by CC WILD (Australia)
I really enjoyed Carl Portman's latest book about his travels to the Daintree Rainforest in tropical North Queensland, Australia.
Carl has a light hearted whimsical style that endears him to the reader and he maintains a high quality mix of fauna and people, with a leaning towards his favourite arachnids, Australian culture, balancing relationships with his travel mates, and insights into all aspects of North Queensland.
It has always intrigued me as to how travellers choose to come to Cooper Creek Wilderness. We are on the web, with thousands of other "Daintree" products. How do you select the place and the person that can show you a whistling spider, Carl's target arachnid?
The answer seems to be in intensive research on the web, word of mouth referrals from the local community and intelligence.
We were delighted to have Carl Portman visit us. His description, in chapter 7, of his time spent with the Hewett family is entertaining and accurate. His enthusiasm was contagious and the three children, Tulli, Taiga and Tkoda were excitedly calling to him to come and look at their discoveries. Carl wrote about his time in our orchard as "a veritable shop window chock-full of arachnids and I for one had my nose pressed hard against the glass."
Carl Portman's "A Daintree Diary" is dedicated to Steve Irwin. By an extraordinary coincidence, the day after my copy of the book arrived from Amazon Press, I had Steve's father, Bob Irwin visiting me. In one of my senior moments I managed to order two copies of Carl's book.
It seemed fitting to give my extra copy to Bob. I hope he enjoyed it as much as I did.
If, like me, you're into entertaining road-trip-style books that take you to far-off places, and encounters with exotic creatures, captivating landscapes, and much more, then Carl Portman's A Daintree Diary is the book for you!
Containing a mountain of cool and enchanting photographs, Carl's title is a genuinely engaging look at what happens when he and his partner, Susan, and their friend Angela, head off to the wilds of the North Australian rain-forest in search of all-things animalistic and unusual.
Rather like a combination of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas-meets-Jurassic Park-meets-The Crocodile Hunter, Daintree takes you into the very heart of an on-the-road quest for high-strangeness, high-adventure, and high-entertainment!
Written in an engaging, diary-format, Daintree is a book that will be relished by anyone and everyone who can appreciate what it means to live life to its fullest, who can understand the adrenalin-rush that comes from heading into realms unknown on adventure-filled quests, and who has a passion for the stranger aspects of zoology.
Packed with humor, excitement, danger, and mystery, Carl Portman's A Daintree Diary was a book that kept me transfixed from the first page to the very last. I strongly suspect that it will do likewise for you!
After all: how can you turn up your nose at whistling spiders, giant catfish, the Thylacine and more? That's right: you can't!!
Nick Redfern (Cryptozoologist) Fortean Reviews. May 2010
"This is not only a highly informative book for the amateur entomologist, but it is one of the most amusing and endearing books you will read all year"
Corinna Downes (Centre for Fortean Zoology)
The Daintree Rainforest is a tropical rainforest north of Mossman, Queensland on the coast, north of Cairns in tropical far north of Australia. At around 1200 square kilometres the Daintree is the largest continuous area of tropical rainforest on the Australian Mainland. Named after Richard Daintree part of the forest is protected by the Daintree National Park and drained by the Daintree River. The Daintree Rainforest contains 30% of frog, marsupial and reptile species in Australia, and 65% of Australia's bat and butterfly species. 18% of bird species in the country can be found in this area. There are also over 12000 species of insects. All of this rich diversity is contained within an area that takes up 0.2% of the landmass of Australia.
Some of the Daintree Rainforest's addition to the World Heritage List in 1988 in recognition of its universal natural values highlighted the rainforest.
The Daintree is an outstanding example of the major stages in the Earth's evolutionary history, an example of significant ongoing ecological and biological processes, and an example of superlative natural phenomena. It contains important and significant habitats for conservation of biological diversity. The Daintree Rainforest is over one hundred and thirty-five million years old - the oldest in the world. Approximately 430 species of birds live among the trees. The primitive flowering plants Austrobaileya scandens and Idiospermum australiense are also endemic to the Daintree.
The Daintree Rainforest is loosely defined as the area between the Mossman Gorge and the Bloomfield River. The name is believed to have come about as a result of conservationists, who during the building of the Bloomfield Road in the early 1980s proposed the 'Greater Daintree National Park' which would have encompassed all of the forest in the area, including the Daintree and Cape Tribulation National Parks. Recent extensions to the Daintree National Park have realised this.
