Thursday, May 15, 2014

Exciting Visitors

"Bob Irwin is visiting sometime this week," Jenny casually mentioned between bites of her latest healthy mystery food.
"Bob Irwin? Like Australia Zoo, Crocodile Hunter's family, Irwin?" My fork had been hastily put down, as I needed both hands to acurately express the excitement coursing through me.
"Yeah," Jenny hesitated, looking thoroughly confused as to why I might be excited. "He's just coming for a visit." As if I were mistaken in thinking a great parade was to accompany him.

You see, I can count the famous Australians I know on one hand. Since I've been here I have learned of a few famous people that I thought were American, but are actually Australian (Hugh Jackman). Regardless, it is pretty awesome when I actually know of the people that are visiting. It was especially nice to meet an Irwin since I knew my finances wouldn't allow me to visit Australia Zoo. (Though Bob isn't really associated with the zoo nowadays.)

The film crew for a youth animal show called Totally Wild was scheduled to visit the next day. Bob Irwin was scheduled to come later in the week, but had found out about this and emailed interest in visiting at the same time. The email wasn't replied to until a few days before the film crew visit, so Jenny wasn't sure when Bob was coming. Totally Wild showed up on their own. It was a group of three men. The first brimming with charisma and glowing with his flawless complexion. It wasn't necessary to see the other two to realize that this was the guy in front of the camera. The second actually looked human and towered over me in height. He quickly began setting up the tri-pod for his camera. The third was older than the others. He slung a heavy looking bag over his shoulder which I later figured out had something to do with the sound. The host-guy walked immediately over to Jenny to introduce himself. I was standing a bit behind, slightly freaked out since one minute previously I had to pull an attached tick off of my eyelid. After regaining my composure, I walked up to introduce myself. 

Despite my introduction and the three name reminders I subtly gave throughout the day, the host insisted on calling me "Morgs!" If you know me at all, you know I hate being called Morg. A morgue is a place you put dead people. It is not a cute nickname. And why the s? I am not plural. I didn't remember his name at all; slightly in spite, mostly because I'm bad with names. 

It seemed Jenny had done hundreds of these interviews. Without preparation, she came up with quick and elaborate explanations for every question. I bet she excelled at pop quizzes in school! Totally Wild came to see the Tube Nose Bat, which had been admitted after permanently damaging it's wing on a barbed wire fence. They filmed for a while, but lost interest one they realized that it just hung in one spot and slept all day. Yep, that's kinda what bats do... After a few quick shots of the microbats being fed, they moved up to the nursery. 

A bat with a punctured lung had just been admitted that morning into care, so Jenny suggested they see it for something a bit more interesting. The tiny insectivorous microbat was carried into the nursery, and filmed as Jenny showed it's body puffing up with air from the lung puncture. Jenny gently, but firmly wrapped the bat with strips of fabric to keep it at a normal size, then answered questions about that bat and the nursery.

The group moved on to the megabat cages. I prepared and hung food as they filmed me. I am absolutely positive that footage will not be used, since I kept an unnaturally large smile on my face the whole time, and I unsuccessfully tried not to look directly into the camera every other second. Jenny answered a few more questions, this time about the teenage bats which had been moved back from the woods due to a quickly approaching cyclone. With that, the crew decided they had enough footage and took off with a recommedation for dinner. 

It was two days before Bob Irwin arrived. He came with an assistant and was followed by a small group of locals who wanted to interview him for various reasons. It was easiest for him to do the interviews at Tolga, so he had invited them all to tag along. Jenny wasn't too thrilled with the additional company. Jenny, and her long term volunteer Ashlee, greeted Irwin. I cleaned cages. There were bats in every cage, so cleaning took twice as long. I was so eager to go up to where every one else was, but I was assigned to clean being lowest on the totem pole. After over an hour of scrubbing and spraying poo and spat, I heard their voices getting closer. Bob entered the cage, loudly introduced himself, and held out a hand for me to shake. My gloves were smeared with a variety of gag reflex inducing substances. I held them out in front of me and explained that he probably wouldn't want to shake my hand at the moment. He said that was nonsense and took my slimy right hand eagerly within his clean ones. He thanked me for my hard work and admired how fantastic the cages looked. Jenny ushered him away to the back of the cage to explain the details of worm farming while I finished the last bits of cleaning.

