This time last year I was lucky enough to spend a week in Far North Queensland, exploring the Cairns area with my daughter. I’ve always wanted to visit this area, largely because of the interesting birds that can be found there. The first day started well, with a new species (White-breasted Woodswallows) before I’d even left the airport . Once I had collected the camper van and Sarah had arrived from Sydney, we paid a quick visit to the Cairns Esplanade. Not the best time of day to bird by that stage, but the sun was shining and I managed a few decent images of another new species, a Peaceful Dove.
Peaceful Dove on the Cairns Esplanade
Then we set off to find our campsite for the first couple of nights. We stayed at the Speewah Conservation Park, a lovely spot near Kuranda. Definitely not recommended for caravans though – the road in is pretty steep in places. The first morning there were lots of birds calling in the rainforest, which got a bit frustrating as they were often really hard to spot. The Brown Cuckoo-doves were friendly and I got to know their call quite quickly. I do find birding in completely new places can be challenging if the vegetation is dense, as I don’t have any idea what all the calls belong to (Shazam for bird calls would be great).
Our campervan at Speewah
We decided to stay up on the escarpment for the day and explore some of the waterfalls a bit further south. As you can see below, it was a very overcast (and sometimes wet) day so not the greatest for photographing birds. We had a fun time though, swimming at the Elinjaa Falls and seeing a good range of new birds, including the strange Pheasant Coucal. I have added the rather poor photo of a Grey-Headed Robin to show the challenges of birding in the rainforest – no light and so many leaves for the birds to hide behind!
Millaa Millaa Falls
The following day we explored Kuranda and the Barron Gorge area, and then headed for Port Douglas on the coast. Sarah was not impressed with the beaches we stopped at – we are very spoilt in Western Australia – but we did find Port Douglas very attractive. After waking up to more interesting bird calls (I did spot one of the culprits – the Yellow Oriole), a visit to Mossman Gorge was in order. On the shuttle bus into the gorge, some tour guides were talking about an unusual sighting – and although we had gone for the self-guided option, we were lucky to be in the right place when they were pointing out the very cryptic Northern Leaf-tailed Gecko to their clients. We waited for everyone to move on and had a good look – I don’t how someone spotted it on the lichen covered tree trunk.
First stop on the Eyre Highway after Fraser Range was Balladonia. The golf hole here is named “Skylab” in homage to the bits of the NASA space station that scattered its bits all over the area in 1979. The Balladonia Motel includes a museum with some interesting displays and information, and provided a decent cup of coffee to keep the support crew awake while the men wrestled with the ‘fairway’. The opening image for this post was taken more or less from the tee; if you look carefully you can see a red sign in the centre behind the trees, marking the green’s whereabouts. No signs showing where the golf balls went to!
The Skylab tee at Balladonia
Eagle’s nest at Cocklebiddy – with eagle high in the sky
Contemplating the fairway at Caiguna
Caiguna golf – 90 mile straight
Balladonia also marks the beginning (or end) of the 90 Mile Straight – one of the longest stretches of straight road (146.6 km) in the world – between here and Caiguna. Definitely not the most scenic drive, although the blowholes near Caiguna were interesting (just not very photogenic). Cocklebiddy was the next stop – this is the launching point for visiting the Eyre Bird Observatory, something I would have loved to do. Unfortunately that would have required a 4WD drive camper and more time than we had available, as the road into this part of the Nuytsland Nature Reserve is really rough. Instead we spent the night at Madura Pass, a much prettier campsite than I was expecting. A highlight for me here was seeing my first wild Major Mitchell’s cockatoos – didn’t get the best pictures but so happy to see them.
Juvenile Black-faced cuckoo-shrike
Major Mitchell’s cockatoos
Sunset through the eucalypts at Madura
We spent a bit of time the next day exploring Eucla, the next stop on the golfing agenda. The hole’s name “Nullarbor Nymph” references an interesting story/hoax about a woman living with kangaroos, cooked up as a publicity stunt for the area. A short drive towards the coast allowed us to explore the ruins of the old telegraph station and the remnants of a jetty once used for bringing in supplies. Blinding white sands made this a tricky location for photography in the middle of the day – thank goodness for polarising filters.
Sand plains near Eucla
Abandoned jetty at Eucla
The Nullarbor Nymph hole at Eucla
Where did it go? Hunting for the ball
Finally after nearly 1500 km we reached the eastern end of Western Australia at the WA/SA Border Village, a very boring but descriptive name. The sign makes you feel a long way from anywhere!
This young elephant gave us a bit of an uneasy moment when it started shaking its head and trunk. They were quite close and moving towards where we were stopped on the causeway, level with the river bed. Luckily it was just having a bit of a shake. The small herd crossed just in front of the car; quite a memorable experience. I’m really happy to have captured the moment without missing a bit of foot or trunk. After this they were too close for my big lens – sometimes you just have to enjoy the scene and forget about taking photos for a bit. The images below were taken after they had passed the car and were heading back into the bush.
