Saturday, November 21, 2009

South-West of Western Australia - Day One

After our eventful day at Rottnest it was time to hit a very different habitat. We headed down to the big tree forests in the south-west end of WA. It is quite a bit of a drive south of Perth and luckily - despite the Magna being left in Sydney - we managed to team up with some decent wheels and some very knowledgeable locals that gracefully shared a steady stream of information about the areas we were driving through.

We were in for a treat - already the first day, the program was action packed and included quite a few events that were not in the usual Lonely Planet Guide. We started out by visiting a tree plantation full of Eucalyptus Regnans. Being a mono-culture we had not expected much excitement when it came to bird life and apart from a couple of cormorants and what I though was a Pied Currawong we mostly saw trees ... However, by coincidence I took a look in the book and realized the the Pied C. was indeed a Grey C. apparently the Grey version is nearly black in the south end of WA. I have seen the Grey C. in The Budawangs (where it is actually grey!), but little G. happily took another stab at my lead.

Next stop was a visit to an avocado plantation. Quite impressive! Having myself experimented with the possibility of growing a few avocado trees in every single apartment I have lived in here in Sydney it was an eye-opener to see the real deal ... guess I will have to aim for an entirely different size of apartment next time :-)

Approaching our destination for the night there was still time for a quick visit to the Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree, a so-called "climbing tree" which in the old days was used for spotting fires and giving firefighters early warnings about the development of bush fires in the region.

Dad used the opportunity to show off some climbing skills - he could have made it all the way! Nice to see an activity where it is pointed out that this can be dangerous and that you do it on your own risk, but otherwise you are left to take the decision yourself. No nanny state there :-)

After an eventful day we finally arrived at our destination. Light was dimming really fast, but during a quick little evening walk I managed to "catch" this colorful Splendid Fairy-wren.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Rottnest Island - Miscellaneous

You cannot write about Rottnest Island without mentioning the little local macropod inhabiting the Island: The Quokka! Absolutely fantastic little cute animal that have had a hard time dealing with introduced predators on the mainland, but is doing very fine indeed on Rottnest, where there are no dogs, cats or foxes.

Another specialty of Rottnest Island is the King's Skink, which can quite easily be spotted around Cape Vlamingh - West End. The fellow in the picture about came out of its burrow as soon as we pulled out the lunch pack and did not leave till it was sure big Al had finished it all ;-)

Another feature of Rottnest is the presence of a number of rocky outcrops and reefs impossible to reach from land and therefore near perfect nesting spots for Osprey. A number of well established nests exist around the island and for every year they are utilized they slowly grow higher and more impressive. This year we were probably a little bit to early for the nesting season, but I have included a picture of an empty nest below. Using a long range zoom distort the feel of size in a photo - the nest is approximately 1.5 meters high!

It is always exciting biking around on Rottnest towards the end of the day. The heat of the tarmac attracts all kinds of exciting creatures! During my previous visits I have always seen snakes sunning themselves in the roadside. We had less luck with the snakes this year, but we were lucky to stumble upon the Bobtail or Shingleback below. In fact the little guy below is from a subspecies called Tiliqua rugosa konowi, which is endemic to Rottnest Island.

On the bikes it is a quite easy little island to get around on. During a full day you can easily manage to do a full loop and then still have time to return to a couple of favorite spots. Hills are easily negotiated, but one should be aware of the power of the wind! Even a pair of bike legs trained in the notoriously windy western Jutland will be challenged when mother nature lets the blowing begin around Rottnest - Those who think that I am exaggerating should take a close look at the photo of the "slightly" horizontal tree below :-)

Great guns! Enough for Rottnest this time and I will start trawling through the photos from our visit down in the big forests of south-west Western Australia. I can already promise that there was a bit of ticking-action going on and there were some seriously impressive BIG trees! :-)

Rottnest Island - Wildlife - Birds

I have been to Rottnest before - actually twice - but I have never really been going hard for the bird life. Last time I was there, however, I saw the Bridled Terns flying around at West End and must admit that if there was ever an epiphany bird moment during my stay in Australia that would probably have to be it. I managed to get a crappy picture of one of the flying Bridled Terns with my point and shoot and realized I would be needing to upgrade to something with more reach and less shutter lag - so those Bridled Terns have quite a bit to answer for ;-)

