Saturday, February 27, 2010

Kosciuszko National Park - Going "Alpine"

What a difference a few hundred kilometers make! Leaving the coast moving inland takes you through some of the most lush, green forest in Australia. Continuing further inland the landscape goes dryer and forest turns to grassland and then you hit the mountains!

We were heading for Kosciuszko National Park, a part of Australia which I have badly neglected during the nearly 5 years I have been down here. Guess I have felt it was too similar to places I have seen in Europe and since we have no outback or rain forest around Denmark I have "focused" more on those types of habitat. However, there is something fantastic about mountains and after all the years down here it great driving up into Australia's only alpine area.

Arriving at the park around midday Monday and having to start work in Sydney Wednesday morning we were once again in for some action packed hours. As soon as we had raised the tents at the Sawpit Creek campsite we rushed back into the car and drove up the mountain, trying to put the rest of the Monday to good use and do some good quality "high" altitude hiking.

Fantastic stuff standing there above the treeline and watching how the track winds it way up the mountain - no surprises here! Just raw bare nature and that great feeling of super clean cold air. Being in the sun it is all good, but you feel the altitude as soon as there is the tiniest bit of shadow then it goes cold. The air carries very little heat.

Having arrived late we decided to go for a solid walk, but leave the summit attempt for the next morning ;-) We agreed on the Charlotte Pass to Blue Lake return walk, which had everything you can expect for a alpine walk; lots of ups and lots of downs, but no flat bits! But what a blast! :-) Walking with view of Mount Kosciuszko, crossing Snowy River few hundred meters from its source and seeing Blue Lake, some of the most unique wetland in Australia makes quite good use of a Monday afternoon.

To be continued ..

Final HDR and Pano From Ben Boyd National Park

After going through the pictures I realized that I had a few sets of pictures that could be used to make a high dynamic range (HDR) and a panorama. As I have said before it is really simple stuff. Panorama-making software is easily accessible by following the link to the right of my blog I use autostitch, which will run on windows and is free! HDR software is out there as well. Photomatix will let you download a free trial version and it seems new ones are popping up all the time, take a look here or here.

I have managed to get quite a few of the pictures jammed into the last few Ben Boyd National Park posts, but for those of you that want to see them all - with "all" I mean the ca. 10% making it to the internet - I invite you to follow the link below to my Ben Boyd National Park Picasa album.
Ben Boyd National Park

Ben Boyd National Park - Saltwater Creek, Boyd's Tower And A Bit Of Evening Adventure

Snakes are probably some of the most interesting animals you can stumble upon down under here in Australia! Interesting is exactly the right word, it has nothing to do with if you "like" or "hate" snakes, I probably used to be slightly on the scared side when it came to imagining how an encounter would be, but the more you read about these highly developed animals the more impressive and interesting they are - with a healthy understanding of the need to observe from a distance. On our way towards Boyd's tower in the northern end of the south part of the park this Tiger Snake was crossing the road just in front of the Magna. Rapidly blocking the breaks and having the Nikon handy gave just enough time to catch a few snapshots of this shy impressive creature.

Benjamin Boyd went through enormous amount of trouble to build his 20 meter tall tower. Initially the plan was to use it as a lighthouse, but as with Benjamin's own story the tower has had a colorful past.

The area around the tower looked promising; scrubby coastal heath with good possibilities of over viewing large areas and some patches with dense taller scrubby trees giving excellent opportunities for birds to hide .. in fact they were hiding(?) so well that we saw next to no feathered wildlife while walking around in the area surrounding Boyd's tower.

It was getting late and with a thick layer of clouds coming in, light was getting worse and our chances of spotting and documenting (by getting pictures) any rare bird where disappearing fast.

We decided to cover the entirety of the park by visiting Saltwater Creek Campsite and see if we would be lucky and spot a few of the specialties of the park, such as, Hooded Plover or maybe even a Ground Parrot on the heath area just south of the campsite. It was a great walk, we saw a White-bellied Sea-eagle cruising along the coast, but no sign of a tick :-) Managed to find a few wild orchids though and a good old fashion kangaroo grassing on the beach.

What a great day! Full speed all day and we had managed to cover nearly all parts of the national park. Sitting at the campsite I have now learned that when it goes slightly dark it is time to take the light hungry Bigma off the camera and take advantage of the built-in flash and the light collecting properties of the macro.

As the very last light of the day disappeared a last chance of a tick emerged on the sky; Swifts! Pulled a few photos with the macro and will have to go through them more carefully one day, but it mostly looked like White-throated Needletails .. great bird, but not a tick.

