With so many new things to see and do every day, I really don’t know what I should say here, and what I should choose to leave out. So a few random occurrences, even though I feel like I’m leaving out tons:
Yesterday the group spent the day exploring local towns, getting a feel for the area’s attractions, general character, and history. I ended up in the large town of Atherton, notable among the students here as the location for some of the area’s better pubs, and also the only local hospital where we can get treated for venomous snake bites. Yeah, if I ever goto Atherton again, let’s hope that it’s just to pick up minor school supplies. For some reason, Wal-mart is known here as Big W, but everything else is the same, including the slogan, the rollback smiley mascot, the employee uniforms, everything. Curious. Anyways, by far the best part of Atherton was the kebab restaurant across the street from the shire courthouse. It’s often frequented by our Rainforest Ecology professor, who highly recommended it to us, so we stopped in. The food we’re getting cooked at the Centre is really surprisingly great, I haven’t had a disappointing meal so far, but man, this kebab place was incredible by any comparison. You can pick two sauces to include in your wrap, so being the spice-loving guy that I am, I got spicy chili and bbq sauce. It was…incredible. Everything about it. The quality of the pita bread, the flavor of the chicken, the quality of the ingredients, the contributions of the sauces…best wrap ever. So…I ordered another one, which is apparently unheard of and completely unprecedented, even according to our fanatical professor. But that first warp was just so good that I wanted to have another one, and try a different combination of sauces. So the second time, I picked tahini and garlic yogurt. Also amazing. Okay, so we’ll adjust the previous statement: I will be in Atherton as often as possible, if only for the wraps at this kebab place. I guess I’ll just happily munch on a wrap while my classmates get wasted at the bar or get saved from lethally venomous snakebites.
Speaking of snakes, we found a massive Scrub Python between Cabins 1 and 2 last night. And by massive, I mean that this snake was almost 10 feet long, and was a good deal thicker than my fist. This wasn’t even a particularly large Scrub Python, but it was still really, really big. The guys all yelled and hollered, probably out of a combination of excitement and sheer terror, as the snake just sat in the road watching us. I’d left my camera back in the cabin, so I didn’t get off any photos, by a few others did, so I hope those turn out well. After a five minute standoff on the road, the snake backed off and slithered off into the bush. We stood our ground and watch its entire length go by, refusing to believe that a snake could be so long. Thing was frickin’ amazing. Imagine seeing that in the Crum Woods! This is why I went abroad.
I’m seeing fewer and fewer new birds, which was obviously expected, but two of my most recent pickups were quite memorable. The first was the Tooth-billed Bowerbird, a species only found in this sliver of Australian rainforest, and that’s it, for the entire world! Bowerbirds are famous for their elaborate mating rituals, in which the males build ‘courts’ filled with various found objects in order to attract a mate. Probably the most famous example is the Satin Bowerboard, which will weave an elaborate den out of sticks and then pick a bright color to show off. For example, if the bowerbird picks the color orange, it will find every bright orange object in its territory and artistically place it around the court, it could be orchid flowers, fruits, or even human artifacts like bottle caps or pieces of plastic, all of it gets placed around the bowerbird’s court. The Tooth-billed Bowerbird isn’t quite as elaborate as the Satin, but its court is still fascinating, as it finds leaves that it likes and creates a mat of turned-over leaves. Anyways, I wasn’t expecting to find a Tooth-billed Bowerbird, as they normally occupy their courts during the dry season, during which they stand on their favorite perch and sing for hours on end, making them among the easiest birds to find in the rainforest. However, we’re now in the wet season, and during that time bowerbirds are nearly impossible to find. I got lucky. The Centre director Amanda, who’s an avid birder as well (there’s so many of us, yes!) told me a few days ago that she’d heard two Tooth-billed’s singing at their courts along the Centre’s access road (the road we hurtled along after the terrifying entrance). This is an extremely late date for them to be singing, but I hoped that I could catch them in the next few days before they disappeared for good. Yesterday morning I went out and checked, but no luck, there was nothing but Chowchillas singing at the two bowerbird sites. Today however, my luck came through. I heard a bird calling stridently from the vicinity of bowerbird court three. After fighting my way through some thick brush, I tried to get a better angle on the hidden singer, and after some searching, I finally found the Tooth-billed Bowerbird, sitting still on its favorite perch about four meters above its court. I watched it for a few good minutes, before it dropped down into the brush, and I looked at my watch and decided that it was time to head back to the main building for breakfast. But I’m so glad that I got a chance to see this unique bird, because I have no idea if it will still be there tomorrow, even.
