The morning is a bit raw and chilly. If you can ever call winter in north-east Australia cold? It is probably only me who got used to the fact that the night temperature rarely drops below 20 degrees on the coast. In any case, it's nice to have a long-sleeved shirt when I'm standing here in the early morning with my steaming cup of tea in my hand. I look out over the landscape in front of me. I'm in the Mareeba Wetlands, a lush wetland in the Atherton Tablelands, about an hour's drive west of Cairns. We are here to hopefully see some of the hundreds of species of birds that live here. Most of all, I want to see Australia's only stork, the rare black-necked stork. A beautiful bird with a height of up to 135 centimeters.
The humid morning causes water droplets to gather in the large lotus petals that cover the lake. At certain angles it almost looks like ice beads. We get into the boat and slide out over the water. The sound of all the birds lies like a blanket over the lake. Queensland's wetlands are extremely important to the farmers here on the plateau and they protect the people in the area from the effects of both extreme drought and flooding. The wetlands are also vital for many endangered frogs, turtles and plants and every year this area is an important stop for migratory birds on their way to Asia or Alaska.
Mareeba Wetlands is not an area that you can just go and visit, the number of visitors allowed is extremely low and the few tours that are given must be done completely without impacting nature and with a local guide. We are lucky to come here during the dry season, i.e. the Australian winter, when the number of migratory birds is at its highest. One of the birds that the area is particularly fond of is the incredibly colorful little gouldsamadine. One of the world's absolute most beautiful birds, covered in a patchwork of all the colors of the rainbow. You may not recognize the name, but you've probably had this bird before. In a cage in your local zoo shop in Sweden. This is one of the many Australian birds that have become popular cage birds in Europe.
In a tree sits a large bird that almost looks like a flying penguin. Our guide tells me its name, but I can't quite place it on the list of over 200 species that have been seen here in the lake. I blame him for probably saying the name of the bird in a simplistic Aussie variant. It does look like a heron though. All around the heron, lories scream and the laughter of the kookaburras bounces across the lake. There is so much noise. There is so much life.
The lotus flowers in Mareeba have taken a winter break. They seem to miss the warm summer sun. A few dying flowers remain. I've seen pictures of what the lake looks like in the summer, when the flowers stretch out towards the sun and the lotus petals are so tall that the herons can use them as parasols. They are not really that majestic now.
I think I see some squirting fish in the water. These fast and funny little fish are nature's own water guns. The spray fish spits jets of water at unsuspecting insects sitting on the lotus leaves and trees around the lake. Once the insects have lost their footing and ended up in the water, they are easy prey for the squirt fish. Sprayfish are strangely popular both as aquarium fish and in intelligence experiments. It is said that squirts with their sharp vision can learn to recognize faces. I look down into the water. They don't seem to recognize me. Then they had sprayed water on me.
We ride around the lake for almost an hour. The teacup is empty and the amount of birds we have seen is great. Everything from a circling eagle to snake-necked birds, herons and geese to cockatoos. No storks, though, and no Gould's samadines either. I jump out of the boat and go to the toilet. It's a good thing I don't look around too much before I flush. The entire toilet is filled with small spiders in their webs. They have small red marks on the back. I walk out of the toilet. It itches everywhere. It must be imagination. I probably don't have any spiders on me and I sincerely hope it wasn't a toilet full of poisonous redback spiders.
It moves among the trees behind the house. A herd of emus stands some distance away eating. I stand still. These are not small birds and their hefty claws are really big and dangerous. However, they turn out not to be the least bit interested in me and move on. I'm standing still. It's still itching for the spider toilet. There were no storks, but there were a bunch of emus. It's actually maybe even a little better.
How do I get to Mareeba Wetlands?
Mareeba Wetlands is 7 miles west of Cairns, but the area is currently (autumn 2018) not open to visitors. They will most likely reopen in the spring. Read more when/if the reserve opens again at Forever Wild - the nature conservation organization that runs and protects the area.
Do you want to read more about Australia? Check out my Australia page!
Want to read more of my travel tips? do not forget to like Rucksack on Facebook!
Want to read more from Queensland?
The Atherton Tablelands is said to be the only place in the world where the climate can give you…February 19