Trapping and Spotting Wildlife in the Atherton Tablelands
22nd – 26th June 2012
It’s about time I did some work in Australia! Yes, I am on a tourist visa no a working holiday visa so what’s the Craic with me working? I can work providing I don’t receive monetary renumeration and can receive only bed and board.
Whilst I was in Cairns before I went on Uncle Brian’s Tour, I contacted a belgian phD student called Katrina who were looking for volunteers to help her trap and spot wildlife in the Atherton Tablelands as part of her research into mammals of continuous and fragmented rainforests. She said she was willing to have me and Sophie (of Port Douglas) for 4 days helping her out.
After another day of chillaxing in Cairns (22nd June), the next day it was time to head up the hills and mountains.
The Atherton Tablelands is part of the Wet Tropics Heritage Area which runs along north to Daintree Rainforest and Douth pretty much to Townsville and Magnetic Island. It’s also very high about 600-1000m above sea level so in order to get there, you have take the steep and windy roads up. 62 corners to be precise! Katrina was used to this and handled the vehicle with skill and we arrived at our accommodation for the next few nights. It was literally in the middle of nowhere. The views around, however, was phenomenal. Especially in the mornings as mists would hover creating a striking view of the sunrise trying to peak through.
Whilst in Atherton Tablelands, you couldn’t help feeling that you were back home in England. There were rolling green hills, cows everywhere, so many grasslands and the weather was pretty much the same. Oh England, how much have I missed you!
For the first day early in the morning, we went to the fragmentated rainforest, one of the areas Katrina was studying, to set traps to catch mammals. Putting in 8 transects, the procedure took a long time especially when we had to machete through the vegetation to create a track.check me out with it!
Setting the traps was fairly easy as they were self set up ones and all you needs to do was put plastic covering above it to stop the animal getting wet and cold if caught. And put in some bait (oats and honey)
By late afternoon, we were finished and headed back to ‘home‘ to gulp down some dinner. I liked this place, it felt so empty and only had 2 beds in the open plan living/kitchen room with a fire stove in the middle. My bed was in front of the stove and I had a fur blanket on top of mine. It’s such as well because it gets absolutely freezing at night! Before I could try it out, I had to pull on my walking shoes, place my socks over my trousers to stop critters climbing up said trousers, Put on my jumpers and hat, and off we went in the dark to do some wildlife spotting at one of the tracked walks. After an hour of peering into darkness, we spotted some wildlife by seeing the reflective eyes from our torches. We managed to spot 4 possums and a lemur.
Getting back late, I was absolutely knackered and ready to sleep beside the lovely roaring open fire!
Waking up, I could see from my bed to look outside, the red glow of the sunrise and I was amazed to still find out where I am up in the Atherton Tablelands. We were based between the small towns of Malanda and Ravenshoe but all around us, there’s plenty of places to visit that has natural beauty interests over than me. Mareeba is the provincial town of the area but it was too far north for us to get there.
Early in the morning, we had to go back to the rainforest to check if we had caught some mammals! If we did, we had to set up the traps again for the next day.
And indeed we did trap some animals! According to Katrina, it was our lucky day to catch a possum! It’s very rare and in her 2 years of trapping, she’s only caught a possum twice before. After measuring it and judging it, we let it go. I was amazed how docile the mammal was and it just took one lazy look at us from his opened trap and dragged himself out very slowly before giving us another lazy look.
Checking out all the transects, we found we caught many rodents such as the white tailed rat. It was really interesting to see how they are judged by its weight, sex, foot size, head size, tags, DNA samples etc. I was doing all the recording while Katrina handled the animals as she has a license to do so.
Finishing for the day at the rainforest, it was still morning. Katrina took us to a private land lake nearby and guess what? We spotted some Platypuses! They are much smaller than I expected to be and again, were very much used to us humans. It was funny seeing them swimming around and suddenly take a nose dive to the river bed for a long time as they graze on the algae found there. And then suddenly, pop! Out they come to the water surface!
Platypuses are one of 2 mammals in the world that lays eggs and also they do not have ‘breasts’ to excrete milk for their young….they sweat it out! Imagine going round smelling of milk gone off!
It was pretty exciting seeing them from little bit of a distance as our bank couldn’t get any closer to them. Maybe in the morning, we can check them out again.
For the afternoon, we headed off to one of Katrina’s old sites to finish off some vegetation surveys there. I could remember doing them in my days at University when I was studying environmental sciences. So we managed to speedily get through them quickly.
Back to ‘home’ to chill out as rain stopped play to do some more spot lights. We got to know Katrina a bit more and she was telling us the time and advice that you do NOT look up when it’s raining in the rainforest. Why? To her experience as she discovered, small leeches will come down from the foliage up there with the rain and drop into your eye. They’ll latch on! You can’t pull them out of your eye as you will rip your corneas if you do so you will have to wait until they are full and drop off. That’s what happened to her. She also discovered back at home she had one at the back of her eye as she blinked it out and another one attached to her contact lenses as she took one out. Eeeewww!
Same procedure again to check for trapped mammals.
In the afternoon, we headed off for a drive round the Atherton Tablelands. Katrina couldn’t believe that I hadn’t visited the Curtain Fig Tree on my Uncle Brian’s Tour and took me immediately there for our first stop.
The curtain fig tree has been formed when a fig tree sapling took hold on top of another tree. It extended roots far down to the ground looking like a curtain as it did so. However, as the fig tree sapling grew into another tree, it overwhelmed the host tree and suffocated it with its roots surrounding it. And therefore disappeared, leaving a shell of a curtain fig trees to remain standing and strong. It was unbelievably massive!
From there, we headed to Malanda Falls, but we didn’t get to see the waterfalls as it were Sophie and mine’s lucky day again! We spotted Tree Kangeroos! It was the first time Katrina had spotted in the wild in all of her time in Australia.
I thought the tree Kangeroos were pretty funny. So ungainly they looked and they stared with mild interest as they slowly munched on the tree leaves. Aw, gorgeous they looked as well.
Our final stop of the day was Yungaburra again! We went round the shops and the old style houses and ended up going on a nature trail where again we spotted more Tree Kangeroos! Also on this trail, we managed to find a platypus up close in the river next to us. It was a natural born show off as it heat doing swimming tricks and surprising us with how close it could get to us.
On the way back, we were pretty pleased to have come into many animals in the last few days. You wouldn’t get such a variety back home in England!
The rest of the night was spent relaxing and chilling out having some food and watching Finding Nemo, ready for my highly anticipated trip to the Great Barrier Reef soon! Of course I cried at parts of the film! Sophie was too busy snoring her head off much to Katrina and mine amusement. Much the sleepy beauty she is!
26th June 2012
Same procedure to check for trapped animals but this time to close the traps for Katrina’s next visit soon.
After, we headed back to Cairns after packing up but not before stopping at an ice creamery to try out some butterscotch and elderberry ice cream. Nom nom nom!
Back in Cairns, I was glad to be at another hostel as my credit cards has finally arrived! No more I have to wait at the hostel I was at in Cairns before and being bored to tears there. Moving to another hostel, I caught up with my next group of fellow Backpacker’s ready for my next adventure out of Cairns the following day…
Watch this space.
But I do urge you to visit the Atherton Tablelands when you visit North Queensland. Even for a day you can see everything you could possibly would like to see
I loved it.