I followed the group back uphill as they gathered for a quick photo shoot. Bob spoke mostly about different medications that work best on certain bat species. I recognized only a few of the names. Even for human pain medications, Australia uses many different drugs than America. 

Bob's visit was arranged in order to recognize Tolga Bat Hospital for the education and conservation it has contributed to bats. I snapped a picture as he handed over the award, and then embarrassingly requested a picture with him as well. He politely agreed to pose for one picture. As I stepped away, Bob commented about how much conservation work needed to be done with sea turtles. It seemed a random subject, but I went with it by talking about trying unsuccessfully to find one while snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef. He also mentioned tree kangaroos, as he was going to visit Karen at the Tree Roo Rescue the next day. I happily let him know that I was already making arrangements to volunteer there as well. As he left the hospital, I glanced at the picture of us. Boldy glowing red in the picture was my South Carolina Sea Turtle Rescue sweatshirt. It was a souvenir my family bought me when I had to work during a family vacation a few years ago. I've never even seen a wild sea turtle, yet Bob Iwrin believed I was rescuer of the species. 

It wasn't more than a week before the tropical cyclone was ready to make landfall. It was a category five, and expected to stay strong for the first few days on land. In preparation, we put everything that could be moved into the nursery basement. The microbats were moved inside, but the megabats were left out since their cage was the safest place they could be put. The storm was expected to move quickly, but slowed by the hour, weakening to a category one before it got anywhere close. Despite the weakness of the cyclone, the rain was damaging. It rained for days before and a week after hitting. New rivers appeared all around the property. By rivers, I mean fast moving bodies of water that are too wide to jump over and too dangerous to cross. The cyclone only intensified the rain for a short period of time. But that was enough to tear part of the road away which led to the bat hospital. A neighbor filled it in with gravel so people could drive over it, but the damage was still impressive. I coped by wearing my rain poncho all day every day, which came in handy repelling bat excrement while cage cleaning. 

This is normally a road.

This is normally the lawn.

I think the rain poncho was a good idea!

After the cyclone passed, we had to move everything back to where it belonged. I doubt the storm would have done anything but make it all wet. The microbats were put back in their unharmed cage, and the megabats were checked on. Not a single bat or cage was amiss. The flooding disappeared amazingly fast! One day there was a river, the next day there was a quicksand-like layer of mud, and before you knew it the land was back to normal.

It was nearing the end of my time at Tolga. Jenny began asking me several times each day what my plans were after staying with her. Fact is, I didn't have plans. I had options. Options that I needed to verify were still available and make a decision. My first choice was Tree Kangaroo Rescue and Conservation Center. I had been emailing Karen back and forth for months, but we had never been able to figure out transportation and housing for me. Unfortunately, she already had a volunteer helping her. The volunteer was staying at a local B&B and riding her bike each day. Her time there was spent on a research project and helping Karen complete educational pamphlets. There was no room for me at the moment.

My second choice was Eagle's Nest Wildlife Hospital. The owner, Harry, had been a bit snippy the first time I spoke to him about helping out, but his latest volunteers had just left and he was eager to get more in. A few local volunteers from Bat Reach in Kuranda were going to visit Eagles Nest the same weekend I needed to arrive, so they agreed to pick me up on the way. It all worked out nicely.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Bats, Bettongs, and Beyond

Tolga has rehabilitating, orphaned, and permanent care mega and micro bats. Some of its bats are even from previous zoo collections. Due to the number of bats in care, there are many species. This is just a quick look at some of the beautiful animals I had the opportunity to work with.

Spectacled Flying Fox
Spectacled are by far the most plentiful bat at Tolga bat Hospital. Flying foxes live together in large trees. There used to be a large wild colony close to the hospital, but in the past few years they have moved to new areas. During my time in Queensland, there was quite a drama caused when the local government in Cairns decided to prune a tree to bits in order to force away a wild population of these megabats due to their noise and mess. This species is most likely to be admitted into care due to paralytic ticks. 

