Monday, August 31, 2009

And......we're back!

The circle is once again unbroken, as all the Jardines (and one Sweeney) are under one roof. Laura, Edie and Sarah made the long trip from Bangor without incident, arriving on Friday. Since then we've been catching up on sleep and trying to get Edie back in the groove. Laura will bring you up to date on her trip to Canada before too long, but for now, I'll give you an update on my travels.

I spent three weeks in the bush during August, starting with ten days in Kowanyama and finishing in some new country for me, the Flinders River in northwest Queensland. The Kowanyama trip was great. We stayed at a guest house that is owned by the local council which meant we didn't have to camp. Camping is fun but it has its downside (for example, lack of showers and no electricity to power freezers that keep our samples from getting ruined). Plus by staying in town we were able to spend time with Viv (the manager of the Kowanyama natural resource office) and his wife, so we got plenty of fish and crocodile stories. Viv also took us to one of his favorite spots close to town, a waterhole where he camped when he first arrived in the community 30 years ago. We sat at this waterhole for almost two hours watching birds. There was a slight breeze blowing and the coolness of the late day was setting in, which made it a very comfortable (and its fair to say almost spiritual) experience. Definitely one of the nicest places I've seen in Australia.

At the site, we were treated to an aerial display by some rainbow bee eaters, one of Australia's most brilliantly colored birds. They do loop de loops as they chase after insects over the water. Even though I am the worst wildlife photographer of all time, I was still able to get a decent shot.

Later on in the trip we came across a bower. These are structures built by male bower birds. They consist of a nest-like assemblage of sticks and twigs with an avenue of eye catching items out front. The birds basically explore the forest looking for shiny or brightly colored items with which to attract the ladies.

The result is modern art - some might say it looks like a trash heap. This one had mostly aluminium foil and bottle caps. A colleague of mine recently lost an ocular lens (a small magnifying glass) while he was out in the field and a few months later it turned up in a bower! Yet another of Australia's interesting creatures.

From Kowanyama it was off to Normanton to meet Steve and Dominic to do work on the Flinders. Normanton is home of the statue of Krys, the largest crocodile ever measured (8.63 meters, shot in 1957). The statue is apparently estimated from Krys' actual dimensions. But many of us are skeptical (and frightened) that a croc could get this big. Judge it for yourself - the 2nd photo has my boot included for scale.

The Flinders flows through true savannah country, with very few trees except those that grow close to the river. The River itself is brown and muddy with steep banks, so it is not the most pleasant place to work.

However, there were plenty of interesting creatures turning up in our nets, including a small freshwater crocodile (pictured below).

This guy was not happy about being in the net. He was about a meter long and not too dangerous. Nevertheless, we happily released him without any handling and he dashed off into the water. This species of croc is very timid, it's rare to get that close to them.

We also managed to catch a sawfish in our nets. In the spirit of the unusual hybrid species of Australia, this one takes the cake. It's basically a ray with a big saw for a nose. It slashes back and forth to wound its prey and then goes back and collects it. We took some video of us releasing it back to the water but unfortunately I don't have access to it at the moment. You'll see it in due time.

On the way back to Brisbane we stopped at a few outback towns, including Winton, the home of the Waltzing Matilda museum.
Apparently the song (which is now Australia's unofficial national anthem) was first performed at a local pub in the town. Winton is also in dinosaur country, as evidenced by the rubbish bins.

All in all it was a fun trip, and I returned to Brisbane in plenty of time to get things ready at home for the arrival of my girls. It's good to have everyone back together again.

Oh and congratulations to brother Jay and new sister-in-law Michelle, who recently tied the knot in Hawaii!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

And the cheese stands alone

The cheese would be me, as Laura and Edie left today for their journey to Canada. And in case you're wondering, being alone here ain't all it's cracked up to be. So much for the return to bachelorhood. The house feels empty, there's no giggling baby, and I made too much for supper tonight without the other 1.5 appetites to help out. And it's only been 8 hours.

We parted ways at the new international terminal at Brisbane airport, as she and Edie were flying to LA with Qantas. Departing travelers leave their families at the top of a set of stairs and walk down to clear customs and go through security. The people who have seen them off can then get another glimpse of them from the upper floor through large windows overlooking the departure gates (same as Moncton airport if you've been there). So after saying our goodbyes, rather than leave straightaway I decided to check if I could see them going. So I hustled over to the window but realized I may have missed them go by since people traveling with infants often get sent to the front of the queue.

Ten minutes passed and no sign of them. I was convinced that I had missed them but since the plane was boarding in 15 minutes I figured I would wait until it left, just to be sure there were no delays or anything. Another 15 minutes of scanning for them and by now boarding had begun. I tried to imagine what they were up to, perhaps already on the plane, readying for the 14 hour flight. Yet a small part of me was thinking that maybe they still weren't there. After all, the Sweeney genes code for lateness - not outright lateness - but more like cut-it-closeness like no Jardine possesses. And sure enough, with about 10 minutes left to board, she appeared, a bag slung over each shoulder and Edie strapped into the Baby Bjorn on her front. They were in enough of a hurry that they didn't look up and see me there.

Watching her walk away today reminded me that she is my hero. Ever since she fought through that difficult labor, almost a year ago now, and pushed Edie out like a champion, I've been in complete admiration of her. And it doesn't stop there. There's the way she's given up her short-term career goals to stay home and raise Edie, and doing it so far away from her family who she cares about so much. And now this crazy cross-planet journey with a squirmy 11-month old. Right now, they are somewhere over the Pacific, hopefully catching some zzz's after a good supper. They still have 16 hours to go (via Philadelphia and Bangor), so if you're the praying type, send one up for her and Miss Edie. If you're the wishing type, we'll take all the shooting stars, birthday candles, and wishbones that you've got.

The payoff? A month at home with two eager sets of grandparents and other family members and friends. That's followed by Edie's Aunt Sarah making the return trip with them and staying here for a month. More visitors! It should be great.

In the meantime I've got three weeks of field work scheduled up north. I'm trying to get as much done as I can while I they're away. It'll be fun and it'll be warm, but I'll still be looking forward to the return of my girls.