Getting to know the Rainforest

This place is just so different to anywhere else we have been in Australia.

Big Stick insect

Green, verdant, lush & moist, tall & shady …….. clean ultra fresh air washed by the mountain rains. And the diversity of the flora ,plus the wildlife it supports surrounding us is a constant source of wonder & intrigue. Rarely a day has passed without a new ‘to us’ discovery.

We are in ‘The Daintree’ , the worlds oldest tropical rainforest. We are in the ‘jungle’.

Looking down the driveway of our Daintree ‘home’ from the sealed road.

To be more specific we are in the lower Daintree Valley, alongside one of the Daintree River’s tributaries on a property once cleared of it’s ancient heritage & converted to pasture in what eventually became an unsuccessful attempt to raise cattle. Around 35 years ago, to the amusement of the local farming community the property was purchased with a vision of returning it to the forest & creating a wildlife refuge at a time when the planet was losing it’s essential rainforests hand over fist. Sadly that loss around the world has not slowed in spite of it’s obvious impact upon wildlife, cultures & us all, but here, surrounded by ancient & intact rainforest, the 100 acres we are living on is thriving. In the wet tropics things grow fast & the planting over the 35 years have recreated ‘jungle’. A few ‘old growth’ trees remain but the rest is down to the passion & dedicated hard work of the owners to faithfully re-create the biodiversity which previously existed. Nature has built upon their effort, self seeding as time has passed. The Daintree itself is unique & special, but here the achievement is inspiring. Extensive knowledge & understanding combined with unending passion have resulted in a place which now attracts wildlife which once called it home back again. An example. The Cassowary – a huge, colourful flightless bird – is an highly endangered species. It lives in a symbiotic/interdependent relationship with the rainforest, but much of what it eats only comes from older established fruiting trees. After more than 30 years of planting there has been limited but increasing sightings of Cassowaries coming out of the denser mountain slopes to feed on the property in recent years. We remain hopeful we may be lucky enough to see one. How satisfying such a result must be for Barb & Allen, a gold star achievement.

And we are privileged to be living here, trusted with Allen & Barb’s ‘baby’.

We arrived early & set up camp a short distance from the house in a clearing alongside the workshop where we had power, water & toilet. All very convenient after life ‘on the road’. Getting up the tunnel like driveway was initially delayed by a fallen tree, but we walked & found the house & soon Allen MrsTea & I had cut & moved the obstacle. Reminiscent of Goombaragin. 🙂

Home for the first week. Raintree behind shed

During those first few days we experienced something we hadn’t had since we were in Tasmania 2 years ago ……….. living under canvas in heavy rain. Not something to be recommended when the doors cannot be properly closed. One morning saw us taking out the floor covering & hanging it up to drip dry. It reminded us that one of the tasks which will be necessary whilst here is to get new door zips fitted to the tent. This involves detaching the tent from the Tvan & taking it to a suitable canvas repairer. A bit of work & cost involved but as we are as yet uncertain where we’ll be come the beginning of February, possibly needing to camp in mid wet season, it is an essential repair. It hasn’t been hard to live in the Tvan with untrustworthy zips in dry weather, but the situation is rapidly brought into focus with a few brief but heavy showers! We hope we might find further house sits/care taking roles to provide us with shelter to see us through the wet season, but if this doesn’t eventuate we will travel far enough south to get away from the monsoonal rains, but even the thought of living under canvas whilst fleeing the monsoon is not one we want to entertain! The rains which brought this into focus for us threw 50mm at us over the course of a couple of days. I learned a new word ….orographic. The rain we have been getting, considered little more than welcome showers in these parts is . Clouds come in off the Coral Sea fast, rise quickly over the Daintree resulting in often short but heavy falls Last January however total rainfall here was measured not in millimteres, but in metres! 900mm of monsoonal rain over just one 20 hour period!

Lots of Orange Footed Scrub fowl around.

During our first 3 or so weeks here we have settled in nicely. We bid Barb & Allen farewell after a week & moved ourselves into the house. Living in a house is just so convenient with everything on hand. We (all of us) take it for granted but we always enjoy getting a reminder after living in the Tvan for extended periods. And this house with it’s wide veranda, open plan living & comfy bed, situated in a forest clearing is easy to live in. It took just a couple of days before we woke knowing we were still in the same place, and could find our way to the loo in the dark without bumping into things. All external doors & windows have insect screening & the doors & windows themselves never need closing allowing the sounds of the rainforest to permeate inside the house along with the breezes which we hear coming through the trees. It is actually quite a noisy place to live …. but in a very pleasant way. Living on the coast with the constant background noise of the waves on the beach is very relaxing, so too are the sounds of the forest, just more varied. I wrote the following on Facebook a couple of days ago.

