03 June 2010

The Wet

As northern Australia comes into the dry season, I'm looking ahead to a solid month or so of fieldwork in Arnhem Land. This is where my own adventure began in Australia a year ago and it will be good to get back out into the savannas around the outstation at Korlobirrahda. But there have been adventures in between as well. And as I prepare for the predictable sunny days and relatively cool weather which prevails this time of year, its good to remind oneself – and share with everyone else – that there are two worlds at play in Australia's Top End. You see, like hot and cold, light and heavy, silly and serious, you cannot have the dry without The Wet...

dry season (above) to wet season (below)

The Wet is what the monsoon season has come to be known in northern Australia. Ever since the rise of the Himalaya 30 million years ago, the Asian monsoon descends upon the savanna woodlands and tropical forests each year with a steady cycle of storms – dumping 90% of the annual rainfall between the months of December and April. On the Arnhem Land Plateau dry creek beds and trickles of water along the famous Escarpment become raging rivers and waterfalls. After the long dry season, plants can once again transpire and photosynthesize stress free – and they flourish. In the lowlands rivers and wetlands swell and flood, fish and crocodiles follow the waters, dispersing far and wide across the landscape. Other animals flee for high ground, often trapped on islands and even tree-tops during severe floods.

Humas usually flee too – under roofs and into air conditioning. As far as fieldwork is concerned, the vast majority of scientists (the sane) save it for the dry season. Ahhh... predictable, sunny, non-sweltering dry season. It makes sense. In the wet, roads get closed, vehicles get stuck, streams get uncrossable, and its hot, humid, and stormy. But its also incredibly beautiful and alive...so when my supervisor suggested a wet season trip up into the Stone Country on the Arnhem Plateau in January, I needed very little convincing.

Needless to say, the “expedition” was mindblowing. I took a couple friends (whom I cannot thank enough for helping me out) on two 6 day walks in some good Cypress Pine country in some of the more remote sections of Kakadu National Park (for more on the Cypress Pine story check here.) Aside from the logistic costs of wet season field operations – yes we got dropped in by helicopter, it was incredible – the field conditions weren't really all that bad. It rained, we got wet. The sun shown, we dried out – and got hot – and basically hoped it would rain again...which it inevitably did.

But to see the Stone Country savannas sweeping away all flush and swathed in greens, to watch the monsoon storms come ripping over the sandstone outcrops and blacken the sky, to catch a flash of dark fur as another walaroo (an endemic wallaby species) bounded from beneath a rock shelter, to feel the quenching relief of the rain, washing the sweat out of our field clothes once again...these are just an inkling of the many moments that instill the Wet with a mythic and magical quality.

Well with that, I'll let the photos tell the rest. And how about this: You too can enjoy a wet season trip in the Australian tropics – my friend Russell who came with us on the first 6 day walk runs the best guiding company in the business out of Darwin...some of the trips he runs make my little bit of fieldwork here seem like a walk through the garden veranda at the Holiday Inn. Check out Willis' Walkabouts.

the drive through the lowlands with Russell and Zoe

Zoe was a bit jealous of my setup

plant hopper

I didn't mention the flies, did I...

death adder

Petraeomyrtus punicea

another storm approaches

Jim Jim Falls in flood

Brett and Zoe waiting for supper
Stone Country

Allosyncarpia tree in a rain forest patch

Callitrix megacalyx (I believe)

water water everywhere

bower bird nest


Anonymous said...

Very interesting story, It sounds fun and the pictures are beautiful.

Sarah Stephen said...

Stunning landscapes and beautiful photos! I could quite picture the expedition.

Karisia_Safaris said...

that is moist moist moist. so, want to come visit. get over to kenya soon, we have our own gonzo explorations happening here.