre watching her watching me, turning her head to follow any movement I made …… I suppose we (humans) rarely acknowledge the abilities of insects or credit them as much as we do other life forms
The air was filled with an unpleasant stench. Initially we wondered if it was coming from the septic tank. But no, this amazing plant, mimics the smell of rotting flesh to attract blowflies. Attempts to identify via google failed, but the web site of our hosts identified it. It is an Elephant Foot Yam or Elephant Yam (Amorphophallus paeoniifolius)
And a smaller one close by.
This is the larger of the pair 2 days later. Within a week or so you would never know it had been there, until it flowers again, in a year or perhaps two years time.

Back to a more grounded view …… we have been here long enough to occasionally be recognised at the market & in a few shops in Mossman. Folk may not know who we are, or necessarily where we are living, but they know they have seen us before, & we have thus moved a step away from being simply tourists……. aided by the fact that we are at the tail end of the tourist season. The occasional caravan or motorhome now stand out. Temperatures are rising & humidity has begun to climb. The past week we have averaged mid to high 30’s (centigrade) & around 65% relative humidity. Enough to be re-experiencing a wet body if doing anything vaguely physical. As humidity continues to inevitably rise physical activity will not be needed, we’ll just be wet all the time. This we think is what ends the ’tourist season’ but we have a northern season under our belts & already know that we can handle it without the need for air conditioning. I now start the mower before 6am & finish up by 8:30am by which time the sun has already become intense. Other jobs are similarly undertaken at the beginning or end of the day, & we spend the hot part of the day under ceiling fans or in the shade of the veranda. Although no more than a few metres above sea level it seems that our rainforest location affords us an easier climate to live in than right on the coast, not far away. There, under idyllic palms & remnant pockets of rainforest which stretch along the edge of long sandy beaches the humidity felt oppressive to us, & the mosquitoes hungry. Nestled in our green oasis is far more appealing.

Painted Grasshawk Dragonfly.

Mornings now commence earlier. We are still woken by the dawn chorus & far from it being an unwelcome alarm, we love it. It is loud & impossible to ignore so just as well we appreciate it. It changes frequently with the arrival & departure of different bird species, many (most) who’s voices we cannot recognise. We do notice however each time a previously unheard voice is added to the mix, & the possibility of this occurring on any morning brings interest to our daily wake up call. The first sounds are now around 5am, just the odd one or two voices to begin with, calling out & inviting others to join. Within minutes the others have joined in & the show lasts for around 30 minutes. There has been a noticeable exception. A different sound, a very insistent call was heard 15 minutes before the dawn chorus began. Multiple birds, but all with the same call, & somehow without waking all the other species early. With thanks to friends who visited we were able to identify the calls as belonging to Pacific Koels, they stayed for a couple of weeks or so & then left. During that time we heard them every morning as regular as clockwork, as well as throughout the day, but never once sighted one. The recording below is a Koel-free dawn chorus. So often I’ve laid in bed enjoying the wall of sound, & thinking “I should record this” but the waking comfort of the bed is usually too delicious to leave. I did eventually remember to leave the phone beside the bed one night!

Ah yes, for those with an interest in our ‘fruit discoveries’ you may recall in the previous post I included photos of what seemed to be a rapidly developing fruit on the trunk of a Jaboticaba tree not far from our back door. I wrote ‘Watch this space’. Well from first appearance of the impressively fragrant short-lived blossom covering the tree’s branches, to a ripe & heavy crop of the sweet marble sized fruit took just 24 days. Below a few more pics of the development. We found the fruit enjoyable although a bit tedious to eat. Not a lot from each fruit individually , & difficult to separate flesh from the stone by any other method than sucking it off the stone & then spitting out the stone. Friends who visited took enough away to make jam with, but much of the tree’s fruit has been eaten by mystery night time guests. What they knock onto the ground is attractive to the Orange Footed Scrubfowl once overripe & squashed. Entertaining birds who spend most of their time on the ground, despite their ability to fly. Their calls & bickering between themselves is a jungle noise we have come to love, especially the ghostly echoes at night.

Green fruit appeared in quantity on the trunk of the Jaboticaba tree within days of the brief blossoming
The fruit swelled, grew & began to change colour.
Ripe & ready to eat

The mystery visitors presence was detected by the flapping, almost helicopter blade like sounds of their wings in the dark. On a number of occasions we rose from bed to investigate, more often than not seeing nothing, but again hearing them after returning to bed. On one occasion I saw a large dark shape leaving the tree & flying over the house roof, it looked like the size of a large owl. As you may have already guessed, the visitors turned out to be fruit bats of some description. It was good to know that the fruit was not going to waste.