Wet stuff falling out of the sky again, It is amazing how noisy rain can be in the rainforest at night time. You hear it coming like an approaching freight train, falling into the trees, then the ‘dawn chorus’ begins in the black of night, & as the rainfall reaches our roof it pounds it deafeningly. All around us it sounds like waterfalls running & the the frogs start calling. And we are nowhere near the Wet/Monsoon season yet! Just 17mm in the rain gauge this morning. The birds must have been tired, their actual dawn chorus was delayed until well after first light”

Veggie garden

Since then we’ve had more rain – over 100mm over 3 or 4 days, & yet it not only remains warm & sunny most of the time, the ground is not mucky. The air is moist but with a sweet fresh humidity. Moderate activity makes our skin & clothing damp, but it doesn’t feel oppressive. That may change as the season progresses, but for now at least it holds us in a warm embrace. Dawn choruses & daylight remain our daily ‘alarm clock’ as they have since we last left home in July 2018, but here the alarm tone is far more complex rising & falling as different birds join & leave. Often we hear a new participant, but unlike Allen & Barb we lack the years of listening & observing to be able to identify most. Exceptions to this are the Yellow Oriole & Wompoo Fruit Dove who’s voices we have learned.

Macleay’s Honeyeater
Great Billed Heron
Rajah Shelducks. We have had a pair raise 7 young, & watched them learn to fly during our time here.
Buff Banded Rail
A White Faced Heron sits atop a dripping tree on a very foggy morning
Australian White Ibis & Rajah Shelduck

There are so many birds here, & these will change with the season as water levels in the wetlands vary, & different species of plants & trees blossom & fruit. Apart from all the re-establishment of the forest, new wetlands were excavated & created. Filled from rainfall run off, they overflow & drain into the Barratt Creek & thence into the Daintree River, with exceptions like last year when the flow was reversed – a result of tidal river & creek rising, due to a combination of exceptional rainfall & a king tide. The house here escaped the flooding but was cut off for a period of time with much of the property inundated under many metres of water, water that I might add contains crocodiles! There is a swimming pool here with the obligatory safety fence around it, but the fence is probably of greater value in keeping out crocs than it is for keeping children safe! ). A couple of bird hides overlooking the wetlands make bird & croc watching safe & are places where many hours can regularly be whiled away.

One of two bird hides
Annette & MrsTea in the bird hide.

Our list to date of birds observed & identified, (but not necessarily photographed) is lengthy,continuing to regularly grow & includes many new ‘to us’ species, including some that we have been told by avid birdwatching friends have taken them years to see.

Royal Spoonbill
Forest Kingfisher
Same kingfisher – a little ruffled. We have also seen Azure Kingfishers several times , but no pics yet.

Our ‘resident’ saltwater croc, named Betty is often elusive, but has put in a few appearances. She is large enough to make a meal of us & caution is required in the vicinity of water. From the ‘main’ hide we can see her slide marks where she leaves the water to go from one pond to another, but as yet we have only seen her in ‘Betty’s Pond’, usually just partly exposed close to the water’s edge on sunny days, but occasionally almost fully out of the water sunning herself. Attempts to get closer inevitably have her slide back into the water as she is ultra aware of all that goes on around her. The family of Magpie geese who are raising their young here keep a close watch on her with the ‘dad’ taking up lookout duties high in a tree, often with an ‘auntie’ doing the same in another tree. They are a good indicator of whether Betty is active, but cannot be relied upon as another family of geese lost all their young to her.

‘Auntie’ or mum on ‘Betty watch’.
Betty
Pacific Emerald Dove

Commonly seen flitting through the trees, but to date impossible to photograph are the huge iridescent blue Ulysses Butterflies. Colour is something which is so striking in the rain forest. Rich vibrant colours – birds, butterflies, blossoms – which contrast dramatically against the layers of green & brown.