The area referred to as "The Daintree" includes the Greater Daintree National Park, some areas of State Forest, and some privately owned land, including a residential community of upwards of 500 people. Some of the privately owned land north of the Alexandra Range was "bought back" under a Government scheme in recent years. North of the Daintree River can be seen spectacular examples of tropical rainforest coming right down to the sea. The roads north of the Daintree River wind through spectacular areas of lush forest, and have been designed to minimize impacts on the forest.
The Daintree Region is home to a number of rare and endangered species, including the Southern Cassowary and Bennett's Tree Kangaroo.
All the private land in the area north of the river is old farmland, and almost all of it has been logged many times. The real entrance to World Heritage listed rainforest is at Mossman Gorge, and one can see the very best rainforest there.
The following words are taken from a sign in Singapore Zoo
'The forest is a peculiar organism of unlimited kindness and benevolence, that makes no demands for sustenance and extends generously the products of its activity; it affords protection to all beings, offering shade even to the axeman who destroys it'
Lord Buddha, 500 B.C.
I was privileged to see the Maned Wolf Chrysocyon brachyurus from South America. This beautiful canid has very long legs to allow it to see above the tall grass in its natural environment. It is omnivorous and does like the occasional free-range chicken much like our own foxes. I arrived at the enclosure at feeding time just as the warden was lobbing large white rats (dead) to the occupants. There were two wolves and they didn't panic and didn't fight. They calmly scoured the long grass for the meal and I was impressed by the stature and poise of this animal. When you ask if zoos are good I have to consider what would happen if these were the only two left in the wild?
I was deeply saddened (almost traumatised) to hear that one of the world's great conservationists, Steve Irwin, AKA The crocodile Hunter died at Port Douglas when he was stung by the barb of a stingray at Batt Reef. It was a million to one chance. The Ray felt threatened as it was surrounded by cameramen as Steve swam above it. It must have felt that it had no escape and it lashed its tail, plunging its defensive barb through Steve's chest, piercing his heart and killing him almost instantly. Ironically, he was filming a series called 'The oceans deadliest' at around that time. News of his death shocked the world and there were even 'revenge killings' and mutilated rays were being found on beaches prompting Steve's close friends to ask for the disgusting practice to stop.
Like many people, I knew that Steve Irwin was an entertainer and played to the cameras, but so what? He exposed the beauty of Australia and its animals and plants to the world in a way unique to the man. I remember some of his catch phrases such as 'You little beauty' or 'Crikey' or 'Have a go at this'. My favourite however was 'Ooooooh he's gettin' cranky'. It's a little known fact that he had a fear of parrots after being bitten many times by the birds.
After all those close encounters with crocodiles and cobras and more besides, who could possibly have thought that he would have left us the way that he did? He was only 44 years old. Wherever you are Steve, may you be surrounded by the beauty, majesty and glory of the flora and fauna that you loved in life.
I almost immediately stepped on something distasteful. Not what you might be thinking of - dogs were nowhere to be found, but a rather large and feisty Bufo marinus - the Cane Toad.
I should explain a little about this much hated amphibian. It was introduced into northern Australia in 1935 (believed to be from Hawaii) in order to kill the cane beetle which was eating the sugar cane crops. The idea was that the toads would eat the beetles and the crops would be fine and everyone would be happy - except some bright spark had not done their homework. The cane beetle live primarily at the top of the cane and the cane toad does not climb so one was never exposed to the other. However the cane toads thrived in the tropical climate and there are now well in excess of 200 million of them.
There have been numerous attempts to control them in the past. Indeed one of my new found friends informed me that the government introduced an initiative where people were rewarded for catching cane toads by exchanging large quantities of them for beer. This sounded great to the FNQ's (Far North Queenslanders) and they set about the task night and day with gusto. The problem was the land was full of pissed up Aussies stumbling around the countryside out of their heads on the amber nectar. This was dangerous to one and all and the spoil-sport government called the whole thing off. I was further informed that around that time, cane toad golf was a favourite pastime and all of the golf shops ran out of nine irons. Let it not be said that the Aussie is not innovative and they do love their sport. I also saw many cane toad purses in shops. They looked pretty awful and I could not see a one of the old girls down the Labour club bringing this ugly article out of her handbag.
There is a more sinister side to this. The Cane toad has a voracious appetite and eats almost anything it can stuff down its throat. It lives for up to fifteen years and it also has poison glands, highly toxic to most of the local wildlife. Huge quantities of indigenous species such as the Northern Quoll (Dasyurus hallucatus) have declined in numbers as a result. Indeed the poison is called Bufotenin and is a class one drug under Australian law - the same classification as Marijuana and Heroin.
