Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Wilson's Promontory - Tidal River Madness

I arrived back at my tent and noticed a few others having taken refuge in the school camping area, no worries there was heaps of space :-) Knowing that I would be in for a big Saturday, I quickly sorted out some food, brushed my teeth and happily crawled into the Hubba for an early night. I managed to sort of fall asleep before a (camping) "party" arrived at the site next to me .. what sounded like 4 couples in 2 cars decided that the spot next to the tiny little Hubba tent would be perfect for their reunion. Ah .. well, at first I was confident that the lovely young people would stop shouting and obviously be so considered that they would turn the car's lights off as soon as they had managed to raise their tents .. since those beams, apart from lighting up their efforts with the tents, were making it look like daytime inside my Hubba.

In the end I had to make my way out of the tent and give the happy campers the most unhappy Jutlandian grumpy look I can muster without adding sound effects. It partly worked - they turned the light off, but kept on drinking and chatting. Having made it out of the tent I decided to take advantage and visit the bathroom. Oh boy, Oh boy what a change a couple of hours make! The campsite was more than full, but with a steady stream of desperate wannabe campers flowing in from Melbourne, Tidal River campsite had turned into a cauldron of madness with people and cars moving around between the closely packed tents seeking out those last few square meters of space needed for a tent.

Returning back at my tent after my little evening walk, I realized that I would be a rough night. Two additional camping parties had arrived and taken a liking to the area bordering the Hubba - I was surrounded and there was no way out!

The seagulls woke me up early Saturday morning - I had managed only a few hours of sleep, but with only one full day in the bush I could not afford wasting time sleeping - and seriously, I would be happy being out of the way before my neighboring campers began waking up. The plan of escaping was dropped as soon as I looked out of the tent. There was no way I could maneuver the oil-ship sized Ford Falcon out of the campsite - in fact is was nearly difficult to navigate myself through the chaos of guy ropes, tents, cars, beer cans, chips and other seagull feed.

I ended up having a great morning around Tidal River after all! A walk along the beach followed by a shorter excursion into the bush made me nearly forget about the population density around my tent. A visit to the Visitor Centre cheered me up even more, the rangers were incredible helpful and I managed to get an overnight camping permit for Sealers Cove, which can only (unless you have a boat) be accessed by following a 10.2km bushwalking route across the peninsula .. that should be sufficient to scare off most of my still sleeping neighbors. :-)

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Wilson's Promontory, Victoria - A Sneaky Long Weekend Escape

Suddenly I found myself with a golden chance of taking a closer look at the Victorian bush. I had attended a conference in Melbourne and was not expected back in Sydney before Monday morning, giving me 2.5 days of freedom :-) A combination of computer trouble and general busyness meant that I was very badly prepared and when leaving for Melbourne I hardly knew what my plans would be for the weekend.

It all nearly cost me the trip - Friday afternoon I visited 3 car rental companies before I managed to get a way too large and way too expensive Ford Falcon Wagon with so much space that I would not have needed to bring my tent!

Already in the south-east corner of Melbourne and having to deliver the car back Sunday afternoon I decided that taking on the Great Ocean Road would probably be too much of a mouthful and that Wilson's Promontory would be the wiser target instead.

After a very pleasant drive through some lovely Victorian landscape I finally found myself at the gate ready to enter "The Prom". An early warning sign was a ca. 15 min queue .. in two rows! Queuing to get into a national park a Friday afternoon - what was happening here??? When I finally arrived at the counter the very friendly girl could shine a bit of light on the situation: The weather forecast had predicted absolutely fantastic weather for the entire weekend resulting in a migration of Melburnians to the Prom!

Since I had arrived relatively early she encouraged me to drive to Tidal River and pitch my tent for the night and "unless I wanted to sleep in the bush I would have to find somewhere else for the rest of the weekend" - I Proudly announced that I would be happy to take a night in the bush, but was met with a scrutinizing look and I realized that sitting in a Ford Falcon with only a hard shell suitcase and a plastic bag of apples as the only luggage, wearing a shirt, black trousers, black shoes and still having my conference name tag on - I did not look like the usual deep-bush-camper. I though about starting to explain about how small and light a tent I had (one of my favorite stories), but with 50 cars behind me, we agreed that I should pay for one night and have a little chat to the rangers in the morning about the possibility of going bush Saturday to Sunday. :-D

Arriving at Tidal River I realized how big this place was - 484 camping and caravan sites - surely this could not fill up(?) It proved a bit hard at first to find a good site, but the girl had told me to just pitch my tent anywhere, so I sneakily razed the little MSR Hubba in the school zone
- the sign said that the "school" restriction was only enforced Saturday and Sunday so I would be fine. Managed to raise the tent in record time and used the last light to run down to the water to take a few photos for this blog post. Fantastic spot, after a busy busy conference in Melbourne and a bit of stress finding a car, driving out of Melbourne without using toll roads and not really knowing where I would sleep tomorrow, I felt that I could finally relax and deal with it all as it came. Those Victorian beach sunsets works wonders!

