Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Part 6 - Mt. Lewis

This was it. Golden Bowerbirds would put out of mind the sweat drenched nights camping, the Chowchillas would make us forget our over-drawn bank accounts and the Blue-faced Parrot Finch would be a good substitute for the Gouldian Finch that would not be seen on this trip.

All those cans of beans that we ate to sustain us would be worth it once we saw the birds of Mt. Lewis!

The hills calling our names
So it was with great anticipation that we set out that morning up the mountain. The cleared valley soon gave way to tropical forest as we diligently took our Hyundai up the dirt road. We stopped to observe Thornbills and Gerygones work the canopy, and the Bassian Thrush poke around the shaded road edges. Our main targets still remained higher up so we hopped back into the car and continued on.

Not too long afterward we spied some birdwatchers enjoying some Thornbills and Gerygones of their own. Out we got; introductions were made, battle plans laid out. Joy of the time and space expressed, and with it, espousal of the glory of the natural world. Many generations older then us, our 3 new companions nevertheless shared our passion for our feathered friends, and showed to be be young at heart.

All was good with the world until about 500 meters farther along the road. In its endless fury across the land, the wind had wrapped a young but promising tree in its fluid grasps and cast it across our path.

If we had been alone that would have been the end. We carried neither axe nor saw, and would have left before we had even begun. Thankfully, our new friend John, with his elderly wisdom had a small hatchet and modest hacksaw in his jeep.

Wielding the hatchet, I tore into the tree with a great fury, not to be denied the joys that the mountain offered. Limb by limb the road cleared. All took turns hacking, sawing and dragging away. Pretty soon, what looked like an impassable barrier opened up. Experience combined with youthful energy had done it. We were able to pass, though slightly more sweaty and that much more determined!

As we made our way up, we began to pass little grass clearings in the forest, the home of the Blue-faced Parrot-Finch. Ever watchful, we saw many finches, but of the Red-browed variety. With John's group pushing on ahead, I saw a green flash but couldn't stay on it. Surely a our query, but we would have to continue on. Not much longer and in a much wider clearing we got our birds. Flitting through the grass they were a delight for our road weary eyes.

Red-browed Finch
With no beer, or champagne, or even a pineapple to feast on to celebrate, we began a hike into the forest to try and find the remaining endemics of the Atherton Tablelands.  Tooth-billed Bowerbird, check! Chowchillas, check! Land leeches, yeah land leeches. Those buggers had a nasty little knack of creeping into your shoes magically, or feasting on your leg before you were able to wise-up to their nefarious dealings. One particularly sneaky individual got on my toe in my shoe, and when I accidentally squashed it simply walking, my shoe filled with blood and remained slick and gross for the rest of the day.

But I digress, this is about birds not leeches right? So we continued along hoping we'd get a Golden Bowerbird, the crown endemic of the land. Alas it was not to be. Our best efforts would not suffice this day.

Back at Kingfisher Park, we decided to stake out the little stream in hopes of seeing one of Australia's most enigmatic creatures, the Platypus. It started off well, with many birds coming to drink at the stream, a Pied Monarch feeding its young, and a Thick-billed Gerygone nest overhanging the water. However, we were soon beset by mosquitoes, and no matter how hard we tried to cover up, they found a way to feast on our flesh. After too long waiting, we gave up. No Platypus, only the lingering sting of mosquitoes and defeat.

Pied Monarch performing some acrobatics
The highs a lows of the tropics were starting to become apparent, and with the Daintree Rainforest waiting, we would see if we were up to the various challenges in our path.

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