Black Flying Fox
These bear like flying foxes are the largest species. One very interesting fact I learned about fruit bats are that they are closer in relation to lemurs than to microbats (insect eating bats). This helps explain thier highly inquisive behavior. Unfortunately, I can't recall the name of it, but there was a big boy bat who would climb all the way down into the kitchen while all the other bats cowered up on top. If I didn't hang food for him right away, he would practically climb into the apple container and begin chewing down. He had plenty of food, he was just a pig. He also liked to pee on the heads of people, so it was best to feed him a distance away.

Grey Headed Flying Fox
Greying hair is not a sign of old age in these silver haired beauties. Most of the grey faced flying foxes at Tolga were once in a zoo and donated, for a reason unknown to me, to Tolga Bat Hospital. One of these aging bats living out retirement in the cative colony was Wesley. Each time I opened his cage door he would make a startling high pitched squeek. I never figured out why he did that sound other than to say Hello. It always managed to make me jump. Even when I was prepared, he would wait one second later to yell. He was quite sweet and not shy in the least. This species is known to roost in groups numbering in the thousands.

Little Red Flying Fox
Little reds were the most skittish of all the bats at Tolga. They were easily half the size of the spectacled flying foxes and easily pointed out. If disturbed at all, they would crowd into a tightly packed group of other members of their own species. One of the little reds seemed to be the leader of the group, if there was such a thing. He would nudge close to the door as food was being prepared. He showed no interest in the food, but every interest in his escape. The group followed, keeping tightly together. He was bold, but never successful.

Tube Nose Bat
The only way I could get this bat to look at me was when it was being fed juice. Because of that, all my pictures have a drop of juice hanging between the unique nostrils. I assure you, it's not snot. It isn't a terribly rare species, but it's uncommon enough to get one in captivity that this particular girl caught the attention of the Totally Wild tv show and Bob Irwin. She came into care after getting caught on a barbed wire fence. (This is a big problem in Australia and Jenny is doing a push for more people to begin using wildlife safe fencing.) Due to the injury, it is unlikely that her wing damage will ever let her fly again. Unlike the flying foxes, this species hsd a short tail, can fly through thick vegetation, and roosts alone.

I never took any pictures of the microbats. They were inside their boxes all day, so they were rarely seen other than feeding time. All microbats use echolocation to find their bug prey, while megabats use vision and smell to find their fruit and nectar food. Each microbat has a particular sound pattern and frequency that can be measured to identify bats flying overhead at night.

Other animals 
While the hospital only accepted bats, there were still a few unexpected visitors!

Occasionally a local volunteer would come to help out with projects. One of these volunteers was Susie. She helped me clean all of the cages and then looked over to me.
"Do you know what a Bettong is?"
"It sounds familiar, but I'm not quite sure," I said as I mentally scrolled through all the animals I had seen since coming to Australia, most of them mouse-like.
"It's like a tiny, chubby wallaby. I'm raising an orphaned one. Wanna see it?"
"Yes!" I exclaimed a little too excitedly, "That sounds way cuter than what I was picturing! Is it here?"
Susie led me up to the the visitor center where a warm looking fleece bag wiggled in unrest. Out popped a fuzzy little head. Susie scooped the little marsupial into her arms and carried her outside to hop around, snack on grass, and take adorable pictures with me!

Yellow Spotted Honeyeater
This beauty only hung around me for the occasional peice of fruit dropped. I was so close to teaching it to clean up the bat dishes! 

Grey Fantail, I think?
This little bird preferred to hang around the cages for food leftovers. It was a bit more difficult to determine the species. It may not be correct, but I think I got pretty close. :)

The picture above is of a Granny's Cloak Moth. For the safety and sanity of the readers of this blog, I won't include pictures of any of the numerous blood sucking or eight legged bugs I saw during my time at Tolga.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Tolga Bat Hospital

Trans North bus from Kuranda to Atherton was to leave at 4:20pm. Erika, Pam, and I all checked the schedule and agreed that Pam would drop me off at the bus stop at 4:10pm. I was paranoid that we were cutting it a bit too close, but was reassured that there would be no issue. Jenny of Tolga Bat Hospital was set to pick me up at 5:15pm from the Atherton bus stop. 

I spent all day packing my bags and hauled them up to the stop in perfect time, with Pam beside to send me off properly. There was one bus at the stop. Even though the bus was clearly marked to be traveling to Cairns, the opposite direction, the bus driver waved me forward to speak to her. 
"How ya going? Where you off to?"
"Good. I'm headed toward Atherton." I nervously responded.
"You missed the bus, Love. It left at 4:05," She said as she handed me a small piece of white paper with the complete Trans North schedule stamped on the glossy side. It clearly stated that she was correct. 