Ben Boyd National Park had a final little treat in place for us. When we arrived at the campsite, the people leaving the spot we had reserved for the weekend had pointed out that we should be careful with leaving food around since a gang of possums roaming the area opportunistically associated the presence of humans with presence of food, apparently they had lost any fright of humans.

The little fellow above was jostling through our camp looking for any leftovers not even noticing that we where still standing around chatting and brushing our teethes. Little G. decided to hide some fruit in the tent for breakfast instead of carrying it all back to the car. Amazingly what we believe to be a possum could smell the goodies on the other side of the thin tent wall and decided to try to eat an apple through the tent wall :-D

Ben Boyd National Park is a great spot! We saw heaps of exciting stuff; snakes, orchids, possums and bats flying around the campsite, super duper spot with some fantastic camping next to a great little beach. We tried some snorkeling which was slightly disappointing, but hey how much can you expect from one place? ;-) Leaving early Monday morning we were heading for something very different; Kosciuszko National Park.

Ben Boyd National Park - City Rock And Some Macro Training

Car pooling back to pick up the car left at Green Cape, we decided to give City Rock a go - it was only a detour of a kilometer or two. What a great idea, it proved to be absolute photography heaven with heaps of reptiles and a spider or two :-)

The reptiles might not have been as impressive in size as the lace monitors walking around at the campsite, but if you get close enough ... :-) Lots of light and some "models" that desperately needed the sunlight to heat up after a cold overcast morning made it a lot of fun running around with the macro lens.

A tiny spider gave a welcome opportunity of getting really close - the size of this specimen was probably not much more than 6mm - and it also shows how razor thin the depth of field is at these distances unless you stop down the lens dramatically.

I made a series of pictures where I started at f/14.0 and ended shooting nearly wide open. At f/14.0 you can make the entire spider sharp, but shutter speed starts to become a problem approaching 1/150 even with a warm Australian afternoon sun being in charge of the delivery of light. The picture above is taken at f/9.0 which is probably where you will be for something like this, the back of the spider get a bit blurry, but you can easily catch a bit of facial expression and shutter speed is sweet at 1/400s. I could have cropped harder.

At f/5.6 things get much much harder! Shutter speed is no problem at all easily handholdable approaching 1/1000s, but as you get closer to your subject DOF gets really thin and you easily end up with something similar to the one below :-D So as usual, when the skill are lacking you just role the dice a few more times and let that old Nikon snap away - more data gives you a higher change of success .. so would a tripod, but that is heavy and boring :-D

By the way, I finally bought myself a spider book, but still have a hard time with identification. The one above was running around on the rocks so I expect in to be from the "Open-range Hunters"-group. Not big enough to be a wolf spider, and with the placement of the eyes I would take a stab at something like a jumping spider - it confuses me a bit that it never really jumped, but you cannot get it all ... I guess(?)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Ben Boyd National Park - Another Day and A Big Walk

Early up for a big one! Having only 4 days off for a road trip is a bit short, having already decided to split the trip between two National Parks makes it even more important to get out of bed early and go exploring hard! Otherwise it can easily end up in just a lot of driving and very little looking around.

Having to cover an entire National Park in one day, we simply had to cheat a bit and make the walks one way only by utilizing a bit of clever car pooling. We started out by driving all the way down to the south-eastern most point of the park: Green Cape, where the lighthouse was the starting point for our exploration up along the coast, back to the campsite.

Around the lighthouse we had some of the best seabirding I have ever experienced! A fantastic amount of shearwaters were constantly on the wings passing by - unfortunately the action was just outside of binocular range ... and being about one month behind with my blog posts it will be a while before I have the time it takes to sit and examine what goodies the bigma picked up :-)

Pushing up along the coast we had put our top-bird-spotting-scout, Adelle, in front and boy did she deliver!! Soon after having left the lighthouse she managed to bag the best spot of the long weekend - an owl! Unfortunately it is not 100% clear what type it was. My initial guess while standing there and seeing it take off was that it was clearly a Barn Owl. Doing a bit of research after coming home easily narrowed the possibilities down to either Barn or Masked Owl - the Grass Owl does not live in the south eastern end of NSW. A look at the NSW wildlife atlas, however, reveals that only Powerful, Masked and Sooty have been reported in BBNP - no Barn Owl ... hm ... will have to chat to Adelle and hear what she ticked it as before I decide on that one .. ;-)

It was a great walk, we were taken through a variety of habitats in only about 10 kilometers and with the weather improved quite a bit while we were making our way back towards the campsite we were quite ready for the next bit of exploration.

