On the Cubango River

Heading east from Ongula, on a surprisingly good road, we stopped for the night at a lodge on the river that forms part of the Namibian/Angolan border. The Rio Cubango rises in Angola’s highlands and heads south-east to form that border for a while, before being joined by the Cuito, another Angolan river, and later becoming the mighty Okavango. It was quite surreal looking across the river into Angola, something that would have been totally out of the question when I was younger and the area was still ravaged by war.

Taranga Safari Lodge is perched right on the edge of the Cubango, with permanently erected tents on platforms high enough to avoid having to worry about hippos or crocs. A floating bar on the river was a good spot for sunset photos with local people moving around on their traditional mokoros and lots of birds to be seen.

The birding was great, in fact. Between the river’s edge and the 11 hectares of bushveld with a self-guided walk and watering hole, there was a lot to find. I added at least nine new species and rediscovered a few that I hadn’t seen for a long time. Of course, I only managed decent images of some but I’m really happy that one of those I did capture was the stunning Violet-backed Starlings (still prefer their old name of Plum-coloured Starling).

FNQ 2 – Port Douglas and Daintree Village

A subtle sunset and a lovely meal on a tropical veranda in Port Douglas ended a great day – although I later realised that maybe I was a bit too close to the water’s edge when taking the image above, having forgotten about the crocodiles. Oops!

The following morning saw us up bright and early for a boat trip to the Low Isles, an easily accessible part of the Great Barrier Reef. Unfortunately the weather was not kind – very choppy seas and gloomy skies are not much good for visibility when snorkelling. We did enjoy the morning trip but it wasn’t exactly a highlight.

Next stop was the quaint Daintree Village, where we camped at the Daintree Riverview Park. While Sarah napped off the effects of getting up so early, I went for walk around the village and found a few interesting birds along the way. The light wasn’t the best but at least I didn’t get myself and my camera wet.

We had another early start the next day but a much more worthwhile one – a highly recommended cruise on the awesome Daintree River with Ian”Sauce” Worcester. Being a quiet time of the year, we had the boat to ourselves which made it even more special. A few more ‘lifers’ were seen, with the most exciting being Papuan Frogmouths and a Great-billed Heron.

That was 2017, part 1

Way back at the beginning of January 2017 I was planning to be diligent about posting on my blog this year, envisioning at least one post a month. That idea fell by the wayside rather quickly. In my defence, we have had a bit of a crazy year, what with selling our house, moving, travelling and so on. I did manage to squeeze in a fair amount of photography along the way so have decided to share some highlights of 2017.

In January I spent a lovely morning watching the Fairy Tern colony at Rous Head, where these endangered birds raise their chicks on a small patch of fenced off land in the middle of Fremantle’s busy port (see here for more information).

We spent many weekends during 2017 in Bridgetown, working on our new house,  particularly the landscaping. In February I practised some macro photography on subjects found while gardening and moving soil. March was not a great month for photography as we decided to sell our Perth house and I spent most of my time painting, cleaning and de-cluttering. One thing I did manage was experimenting with taking bird’s-eye-view images of leaves and insects floating on the surface of the pool (probably when I was supposed to be keeping it clean). I was very happy with how an image of bleached bougainvillea flowers turned out (called “Floating Trio”). It has done well in a couple of competitions, netting a Silver Award with a score of 87 in the Revealing Nature category of the 2017 Better Photography competition.

Our Perth house sold in April, which was a great relief. I was lucky to get a week off from the chaos, visiting Far North Queensland with my daughter. We hired a campervan and explored the area near Cairns, managing to make it to the Daintree, one of my bucket list destinations. Although it wasn’t the ideal time of year for birding we saw heaps of interesting things, including a couple of very special birds on an amazing boat cruise with Ian “Sauce” Worcester on the Daintree River.

May was a mad rush of packing and moving, with some stuff going to Bridgetown and some to a rental in Perth. We did get a bit of time to enjoy autumn down south.

