Winged splendour

Today has been a fantastic day of walking through the forest and getting up-close to some of the wildlife here. It was another glorious, sunny day, so I decided to walk the Bicton Hill summit circuit through ancient lowland rainforest. The track is a steep, winding ascent up the eastern, exposed side of the hill and back down the sheltered, western side. With the path being etched into a steep hillside, for most of the walk I was level with the canopy layer of trees below, which gave me a rare chance to observe rainforest life at canopy level. The thing that jumped out was the beautiful array of colourful butterflies dancing through the treetops. Enormous, emerald-green Cairns bird-wings (Australia’s largest butterfly), ornate swallowtails and electric blue ulysses butterflies flapped past lazily, gliding on the up-draughts, whilst smaller species fluttered and twirled in the dappled light all around me.

I’ve discovered that chasing butterflies to try and take pictures of them is a very pleasant time-waster. A few species are quite obliging, and seem to like posing for the camera (e.g. the ubiquitous common crow) but most like to tantalise and taunt, flying past my face, hesitating and hovering, but rarely stopping long enough for me to get a decent shot. And on the rare occasion that they do stop, they stubbornly close their wings, shutting off their glorious colour and revealing their dull camouflaged underside instead, the little blighters. But it was a very enjoyable form of frustration, and enabled me to home-in on the minutiae of the forest. It is very easy to become caught up in expansive, ‘larger than life’ experiences, such as the stunning panoramic views of the coastline from the walk’s summit. But my greatest pleasure comes from studying the tiny details that make up these masterpieces. For example, whilst trying to snap a particularly spirited blue argus butterfly, I had the amazing experience of watching it land on a leaf and be pounced upon by a spider that had been lying in wait for such a treat. On this occasion the butterfly escaped, and the spider was left waving its legs in the air from the edge of the leaf – I could almost sense its tiny spider fists clenched in frustration.

I seemed to be the only person on the trail, and it was wonderful to feel immersed in the forest’s daily grind, finding peace in nature’s industry. Every step sent tiny skinks scuttling away on the path ahead and occasionally a pair of red-legged bush hens would scarper into the bush, emitting their warbling alarm call.

One of the hundreds of skinks I nearly step on each day. There are loads of different species, not sure what this one is. It’s really hard to photograph them as they’re so darn quick – usually you just see a dark sliver of movement flash across the path before your feet.

The climb was hot in the stultifying heat, with no wind to cool my skin – the heavy air was moved only by the flap of the butterfly wings. But on the summit I stayed a while, enjoying the cool breeze, and watched a group of white-breasted wood swallows swooping through the air, hearing the snap of their beak as they caught insects on the wing.

Wood swallows having a gossip at the summit.

View from the summit, with Dunk Island in the distance.

On the way back down the vegetation was much more dense and lush on the western side, and the walking was a bit more arduous due to having to fight through spiders’ webs and caterpillar silks barring the path and avoid the swaying opportunistic leeches on the vegetation. I also had to look out for the stinging tree in this area, which is a real danger to humans due to its very painful hairs that embed in the skin on contact, and can still cause pain months later. Still the interesting flora and fauna here more than made up for the extra challenges:

Elkhorn epiphyte, attached to its host tree. Contrary to a previous entry, I remembered that epiphytes are not parasitic – they rely on their host for survival, but cause no damage to it in the process.

As I returned to the lodge, hot but happy, the wildlife-watching continued with another cassowary sighting of dad and chick, this time from the sea-view balcony in the evening light, whilst eating a delicious home-made muffin and chatting to a very inspiring older couple who are here on a motorbike tour of the north-east to escape grand-parenting duties for a while – I hope I am such a young-at-heart free spirit when I reach a similar age. A yoga session in my own personal studio, whilst a beautiful sunset bled into a full-moonlit evening through the windows, was a perfect end to a brilliant day. Now my mind turns to my penultimate night in my cosy cabin, falling asleep to the eerie hunting call of the lesser sooty owl and the ground-level rustles, soft grunts and gnawings of bandicoots, pandemelons and echidnae. Even at night it’s a wildlife-lover’s sanctuary.

Mission Beach has felt like a real personal treat, as though the place has decided to embrace me into its folds – having the eco-lodge and yoga studio virtually to myself, and experiencing so many intimate wildlife encounters has been wonderful. Below are photos of some of the more obliging butterflies that I saw today. Other species that I saw but didn’t photograph include the awesome Cairns birdwing, the ulysses butterfly, green spotted triangle (definitely google these three), a swallowtail species (orchard swallowtail I think), common grass yellow, lemon migrant. I also saw the very impressive North Queensland day moth last night, which flew through the ecolodge common room and was as large as a bird – magnificent.

Common crow butterfly.

Blue-banded egg wing butterfly??

Australian lurcher butterfly.

Blue argus butterfly I think – but very happy to be corrected.

Not sure what species this is…

A rather blurred shot of the rare apollo jewel butterfly (I am 99% certain!).

Fruit-piercing moth – this is a bit of a cheat photo. I did see this moth today on the walk, but failed to get a picture. This is a photo of a dead one that I found in the lodge last night.

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One Response to Winged splendour

  1. Leanne says:

    It’s difficult to find educated people for this topic, however, you
    sound like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks

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