After a great early start to the trip we started getting slightly worried, in reality there was no confirmed bird ticks and with the uncertainty surrounding the owl (and the fact that I have already seen a Barn Owl) means that we had used nearly 2 days without seeing anything new ... best catch of the Bigma was probably the pair of Tawny-crowned Honeyeaters below - not a tick for yours truly, but still a good catch.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Ben Boyd National Park - Finishing Day One

Teaming up with our travel companions - not the one above - we decided to explore slightly further away from the campsite and headed off for a little walk.

On our way to the park we had seen an echidna rapidly crossing the road in front of us while we were driving down towards the coast. During our little afternoon stroll we managed to get even closer to another echidna, this one decided to hide in some long grass rather than fleeing, unfortunately that also means that it had curled up to protect its not spiky underside and face and I had to do with a picture of a pile of spikes :-)

The observant reader will have noticed that so far there has been unusually few pictures of birds - apart from a single Wonga Pigeon in the previous post, there has been no additional feathered wildlife from the Ben boyd National park making it to the blog ... Unfortunately it is not because I intend to make a later BBNP bird post, but sadly because we saw very few good birds.

The lack of birds was however easily endured when you have all other types of action packed stuff happening around you. Nobody(!..?) will complain about the lack of ticks when you have sunsets as the one below ;-)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Ben Boyd National Park - Australia Day Long Weekend Road Trip

Nothing really beats a road trip! It should be so much more convenient to fly, but it is not! When you choose to fly, you are much more restricted in your packing, you cannot bring gas canisters for cooking and also pillow, doona and a coles bucket of food goodness is very hard to shrink to carry-on size. When you land you have to sort out all of that stuff; gas, food and you will need a car. The car rental company will make you sign a deal that make it impossible for you to go the places you really wanted - those hidden gems at the end of the gravel roads. Another thing is price; Yes, you can get some fantastic offers flying, but remember that getting to and from the airport will cost you! Some absurd political deal must have been made here in Sydney back in the day, when a private train line was built between the city and the airport - great for Sydneysiders and tourists .. well, not really as it is insanely overpriced and the dodgy political deal made sure that any other reasonable alternative to the train line was removed, making Sydney airport near impossible to get to with something as sensible as normal bus - so cab it is!

By choosing the roads, the travel becomes a part of the holiday. There is obviously a time factor that has to be calculated in; making your way to Darwin and back is probably not the most efficient way to see the North End during a long weekend escape, for that you would need a month or two ... ;-) For exploring the south east end of NSW, however, nothing beats the track of bitumen and we decided to once again rely on the comfort of the Magna and start our long weekend road trip with a visit to Ben Boyd National Park.

We made it out of Sydney straight after work Friday afternoon and managed to make it to Cooma before we decided to let it be for the day and crash at a motel. The good effort Friday had left us with only a few hours of additional driving, so we had a great, relaxed and beautiful drive across the mountains towards the coast and Ben Boyd National Park.

We were meeting the Amoores at the Bittangabee campsite in the south part of the national park. If the drive into the park was any indicator of what we would experience during our stay there was no doubt that we were in for a blast :-) Soon after hitting the gravel roads we started seeing Lace Monitors (Varanus Varius). Great stuff! It has been a while since my last encounter with these fairly big monitors and we managed to get a few good pictures. It is surprisingly easy taking pictures of these reptiles, since they for some reason believe that they are safe as soon as they are off the ground. So as soon as you see one, stop the car and get out - there is a good chance that will make the monitor start crawling up the closest tree and you can stand in (safety?) down below and take all the pictures you will need.

The campsite was absolutely fantastic, in fact the whole thing felt a bit like a proper holiday instead of a hardcore bush bashing lean mean camping experience. There was the sweetest little sandy beach next to the campsite and Adelle had booked the absolute best spot of the entire campsite giving us 180 degree water views - it all felt a bit like holiday!

Going to a coastal national park down south during mid Australian summer is a good idea! Despite being midday and no doubt extremely hot back home in Sydney, we had a pleasant sea breeze and the effect of moving nearly 400 kilometers south was definitely noticeable.

A little wander around the campsite was very rewarding and despite being midday we managed to see all kinds of excitement. The Swamp Wallaby (Wallabia bicolor) below was nearly oblivious to our existence.

... and a close up or two of a Wonga Pigeon is always exciting. Quite a few of these good size pigeons were walking around between the tents only slightly shyer than the Wallabys. All good, the Australia day long weekend was of to a fantastic start and there was still plenty of days to go.