We have also had a good crop of Star Apples. These grow on a large tree near the vegie garden, are small apple sized, green until they ripen, but any similarity with apples ends there. Once ripe the variety we have here turn purple (some varieties remain green)
These have been good to eat, especially when chilled in the fridge. Sweet with a mix of creamy & gelatinous flesh, good with morning muesli or at any time. If interested google Star Apples (aka Caimito). Again …. far more than we could eat ourselves – but we think the bats or birds have been enjoying the riper of the fruit still on the tree.

The Star Apple tree is easy to recognise with it’s leaves a different colour on each side it stands out from the rest.

Other fruit picked here on the property have included our first ever self harvested pineapple, & without doubt have never tasted better. We think it was a modern hybrid as it had definite taste of coconut mixed with the pineapple. Pina Colada as grown! We have eaten a lot of bananas, they all ripened within a short time so we had a glut. We are still eating them & they are still good. Very sweet & with very thin skins. A friend thinks the are a type known as ‘Monkey Bananas’ . A biggie, literally, was the ripening of the Jackfruit. We found one over-ripe which fell to the ground as we tried to harvest it, landing on the soft grass as a big mushy mess. Another we harvested at the same time was, we think just at the right point of ripeness, almost no latex on cutting into it, & smelling very sweet. We thought the taste was a mix between pineapple, mango & banana, others say it tastes similar to Juicy Fruit chewing gum, but we wouldn’t have thought of that ourselves. Whilst the taste was pleasant, we were less enamoured of the texture, finding it a bit stringy & floury. We gave most of the large quantity gained from one piece of fruit to a visiting neighbour. Mangoes however have been great. So far we have tried 4 types, all nice, but the bowen type picked up as windfalls had the best flavour & the R2E2, Kensington Pride & Thai mango all compete well for texture, with a smooth flesh compared to the Bowen’s stringiness. It’s certainly not hard taste testing any of them!

The Jackfruit we harvested was apparently only a baby weighing in at a little over 8kg
Opening & eating it was an interesting but we think we’ll leave the others on the tree for the birds & bats.

There was another mystery guest, a very loud one which woke us both instantly in the early hours of the morning. It sounded as though someone was noisily dragging an empty wheelybin , & went on for sometime. even got out of bed expecting to see someone near the house with a wheelybin, but saw nothing. A day or two later a friend (Jane) of our hosts called to see them & we told her of the mystery noise.She laughed & told us most likely a Giant White Tailed Rat (Uromys caudimaculatus), common in the rainforest & known to grow as large as a cat. It would have been crossing the corrugated iron roof. Another mystery was solved when Jane explained that the holes of a couple of inches diameter we have seen in many fallen coconuts were made by these rats, who have phenomenally sharp & strong teeth. Stories are common about the damage they can cause to fan belts, wiring etc under car bonnets & how they have been known to gnaw through metal containers to get at the contents. Lets hope our rooftop visitor doesn’t have a taste for Nissan Patrols!

A guest which was no mystery but whom we were excited to have was a cassowary. As yet we still haven’t seen one of these majestic ancient flightless birds. But we did find a pile of it’s poo! Photos sent to our hosts were examined to try to determie the bird’s age & to see what it had been eating. This is valuable feedback for folk who have spent decades establishing plantings to attract cassowaries. That the have been seen here in the last few years must be incredibly rewarding. We think it was a young bird, possibly one who visited last year. Our fingers are remaining crossed that we might still see one of these endangered birds whilst we are still here.

The small Cassowary poo! 🙂

Down at the hide overlooking the wetlands we have seen many birds some quite rare, certainly rare enough to be impressive to serious birdwatchers. Most notable being the Spotted Whistling Ducks. A pair visited for several weeks & were very co-operative for the camera. As the water levels have progressively dried up, the variety of smaller birds appears to have reduced, replaced with larger flocks of Magpie geese, Egrets, Ibis & Spoonbills. I say ‘appears’, as many birds continue to be heard but are harder to pick within the dense foliage. Visiting friends & serious birders, Peter & Janette were able to capture a number on camera, with Peter showing far more persistence than I was capable of at the time. We are now fairly confident that Betty the croc has returned to the Barratt Creek, as she has done in previous years when water levels have dropped. The more relaxed nature of the ‘resident’ Magpie geese family seems to confirm her absence. They no longer post lookouts whilst others feed by the water’s edge. The water in the pond where we had seen Betty is now shallow enough for spoonbills to wade through probing the bottom with their bills for a feed.