In irrational frustration I returned to the car with Pam. As soon as we entered the door, I double checked the bus schedule we had originally looked at. It also confirmed that the bus was to leave Kuranda at 4:05pm. Somehow all three of us had been positive of the incorrect time. Jenny was understanding when I called to explain the mix-up, and Pam had no issue with me staying another day. There was truly no problem at all, except a minor inconvenience on waiting one day. Regardless, I was not a happy camper about the situation. I don't like waiting for change. It's a band-aid that I would rather have ripped off quickly. 

The next day went much smoother. I made the 4:05pm bus without any trouble and was greeted in Atherton by Jenny. Jenny is a woman not much taller than myself, but with a body only created from a life of flawless fitness regimes. She greeted me quickly and threw my bags into her hatchback trunk. Since she lived a bit out of town, she decided we should stop at the grocery store (they usually just call grocery stores "the shops" in this area). 

Most of the volunteers don't bring their own transportation, so Jenny does weekly food runs by herself. Volunteers pay her a small daily amount and she buys their food. It sounded pretty straight forward to me until we went on this first shopping spree. She asked me what I'd like to get for breakfasts.
"I should be fine with fruit, juice, and maybe a box of muesli (granola) bars."
"You don't need any fruit. We have plenty of bananas and apples for the bats that you can eat. I don't buy juice. I stopped drinking it years ago after I found out how processed they make it," she explained in detail as we made our way to the health section of breakfast foods. I discretely grabbed the chocolate chip chewy granola bars, hoping she wouldn't spot the sugar content from my basket. And so on our shopping trip went as she discovered the horrors of processed, packaged, and preserved food that I found delicious. She even called my precious Coca-cola "junk food" as we left the store. It was clearly going to be a long few weeks for my tummy and taste buds. 

Just outside of Atherton was a nice park next to a large wooded area. Jenny pulled into the playground carpark (parking lot) as I glanced from the monkey bars to the swing, wondering what exactly I was expected to do. She jumped out and grabbed several heavy boxes from the back seat, gesturing for me to do the same. I followed her into the thick of the woods along some imaginary path she knew by heart. Every tree limb she gracefully curved around slapped me in the face with force. My arms already ached from holding half the weight she carried. I silently breathed a thank you to myself for wearing practical clothes that day instead of a nice dress, which I would normally wear on a day of travel. (I like to be pretty for first impressions.) 

We arrived in a small clearing after a decent hike for myself and a simple leg stretch for Jenny. The clearing had a table stacked with various unidentifiable objects which we placed our boxes atop. Behind the table towered a cage several feet taller than me, wide enough to fully out-stretch my arms, and long enough to fit a long mattress within. I wouldn't recommend sleeping inside though. Hanging from the mesh along the cage ceiling were dozens of teenage bats, eager for independence, but not quite ready to leave a free daily meal. The cage was positioned close to a wild colony of bats. Fruit bats nearing release lived in this cage for a week prior to release in order to acclimate to the wilderness. If they did well, the doors would be opened so they could freely join the wild colony. If they weren't ready, they would either stay in that cage longer with food supplied or return to the bat hospital. I was told to string whole apples onto am arm-length wire and bend both ends into hooks which then hung from the mesh. Jenny placed a variety of other fruits and juices (Juice apparently isn't too processed for bats) inside the cage as I prepared the apples. Once everything was cleaned, we gathered supplies and carried much lighter boxes back to the vehicle.

As we drove Jenny probed for more information about me. I obliged politely, but was feeling a bit too tired to fully engage in conversation. We drove for what seemed like a long time, and finally ended in a gravel parking spot, next to a heap of buckets and wheelbarrows. Tolga Bat Hospital was beautiful! The land was perfectly manicured, accented with garden beds and decorative ponds, with a backdrop of misty, rolling hills. There were three main buildings. The first was Jenny's house. The front side of her house was private, while the back side was made up into a visitor center, overlooking the bat enclosures. The next house was for volunteers. It contained a living room, bathroom, kitchen built into the hallway, and large bedroom with three twin beds. I was the only live-in volunteer at the moment, so I got choice of bed. (Later on paranoia about ticks caused me to change that decision.) The third building was for nursery bat care and research. It included a large bathroom, small single bedroom filled with scientific looking books, a kitchen only for bat food prep, a nursery stacked with baby bat baskets, and a jungle gym room for bats to get some exercise. Since no researchers were visiting and the season's babies had all made it to teenagers, the building was never truly used during my stay.