The other great bird I got was the Blue-faced Parrot-finch, a rare denizen of the Australian rainforests. The species is also found in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, but because of the relative inaccessibility of these locations, many birders come to Australia to find the bird, and indeed Amanda’s husband Alastair stated that it’s probably the second-most sought after bird in the rainforest, after the Southern Cassowary of course. Fortunately, this is the best time of the year to find the parrot-finch, and even more fortunately, the bird can occasionally be found on the centre’s property. Amanda and Alastair pointed me towards some of the more promising locations around the property, and I watched over them vigilantly over the next few days. This afternoon, with some free time available, Lauren (one of the other avid birders) and I decided to launch a Blue-faced Parrot-finch expedition, to find this beautiful but elusive bird. Lauren had stood at the abandoned orchard below the main building for an hour without any luck, but decided to keep her vigil there, while I split up and headed uphill for the nursery. After a few minutes sorting through the dozens of Red-browed Finches, I noticed a small green bird at the edge of the grass. It was light green, with a red tail, and that led me to believe that it must be an immature Blue-faced Parrot-finch or something. But I wasn’t totally sure, so I watched the bird for another minute, collecting notes on its behavior and plumage. Suddenly, two adult Blue-faced Parrot-finches flew up into the branches around the first bird, and I pretty much flipped out. They were absolutely beautiful. Blindingly bright green, with a shocking blue face, and bright red tail, these were probably the most striking birds that I’d seen here yet, and that’s with some pretty impressive competition to boot. I watched them for just a few seconds before sprinting downhill to find Lauren, hoping that the birds would stay in the same general area. The two of us ran back uphill to the nursery, but after standing around for ten minutes, it looked as if the birds had unfortunately moved on. We moved to the water tower at the top of the hill, where the flock of Red-browed Finches seemed to have moved, but there was no sign of the Blue-faced Parrot-finch, and then it started to rain, as it always seems to in the rainforest. It’s an apt name for the habitat, most definitely. So while I’m glad that I got some brief, good looks at the bird, I’m a little disappointed that Lauren didn’t get a look, I wonder if she even believes me! Hopefully we’ll get to see the bird again, we’ll certainly try our best.
The leech saga continues as well. There’s an acoustic guitar in the common room, and yesterday morning I found two leeches on the guitar strings! They were just waiting for us, those devious ‘suckers’. Oh wow, terrible joke. But yeah, the sight of two leeches attached onto guitar strings, waving around in the air seeking my blood, was completely surreal. Went on a hike this afternoon too, before the Blue-faced Parrot-finch expedition, and somehow two leeches ended up on my neck. I plucked them off before they feasted on my blood, but I really have no idea how they got there, but I wish I knew so that I could prevent it from happening again. Two of my friends here got leeches in their armpits, and on their stomachs, and they just don’t have any idea how that could possibly happen. It’s sort of ridiculous, and there’s nothing you can do about it except cover up your body and stay vigilant, there’s no leech repellent or anything. At least I haven’t had to deal with too many mosquitoes.
By the way, I think I forgot to include my contact info in the last post. Email is probably the best way to do things, though I will warn that our internet is very spotty, we rely on a very slow satellite connection that doesn’t always work. The phone on site doesn’t accept incoming calls, but I can make international calls on the cheap, so let me know if that sounds good. As for letters, it actually looks like I’ll be able to receive it quite promptly, it turns out that one of the staff members checks our post office boxes on his commute to work. It’ll take around three weeks for me to receive anything, but if you really want to send me anything for whatever reason, try:
SFS Centre for Rainforest Studies
PO Box 141 Yungaburra
Queensland, 4884 Australia
Unfortunately that still means that I’ll have trouble sending out mail back to you guys, but if you’d really really like to, let me know, and I’ll try my best.
Oh, and pictures! They’re on my computer, but the internet here is astonishingly slow. By the time this post finishes publishing on blogger, I’ll probably be done with breakfast. I have a lot of free time later today and tomorrow, so I could try and just settle into the computer lab here to upload a few, but until then, more black text will just have to do.
Oh, and on the lingo front, ‘tuckers’ is the same as lunch, and I still haven’t heard anyone say ‘crikey’. Well, except by us, jokingly, when we saw that massive snake.