FNQ – Tablelands and Cairns

Nothing like some stunning birds distracting one from having breakfast and packing up – these beautiful Olive-backed Sunbirds were having a great time feeding right next to our van.

As we couldn’t go further north in our hired campervan (or we could have but wouldn’t have been covered by any insurance), we decided to head back up to the Atherton Tablelands. After winding up another steep escarpment, we stopped at Kingfisher Lodge near Julatten, a wonderful birder’s paradise where you can either stay over or just visit for the day. We spent a few blissful (but also frustrating) hours wandering around, seeing some awesome birds (and butterflies) but getting a little tired of the low light and dense vegetation which makes rainforest photography so tricky.

We stopped a couple more times at some places that were recommended for birding – Abbatoir Swamp was not hugely scenic but quite productive; Mareeba Wetlands was mostly disappointing as apparently all the good birds had left in the prelude to Cyclone Debbie a few weeks earlier (and further south). The landscape in this area is very interesting with large anthills nested in amongst what reminded me strongly of an African savanna.

We then headed south to stay overnight at Lake Eacham, one of the stunning crater lakes (which possibly houses a freshwater crocodile). This is an awesome area to explore – fascinating forests with huge fig trees, lots of birds and other wildlife, plus delicious tea and scones at Lake Barrine! A highlight was a quick trip to Mount Hyipamee National Park where we saw an Amethystine Python in a tree (not too close, the downside of which is that I don’t have a decent image as I left my camera in the car and only had my phone).

Another slightly scary trip back down the escarpment saw us back in Cairns for a night with friends before heading home. Luckily they live close to the Botanical Gardens and Centenary Lakes so we managed to squeeze in a bit more birding and butterfly hunting.

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.

 

 

 

Following the Murrimbidgee (sort of)

Rennix Trail sunrise in Kosciuszko National Park
Rennix Trail sunrise in Kosciuszko National Park

The most direct route to the Snowy Mountains from Adelaide (the A20) quite closely follows the Murrimbidgee River, the second longest river in Australia. Our best look at the river was at an overnight stop in Wagga Wagga, an unusually large town for inland Australia. The Murrimbidgee looked lovely and cool at the end of an extremely hot day. I had a relaxing time watching some of the birds on its banks, as well as a colony of flying foxes or fruit bats – unfortunately they were a bit far away on the opposite bank to capture well.


From Wagga we left the river and headed directly for the cooler climes of the Snowy Mountains, the source of the Murrimbidgee. A bit of an issue with the tyres on the hired campervan delayed us in the small town of Tumut – luckily we were in town when we noticed the problem and the guys at Tumut Valley Tyre Service were able to get us on our way as quickly as possible. We just managed to make it to Jindabyne in time to get a campsite for the night. After a day revisiting Kosciuszko National Park, we decided to camp at Kosciuszko Mountain Retreat near Sawpit Creek, a lovely site nestled in among the eucalypt trees. The area was also heavily populated with fierce horseflies, as we discovered when we went for a walk along the Waterfall Track – it is quite tricky taking photos of scenery or birds when as soon as you stop walking you get attacked by vicious insects.

Early next morning I dragged my son out of bed to accompany me on a sunrise expedition – we explored the beginning of the Rennix Trail which is where the opening image was taken in beautiful morning light. Stopping in Jindabyne for delicious pies, we then headed for the ACT and Canberra. We lived there for a year in 2002 so it was a bit of a trip down memory lane, although our main goal was to leave David at the Australian National University to begin his Honours year. Once he had checked in to his hall of residence, I dropped the boys off for their last golf game of the trip and headed for one of my favourite places in Canberra, the Australian National Botanic Gardens. A birder’s paradise, it also features lots of interesting plants (naturally) and a reasonably tame bunch of Australian Water Dragons (Intellagama lesueurii) that sun themselves on rocks and make great photographic subjects when they’re not getting underfoot at the café.

I enjoyed photographing birds I hadn’t seen since we lived in the ACT, like the funny White-Winged Choughs with their messy digging habits and the striking Crimson Rosellas. I did manage to see my favourite Australian parrot, the Gang-Gang Cockatoo – but wasn’t lucky enough to get any photos. All too soon, it was time to say goodbye, find space for the tripod in the suitcase and head for Sydney and our flight home.

A taste of South Australia

Port Lincoln sunrise
Port Lincoln sunrise

Having finished the golfing activities, we headed down the Eyre Peninsula exploring some of the South Australian coastline along the way. I would love to return at some stage with more time, as there were plenty of places worthy of further exploration and better light for photography. The granite inselbergs at Murphy’s Haystacks, for example, really need some Golden Hour light to do them justice.


Basing ourselves in Port Lincoln for a couple of nights, we enjoyed a lovely day exploring Coffin Bay National Park, and sampling some of the local seafood.

A visit to South Australia has to include some wineries – a long drive north to Port Augusta and then south again found us in the Clare Valley, one of the premium wine regions of Australia. By this time, the heat wave we left behind in Perth had caught up – temperatures around 40 deg C tend to slow activity down – but we did manage to visit a few estates. We then relaxed a bit in Hahndorf, an attractive town in the Adelaide Hills with a very strong German influence (yummy beer and sausages).

Plans for the next stage had to be abandoned due to the extreme temperatures (all the national parks in South Australia, northern Victoria and western New South Wales were closed) so we decided to head for the Snowy Mountains as quickly as possible – at least we had air-con in the vehicles during the day. South Australia is definitely on the ‘revisit’ list.

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.

Eyre Highway

Balladonia bushland©Jennie Stock – Nature in focus
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!


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.


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.


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!