The visitor center side of Jenny's house.

The Nursery/Research Building

Nursery Kitchen

Baby room of nursery

Jungle gym, with fake momma bat for comfort

Jenny preferred all volunteers to eat a group dinner. This rule still applied to me even though I was the only volunteer. Spaghetti was the first dinner she made. I suggested buying a jar of sauce at the store, which she protested against. Instead, she made her own version from beef, mushrooms, carrots, zucchini, a few other unidentifiable vegetables, and just a hint of tomato paste. It was pretty good, but deserved its own word, as I would certainly not have classified it as Spaghetti Bolognese. Breakfasts and lunches were self-serve from the few items off my grocery list which she felt were worthy of buying. Dinners were always an experiment on my taste buds. They were always healthy with an occasional tasty meal. I was permitted to cook twice- chilli one night, stir-fry the next. My chili uses a spice mix and canned carrots, so I was the only one to eat it. The stir fry was enjoyed by all. 

The volunteer house I stayed in was very nice, but had noticeably not been cleaned for several years. Halfway through my first night I woke to a massive migraine. I'm not sure if it was from all the dust surrounding me or from the stress of change. Either way, I was miserable with no pain medications. The day arrived in painful slow motion, and I went down to the cages to start work at 8:00am. Jenny had suggested we started work at dawn, but I cleverly talked her into the benefits of a few extra hours of sleep. 

Keeping with the beauty around them, the cages were amazing! There was one huge main cage, allowing bats to fly freely high above. The lower parts were segmented into small feeding rooms. Each of these rooms had openings designed so only specific species of bats could enter for their dinner. Jenny was currently completing an inventory of her bats numbering into the triple digits, so several of the smaller cages were closed with already examined bats inside. 

The flying fox cages, with black, grey headed, little red, and spectacled flying foxes loose within the largest part. Naughty male flying foxes that couldn't fly were kept on the covered trees just outside of the cage, with food still supplied.

Some of the smaller cages inside and worm farm trays in the back.

Morning work began with squeegeeing poo and spat from the floors into buckets. (Spat is fruit fiber that has been chewed and spit out after all the juice has been swallowed.) The buckets were then dumped into worm compost trays near the back of the main cage. Worms were used only for compost purposes. Once the worms successfully converted the revolting slop to a slightly less gag inducing worm-poo and dirt mixture, it was scooped into flower beds for fertilizer. The remaining unyielding goo on the floors was power washed off with a hose. Uneaten food was placed into the refrigerator, and water bottles were filled. Wild fruit bats consume huge amounts of salt from salt water and from chewing leaves containing high contents of salt. Because of this, they were given two salt water bottles per each fresh water bottle. Usually both salt water bottles were drained before any bats would touch the fresh water bottles. 

In many places, the cages would be considered clean at this point. Not at Tolga! It was time to scrub every speck of dirt away. There were three devices used to achieve this goal: a normal scrub brush with a long pole, a scrub brush with a pole on its side (built to hold the pole for stability, but to scrub under the weight of a foot), and scrub pads to attach to the bottom of shoes. To reach the level of spotlessness expected, all three devices had to be used. It was an intense full-body work out. The cages were given one final spray down, the rubber drain covers were hung to dry, and the dirty food dishes were washed. Once a week, the dirtiest dishes had to be soaked in bleach and then washed in soapy water before returning to their cages.

Jenny had two dogs, both Kelpies, which roamed the property as I worked. Geurri (pronounced gee-ah-ree, with an Australian accent on the R which I gave up on even attempting by this point and which I probably spelled incorrectly) was the most affectionate of the two. She was adopted because of her amazing resemblance to Spectacled Flying Foxes, in fact, her name is even the aboriginal word for that species. She usually stayed close and only wanted an occasional pet of assurance as people passed by her. Milla, although the same breed, hardly cared for affection at all. She wanted to play fetch. If she saw a stick, it was game on! It could be a needle sized strand of hay or a tree trunk too big to fit into her mouth; she wanted it thrown. On one occasion I gave in to her demands with a large branch. She missed the branch, but it managed to knock a sizable lump atop her scull. Milla only brought me small sticks after that. It's quite amazing she brought me any at all considering my terrible aim. In the same day, I threw her precious stick behind a refrigerator, into a glass door, and finally, deep within a garden pool. 



