Michele: On the first day of our road trip we visited the Mareeba Wetlands. While the southern part of the Atherton Tablelands is very green, with lots of waterfalls, the northern tablelands are more dry. The wetlands north of Mareeba were artificially made to store water for irrigation. Being resourceful critters, birds have been utilizing the wetlands every year so that they are now a wildlife preserve. If you ever get to Mareeba I highly recommend the two-hour sunset tour.
Our German guide Henry started with a boat tour around the lake. We saw these cool Jacana birds with red heads and really big feet that walk on the lotus lilly pads. They are also called Jesus birds because they appear to walk on water. Henry also showed us how the snowflake lilly closes up when it is submerged in order to keep its pollen dry. After a spin around the lake on the super-quiet electric motored boat, Henry led us on a bush tour to a more shallow lagoon where birds flock at sunset.
Henry knew an awful lot about Australian flora and fauna but every now and then his English would fail him and he slipped into German. Very surreal. He showed us an amazing black orchid and tiny white orchid that are native to the region. Apparently orchids native to Australia are quite small and all the showy ones are imports. On our tour we saw big ol' elephant-shaped termite mounds, kangaroos, some sort of falcon and a 22 foot long steel lizard. Tanabe Mitsuaki, a Japanese artist, built and installed the sculpture free-of-charge at the Mareeba wetlands because there's wild rice growing there. This fellow supports the fostering of wild rice terrains around the world by donating and maintaining works of art.
At the shallow lagoon we had afternoon tea and Henry set up a scope for us to see the birds. (Crocodile Henry is standing behind Will in this photo) We saw Herons, Cormorants, Egrets, Brolgas, Jabirus and Ibis. The variety of birds was astounding and the setting impressive enough to turn anyone into a birder. I'm really not built for birding. My distance vision isn't great and my hearing aids neither give me good directionality nor do they capture the full range of sounds. But I loved seeing all these birds and could have stayed for hours. Catching glimpses of them through the scope was especially nice.
After the viewing, we headed back into the bush to the headquarters where we were treated to wine and cheese while watching the sun set over the lagoon. A tree frog slept high up on the wall and a wallaby hopped under the deck and nibbled on their lawn. This splendid day was capped by dinner with Melissa and Jim at their home.
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