This year the weather was not on my side, but still there were lots of feathered action. As already revealed the inland salt lakes proved most rewarding. New habitat equals new birds! indeed 5 of them, 4 at the salt lakes and a White-fronted Chat at West End:
Red-capped Plover
Banded Stilt
Fairy Tern
White-fronted Chat

Apart from the new ones there were also a few good old ones that I have seen at Rottnest before, like the Bridled Tern that was slightly timid by the rain and therefore not as easily photographed. Also a couple of Banded Lapwing got sufficiently close for a tight crop.

The White-fronted Chat gave a bit of gray hair before it all worked out. At first we saw a female sitting facing away from us on the boardwalk at West End. I had absolutely no idea what it was, but I realized that it was something I had not seen before. After using a significant fraction of my lunch break running around trying to get a picture of the "mystery bird" I realized that I had changed the settings on the camera for a group shot and not changed aperture and ISO back so I had 30 blurry pictures of a grayish blob - not happy - The bird had flown off and I had no proof! While walking back after lunch suddenly a male bird landed in front of us, the male was very easy identifiable and I managed to get a few shots before it took off, walking another 3 meters and there was a sign alerting the visitor to the presence of White-fronted Chat in this particular area - how right that sign was :-D

Not bad at all, Rottnest delivered on all fronts and our Western Australia trip was off to a super duper start. A quick ferry ride home and there would be roast beef for dinner - Verdensklasse! :-)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Rottnest Island, WA - The Larsens On Tour with Our Own Local Guide

The main event of my dad's visit to Australia this year was a 5 day trip to the western end of Australia, One reason was to acquaint ourselves with the WA nature particular the area around Perth and the great forests in the south west end and in the case of my dad also to see the end of the world that spawned something as sweet as little G. :-)
We arrived Tuesday evening to a fantastic warm welcome and happily joined in on the festivities taking notes on how the Perth natives celebrate birthdays.
After a healthy sleep we were up at the crack of dawn heading off to Rottnest Island.

Public vehicles are not permitted on Rottnest so the transportation of choice is to bring a bike - or rent one in the largest bike shed of the southern hemisphere! Sometimes all that choice does not necessarily speed up the process of getting your gear and getting going, but after about 30 min of searching we had found the largest helmet of the southern hemisphere for dad and the bike with the fewest gears for Gemma :-D

We had planned to start out with a good push on the bikes out towards the west end of the island, this plan was nearly shipwrecked after only about a kilometer of riding where we reached Herschel lake one of the inland salt lakes that are enormously popular with a number of waders and hence also by BWs. After about 200 photos, 4 new species and only 20 minuets we (reluctantly) jumped on the bikes and once again began our endeavor towards west end ... 1km in 22min! - you could easily see that dad was worried :-)

Great ride! Straight into the wind and a fantastic opportunity to learn how to save energy by holding someones wheel ... However, Gemma decided to do her own regime of interval training instead; she absolutely blitzed it up the hills at maximum heart-rate ripping the peloton apart just to reach a absolute standstill while sounding like a high powered vacuum cleaner choking for air, the peloton would then catch up and overtake only to see her again and again pass at enourmous speed going full power for the next hill! :-D

After a well deserved break at west end, which included a fantastic well-equipped lunch pack and another new bird species (more about all the wildlife of Rottnest in another blog post), we decided to drive for cover! A few nasty rain clouds where coming in and in combo with a strong westerly winds it made the possibility of sitting in a cafe drinking cappuccino very tempting.

Weather changed nearly as quickly as we could finish our hot drinks and we headed out for the area around Parker Point to get onto a beach and take a look at what was going on underwater utilize the snorkels and masks that we had carried around all day.

