Sunday, October 11, 2009

Yungabarra and Undara

Our Terrestrial Forest segment was 4 days long, and took place in two locations. The first two days were in the Atherton Tablelands, where there were rainforests and dry schlerophyll forests (eucalyptus-dominated forests). The rainforests in Australia aren’t necessarily super wet like the ones in Hawaii - the defining characteristics of rainforests here is that there isn’t any grass on the forest floor, there’s a closed canopy, vines grow, and the trees have bigger leaves. This section of the class involved lots of short hikes, drawing pictures, taking measurements of forest characteristics, and 3 swimming events! The first was at Lake Echam, which was a water-table fed lake nestled in the rainforest, and it was beautiful!

We also hiked to two waterfalls and they were stunning and great for swimming. John Hall, our professor, is also AMAZING. He’s the single most inspirational professor I’ve ever had, and his last lecture made most people in the class cry because he’s so passionate about making a change, and truly believes that we can do it. He’s also incredibly knowledgeable about the flora and fauna of the region even though he’s only a botanist by trade.

Fires near Yungabarra:

Claire Baker was one of our TAs, which is a bit of an understatement of her job. She’s an entomologist, and basically discovered everything there is to know about glow worms in Australia. She was the science expert they consulted for the PLANET EARTH “Caves” episode!!! AHHHH she’s amazing!! And she’s published like 15 or more papers and named about 5 species of glow worms. She’s also super enthusiastic, a great speaker, and gorgeous! I want to be just like her when I grow up… minus the bug obsession. She brought in a giant stick bug named Gretel for us to play with:


We also went night canoeing Yungabarra because our hostel offered a guided tour. Lisa and I were AWFUL at canoeing, but I don’t think it was entirely our fault – when we both paddled on the right side of the boat, the boat would still turn right! That’s just wrong. So as a result of this crazy, possessed boat, we ended up canoeing in about 4 complete circles and zig-zagging like crazy across the lake. It was a lot of fun and we saw platypus!! We also saw a baby pademelon (a kind of wallaby). And we saw big fires as well because it’s the end of their winter dry season, and lots of the forests have small sections of fire.

We also went bird watching at 5 AM to hear the “Dawn Corus.” My group of 4 was listening for the call of the Catbird, which sounds like a dying cat. It was a cool exercise, and ended in hilarity because of the discovery of the Cowbird. We heard a strange, low pitched call every once in awhile so we asked John the name of that bird. John said “it is the Cowbird, which sounds a looks just like a cow,” but two of the people in my group thought it was actually a type of bird. Steven ever recorded the “cowbird” call for about half an hour before we realized that he wasn’t joking and actually thought the cow moo was from a “cowbird.” The look on his face when he realized that it was just a cow was HILARIOUS and totally made my day. We still joke about it, and John Hall had a great laugh about it. Jamie and Steven, the two people who thought it was really a cowbird, drew some really funny renditions of what a cowbird might look like.

We saw some amazing things in the rainforest, like strangler figs. They start as epiphytes, meaning they have no roots, but eventually they take over the host tree and grow roots. They can live for multiple centuries and are beautiful!

Next we moved to UNDARA, which is full of dry schlerophyll forests and is basically the quintessential conception of “the bush.” It was fabulously beautiful, and I saw two sunsets and a sunrise while there. So stunning. It’s just amazing how much nature can speak to you – there are definitely people here who have beaten a lot of odds to be in Australia and at Stanford, and several of the group were crying the first night of sunset because it was absolutely perfect. This class had been so intense – moving to 3 locations, waking up at 5 or 6 every day and staying up late, doing crunched assignments and never having time to ourselves – but it’s been 100% worth it.

We saw tons of kangaroos and wallabies and walleroos, as well as the laughing kookaburra and lots of insects. Claire knows everything there is to know about bugs and I found a couple of crazy bugs, so I’m now renowned for ability to see through camouflage. Their defenses do not work on me!!

We went on hikes through the bush, which was gorgeous, and also went into some crazy lava tubes. The swirling texture is made by leeching calcium and the volcanic activity took place due to hotspots beneath Australia. It was really spectacular! At first I wasn’t super excited because I’ve been in an awful lot of lava tubes in the last year after Mount St. Helens and Hawaii, but it was beautiful and I’m really glad we did it!

Calcium deposits:

Star gazing is also UNBELIEVABLY AMAZING in the Southern Hemisphere. We saw 2 GALAXIES with our naked eye in the night sky – you can’t do that in the Nothern Hemisphere! We also saw some cool constellations like the teacup and Scorpio, and we saw the Milky Way at it’s brightest. Since we were in the middle of nowhere, there was no light pollution and no moon, so all the stars twinkled. We also had some amazing binoculars for the program, so we could see far away nebula and star clusters. John knows everything there is to know about everything and was able to lead us through the star chart!

We finished the class with a test, so I’ve now completed the first quarter of my classes in Australia! Crazzzzy. I can’t believe it’s only been about 3 weeks because I’m so exhausted and we’ve done and seen so much, but it’s also going by so quickly! Next we’re staying in Cairns for a few days, and then taking an overnight train to Gladstone so we can catch a ferry to Heron Island and work in the coral reefs. I’m SO EXCITED for the overnight train – one of my life goals is to be on an overnight train! And if a murder occurs and I have to solve it, so be it! Haha it will be just like the black and white movies! We’re going to buy some champagne and drink it in the dining car so we can be classy. I’m just looking forward to everything and am loving Australia so much!

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