Exotic wildlife on Fitzroy Island
During our two days on Fitzroy Island, we had several close encounters with local habitat. The island is a Queensland National Park with much of the area set aside as a refuge for flora, wild animals, birds, and insects with no impact from paved roads, residential development, industrial strips, or polluting industries. Step five meters into the jungle and you’re in dense foliage with little sign of human activities. Exciting, but potentially hazardous for urbanites. But who could resist not exploring the ‘wild side’ of the park.
We’d arrived around 11 AM on the boat from Cairns and had to wait two hours before we could check in. No problem, we could explore a little of the island. We went to the beach and starting walking along a gravel path away from the resort. Within minutes, we had our first encounter with Fitzroy’s wildlife.
In a clearing designated as a picnic area with coconut palms, bougainvillea, and elephant ear palms, we spotted a reptile that looked like a large iguana. It was stationary in the grass, it’s long tail coiled, head erect like it was hunting a snake, rate, mole, or bird. The reptile was a goanna, an indigenous Australian monitor lizard that looks prehistoric, with dinosaur-like features, leathery scales, sharp claws, bony head and jaw, and beady yellow eyes.
I wanted to photograph the goanna and study it up close. As I walked slowly towards it, the goanna remained stationary for a few seconds, then moved slowly in a circle, its tongue slithering out, as if parading to show off it’s ferocious appearance. It was the largest goanna we’d seen in Australia, about a meter long, a mature adult and experienced predator. Its muscular chest and legs looked ideal for chasing down prey in the jungle, climbing trees, digging in the dirt, or ambushing in the brush.
The goanna remained in the grass, watching us warily, but not fleeing into the jungle. After ten or fifteen minutes, we departed and left him in his territory. He had business to do, hunting prey or keeping other predators away.
Goanna in the morning
The next morning, the girls took a hike through the jungle to an abandoned lighthouse overlooking Little Fitzroy Island. I wanted to explore the island more, and headed down the same path to go deeper into the jungle. Passing by the picnic area, I walked along the perimeter where the grassy area met the jungle. Guess who I spotted — and almost stepped on. I jumped back and watched him. He didn’t move. Our goanna friend was well camouflaged in tall grass and brush and not moving to give away his position. Sign of a successful predator. He knew I’d eventually leave and he could get back to business.
I was impressed with the goanna’s ability to remain stationary and by how well his coloring, mud-colored scaly skin that perfectly matched the weeds, grass, and dried leaves of the jungle floor.
I departed the goanna’s territory and continued walking along the path, deeper into the dense jungle, listening to insects chirping, birds cawing, and breeze fluttering the leaves. It was very quiet, but occasionally I’d hear a twig snap or dried leaves rustle. I’d stop and scan the foliage, seeing if I could spot a reptile, insects, or birds. I caught a glimpse of a flightless bird as it walked through the brush, but it was also well camouflaged and I couldn’t spot it long enough to get a good photo.
Further down the trail, I saw a slight movement in some dry leaves and saw a small brown tail. Another reptile, a much smaller and almost slimy looking skink. It was only about six inches long and well camouflaged in mottled brown and green ground cover. Like the goanna, it remained still, possibly to detect sight or sound of an insect, or to evade being seen by larger predator.
“He’s back . . . ”
Returning to the resort, I passed by the grassy picnic area to see if our old friend was still around. Sure enough, the goanna was prowling in his hunting territory, but this time in bright sunlight. He was fully exposed against the gravel and green grass, possibly getting warm in the sun. He certainly wasn’t afraid, he let me walk around, snapping photos until I got the one I wanted.
I had seen him three times and watched his long forked tongue flick out from his mouth and back in, probably to sense danger or the scent of prey. His tongue flicked out about once every thirty seconds, but I missed several times, snapping just before or after he stuck it out. Finally after fifteen minutes of trying to time my shots, I finally got the picture I wanted.
It was still morning and we had another hike to Nudey Beach after lunch. I left the path and walked along the beach, enjoying the sound of gentle waves lapping up from Welcome Bay. The beach was like Nudey with smooth shells and bleached coral, but with more driftwood, decayed leaves, fallen branches, and flotsam of a tropical island. During my walk in the jungle, I’d heard cockatoos noisily cawing in trees along the beach.
Cockatoos were perched in larger trees and well exposed on the end of long branches. I used a lens with a longer focal length and a got photos as they flew from tree to tree.
Buick sized Spider
On our walk to Nudey beach around noon, we walked up and down boulders and stretches of rough gravel. Near the beach, we walked down a staircases. The first time on the stairs, I spotted a web that stretched almost across the staircase. It was almost invisible in the shade but I managed to stop before I walked into the web. I stepped back and saw one of the largest spiders I’d ever seen. I yelled out, “Wow, look at that, he’s the size of a Buick!” Well not quite, but when you’re surprised and see you’re inches from a huge spider, it affects your judgement a bit.
The spider was as long as a pen flashlight with six-inch legs that stretched over the web. He was a successful predator also, evidenced by the clumps of dead and dried insects snared in his web, evidence of past meals.
Fish feeding frenzy
Our last encounter with Fitzroy wildlife was on the wharf waiting for our ferry return to Cairns. We could see schools of fish on both sides, darting in the clear blue waters, larger on one side than the other. The smaller fish were actually a type of shrimp. They swirled in the water, moving in waves, like a flock of birds. Just as i started to take a video, the shrimp leapt out of the water and splashed back, once, twice, three times, making a noise like someone was churning the sea water.
“A manta ray just came it to feed on the shrimp,” a fellow said standing next to me at the railing. “They wait until they school together, they sweep in and scoop them up in their mouth.” After the manta ray got a couple mouthful, the shrimp appeared more anxious, flitting in all directions, probably out of fear of being gobbled up.
On the other railing, larger fish were swimming under the wharf and around small boats. They looked to be two feet long, with sleek silver blue bodies and a forked tail. While a few of us were watching and commenting how sleek and pretty the fish were, a fellow came to the railing, reached into a yellow bucket and tossed a handful of grain into the water. It was like an explosion, the fish swarmed to the area, splashing and churning to feed on the drain.
“It’s 4 PM feeding time,” he said. The fellow comes from the resort restaurant to feed the fish every afternoon. “That’s why there are so many fish here.” He identified them as swallow-tailed darts, a pretty but poor tasting fish. They only taste good to larger predator fish like sharks and eels.
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Next: New Zealand. We have many photos and exciting stories to share about our month in New Zealand. We traveled from Auckland on the northern island to the tip of the southern island with many adventures; hiking to glaciers and through rainforests, taking a wine country tour, seeing Maori ceremonies, and taking an overnight cruise in Fjordland National Park on the southwest edge of the continent. Join us on A Year and a Day’s winter Down Under!
As many of you know, I also write mysteries and romantic suspense novels.
I recently published my first international thriller, Thirteen Days in Milan, which is available on Kindle as well as other ereaders, tablets, and smartphones.
I’m back in Europe for the summer to hire a translator and to research my next book which will also be a thriller based in Milan. I’ll be posting soon from Milan, Stresa, Zurich and other locations.
I have a few posts on another blog, Anatomy of a Thriller, where I write about the process of researching and writing an international thriller. I’ll add more posts there as well.
Please share these links with writers or readers who might be interested.