We remain hopeful of seeing some of the large & colourful pythons we are told that are here, but to date have seen just one snake, a large red bellied black snake seen when I was mowing grass one day. These are snakes we are familiar with from where we previously lived in Gippsland, Vic. I wasn’t sure whether it or me got the biggest shock before it disappeared into the undergrowth. There are also some largish (up to around a metre) goanna’s here, mainly black in colour, so different to those we got to know at Goombaragin, MrsTea has seen one, but I haven’t yet.

There is not a lot of ‘work’ to be done here, the main tasks being watering in the veggie garden & around house as required, & grass mowing. The mowing is with a ride-on zero turn mower, something I was glad to become acquainted with before Allen left. Having mastered the ‘beast’ I have grown to appreciate it’s virtues, but this was not so the first time I tried it out. With no steering wheel, left & right levers which control both direction & acceleration & no brakes it surprised me. I am fairly adept at using most machinery but this thing was far from intuitive to control, giving Allen a few smiles as he observed the difficulties I had in trying to make it go where I wanted it to go! 🙂 The largest area to mow is the orchard, an extensive planting of many varieties of exotic tropical fruit trees. Learning the various tracks to get around the property took a few walks before no longer feeling the need to carry a map, but the orchard itself is a maze – not large enough to become truly lost, but becoming disoriented whilst mowing remains a definite possibility.

Male Shining Flycatcher collecting nest lining. In the right light he really does shine.
Female Shining Flycatcher sitting on nest. Totally different colours. This ended becoming a decoy nest. A Black butcherbird was hanging around, probably with a feed of Flycatcher chicks in mind. Before abanding the nest we watched the flycatchers trying to distract the Butcherbird & lead it away from the nest.
Black Butcherbird

Aside from fruit & veg from the property we also have eggs. Just 3 chooks to care for. Only ‘Layla’ had a name, but MrsTea soon rectified that & we now have Moe & Cilla too. Between them they have been giving us 2 or 3 eggs per day. Layla lays blue eggs & the other two white & beige, but we haven’t worked out who lays which yet.

We have an indoor & outdoor hot shower, but prefer the outdoor one.
MrsTea found this shed snakeskin at the base of the shower one morning. It hadn’t been there the previous day!

In 3 weeks we haven’t been away from the property much to explore, just being here happily fills most of our days. We have however made a point of visiting the weekly market in Mossman, about 30 minutes scenic (coastal, rainforest covered mountains & sugar cane fields) drive, every Saturday morning. It is an exceptional little market operating under the canopy of Mossman’s impressive raintrees. It operates year round, but has attraction to holidaymakers & locals alike. It is the best place to buy fresh produce with a wide range of locally grown fruit & veg, fresh, organically grown & cheaper than the towns large Woolworths supermarket. In addition to fruit picked as it has been ready on the property, the market provides us with tropical fruit taste adventures. Every Saturday we buy new & strange fruit to take home & try. As well as the growers there are a variety of stalls which hint at a local ‘alternative’ culture, clothing, massages, fresh coconuts to drink from etc. It’s a colourful way to begin each weekend. Other than shopping at the market & supermarket we have ventured down to Cairns (about 90 – 100 minutes drive) for some overdue medical tests, have found & registered with a good GP in Mossman (after a spectacularly awful tryout with another whom we walked out from, refused to pay & subsequently reported him to the registration authority believing him to be one of those fraudulent doctors who make the news now & again. (Turned out he was not a fraud, but a fraud may easily have been more competent!). Oh yes I also got to tick off an item on my imaginary bucket list! For years I have wanted to eat fresh caught Barramundi, but the chances of me catching one have made this unlikely. Last week the local saltwater Barramundi farm & tourist venture ‘Hookabarra’, a short drive away , opened their gates on National Barra Day (yes really). I didn’t bother to try to catch a fish from one of their ponds feeling like catching one was a ‘cheating’ & a forgone conclusion, but enjoyed watching Parents with their young children pulling in large fish & getting their huge grin photos taken with them. What we hadn’t expected were the very generous portions of fresh caught & barbequed baramundi being regularly given to all visitors. It was delicious. The frozen fillets we bought & took home will be pretty good too I reckon, but it was the non frozen fresh caught barra which was on my list.