Theoretically, the afternoon (or Arvo) was free time. In actuality, it was project time. Since the volunteer house was so desperately in need of a clean, it way my job as the only volunteer to get it back to it's original glory. As soon as I finished lunch, Jenny would describe in absolute detail what needed to be done. The six windows and two sliding glass doors, for example, were to be vacuumed, swept with a hand held brush and dust pan, scrubbed with a homemade cleaner, and then squeegeed clean using water. I had the hardest time getting used to the homemade cleaners. They never seemed to actually make the slightest difference to me. Let it be clear, I didn't really mind the work. I simply wasn't used to the amount of daily physical labor and perfection involved with every single task. I admire the high standards that Tolga is able to maintain. Each day was a new afternoon project, but it was alway equal intensity. Cleaning with the lights off in order to save energy took it a little too far for me at times, but I made it work.

Banana time was 2:00pm. I guess you could call it food prep, but banana time sounds funnier. Tolga Bat Hospital feeds bats bananas through hanging square bird feeders- lots of them! Each feeder contains four bananas, which the bats lick out. Ripened bananas were kept in either the outdoor banana cupboard, or the microbat cage when there was no room left in the cupboard. The filled baskets were too heavy to carry, so wheelbarrows were used to haul them to the picnic table for prep. A yellow spotted honey eater (that's a bird) stayed nearby to assist quickly if any banana fell. Once all of the feeders were done, it was time to make smoothies! Unfortunately, they were for the bats too. Bananas were cut up until they reached the three-fourths line of gallon buckets. A high-power mixer was used to create a paste which protein powder, baby formula, and a bit of water were added. 

In order to ensure a full stock of ripened bananas every day, Jenny got trailer loads of green reject bananas from nearby farms. The emptied baskets were restocked with these bananas and sprayed with chemicals to help them ripen at top speed. The filled baskets were placed back in the cupboard where they could ripen without worry of pests reaching them.

One thing I greatly appreciated at Tolga was their use of educational signs everywhere. I was able to learn more as I completed tasks.

Nearing the end of the trailer load.

Once the bananas were restocked, the feeders and smoothie buckets were pushed in the wheelbarrow downhill to the cages. There was a full size refrigerator just inside the front doors of the main cage; it was always overflowing with apples and juice. Whole apples (halves for little reds) were strung onto flexible metal rods and hung up in the cages along with the banana feeders. Smoothie was poured into bowls which hung along the cage sides at approximately head level of the different species. Bottles of juice were hung for the little red flying foxes, though the other megabats did everything in their power to get to the juice first. The whole process was usually completed around 4:00pm to 5:00pm. The final product looked beautiful, like decorating a Christmas tree.

I took this picture before the banana feeders were put out. 

One of the naughty outdoor boys flashing and sticking his tongue out at me after getting fed.

In addition to a second set of isolation cages for megabats closer to the visitor center side of Jenny's house, there was also another impressive cage designed for the few individual microbats brought in to Tolga. Their building was more of a true dome of green and white mesh. The inside was open for the bats to fly freely, but there were wooden boxes along the sides for the bats to sleep in, unlike the flying foxes. Not all fruit bats are large, so any small fruit bats were kept in smaller cages within the microbat enclosure. During my time there, there was only one tube nose bat which fit that category. Each evening it recieved a few chunks of fruit clipped to the roof of its cage and some juice in a hanging bottle. The microbats all were given vitamin dusted mealworms placed directly under their wood boxes. The mesh of the cage also allowed bugs inside, further attracted with a small light in the center of the ceiling. Only one microbat required specialized feeding. He had to be put into a tiny wooden igloo, away from all of the other bats with his mealworms before he would eat them. The microbats were fast to feed so Jenny often did them while I was feeding the others.

The additional isolation cages for megabats.