Once the moving was all done, we set off in our camper trailer for a long-awaited month of long-service leave, travelling north from Perth all the way to Broome and back (about 2400 km each way). We saw some amazing landscapes, met interesting people and saw lots of birds and other animals.

Highlights included some amazing station stays at Wooleen Station, in the Gascoyne, Hamelin Bay Station near Shark Bay, Quobba Station north of Carnarvon, Bullara Station on the way to Exmouth and Pardoo Station on the northern coast. In Broome we stayed at the awesome Broome Bird Observatory and on our way back south we detoured to Millstream-Chichester National Park in the Pilbara.

 

 

 

The heart of the Nullarbor

Sunset on the Nullarbor
Sunset on the Nullarbor

The Nullarbor is most definitely well-named, from the Latin words Nullus arbor, meaning No trees. The seemingly endless flat plain covers an area about the size of the State of Victoria. Once a shallow sea-bed, the Nullarbor is the world’s largest karst landform. South of the Nullarbor is the Great Australian Bight, essentially a very large bay with steep cliff faces. We stopped briefly at a couple of the viewing platforms – with me cursing that the light was in the wrong place for landscape photography – and made it to the Nullarbor Motel just before sunset. Not long before reaching the motel, David and I saw a dingo on the side of the road, and then discovered that the golf hole at the motel was called the Dingo’s Den. Interrupting dinner to take some photos of the sunset, I got another glimpse of a dingo – of course, I had my very wide angle lens one so the dingo is a speck in the distance. He is on the edge of the Royal Flying Doctor Service airstrip; the RFDS is a lifesaver for residents and travelers in the Australian Outback.


Next morning saw the beginning of the last golfing day, with some fun hunting balls around the Dingo’s Den. This was followed by some very hot and dusty holes in places with odd names (Nundroo and Penong). Finally we made it to the golf course in Ceduna for the last two holes! A visit to the Visitor Centre to get the cards signed off (and to David’s relief, to hear that there were much worse scores on record) was followed by a well-deserved 19th hole in the air-conditioned comfort of a Ceduna pub.

Norseman and Fraser Range Station

Sunrise at Fraser Range Station
Sunrise at Fraser Range Station

Day Four of our cross-country trip began slowly, as our planned destination was only 100 km away. We began the day with a bit of exploring around Norseman, a much smaller gold-mining town that marks the beginning/end of the Eyre Highway. When heading east it is the last major town in Western Australia before you get to the border with South Australia, 720 km away. Finishing up with a walk at the Beacon Hill lookout, we enjoyed spectacular views of the Great Western Woodlands ( see previous post for more information).


Fraser Range Station was our next golfing and overnight stop. A working pastoral lease and farm, Fraser Range hosts one of the Nullarbor Links holes and offers station stay-style accommodation and camping. After some frustrating golf action, we walked to the top of the rocky outcrop near the homestead to enjoy watching the sunset (and a beer or two). A delicious dinner in the station kitchen was followed by David and I experimenting with a bit of night photography.


Next morning, I was up early (thankfully a bit later than in Perth, due to changing longitude without changing time zone) to capture some sunrise images. A great treat was seeing two Wedge-tailed eagles soaring overhead.

Crossing Australia with golf as a distraction

Wave rock with my son providing some sense of scale
Wave rock with my son providing some sense of scale

Just over a year ago (yes, I know, I’m a bit behind), we began our trip driving across Australia from Perth to Canberra. Wave Rock, one of Western Australia’s iconic tourist attractions, was our first overnight stop. Not one of the easiest things to photograph effectively, the wave is the eroded northern face of the granite formation known as Hyden Rock. I suspect landscape photographers would have to pick the time of year (in other words, the angle of light at sunset/sunrise) very carefully to get great images. It was a lot bigger than I expected and fun to climb up and wander around the top of the rock. I enjoyed a bit of bird photography around the campsite.


Next stop was Kalgoorlie, famous for its goldfields, and the Western starting point of the Nullarbor Links, the world’s longest golf course. This golf ‘course’ kept us entertained for the next six days, with my son and husband playing the holes as we traveled – I just took photos and videos (and did quite a bit of giggling). The first two holes are part of the lovely Kalgoorlie Golf Club – from a golfing point of view, things went downhill pretty rapidly after that!


