Hopping Around on the Helicopter
What an incredibly long but rewarding day I had today! I can’t believe how lucky I am to be here. The day started early by going for a walk near by with J.R and Ken, two of the traditional owners from this area. We saw lots of amazing plants, including native blueberries, tomatoes, bananas and citronella plants. J.R took us to a special place that he and his brother had found a couple years previously which had a variety of beautiful artwork including hand stencils, a boomerang stencil, an axe head, grinding stones and quartz that is sharpened into skinning tools. Some of the artworks we encountered are suspected to be 30,000 to 40,000 years old. J.R explained that it is very unusual for such good tools to have been left behind, so they must have been left when there were conflicts between the settlers mining the area and the local people. It was so surreal being able to experience something so special, so the teachers decided to continue to explore with J.R and Ken via helicopter.
I went in a helicopter today a total of three times, one of them even being in the front of the chopper! It was a lot of fun. We took the chopper to a completely uncharted area of the national park near a dry river bed, which was named by white settlers as Black Fella Creek. We continued to explore, spotting a goanna and other critters before coming across overhung caves with more artworks. We found an artwork of a yam and more hand stencils lining the walls. It was incredible.
Next up, we jumped back on the chopper to find some nearby scientists who were setting up camp for an overnight stint to try and find mammals, spiders, lizards and frogs. I decided to go with Andrew, a Herpetologists from the Queensland Museum, who also was in charge of finding frog species as well. We spent the afternoon exploring the rocks and caves around looking for lizards, in particular a few species of skinks. One of the main species of skinks we were after was a skink with no front legs and very small back legs. Its scientific name is Lerista Rochfordensis. After lots of exploring and crawling through rock caves (and my untrained lizard catching reflexes not being very sharp), we managed to find three! Usually scientists look for around three species to ensure they have enough specimens to identify any sub-species differences. These particular types of skinks hide in the soft soil, usually near trees, so we used little rakes to search through the soil to find them. After collecting the skinks, Andrew euthanises them and takes a small DNA sample either from their liver or their tail. This is so they are able to identify and study the species closely.
We then met Heather, a mammologist and Will, an ornithologist at the creek near camp. We helped them set up traps for bats, birds and small mammals. After that we took the chopper back to base, had a quick sit down before heading down to the river nearby to check some insect traps with Susan, one of the entomologists. She was really great at explaining how we could create some of these traps ourselves to see what bugs are in our local area. I am keen to try this when I get back!
As you can probably guess, by that time I was totally exhausted. Luckily, the chef had organised a feast for dinner, it was amazing.