9-14 August: The Daintree “Rainforest” lives up to its name

Author: Mr A

Location: Daintree Village, Far North Queensland, Australia

I’m going to suggest something different for this blog, especially if you’re locked down somewhere, and armchair travel is all you have available right now. It will be a more immersive sensory experience if you listen to the sounds of the Daintree rainforest while you read this (just need a Spotify account).

And yes, it really does sound like this, and we feel like we are in a David Attenborough documentary. He called it “a rainforest quite unlike any other in the world”. From a total of 19 primitive flowering plants found in the world, 12 of them you can find here, the highest concentration of these plants worldwide. It also rains a lot here. We are in the “dry season” and it has rained for part of every day. In the wet, it can get up to 9 metres a year! In terms of size, this forest is just over 12,000 square kilometres – so that’s a bit bigger than a smallish country like Jamaica or the Lebanon. It has been a world heritage listed site for over 30 years, and home to the Kuku Yalanji people for thousands. We acknowledge their custodianship of this special place, and regret the decimation caused to them and their culture by the British and European settlement of their Country.

A lush and serene tidal ecosystem
The top layer is freshwater, with saltwater beneath. Every log looks like a crocodile…they call it a logodile

This is one of the oldest surviving rainforests in the world (or the oldest depending which source you read!) – with around 50-100 million years of uninterrupted evolution to create the incredible biodiversity we are seeing here. The species score (according to that World Heritage listing) is over 3,000 for plants, 107 different mammals, 368 birds species, 113 different reptiles and 51 amphibians! In each of those categories a significant proportion are only found here. Human impact on the area has been refreshingly small. Massive vistas of steep, thickly forested ranges show almost no sign of habitation. However, human induced climate change is predicated to change it forever. Come when you can. If you have grand children, it will be different here for them in the future.

Picturesque river – no two days are the same
Sunset over the Daintree River

We feel privileged to be able to experience this area for a second time. We came here three years ago, and remembered doing a great tour down the Daintree River with a brilliant guide. Who other should be standing on his boat when we fist arrived and went down to the wharf? None other than that same guy – Alex from Daintree River Wild Watch. We booked for the early tour the next morning.

I was awake even earlier listening to the rain hammering down and wondering about how “dry” is a relative concept in the Wet Tropics, but our tour went ahead and the rain paused (mostly) while we spent a couple of magical hours spotting some of those diverse species. The cameras were out, and eyes peeled, and Alex just has an amazing eye for where to spot these often superbly camouflaged creatures. However, Eagle Eye Catherine was usual on great form and bagged a couple of sightings. Here’s a selection of those photos for your viewing pleasure.

A calm morning on the river
A Little Kingfisher – the second smallest kingfisher in the world (the African Dwarf Kingfisher is slightly smaller)
A majestic Brahminy Kite watches from the top of a tree alongside the river. These are sometimes known as Red-backed Sea-eagles, as they are generally found on coastal wetlands.
A pair of Radjah Shelducks bravely at the water’s edge. All birds will make a nice snack for one of the local Saltwater Crocodiles
Three of the eight Green Pygmy-Geese we saw swimming up and down the river. They have wonderfully patterned feathers and are only found in tropical freshwater wetlands in Northern Australia. A male (centre) and two females.
A Striated Heron flies across the still waters
A Little Black Cormorant – these have green eyes. While those feet look awkward on the branch, they can really propel them when catching fish under water.
This tiny bird is a Large-billed Gerygone and this is its nest. It constructs its nest on a flimsy vine to discourage unwanted visitors (like snakes) and disguised to resemble flood debris.
We never tire of seeing the stunning Australasian Darters – these are the spear fishers of the bird world – piercing fish underwater with their beaks.
After a good session spear-fishing it is important to dry the wings
A Little Egret with a feathery beak problem
One of many Rainbow Bee-eaters along the river catching insects
A pair of Papuan Frogmouths roosting in a tree along the river. The male is the darker grey colours on the right, while the female is browner.
A male Shining Flycatcher – a deep metallic blue colour
Not the best photo, but you can see the inside of the male Shining Flycatcher’s mouth is bright orange
This is the female Shining Flycatcher – she has a copper back and tail, white chest and metallic blue head.
A Pacific Baza – before here we’d only seen these in pictures. It is a hawk with a great hairstyle that mostly consumes insects.
As their name suggests, Cattle Egrets spend their days with cows, enjoying a symbiotic relationship consuming insects attracted to their bovine mates. At sunset they all congregate in trees along the riverbank to roost. About six cows per year are eaten by crocodiles.
A Night Heron emerges after sunset to take on the evening fishing shift

We saw several types of kingfisher on our trips.