The pair of Spotted Whistling ducks.
Cute aren’t they?
One of the Royal Spoonbills
Magpie Goose
One of the three young Magpie Geese we have watched grow up.
The wetlands have shrunk considerably in absence of rain & the hot weather. They’ll refill when the monsoon comes. On the day before this photo was taken the water was thick with lillies & lilypads. Flocks of larger waders put paid to that, as well as muddying the water.
Another rarity, an ‘Oriental Cuckoo’ -Photo courtesy of Peter Manins who’s persistence with the camera far outweighs mine when birds are involved.
A Fan Tailed Cuckoo – also courtesy of Peter Manins.

On the health front it is fair to say that since I published the last post I have been through an unexpected & pretty rugged time. Prior to leaving home in Victoria at the end of June 2018 it was discovered that I had a small amount of inflammation in my bowel, but being symptom free & ultra keen to get away I reached an agreement with my GP not to commence medication, & instead to get checked out again once we were in Broome. This was done & ‘mild’ Crohns disease suggested as a probability. I was still symptom free & had no wish to start drugs with potential side effects when we were planning to be driving into remote areas for several months. Again the surgeon agreed, telling me to arrange a further colonoscopy when we reached Cairns. We went about doing this, expecting it to be just routine, still symptom free. However whilst waiting for an appointment with a Gastroenterologist everything changed very suddenly, no warning, symptoms appeared like a steam train! I didn’t know what had hit me & it was incredibly disabling. I was virtually housebound for a couple of weeks, the best part of that being that we were in a house! The situation would not have been manageable in our Tvan, let alone in a remote location in our Tvan! Driving the 30kms into Mossman to see the GP again was a fraught affair. Suffice it to say we knew the location of every public toilet & carried an ‘emergency kit’ of spare clothing, wet wipes etc. Thankfully I was made a Category 1 patient on the public waiting list & got to see a gastroenterologist quickly. I suspect on the basis that he had a spare slot at his outreach clinic in Mossman, more than on the basis of my symptoms. Dr Ombiga, a wiry little Papua New Guinean, with many years experience was absolutely fantastic. Clear, firm but very prepared to let me lead the consultation before spelling out my options. A further colonoscopy was surprisingly not required. A ‘Calprotectin’ test prior to the consultation showed my level was at 1100 ‘whatevers’, normal is up to 50 ‘whatevers’. This indicated heavy inflammation & good reason for my symptoms. The history confirmed Crohns Disease. Worst was his statement about it being an auto immune disease without cure. Better was his attitude toward treatment ……… after he had told me that I needed treatment (I wasn’t arguing at that point!) he added that not everyone responds to drugs, but we should try, because if I failed to respond it would mean the end of our travelling lifestyle. He made it clear that treatment aims were to enable me to live the lifestyle I wanted, all about symptom control. His straight talking certainly got my attention. I started on the medications the next morning. If the result had been different I’m not sure whether I would be sharing this, but whether I would have or not, there is no doubting I would have been in a pretty dark place. Thankfully the medications worked quickly & within a week had essentially ‘given me my life back’ & this has now continued for several weeks. It was one hell of a rollercoaster ride & there is no absolute guarantee that it won’t all fall into a heap again in the future, but we are both optimistic. All of this came about shortly after we had agreed to house sit up on Cape York & my biggest fear was that we might have to let the people there down & miss out on the opportunity they had offered us. We decided it would be prudent to wait until we had seen the Gastroenterologist & to see if he could help before thinking of cancelling. I have since visited the IBD clinic at Cairns hospital & explained our plans. I have medication which is keeping me good, & other medication to quickly control an unlikely flare up. The IBD nurse has previously worked at the Lockhart River Clinic, knows the area & the country up there & has no qualms about me going . So it all came on & settled fairly quickly. The important thing for us is that it is not going to get in the way of us living our chosen lifestyle.

