Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Wildlife upside down 3: Daintree and the great barrier reef

After the top end and Darwin we continued on eastwards to Cairns. Our two destinations here were the Daintree forest and the Barrier reef, so two very different experiences.

Firstly though, we had a lovely scenic drive up from Cairns to Daintree. This takes the coast road, with spectacular views.

Not far out of Cairns we stopped at a shop selling opals but which more interestingly had a laughing kookaburra in the car-park!

There was also honey-eaters around including what I think is a brown-backed and definitely a white-throated.

First up was the land-based stuff. Our main trip was a whole day guided by Murray Hunt aka the Daintree boatman. He is a very experienced wildlife guide in the region and we were lucky to have a whole day of his time, partly on a joint river cruise with other tourists, then on our own.

As we started there was mist on the water making it very atmospheric and the still morning gave some stunning reflections on the water.
We didn't go far, probably only a couple of miles along the river and back but Murray knew all the spots was a genius at finding wildlife. Quite soon we left the main channel and entered much smaller waterways with a very different feel.

Quite soon we started to see some of the specialities of the region. This little kingfisher posed quite nicely for us albeit in deep shade so the picture is a bit grainy.

One the other end of the scale size-wise is this great-billed heron, the largest of it's family.

One bird I was hoping to see was a frogmouth and this pair of Papuan frogmouths were just sleeping quietly in a tree til we came along.

One thing I didn't expect to see, especially from a boat were snakes, but we came across tow different ones due to the excellent eyes (ad local knowledge) of Murray.

We saw many more birds including yellow orioles, Macleays honeyeaters, large-billed gerygones, double-eye fig-parrots and red-backed and sacred kingfishers.

After the river trip we stopped at a local hotel for breakfast where this white-lipped tree-frog entertained us from a bush by our table.

Replete with bacon, scrambled eggs and coffee we then set off again. There was no real set agenda, Murray just sort of drove around the area taking us to see some local areas some of which were totally surprising and were the sort of things you would never find on your own or get to on a "normal" tour.
The first stop was farmers field where Murray knew a pair of bush stone-curlews lived.

Next stop, and bizarre location number one, was a caravan site. We parked up and under the rather curious gaze of the residents found anothor pair of frogmouths in a tree.

We carried on our excursion, stopping every so often for some nice local birds such as the eastern curlew, with a quite whopping bill,

fairy martins on a farmers fence

and this crested hawk in a tree by a busy road.

We weren't only looking for birds though and Murray knew of a back-road where you could find pademelons, a small marsupial - they weren't very confiding though.

Once we stopped in a car park by a dried-out pond with lots of small birds in the trees, including this leaden flycatcher and a mistletoe bird.

This isn't a great photo but the bird is very interesting. We saw it make a small deposit on this branch. On inspection you could see it was a seed encased in guano. It feeds on mistletoe berries which itself is a parasitic plant. So, the seeds pass through the birds intact adn are passed out encased in a sticky coat which helps them stick to the branch and thus colonise another tree!!!
Our final stop though was amazing. Murray asked us if we wanted to see a bower bird - well, who wouldn't. I presumed it would be in a forest with a long and sweaty walk. No way! WE drove into a small town and parked up by a school. Out we got and strolled into the schoolyard. Now, the kids were in classes and we were toting binoculars and cameras with very large lenses. In the UK you would be on the local news that night. Here, Murray put  donation into a collection box and led us across the schoolyard to where there was a bowerbird nest!!!

This belonged to a great bowerbird, and this town apparently is famous for them. The owner of this one was waiting for us to go whilst looking crossly at us from a tree.

Close-by though was another bower wit a male in attendance making it look pretty for any passing females.

It was quite amazing being so close to a bird I didn't think we would see, although it was a bit weird when the kids all came out class.
These birds, a squatter pigeon and a red-winged parrot were also wandering around - we never had exciting things like this at my school!

The next day was totally different, in pace and location. We had a day going out to the Great Barrier Reef onboard the catamaran Aquarius.
Our destination was about an hour away, the aptly named Low Isles, which are barely above the reef at high tide.

The day was basically snorkeling, lunch, more snorkeling and a cruise back.

We also had the opportunity to view the reef from a glass-bottomed boat. There were many fish, beautiful corals and a good number of turtles, one of which was so tame I could actually stroke it under water!! Hopefully these photos might give a bit of an idea of what was there.

Our last day in the south east was a drive back to Cairns. We did stop though at a wildlife park where we joined in with the other tourists in getting up close and personal with a koala!! They are quite stout and this one seemed quite happy to do its part for promoting their cause!!

I also met a (non-venemous) snake!!