In the tracks of explorers in Far North Queensland

Leichhardt Falls, near Burketown, Queensland. © Bronwen Scott

We drove along a two-lane road, smooth and straight, with the rising sun in the rear view mirror. To the north were the wide, serpentine curves of rivers in no hurry to reach the Gulf of Carpentaria. But from the car, all we saw was savanna — tall grass punctuated with termite mounds and smooth-stemmed mallee gums. Had we not already known about the slow rivers and the tangles of mangroves along their banks, we would never have guessed they were just a few kilometres from the road.

Sharing the winter sunshine with waterbirds

Plumed Whistling-ducks, Hasties Swamp (Nyleta Wetlands) NP, Far North Queensland. © Bronwen Scott

On a warm, sunny morning, I abandon my ‘to do’ list, pick up my binoculars and camera, and go bird watching at Hasties Swamp National Park, a small area of permanent wetlands less than half an hour from my home on the Atherton Tablelands, Far North Queensland. Hasties Swamp is popular with bird watchers — the combination of fresh water, woodland, and open agricultural land ensures a high diversity of species — but I have the hide to myself this morning. The park is empty, except for me, some wallabies, and a few thousand ducks.

Plumed Whistling-ducks drowse in the…

Hidden away in the bush, waiting for the monsoon

Felt Fern (Pyrrosia, Polypodiaceae), Forty Mile Scrub, Far North Queensland. © Bronwen Scott

On the eastern side of the mountains — the side that catches the rain coming in from the Coral Sea — the forest is tall and dark, draped with lianas, orchids, and ferns. Trees grow straight; they need to grab their share of the sun and cannot afford to waste energy on sprouting low branches. High above the forest floor, canopies knit together and the only light that reaches the ground seeps in from the edges or drips through gaps between leaves. …

A Little Corella prepares for landing, Boulia, western Queensland, Australia. © Bronwen Scott

Cockatoos are a symbol of the Australian Outback

In the late afternoon, when gum trees cast long shadows across the sand and the clouds are edged with gold, corellas come down to the river to drink.

You hear them before you see them. Their querulous calls sound like complaints. Then the long-shadow trees erupt, and you are under a sky of white feathers.

Ireland’s first female botanist is celebrated in a festival

“Mizen Head, Co Cork [Explored]” by Philip McErlean is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

The joy of garden plants

Yuruga Nursery, Walkamin, Far North Queensland.

The local native plant nursery released its new stock list on 1 July. I’ll visit the nursery but won’t buy any plants, I told myself. I visited the nursery three times and bought plants on every trip.

I live in the Wet Tropics of Far North Queensland, a narrow band of rainforest on the north-eastern coast of Australia. Declared a World Heritage Area in 1988, the Wet Tropics is home to a huge diversity of plants, many of which have ancient origins. Among them are clubmosses, cycads, and ‘primitive’ flowering plants such as the vine…

Solving the Mystery of the Argonaut’s Shell

Sicily. Photo by Samuel Ferrara on Unsplash

Pale and brittle, its surface rippled like a snap-frozen ocean, the paper nautilus shell is familiar both as a curio and a collector’s item. But the animal that occupies it — a type of octopus called Argonauta — is not as well-known. For two thousand years, ever since Aristotle wrote about them in his History of Animals, two things were certain about the paper nautilus.

It used a pair of expanded arms as sails…

In between its feelers it has a[n]…amount of web-growth, resembling the substance between the toes of web-footed birds; only…


Scenes from the wilderness

Mangroves on Quintell Beach, Kutini-Payamu NP, Queensland. © Bronwen Scott

Lockhart River Aerodrome is busy this morning. Five planes arrive. Three are Cessnas, charter flights for locals, visitors, and government officials. The fourth is a King Air belonging to the Royal Flying Doctor Service. In locations as remote as this, the RFDS provides vital medical, dental, and mental health support to communities. The flying doctors are masked and so are we, but there are smiles and nods as they pass us. When the fifth plane — a Skytrans Dash-8 — lands and taxies in, it looks as big as a 747. …

A pioneer in photography and marine biology

L to R: Ptilota plumosa; Ulva latissima; Codium tormentosum. Spencer Collection, New York Public Library Digital Collections. Public Domain.

The difficulty of making accurate drawings of objects as minute as many of the algae and Confervae, has induced me to avail myself of Sir John Herschel’s beautiful process of Cyanotype, to obtain impressions of the plants themselves, which I have much pleasure in offering to my botanical friends.

Anna Atkins’ introduction to Photographs of British Algae (1843)

John Hershel invented the cyanotype photographic process in 1842. The principle was simple: when combined in solution, ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide are sensitive to ultraviolet light. Even the UV in weak sunlight is sufficient to trigger the reaction that turns…

This boring mollusc is anything but boring

Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

On New Year’s Eve, 1731, a storm swept in from the North Sea. Whipped up by gales, waves ripped away timber piles from protective dikes along the coast of Holland and West-Friesland. Without the wooden breakwaters, the earthworks were in danger of collapse. When the wardens inspected the damage, they found the timber riddled with worms. Under the force of the waves, the piles had crumbled.

Some said this plague of worms was a sign from God and the only way to prevent more destruction was by penance and prayer. Others took a…

Bronwen Scott

Zoologist, writer, artist, museum fan, enjoying life in the tropical rainforest of Far North Queensland.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store