The inside of the microbat cage.

The inside of the microbat cage, showing some of the wooden boxes.

After feeding all of the bats, Jenny and I would eat dinner and then part into our separate houses. Each day thoroughly exhausted me. I would lay in bed, counting every mosquito on the ceiling waiting to suck my blood. I would listen to the now familiar sounds of bats and possums as I read in the light of my lamp, with shadows of moths fluttering along the pages. Eventually I would realize in shock that it was past some late hour, such as 9:00pm, and allow myself to sleep.

I stayed at Tolga Bat Hospital for approximately two and a half weeks before getting a ride with Bat Reach volunteers to Eagle's Nest Wildlife Hospital, an hour or so farther into the middle of nowhere. While the lifestyle of Tolga took quite a bit of getting used to, I was considerably impressed with the care, passion, and hard work that went into everything. I am very appreciative of the time I spent there and all that I learned during that time.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Bad Luck Comes In Threes

Halfway through my time at Bat Reach in Kuranda, QLD, I got pooped on by a turkey. I was cleaning out sugar glider cages, singing AFI songs to keep myself awake in the early morning. I am not a morning person. The cages were small, and provided no cover from a tree towering behind me. My first thoughts after feeling the warm splat across my shoulder was "Thank God it wasn't my hair!" I imagined eating the turkey for dinner as revenge, but then decided Australian bush turkey wouldn't likely be the Thankgiving feast I was picturing. I changed shirts and washed the splattered drops of goo off my body. Every time I cleaned the sugar glider cages after that day, I scared the turkeys away first. Erika, the other volunteer, joked that "bad bad luck comes in threes" after laughing at how angry my already grumpy morning face got. I really wasn't that angry. Only annoyed and sleepy.

That evening, several volunteers from around town came to help cut fruit for the flying foxes. I had been on a walk on the rainforest trails that afternoon, and arrived back to the house as the work began. Trying to pitch in quickly, I grabbed the largest bunch of bananas I saw to begin peeling them. Suddenly, I saw it- a spider. Not just a spider, but a HUGE spider, on the bananas in my hand, and it was coming straight for my hands, obviously going in for the kill! As any rational person would do, I threw the bananas. Only, I didn't just throw them. I tossed them across the room with all of my might, as far as my strength would take them. There was no aim, or really any thought to it- only instinct to not die. The bananas landed with a mushy and hard thud directly on top on Pam's feet as my terrified scream faded into humiliation. (Pam is the owner of Bat Reach) My face flushed tomato red as my eyes began watering from the fright of the moment and realization that I just hit an elderly woman with spider infested bananas. Everyone was confused as to what the ruckus was about, and why I would do such a thing from seeing a harmless spider. I futilely attempted explaining what had happen, but gave up and excused myself to regain composure.

The next morning, Erika reminded me once more that bad luck comes in threes. I hoped not. There are only so many times in your life when you can get away with throwing spider infested bananas at the elderly. I did my chores while keeping strict tabs on each wild turkey and checked every single banana throroughly before picking it up. As I went to take out the trash, I realized I was safe. I had completed everything with nothing bad happening. I placed the trash bag into a pile under the deck as it began to rain. But I was under the deck. There was no rain falling outside. I looked up to see urine flowing from the genitals of a little jack Russell terrier above me. My personal rain cloud was dog pee. I ran inside to take a long shower and informed Erika that she had been correct. My bad luck was officially over!

Awesome frog sitting on the fruit bins. Erika took this picture. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Kuranda Rainforest Trails

Just beside Bat Reach was a small trail that led into the rainforest surrounding Kuranda. Halfway through my stay there, I decided to start spending my afternoon hours hiking all the trails. There was only one that I wasn't able to hike. After Pluto arrived, I sent most of my afternoons feeding him instead. The first few steps into wilderness take you over a small creek bridge and then to a map outlining each trail. I took a picture of the map in order to keep my bearings. It wasn't meant for this blog, so it isn't the best picture, but it still gives a general picture.

There were four main paths outside of the city: Jumrum Creek Conservation Park, The Jungle Walk, The River Walk, and Barron Falls Walk. (Only two are in the picture above in blue and yellow.) The last was too far to make there and back without missing a feeding or chore. The Jumrum was the path I had already started on. I only walked it on the first day, but walked it again a few more times during my time in town. I added on the other paths as I had the time. Naturally while going through town I walked the orange and purple trails as well.