We found a fantastic spot just north-east of Little Salmon Bay, facing east we were well protected from the wind and as can be seen from the pictures there were absolutely nothing wrong with the sand and water either :-)

Super duper day at Rottnest, great spot and since we did not see the Rock Parrot I am severely afraid that we will have to go again one day ;-)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Arrival of Big Al :-)

My dad arrived :-) Not bad at all! His arrival was the starting signal to a well orchestrated 3.5 weeks of excitement ... and probably also the main reason for the pathetic amount of postings hitting the blog lately ;-)

Using the first few days to get the jet-lag under control we kept the action happening in the vicinity of Coogee where we visited a few of the good old favorites. As always it is fantastic to realize how much is happening outside your door if just you make it out there.

Took a few trips up and down along the cliffs of the Eastern suburbs. The picture above is a panorama of Magic Point - a location that has indeed proven quite magic for those who are out looking for Grey Nurse Sharks or a bit of BW'ing. If you click the picture you will get a high resolution version to enjoy.
The wind was wrong for BW'ing and only having two sets of snorkel and mask we decided to just enjoy the views and tick a few whales swimming south :-)

Not having planned to go north during my dad's stay we conveniently also ticket a couple of "Sydney-crocodiles" lying sunning themselves on a rock before going hunting for ... flies.

Final achievement of the first couple of days was to get my dad well and truly hooked on fish and chips, indeed a very easy task, that would give us much happiness during the next few weeks :-)

Eastlakes Golf Course

Eremaea had once again a post telling about all the wonders that reside at the Eastlakes Golf Course. I have never really liked the place - have only been there once - and ended up with exceptional muddy boots and nothing much more interesting than a few Welcome Swallows and some New Holland Honeyeaters.

Well, well - someone never learns and once again I found myself with muddy shoes in the reeds surrounding one of the lakes of the golf course. It was slightly better this time - but only slightly.

EGC is one of those places where you do much better if you arrive at the break of dawn, the good old standing looking into a setting sun is not the way to go! Highlight of the day was probably that even though I had muddy boots, it was still dry boots! Shoes on the other hand has the disadvantage of being significantly shorter than boots and my companion learned the hard way that those extra centimeters of Gore-Tex can make the difference between a bad day in the reeds and a terrible day in the swamp :-D

Quibray Bay Viewing Platform, Boat Harbour and Botany Bay National Park

Yet again we pointed the shiny bonnet of the Magna south and drove towards the south end of Botany Bay National park. Despite being only something like 10 kilometers south of Coogee (in a straight line) the habitat is apparently still sufficiently non-Coogee-like to ensure a very different selection of wildlife.

Made the usual stop at Quibray Bay viewing platform where we finally got decent views of a Whimbrel, - I have not seen that one before - accompanied by some Godwits and a Eastern Curlew. After a few seconds of celebration we got our act together and headed towards Boat Harbour. The walk out towards the rock platform was as always super good for spotting various reptiles.

But bird-wise it was very disappointing .. apart from a wind blown crowd of Crested Terns and some Cormorants we saw no feathered wildlife at all.

Instead we decided to push towards the Eastern end of the park, towards the Cape Baily Lighthouse. During my previous walks in the park this area has often given some great sightings and we were also in for a little treat this time. Sitting overlooking the ocean we suddenly noticed a White-bellied Sea-eagle approaching. WBSEs are normally quite good at keeping a distance, humans have not always treated the big predators of the sky with the respect they deserve and hence it is not straight forward to get a good close-up photo of a flying eagle.

This time, however, luck was on our side: An angry raven decided to try to scare the high cruising eagle away. The surprised WBSE desperately needing speed to outrun the aggressive attack did the only think possible and went into a steep dive, taking it straight above our heads and well and truly into range of the Bigma :-) Not bad at all, managed to get a few good ones of some quite spectacular nature.

Friday, November 13, 2009

La Perouse - Light and Shadow Plus a Bit of HDR Photography

Had a late evening down around La Perouse. Starting our walk the ocean was rough and the layer of clouds gave absolutely no hope of any light from above. If it was not for the possibility of getting some of the best fish and chips around Sydney down at Danny's we would probably have given up before we even started.

All wildlife seemed to have sunken in the ground and I was seriously afraid that carrying the Nikon would end up as nothing more than just some extra exercise. Just as we had finished our non-eventful round coming back towards the car park the sun finally got so low that it started breaking through the clouds.

Having tons of memory card space left I felt I could lash out and shoot some HDR stuff - it gives some colors on the blog ;-)