I asked a couple of zoologist friends in the area what was being done about it. They were none too happy that the government was in their view doing nothing and it seemed that if it wasn't in their back yard they didn't want to know. It doesn't look good. I have no idea how they can control this destructive creature. It is with some relief though that I can report that nature itself is finding a way. Certain snakes know the toad and leave it alone, rats are beginning to learn that if they turn the toad over there are no poison glands underneath so they can eat it from the belly.
It will be interesting to see what else evolves to combat this pest. Before I visited Queensland I would have laughed at the cane toad issue, but now I have seen the beast first hand I genuinely feel for those people. It's a stunningly rare and beautiful area and something needs to be done. I hope with all my heart that they eradicate Bufo marinus before it's too late. There is one shining light at the end of this disturbing tunnel. Reports in the Daily Telegraph newspaper in England say that there is a 'tiny solution to Australia's woes'. Apparently the native meat ant can attack and devour baby cane toads. The venomous skin does not affect the ant.
I offer this information with a little caveat however, the article appeared in the April 1st edition 2009 and whilst it seems to be a serious article I would not rule out some kind of April fool spoof. In any event this is a stark lesson in reaping what you sow. Disastrous results can occur by introducing non-indigenous species to an area without proper thought of the consequences. I spent the next hour or so wide eyed and happy in my own little world.
I found several species of spiders, large cockroaches and large brown geckos. Finally, before I retired I stumbled across a rather bewildered preying mantis.
Let me tell you a little about these superb creatures. Firstly the most amazing fact about at least one species is that it lives in the ground for up to 17 (yes, seventeen) years before emerging for only a few days to procreate. I believe the Australian species live underground for 6-8 years but still one heck of a long time. The nymphs feed on the sap of roots. We visited Australia at a time when an army of cicadas had emerged and their empty moulted shells of their former body betrayed the fact that new life was overhead in the trees. Cicadas, like many other animals shed their skin in order to grow. Many people scoff when I declare my interest in Invertebrates but they make up 98% of the animal kingdom and are much more fascinating than the woolly cuddly creatures that have been virtually 'done to death'.
Further up the river a man had been killed after returning to lobster pots that he had put out. That was not his mistake - his error was returning to the pots at the exact same time each day. The crocodiles cottoned on to this and were waiting for him. He was ripped apart in minutes. They aren't stupid.
This is particularly common during mating season. Albert tries to force him upstream and there is often a psychological battle of wills. Albert would like nothing more than to catch Mick off guard one night - it would only take one second and he would drag him under to a watery and certain death. Having said that, Mick seemed a wily old fox too and I wouldn't bet against him seeing the croc off.
I carefully photographed it whilst not exhaling for fear that the beastie might disappear in a puff of smoke and exclaimed "Yep, got it, the spider". Neil replied "Is that all you see Carl?" to which I replied yes. He pointed an inch above the spider and there clustered all around the mother were the ghostly translucent figures of hundreds of her young. They were almost invisible against the bark, only identifiable through thin traces of body shape and black haunting eyes. My jaw literally dropped. I would truly have been happy to go back to England with this one image in my mind - nothing else could better it. I was privileged in the extreme to have seen this and I thought of absent friends who would love to have stood at that precise spot.
Back from Australia
A poem by Sir John Betjeman
Cocooned in Time, at this inhuman height,
The packaged food tastes neutrally of clay,
We never seem to catch the running day
But travel on in everlasting night
With all the chic accoutrements of flight:
Lotions and essences in neat array
And yet another plastic cup and tray.
"Thank you so much. Oh no, I'm quite all right".
At home in Cornwall hurrying autumn skies
Leave Bray Hill barren, Stepper jutting bare,
And hold the moon above the sea-wet sand.
The very last of late September dies
In frosty silence and the hills declare
How vast the sky is, looked at from the land.
Legend has it that somewhere deep within the Queensland rainforest is a spider that whistles. Some say it even 'barks'. I was always fascinated with this story from the moment I began collecting and studying tarantulas (known as theraphosids) back in 1995.
My Next Trip to anywhere kind of exotic is likely to be the Seychelles. I will be very interested to see the flaor and flaura of this beautiful place - and hopefully get some great photographs. There are lots of spiders there, certainly one genus of scorpion and a couple of species of snakes though NONE are poisonous on the island despite the tales that locals will tell.
Cooper Creek Wilderness
This is one of THE most incredible and unforgettable places on the planet. I will take memories of it to my grave...
This is where we stayed. The staff are very friendly and most helpful. They genuinely want you to get the best out of your stay. The location is superb and I am going back as soon as I can.
I will post some video footage of an interesting spider I came across in Queensland on my you tube page in the near future.