There were many birds in the rainforest. I never saw a single one, but boy were they loud. In the evening, insects competed to heard instead. Only the kookaburras overpowered the constant hum of twilight sound. Let me correct myself- I did see one bird- the wild turkey. They were everywhere. There were also tiny lizards along the trees and scurrying away as I progressed down the path. There were other tiny critters running my my feet, but I didn't let myself investigate whether they were cockroaches, spiders, or worse. All of the paths were very obvious and most were paved, so the walking was pretty easy with no damage to the rainforest.

Anyone know what this is in the tree? It wasn't an animal. Maybe fungi or a nest of some kind?

Maybe this is the same thing? 

The path eventually opened up to the Jumrum Creek and twisted right over it to get across. The first time I came down there the water was clear and beautiful. The last time I went down there it had just rained making the water too murky to see through at all. My mind just kept repeating all of the crocodile horror stories I had heard before moving here as I eyed how close the path was to the dark water. Crocodiles can leap out of nowhere, grab you by the torso, drag you underwater to drown, and eat you in pieces over days. Pam had reassured me that crocs lived at least 30 minutes farther north. That was too close to risk in my mind. Anytime I couldn't see all the water, I high tailed it straight back to the house.

Blue dragonfly

I felt a bit spoiled to have stairs on such an easy walk.

The Jumrum Creek trail came to an end with a fork in the path. To the left, the path led all the way back to the center of town, mostly following neighborhood streets. Straight ahead went into the Jungle Walk. 

One thing I love about North Queensland is all the butterflies. Most of them are huge and bold, but fly away before I can get a picture.

These lizards are absolutely everywhere.


When I'm in the outdoors, I like to look up at all the trees swaying in the wind. As I progressed down the Jungle Walk, my eyes readjusted to something much closer. A giant spider! I'm not even being a sissy on this one. It was truly huge! What's worse, it made it's evil torture web directly above the path I had to take. I stood in front of it at a calculated distance of how far I thought it might be able to jump. Every time I'd take a step forward all I could picture was it leaping off the web, and crawling at lightening speed down my shirt, biting and writhing as it crawled on my skin. Irrational? Probably. But keep in mind that I don't know really anything about the spiders here, other than that they are large and most cause pain, if not death. I finally told myself that I had to pass it. I prepared myself and then sprinted full speed under it. Everything in me just wanted to keep running and get out of there. However, the idea of it jumping on my back, where I might not feel at first made me glance backwards to check that it was still there. It was silly how much relief flooded through me to see that stupid spider still up there. I like spiders... You know, in books and television, far away from me. I'll even hold them if I know they're harmless. But put me next to a head sized spider that can run faster than me and might be deadly, I freak out.

Since it was difficult to take a picture of the web, I doodled this fine work of art to illistrate the horror that stood in front of me. (The brown things on either side are trees) Unfortunately, I couldn't display the evil clench of its jaws or anticipatory twitch of its legs accurately in this format.

This was the actual picture of the spider. Turned out to be a harmless Golden Orb. Still not something I'll need to ever see again in my life.

Soon after passing the spider, I heard a loud buzzing sound behind me. It was such a large sound, I assumed it was a dragonfly or similar interesting, harmless animal. Nope! I turned around and found my head directly in the middle of a mosquito swarm. I decided this trail was a booby trap or torture, so practically ran to the next trail, The River Walk.

When I first approached the river, I noticed two large dark circles swimming opposite of each other in parallel lines. It took me a minute to figure out that these circles weren't oddly behaving rays, but rather a shadow cast from the zip line tour of the rainforest. 

Pink fuzzy tree?

I love the moss covered picnic tables!

I found another spider web, at least 10 feet high, but once again, it didn't show in the photographs. There are only a few suspended leaves to show where it stood beside me.

I also refused to get close to this river- even more of a chance of a croc!

I loved the way the trees and their roots intertwined.

Okay so, the "Rainforest Trails" were nothing like trekking through wild unmarked jungles, but it was still pretty cool. Wish I had a better camera for pictures, but hopefully this gave a good enough visualization. Moral of this blog: Always be aware of crocodiles and spiders in Australia!