Our preparations for Portland Roads are already in full swing. Our flights are booked. The property owners up there are purchasing our frozen meat & bread order from their wholesaler on our behalf & we have bought all our dry/non perishable goods to send up ahead of us. An advantageous Post Office arrangement allows us to post boxes up to 20kg in weight up there, via plane (the only way post gets up there) for just $10.35 per box. We are sending up 3 boxes, including some of our clothing to make room in our 20kg luggage allowances on the plane for chilled foodstuff not available up there. The quoted prices at Lockhart River Community Store are up to 4 times the cost of buying here so these arrangements make a lot of sense. Fresh produce however is apparently quite reasonably priced thankfully.

I submitted a national police check to confirm I do not have a criminal record, a requirement for me to take on the role of temporary postal contractor whilst up there. The information regarding the process said most applications are approved within a few hours but if there are any doubts the application could be referred to the police for ‘manual processing’, & to expect that to take up to 10 days. After 18 days I was cleared, no mention of why it took so long. I did wonder if it may be connected with an incident back in the late 80’s when police arrived at our house to arrest me. It eventually turned out that the wanted man had the same name, middle initial & surname as me, plus had the same birthdate, & a wife with the same name as MrsTea. Turned out they had the wife’s birthdate too, & it wasn’t until MrsTea proved her birthdate that they changed attitude & began to speak to me with respect. The crime, apparently had been bank fraud of some sort. I knew I had no criminal history, but the longer the application took the more I wondered if I were somehow going to have to prove that. Thankfully that possibility did not eventuate.

A butterfly in the vegie garden, identified as a Blue Triangle, (Graphium sarpedon), a member of the Swallowtail family. About 60mm wingspan. Butterflies are so hard to photograph, we have lots of the giant Ulysses butterflies around but they rarely stay still.

We have continued to review whether or not to keep our Tvan or to replace it (with a truck based camper). Lots of fors & againsts, but in the end we have decided to keep the Tvan for the forseeable future, & so we decided to spend a little on making it a bit more liveable. I fitted a 4wd awning to it which we think will be a definite improvement on the original awnings which I hated putting up, & I have also removed the tent from the van body & taken it down to a canvas repair place in Cairns to have all new door & flyscreen zips fitted. A fair job, but our lack of confidence in the old worn zips became very apparent during the first heavy rain we’d had in a long time during our first week here. New zips will remove that as a chronic issue, (since we were in Tasmania two years ago). A variety of repairs have been undertaken, & got us out of trouble but didn’t last. Our hosts here have kindly agreed to us leaving the Tvan here whilst we are at Portland Roads, & we’ll store the car at a commercial garage facility near the airport in Cairns.

The irony of writing about our journey of discovery in a country where increasingly vast tracts of land are being rapidly lost has not escaped me.
Whilst we can feel lucky to get to know country largely unchanged in millenia the thought of possibly being one of the last to be able to do so is never far away. Here in the Daintree we are luckier than many at the moment. Australia, in the grip of ever increasing temperatures & drought is again breaking records with more severe & longer fire seasons. We see & hear in the media reports of the fires currently raging out of control worse than ever before (again) across multiple states of the country, stories of loss, heartbreak & trauma, massive areas of country destroyed, including southern rainforests which have never previously burned. We hear from friends who are finding travel unpredictable & unsafe, & from those who’s homes are threatened. We have driven through burned country where the ecosystems which had existed for thousands of years will never return. It may be just a few years before the oldest rainforest in the world burns, but for now the Daintree holds us safe. Science warned that that the things we have always known & relied upon would be lost, & yet those who have & continue to demand urgent action to save what we have are still being ignored or pilloried by short term vested interests & governments who’s ideologies are supportive of those interests. Our planet has I believe reached predicted ’tipping points’ & we in Australia are on one of the front lines. Even now denial, blame & greed fills the spaces where action is needed. Saving the planet as we know it continues to be party political, deliberately so to ensure insufficient action. We (humanity) have all brought this upon ourselves & the problem I refer to is not so much the predicament we now find ourselves in, but rather the lack of support to do anything about it. I know I am sounding ‘preachy’ but if my ’speaking out’ influences even just one person to recognise the dire situation we are all in & to wave another flag of dissent it will have been worthwhile. The ‘waving of flags’ is becoming increasingly ‘mainstream’ as it needs to, but it needs to happen faster, we are running out of time. End of ‘sermon’

Don’t forget that you can enlarge any photo using ‘Right Click’ (PC) or Control Click (Mac)

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