Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sculpture by the Sea – Sydney 2009

Once a year the eastern beaches of Sydney are being utilized as showground for somewhere around 100 pieces of artwork, the event is called Sculpture by the Sea. It is an exceptionally successful way of displaying what the gang of arty Sydneysiders – and some international colleagues - have been up to during the long(?) winter months.

Sneaking your creation in between the nearly 100 sculptures displayed along the coastal walk ensures you are exposed to hundreds of thousands of viewers, tens of thousands of photographers and maybe even a potential costumer or two.

After having followed the show for a few years by now, you start recognizing the style of some of the artists and dare I say that you start getting a couple of favorites.

Also, having done the tour before, you learn the hard way that weekends are not the smartest time to make a impulse visit to the shenanigans – instead this year we very carefully planned our visit to be late afternoon during the week, which resulted in a very pleasant experience of being able to take pictures of the creations without having to battle an army of other wannabe photographers for a clean shot.

I have uploaded a selected few pictures to my picasa account. Feel free to visit the album by pressing the square picture below.
Sculpture By The Sea

Wood Chop in Blackheath

Making our way back from the Capertee Valley we were contemplating where to do our coffee stop. Having dad along we decided not to opt for Lithgow Sewage treatment plant, but instead spend a bit of time surrounded by some Blue Mountain coziness in Blackheath.

Excellent decision! Indeed Blackheath was firing on all cylinders with heaps of stuff going on, including a wood chop competition, which caught our interest. Of all the weird and wonderful Australian sports I have witnessed, wood chop is right up there at the top as one of the most impressive ways of keeping fit.

The presence of a hot dog sale associated with the chopping bonanza only made the entire thing even more Australian and a few of us managed to find space for a bit of food.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Capertee Valley - The Rest

Before dinner we decided to drive a bit along the valley floor, first of all to satisfy my dads hunger for a bit of left-hand side driving in some seriously luxurious Australian-quality-build vehicle .. i.e. the Magna :-)

The little feathery guy above and a Grey-crowned Babbler were great spots before the light faded and the light hungry Bigma had to call it quits. A bit of gnocchi and a good sleep and we would be ready for the morning.

After our usual early morning walk followed by some of Gemma's most delicious breakfast, we were ready to leave the valley. The early morning drive out through the grassy valley was once again fantastic. With dad at the wheel I could concentrate on capturing as much of the action along the road as possible.

Heaps of stuff going on and once again I managed to get another tick - the third of the trip, not at all something I had expected. The culprit being the heavy beaked little fellow in the first of the pictures below.

With all that luck floating around we decided to give good old Crown Station Rd another go to see if the Regent Honeyeaters were home .. Unfortunately there was no sign of the endangered HE, but we had a great walk and managed to see yet another species of babbler.

Dad did his last bit of Australian driving and as we hit the tarmac again, I pointed the shining bonnet of the Magna towards Coogee. It was a great little trip to good old Capertee Valley with a surprisingly high number of new birds. On the way home we stopped for a cup of coffee in Blackheath and managed to witness a bit of wood chop action!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Deep inside Capertee Valley - Wildlife

Having three pairs of eyes is a great advantage when hiking in the Australian bush. 3 years ago I showed my dad his first Red-bellied Black snake and since then he has been surprisingly good at spotting snakes - not being overly(!) interested in the birds he can solidly focus his eyes on the ground in front of us and secure the path, while the rest of us are more random in where we look.

I have been in Capertee Valley many times and did not expect to see much new, indeed the main purpose for going to the valley was simply that it is a great place ... and since we had already seen most of the wildlife there we could have a relaxed time with dad without running around with binoculars or the camera glued to our faces.

However as always when you change habitat - like this time when we walked into the valley following the river instead of going high and dry - you see new stuff. Birdwise it was particular rewarding for Gemma, managing to see Olive-backed Oriole, Noisy Friarbird and Pilotbird. The latter was also new to yours truly - not bad at all :-)

The little marsupial below was a very rare sight. Despite have walked around in the Australian nature for a few years by now it is not very often that I have managed to spot or get pictures of this nocturnal creatures. At the moment I am without my wildlife books, but I will try to update this blog post when I can tell a little more about the little guy.

Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters and Welcome Swallows were in a frantic race to feed their youngsters. While we were eating our lunch we had great views of parents flying to and fro and the battle every protein rich piece of insect caused.

As a final treat, we stumbled upon a Wombat feeding during the still bright afternoon hours. This fellow looks a bit shabby and not in great shape, we managed to get within 5 meters of it and it did not notice us at all, being busy feeding.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Capertee Valley - Glen Davis - Camping

The plan had been to visit Lamington National Park, in the south east corner of Queensland. Firstly because it is a fantastic spot and secondly because my dad has never been to Queensland. Unfortunately bad weather was forecast to hit the coast and instead we decided to take our party inland to good old Capertee Valley that once again delivered an excellent combo of camping and nature galore - so apart from missing his Queensland tick, dad was not cheated in any way.

We had left Sydney Friday afternoon, which made it possible to reach the campground in Glen Davis before sunset, indeed we were able to pitch both tents and cook a bit of gnocchi goodness before it got dark. After a big sleep and a solid serve of Gemma's signature breakfast dish we were ready for a big Saturday in the shoes.

We had opted for a walk deep into the valley, trying to push as far in as we could possibly do in a single day allowing time to get back out again. It proved to be an excellent idea! :-)

We managed to spend 8 hours walking that Saturday - 5 hours in and 3 hours getting back out of the valley again. The path is excellent - some would even argue that it is boringly good, guess it doubles as a maintenance track for the national park rangers supposedly being able to take a (good!) 4 wheel drive through. Nevertheless after a few hours of walking you feel the valley starting to narrow in on you and you get that fantastic feeling of being properly "into the wild" :-)

The secret to a good bit of bushwalking is to be well prepared! Always bring enough water and the usual survival gear. Knowing the mob I was traveling with this particular Saturday I also knew that as long as weather was good and there was plenty of food spirits would be high - As is quite evident from the picture above, both criteria were met! :-D

Great day in the shoes and as you can imagine there was heaps more to see than just the landscape stuff I have attached to this post, will put together a wildlife post shortly.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Herdsman Lake - Birding in Perth

Herdsman Lake is one of those fantastic isolated pockets of nature that continues to be prime quality real wild habitat even though it is entirely surrounded by city. I have been there once before and remembered it as a truly breathtaking place - partly due to the swampy nature of the place, so with a bit of Jutlandian negotiation skills I managed to convince the rest of the holidaying gang that an hour in a smelly swamp was the pinnacle of what Perth could offer on a lazy Sunday afternoon - from my point of view, we were not disappointed :-)

When it comes to waterbirds not many places do better than Herdsman Lake! Entering the boardwalks it is quickly forgotten that Perth is just on the other side of the trees and it seems the birds have reached a similar state of relaxation. As an example, the picture of the Blue-billed Duck above has not been cropped, indeed I had to zoom out to get the entire bird in the frame, since it was so relaxed about the Dane jumping around trying to get the sun in the right place.

Great Crested Grebe above and Yellow-billed Spoonbill below are birds that I have seen every single time I have been to Herdsman Lake - twice that is :-) It is actually the only place in Australia that I have seen the YBS.

Once again time was running out and we had to consider leaving to attend our last Perth dinner for this time. However the Lake had another little surprise in stall for us.

When we arrived at the lake a group of people was leaving and had alerted us to the presence of a Tiger Snake in the reeds next to one of the viewing platforms. As you can imagine this information had spurred us on at rapid speed trying to get photographic evidence of this species of snake that I had not seen before. Despite using quite a bit of time at the spot they had pointed out we did not see the Tiger. On the way back, however, we were successful! :-)

I know the picture is not best ever ... one could argue that having the head of the snake in the shot would be nice :-) But I am sure the readers will understand that none of us felt like trying to manipulate our newly found little friend into a more photogenic position.
The internet is full of pages trying to list the most venomous/deadly/dangerous snakes in the world. It is not straight forward, since a very venomous snake might be placid or due to its habitat very unlikely to get into contact with humans. In fact, the most deadly venomous creature in Australia is the European Honey bee! Still though talking potent venom, the Tiger Snake is up there with the best of them - if you were a mouse, the Tiger Snake would be the 4th worst snake to be bitten by - see the list of LD50 values here. Australia is doing pretty well on that list! ;-)

Driving back we witnessed another Australia speciality - a bush fire in some park/bush land in the middle of Perth! Firefighters were at the scene before there was any change of the fire developing, but still a reminder of, how different a part of the world this is.