The next three holes were still on actual golf courses, at Kambalda and Norseman, but they did leave a bit to be desired in terms of grass.


The patches of the Great Western Woodlands we passed through were much more interesting. The GWW is huge, covering about 16 million hectares of Western Australia. Driving through the woodland over a few days really makes you realise how awesome it is – so wonderful to know there are still some trees left on our planet! This information from DPAW’s website is a good summary: “It is regarded as the largest remaining area of intact Mediterranean-climate woodland left on Earth and contains about 3000 species of flowering plants, about a fifth of all known flora in Australia. It includes nearly a quarter of Australia’s eucalypt species, many of which grow nowhere else in the world, and its varied habitats are home to a diverse array of mammals, reptiles, frogs and birds. Aboriginal occupation has been dated to at least 22,000 years and the region has great cultural significance, with Aboriginal people retaining strong links with and responsibility for country.”

This final image was taken just next to the caravan park in Norseman so pretty much in the middle of the Great Western Woodlands, late in the afternoon.

 

Sunset in the Great Western Woodlands, Norseman
Sunset in the Great Western Woodlands, Norseman

Golden hours in Kruger

Skukuza railway bridge
Skukuza railway bridge

Landscape photography is often about the “Golden hours” just after sunrise and just before sunset. Taking photos at these times in Kruger was a bit of a challenge as this is also prime game watching time. I stayed back in camp at Skukuza one morning to take this sunrise shot of the old railway bridge over the Sabie River and am very glad I made the effort. The view would be familiar to anyone who has spent time there; this version at least has some interesting lighting although the sunrise could have been a tad more spectacular. This was done in traditional landscape fashion, f/16 with a tripod and graduated ND filters.


I did manage one sunrise with some vibrant lighting – the wide shot was taken with my landscape lens and quite a slow shutter speed, a bit hair-raising in a vehicle with three other people under strict instructions not to wriggle. A little later during the early morning game drive I managed to position myself to get the sun behind a silhouetted tree – taken in quite a hurry , handheld with my birding lens and the aperture wide open to keep the shutter speed up for sharpness.

African savanna evening light
African savanna evening light

Rushing back to camp before the gates close in the evening and still hoping for that elusive lion or cheetah sighting is not really the ideal time for landscapes, but I couldn’t resist the lone tree in the savanna at sunset; another image using the short end of my birding lens. The Berg-en-dal sunrise was a bit more planned – taken from the vehicle using a bean bag for support, using my wide angle lens to capture the lovely soft light over the mountains. A fitting farewell image on our last morning.

Berg-en-dal sunrise
Berg-en-dal sunrise

Birds and buffalo

A very pretty Mourning dove in camp at Satara
A very pretty Mourning dove in camp at Satara

Satara is a lovely camp – we all wished for more nights there. What should have been a post-lunch siesta time was spent stalking birds, like this lovely Mourning dove, in front of the rondavels (the round thatched huts typical of Kruger). I wish I managed a better shot of the Green Wood-hoopoes; they were very busy foraging for bugs in gaps in the bark of a tree. The Red-billed buffalo weaver was much more relaxed.

During our late afternoon drive heading north from camp, we came across a huge herd of Cape buffalo. I changed to my wide-angle lens to try and capture a sense of the size of the herd. It probably would have worked better if I could have got out of the car and low down, with one buffalo in the immediate foreground – but I wasn’t going to try that. Buffalo may look a bit like cattle but they aren’t one of the Big Five for nothing! Even this one trying to scratch his head looks a bit dangerous, especially when you look at those horns closely.

We stayed out as late as we could – as ordinary tourists in Kruger you have to be back in camp when the gates close at sunset. Some vultures hanging about in a tree were intriguing but too far away to see if there was something exciting on the ground attracting their attention. I am glad I managed an African sunset shot – not bad for handheld at 250mm.

Vultures settling in a tree at sunset
Vultures settling in a tree at sunset