Stories from the Field: Wildlife of Australia’s Cloud Forests

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Stories from the Field: Wildlife of Australia’s Cloud Forests
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Stories from the Field: Wildlife of Australia’s Cloud Forests

“Any volunteers to stay overnight at the 1,000-meter site at Mount Lewis?" asked Collin during our second day breakfast at the campsite. Rolf, John, and I, who were up spotlighting the night before, were very excited and couldn't wait to pack our sleeping bags and waterproof clothing (very important advice from Collin) for the stay. We didn't require any tents, as we were told there was a hut at the site and we were anxiously looking forward to staying at the cozy little hut on top of a scenic mountain.

MAGIC OF THE MOUNTAIN
This kicked off one of my “one fine day” experiences during the expedition to North Queensland, Australia. I'm glad that both Bas (from the Shell office in the Hague in the Netherlands) and myself (from the Miri office in Malaysia) were selected as Shell ambassadors to the Climate Change in the Rainforest project in October 2007. We worked as volunteers with the Earthwatch research team, measuring the distribution and abundance of animals in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Site, North Queensland. There were 17 of us on the team.

The main aim of the expedition was to observe and study the impact of climate change on tropical biodiversity. Plants, insects, mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians were among the groups covered in the project. We started our day at Mount Lewis by breaking the team into two groups to work on reptile and ant surveys. As part of the ant group, I soon realized that collecting ants in the bush was not an easy task. The ants were tiny but they could move much faster than you could imagine. I was disappointed at the beginning because I couldn't locate any for the first 10 minutes, and my only collection in the second round was not even an ant. But practice makes perfect, and finally I managed to collect the first ant of my trip. 

After completing the respective tasks, Rolf, John, and I stayed behind with Luke and Andres at the airy, walled hut with extended greenery. The three of us quickly explored each and every corner of the hut and happily found that it was actually partially furnished, with a long wooden table, some wall hangers, a broom, a spade, two folding chairs, and some stone stools.

REPTILE SURVEY
We set up the table, arranged the chairs and stools, and got ready to work on the second item on the agenda - reptile measuring. We took our samples out one by one, using the micrometer and ruler to measure the diameter as well as the length of their head, body, and tail...basically the whole structure from head to tail. The skinks were very obedient once in Luke's hands, patiently letting him take the measurements. Rolf and I recorded all the details for each and every one of them; species, site where it was found, measurements, etc. Despite the rain, all the samples were returned to the locations where they had been found.

Rain is the lifeblood of the rainforests, which are defined by the amount and frequency of the rain in the forest. This tropical rainforest of North Queensland receives very high rainfall throughout the year. It was pouring down during a break, so we relished the opportunity to bond by playing a “guess the celebrity” game inside the hut. It was particularly challenging as the five of us came from different regions of the world: John from Britain, Andres from Ecuador, Luke and Rolf from Australia, and myself from Malaysia. We had a good laugh trying to guess the names of politicians, Nobel Prize winners, sports personalities, and entertainers from across the world.

DINNERTIME

Having a plate of hot pasta and a cup of tea on a rainy evening on a mountain top is definitely a luxurious dinner, and we made the most of it. After restoring our energy, off we went, putting on all our waterproof gear to head out spotlighting. Along the way was a symphony of frogs, and Luke could easily recognize each and every musician behind the notes. We were amazed. It was awesome to see such a small frog projecting such an astonishingly loud voice when we came face to face with the little musicians. We managed to spot some frogs, but only one possum.

The rain was getting heavier and it was windy. We got to sleep early that night, looking forward to bird-watching early the next morning. I felt like a child clasping a box of multiflavored chocolates, longing to unwrap them one by one at sunrise. As well as being a scenic upland rainforest, Mount Lewis is famous for bird-watching. As my eyes closed I drifted into wonderful encounters with golden bowerbirds, blue-faced parrot finches, noisy pittas, chowchillas, and many others in my dream.

I enjoyed my experience in the magnificent rainforest. I learned a lot while acquiring various scientific data collection methods, lots of knowledge of wet tropical wildlife, as well as survival skills in the unpredictable Mother Nature. As a result I have become physically and mentally stronger, with greater confidence in confronting challenges, and I have become more creative in resolving problems and more appreciative of nature. So, what are you waiting for?

Climate Change in the Rainforest is a unique opportunity to see a diverse array of forest animals at close quarters, from leaf-tailed geckos to possums. Working with Dr. Stephen Williams and his research team, volunteers sample the abundance of birds, reptiles, mammals, frogs, plants, and insects at 200-meter elevation intervals up mountain tracks. Volunteers set insect traps and sort their contents, trap small mammals, hunt for lizards, comb tropical streams and forest transects for calling frogs, collect bird abundance data, and spotlight for nocturnal mammals and reptiles.

Learn more about Australia’s Cloud Forests.

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