An Azure Kingfisher – a true water-hunter. These have tiny tails to help streamline them when they dive for fish and prawns in the river.
Azure Kingfisher
Azure Kingfisher
A Sacred Kingfisher – they will hunt insects, frogs, crabs and lizards as well as fish.
Sacred Kingfisher
A rather lean looking Forest Kingfisher – they have a diverse appetite and are often seen perched on powerlines watching for their next snack.
Early morning photography in action
I even worked out how to use the spotting scope on the boat

We were mostly interested to see the birdlife, but looking at crocodiles (from the safety of our metal hulled boat!) was as always a sobering moment. We are seeing a species that looks largely the same as it did in the fossil record of 200 million years ago. I was left wondering why they haven’t changed that much, when homo sapiens has taken 200,000 years to evolve into a species capable of reaching the stars, and destroying the world that created us. New research in the UK (how come they know anything about crocs?) concludes that it’s because they arrived at a body state (big and mean?) that is both so efficient and versatile that they don’t need to diversify to survive. For instance, they can live for a year without a feed! They survived the meteor impact that snuffed out the rest of the dinosaurs. Crocs are crafty for sure. Just check these eyes out and tell me there’s not a frightening level of cunning there.

The chunky 4 metre long male crocodile photographed at the bottom is estimated to be around 70 years old! If you look closely you can see some of his teeth are smaller than others – this is because crocodiles shed their old teeth and grow new ones. No dentists needed in his kingdom…(wouldn’t fancy getting close enough to smell his breath though!)
This female crocodile appeared to be having a lovely snooze in the afternoon sunlight, resting her chin on a log.
And this is a super cute 4 month old crocodile, barely visible, warming itself up on a thin branch. The survival chances of this little one are not good, with kites, eagles, barramundi (fish) and even other crocodiles happy to snap them up for a snack.

While looking out for scaly creatures we even spotted a couple of snakes on our trips:

A Common Tree Snake. This is non-venomous and feeds on frogs and lizards in the trees. This one is in a native hibiscus.
Not sure where the head is on this pile of Amethystine python. This is Australia’s largest python which can grow up to 8.5 metres long and easily consume wallabies, cats and small dogs. They are non-venomous, instead they sit and wait for their prey, then suffocate them with their coils.

Our days are spent taking drives in between river tours. We only spent a day and a half here last time, so didn’t really appreciate that there is actually nowhere you can walk. The rainforest is so dense, and the terrain so steep, other than the few tracks that wind along the valley, there is literally nowhere else to go other than the river. On one of these drives we spotted this stately looking specimen of a sea eagle.

A White-bellied Sea-eagle. This adult is so relaxed it is stood on one leg. This is a technique birds use to minimise heat loss.
White-bellied Sea-eagle

And up a short track several nervous looking birds including this Green Oriole. They’re not often seen but their calls echo through the valley (listen here).

Green Oriole calls are quite distinctive as they echo through the forest.
A lot of the cleared farmland is being bought back up by the Queensland Government and replanted to return it to rainforest.
A picturesque drive

Even around the campground there was a whole range of birdlife. We spent many hours there inside our lovely cosy Zone (listening to the novelty of rain!) just reading, or in Catherine’s case, editing what I think are these amazing photos. So she does really appreciate your feedback on them. They will be such a wonderful historical record for us in the future – when we are in a different hemisphere. If you follow us on Facebook you will see we have made a decision to move back to the UK to be closer to family and Europe. Now that as a topic deserves a post (or maybe a novella?) all on it own 🙂

Metallic Starling munching on palm tree fruit
A tiny female Sunbird drinking nectar from a passionfruit flower – you can see how little it is in relation to the passionfruit
Common Putat/Powder Puff flowers – they flower at night and are pollinated by bats and insects, before dropping off in the daylight
Bottlebrush Orchid growing on a tree. There is barely a branch without another plant growing on it
More orchids growing in the trees. All realestate is considered fair game in the rainforest!