Long Mulberries from the market. Yum.
Our favourite ‘new’ fruit to date. The Sapodillo. Only a few left on the tree. Has the texture of a pear & tastes a bit like creme caramel.
Black Sapote or ‘Chocolate Pudding Fruit. Plenty on the trees. We struggle to eat a whole one between us, but the chooks don’t mind finishing it off. It does have a vague chocolate like taste with an almost blancmange texture. Nicer if eaten with ice cream.
Bananas still need to ripen,
The Pineapples grow noticeably after each rainfall. Still a way to go though.
Blue fruit. This is the cassowary plum. The tree it grows on depends upon cassowaries eating the fruit to survive.
Figs ripening – a bird favourite.
Red Bananas from the market. Bigger than normal, but taste just like the yellow ones we all know & love.
We initially thought this was Durian growing in the Orchard, but now think it is actually Jackfruit. This is good news as the the idea of trying Jackfruit is far more appealing. Have been watching youtube videos on how to determine when ready to pick & how to cut it up.
Star Apples. Will turn dark purple when ready to eat. Nothing like an apple inside. Looking forward to trying them.
Mossman Market under the ‘hairy’ raintrees.
Sometimes he sits & cuts open the coconuts whilst holding them with his bare feet!

Things change rapidly. Just 2 weeks into our time here we had been contacted by several property owners with requests for us to to ’sit’ for them The modest fee we paid to join an online house sitting service has been great value. Check out our ‘bio’ at https://www.aussiehousesitters.com.au/house-sitter-pet-sitter/reliable-trustworthy-mature-married-couple . We have now secured another 6 week sit from early March to mid April at a rather comfortable house in the Cairns Northern Beaches area, looking after a dog & a cat, & have a weekly gardener to mow lawns etc, a weekly house cleaner, & a weekly dog washer coming in. The swimming pool will be set up to not require any maintenance from us. Not bad eh …….. but wait there’s more!

Last week were contacted & asked to caretake Portland House between the time we finish here & when we start the Northern Beaches sit, & following a lengthy phone call with the owners we have confirmed. For us it is a dream destination – way up Cape York in a spot right on the coast about 30 minutes north of Lockhart River, 800kms north of Cairns & adjacent to one of Australia’s best & unique wildlife locations, the Iron Range National Park . They will fly us up there & back to Cairns (road access closed for the Wet Season) & give us the use of their late model Toyota Hilux 4wd. We’ll be living in comfort in one of the Cape’s more upmarket accommodations within a tiny community of just 10 houses. Our role for the sit apart from providing security for the property is to undertake a twice weekly mail collection from Lockhart River airport & distribution of the mail within our immediate community, far from onerous, this will ensure community contact both in Lockhart River & Portland Roads. Similarly a bit of grass mowing etc in & around the community will no doubt enhance our position as temporary community members. For things to work out so well feels like karma. To have access to Cape York at a time when it is at it’s most vibrant & essentially shut off to tourists is a dream come true. We were (& are) absolutely stoked! And we have since had to turn down a couple of further requests to ’sit’.

Jaboticaba tree. This is one we are watching closely. It apparently goes from flowering to producing ripe fruit in 28 days. Out of the blue it suddenly flowered over a 24 hour period. First noticed by the strong sweet smell of the blossom, & then by the loud buzzing of the large number of native bees & other insects it attracted
24 hours after flowering all the flowers had ‘died’ & all bee & insect activity had ceased.
It is just outside the bathroom. When ready to eat the fruit turns black & shiny.
Just a few days later and new fruit has appeared & is growing daily. Watch this space.

Enough blogging for now ….. time to wander down to the hide again to see if Betty is putting in an appearance in the mid afternoon sun.

5 thoughts on “Getting to know the Rainforest

  1. Awesome catch up as usual. At this rate you will never need to go home. Keep on enjoying your adventure. And don’t stop keeping us all up to date

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  2. Love the flowers and bird pics but you lost me with the snake skin left in the shower and the red bellied black not to mention Betty 🙂 Certainly a great experience.

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  3. I am sooo envious of this experience. And of you getting to spend time at Portland Roads – beautiful bay which we visited briefly when camping at Chilli Beach. But that was Dry Season. You will meet all sorts of interesting characters! Might even get to see a Palm Cockatoo in the wild – that is really special.
    The blog is going to continue to be fascinating….

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  4. Wow look at the fruit on the ja… I’ve forgotten what it was called tree. Awesome.
    Such a wonderful pictorial story of your stay to date… can’t wait for the next instalment.
    I will get time to read it too.
    Can you please please send me that photo of Julie and me in the birdhide.
    I’ll get REALLY jealous if you see the cassawary wander past.

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