Baby elephant following mum out of the river bed
Young elephant in river bed
I have decided to abandon the ‘daily diary’ I was doing for my posts. Instead this post is all about the ellies. We were treated to quite a number of elephant sightings in our week in the park – not a problem as they are one of my favourite animals. Often they were at waterholes or in what seemed like dry river beds, digging below the surface to get at the water. They like to play too, chucking mud and water everywhere. This group had a couple of cute babies with them.
Baby elephant drinking
Elephants looking for water in the river bed
Small baby elephant
Elephants can be quite destructive eaters – not surprisingly, they have huge appetites to match their size. Watching this elephant demolish very unappetizing-looking branches was impressive. They also use their tusks to cause a fair amount of damage to the bark of many trees.
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.
Green wood hoopoe (or Red-billed) foraging for bugs
Green wood hoopoe foraging for insects
Red-billed buffalo weaver in Satara camp
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.
Huge buffalo herd near Satara
Glossy starling showing off its shiny feathers
Cape buffalo having a scratch
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.
There are plenty of mountains and mountain passes in the Western Cape. One of the more interesting passes is the Tradouw Pass, which crosses the Langeberg between Swellendam and Barrydale. Completed in 1873, it was built by convict labour under the direction of road engineer Thomas Bain. During rebuilding in the seventies, several lay-byes were built, making it safer to stop and take photographs. Dramatic red aloes were flowering when we visited. The pass cuts through a section of the Cape Fold Mountains, and the folds and twists in the sandstone are clearly visible. These folds and twists are even more obvious when driving our usual route to Montagu through the Kogmanskloof. Great for impromptu geology lessons!
A section of the Tradouw Pass.
Looking south along the Tradouw River from the pass.
Gateway to Montagu from Ashton and Robertson – Kogmanskloof late in the afternoon.
Du Toitskloof is another awesome pass – it used to be part of the major route into Cape Town from the north but these days there is an impressive tunnel through the mountain that takes most of the traffic. We drove over the top using the old pass very early one misty morning on our way to Franschhoek and stopped a couple of times, resulting in these stitched panoramas.
And then we get to the Western Cape’s most iconic mountain – Table Mountain in all her glory, seen from the V&A Waterfront, a combined tourist attraction and working harbour.
This cute little creature is a quokka, a small marsupial familiar to any visitor to Rottnest Island. ‘Rotto’, as it is affectionately known, is a small island off the coast of Perth, Western Australia. Reached by a ferry trip of about 1 hr or by private boat, Rottnest is popular for summer holidays and day trips. There are virtually no cars and most people get around on bicycles. I have found Rottnest to be a great place for photography; as is the case on many islands, the birds and other animals are much less skittish than usual. In fact, the quokkas often get too close!
The Rough and the Smooth
Curious Golden whistler female
Silver gull portrait
Rottnest is home to a couple of very attractive feral species – introduced birds that have ‘gone wild’. I think there is now only one peacock left on the island – he did look rather lonely. I saw a group of pheasants as well; I’m fairly sure this one is a young male bird.
Penguin Island is one of my favourite places to visit near Perth. It’s a bit of a drive from home south to Rockingham but then just a short ferry ride to the island, which forms part of the Shoalwater Islands Marine Park. Bridled Terns breed here in summer – it is an awesome experience visiting when they are in residence as they are so close and flying all around you.
The birds and other animals are so much more relaxed than on the mainland making it easier to get close to them (sometime they get too close). I would love to be able to get over to Penguin Island early to get the soft light but as the first ferry is at 9 am I may have to learn how to kayak (and be brave enough to take my camera!).
Pied oystercatcher probing wet sand
Room with a view – nesting Silver gull
Adult Crested tern pair
Snoozing Australian sea-lion
If you’re lucky you’ll spot a wild Little Penguin – the smallest penguin species, found on the southern coast of Australia and around New Zealand. In summer, you sometimes see a couple of penguins hiding under the boardwalks but most of them disappear early in the morning to fish all day, returning at sunset. The island is closed to visitors in winter when the colony (about 1000 pairs) gets into breeding mode. The Little Penguin below is a late fledgling I spotted in the middle of the day – he probably tired of waiting for his parents to return and decided to try fishing for himself. Hopefully he made it to adulthood.
Little penguin fledgling
Pair of Mute swans at Penguin Island
Another unusual sight I came across was this pair of Mute Swans in the sea near the jetty. Mute Swans are an introduced species in Australia; there is a breeding colony at Northam (about 100 km away) but this pair were seen in the Rockingham area for a while.
Photographically 2013 began on a high note, with two first places in the January competition at camera club. I was quite taken aback as the subject was landscapes and there are some much more experienced landscape photographers in the club. It did make the early mornings and crazily rushed evenings worth the effort.
This image won first place in the Subject projected section. I’m glad someone else liked it – I was so pleased to capture and bring out the lovely lighting.
“Watching the storm” came first in the Open projected section. I have to say a big thank you to my daughter for being my muse and model for this one. Without her this image wouldn’t have the same impact.
I love this image – and it got a merit in the Subject projected.