This post will be the last from our Perth trip - I promise you there are still more pictures, but it is wise to save some stories for the next trip. One last incident is worth mentioning though, as we were driving towards the airport late Sunday night a Barn Owl flew across the road in front of the car. That brought the total number of new birds seen during the trip up to a respectable eleven, including a couple of very restricted species - not bad at all :-)

Friday, December 4, 2009

Back in Sunny Perth - Kings Park

Those Perthians did quite well when they decided to make space for Kings Park in their city :-) Fantastic park that offers everything from (nearly) real wild bush to overpriced sandwiches shops with pond view. ;-)

The most visited part of the park also doubles as a Botanic Garden. There are some seriously impressive trees and plants. One of these is the Boab Tree in the picture below, despite its 750 years of life experience, it is a newcomer to the park, only just arrived last year after making the trip from the north end of WA - 3200 kilometers - lying down behind a truck! Read the story and see the pictures.

This year we used a bit of time examining a very impressive exhibition of Kangaroo Paws - genus Anigozanthos. I have seen many of them in Sydney where they are very popular garden plants, what I did not know was that the family is endemic to the south west of WA - so I guess having them displayed in Perth makes sense.

Quite happy about the yellow one above! Conditions were absolutely fantastic for taking photos - lots of super warm afternoon light and you just had to press the trigger and hope something was in focus :-)

It was all very fantastic except from a birding point of view! Yes, yes - I know a little flock of Short-billed Black-Cockatoo is a great spot except I have already seen them and had instead hoped to see some of the more common - but still exclusively western birds - like Western Yellow Robin and the W. Spinebill, both birds that are very similar to their Eastern counterparts but different enough to qualify as other species.

After a warm day in the park we hit the beach ... compared to Coogee I must admit the sand/people ratio was slightly better .. i.e. Lots(!) of sand and next to no people :-)

The first picture of this post is a panorama, it is stitched together from 3 pictures, feel free to click the picture and you will be taken to a high resolution version.

South-West of Western Australia - All The Rest - Wildlife

I have never been to WA without seeing a snake. After dipping on Rottnest I was getting afraid that this trip would end that record streak, however that scare only lasted until the little cutie above crossed our path - literally! :-) Western Crowned Snake Elapognathus coronatus, good tick I have never seen that one before. There is a great blog entry about the WCS here.

The coastal woodlands down south of WA proved excellent habitat for spotting reptiles. Despite only using little time we also managed to bag another Shingleback Tiliqua rugosa or as the locals call it "bobtail".

Our time down south was running out, it had been absolutely fantastic to see this very different end of Australia. Before heading home to Perth we still had half a day so why not make something of it? We started very very early in the morning with a walk into the Shannon National Park just around the corner from our base.

Great stuff, getting out of bed just before sunrise is very rewarding, just as the sun hit the 50-70m high trees a flock of parrots came flying in. I once again have to thank the Bigma for helping to identify a leaf colored, less than 20cm long bird, jumping around approximately 60m up in some equally leafy colored trees - giving me the 10th tick of the trip ... and probably little G.'s 25th.
Purple-crowned Lorikeet

Frogs are hard to see, I have seen many more snakes during my time in Australia than frogs. Dad spotted the one above, it had just started raining and it had probably decided to use the moist conditions to see if it could find a new home. Super colors and great camouflage my best guess is that it is a so-called Motorbike Frog Litoria moorei. Trying to identify it I stumbled upon this FrogWatch homepage, which is fantastically well made and if you follow the link you can even hear why the little friend above is called a Motorbike Frog :-)

All done! Time to leave for Perth and give the (wild) sheep some tranquility. Lots of fantastic nature down in the south west corner of WA, very different from other parts of Australia that I have visited. Unfortunately we did not see all of it so I am afraid I will have to go again .. ;-)