Notes from Nature
Into the Mabi Forest: Bird Watching at Curtain Fig National Park
Out and about in Far North Queensland
Rainbow lorikeets are shrieking in the black bean tree at the edge of Curtain Fig National Park. I hear the birds, but don’t see them until they move. Their orange breasts and green backs and the dark blue of their heads and bellies let them disappear among foliage and flowers. Other birds join them. Lewin’s honeyeaters fire off machine gun calls and brown gerygones ask ‘which is it?’ From deep in the forest, a wompoo fruit-dove recites its name.
Mine is the only car in the parking area. This is a rare occurrence, so I don’t waste time.
The star of this rainforest is a white fig (Ficus virens), a strangler that germinated high in the canopy on the branch of another tree and sent down roots that enclosed and gripped its host. Strangler figs — even ones as big and old as this — are common in the rainforest. What makes this Curtain Fig such an attraction is its unusual form.
When the dead host tree toppled against an adjacent tree, the strangler kept growing. Its roots formed a long curtain as dramatic as castle tapestry. The host has long decomposed, leaving the fig standing alone. If you want numbers: this 500 year old giant is 50 metres tall and has a circumference of almost 40 metres. It is, of course, still growing.
A boardwalk loops around the tree, allowing visitors to view fig and forest without leaving footprints. The ground slopes down to the east. If you turn your back on the star, you can look over the thicket of shrubs and through the trees. There is a lot to see.
The first birds I spot are pied monarchs. It doesn’t take much effort. Two of them are foraging for insects on tree trunks, heads down, tails up, unconcerned by my presence. They fly past me to the next tree. They are so close, I hear the flutter of their wings. Their plumage is crisp black and…