Walking back to the tent, planning an early night. I was absolutely unprepared for what the night would bring :-D To be continued ..

Cape Banks with The Gang

Weather was not really good for snorkeling so the gang decided to use an early(?) Saturday morning down at Cape Banks for a healthy serve of coastal bushwalking spiced up with the chance of some pelagic action. To convince the boys to join I might have mentioned the possibility of bagging the resident Australian Hobby ... which obviously did not show!

Fantastic landscape down there and amazing that you can walk around for hours less than 3.5km from one of the busiest harbours in the southern end of the world and less than 6km from Sydney airport and have it all to yourself ... guess a bit of shabby weather increase your chances of solitude :-D

No Hobby and the shearwaters outside of binocular range meant that the Eastern Reef Egret above could proudly claim the "bird of the day"-title. But once again what really mattered was that we managed to drag our lazy bums of the couch (or out of bed) and put a bit of early Saturday excitement into a gray weekend :-)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Night Photography in Coogee

Once again I had signed up for a photowalk with Yiing, one of my Canon slinging friends. As usual there is always a surprise or two when Yiing is around :-) This time it was luckily great news .. and camera related, he had brought the Canon 50mm f/1.4! A super fast lens like that is tons of fun, the large aperture allows the photographer to take pictures that you simple cannot get with slower (cheaper) lenses.

All good! We started out by fooling around with shallow depth of field and available light shooting, but as it got really dark shutter speed slowed down and we decided to concentrate on long exposure night shooting. The secret is to have a good quality tripod, mirror lock-up option and a remote .. well, I do not have a tripod or a remote, my camera has mirror lock-up, but I cannot combine it with the timer function .. however there is quite a bit of good solid stonework around Coogee, which conveniently can be used as solid support, unfortunately, it also means that after a few nights out you end up having to take the same pictures over and over again unless the local council manages to put in some strategically well placed extra stones :-D One day I might buy a tripod .. maybe.

Good long exposure works really well with moving water, the averaging over 30 seconds (or longer) gives you this dreamy mercury look of the water, when conditions are right. This night in Coogee the waves were slightly on the large side and even cheating by retreating to the rock pool in our hunt for some steady waters was only partly successful - guess we will have to get out there another time! :-)

Cape Banks - Australian Hobby in Flight

Went for another little quick afternoon visit to Cape Banks, where we had first seen the Australian Hobby. This time we not only saw it again, but we managed to get a fairly good BIF :-)

After all the excitement with the Pacific Gull at Long Bay, Gemma had been all fired up about finishing of all the (usual) gulls - so mission accomplished and lots of cheering(?) when the Kelp Gull above cruised by.

All good! Great little trip and all this running around after work keeps you fit :-)

Royal Botanic Gardens - Macro Photography

I have hinted(!) in the last couple of blog posts that I am pretty happy about my macro lens, sorry if it is getting a bit much, but it is just soooooo fun shooting these close-ups! No matter where you go there is always stuff to take pictures of.

A rainy day down town Sydney with clouds all over the shop and still you can happily shoot away having near perfect light for all the small stuff.

The butterfly above was a good challenge, it simply would not sit still! Somehow it knew that it was being followed and in the end I had to give up on getting a "frozen" capture. The best I could get was the one above where a bit of wing blur actually works out alright.

Great flowers - very impressive shapes and colors! Since it is a botanic garden not all of the species are native, which makes the task of naming them significantly harder. Luckily I found a bit of help on the internet - the Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens site actually have a "Blooming calendar" displaying pictures of what will be flowering every month during the year - great service!

With help from the blooming calender it looks like the white flower above is a Tabernaemontana cerifera native to New Caledonia ... that would have taken a long time to find out without a bit of help ;-)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens - Buff-banded Rail

Once again Sydney was capable of delivering a surprise bird in a very unlikely spot - meters away from some of the most busy streets of Sydney CBD we stumbled upon a Buff-banded Rail - never seen that one before :-)

The Royal botanic gardens in Sydney is a quite fantastic place, there is everything a tourist could possibly hope for; bats, birds, views of the Opera house and the Harbour bridge and weird and wonderful plants - so bring your camera!

We had actually not really planned anything specifically, but with subpar weather and some particularly dark clouds in the horizon we were thrilled to get ourselves a set of tickets for a guided tour of the Government House - how much more touristy can it be?..! :-)

The tour of Government house is free, but you are not allowed to take pictures inside. On a rainy day it can definitely be recommended! With everything wet from the rain and relative humidity hitting 100% we slowly pushed down towards the center of the park for a look at the bats and a few flower close-ups.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Long Bay - Pacific Gull

I could start this blog post exactly like the previous, where I rattled on about how a short 10 minuets drive down along the coast can give you more new ticks than 4 days of hard(?) birding far far away from Sydney. Less than a week after our La Perouse trip, we decided to give Long Bay a go - Long Bay being even closer to home than La Perouse, surely there would be no ticking action going on, but I have come to like the walking in the area down there and there was a breeze from south east - the right direction, but to be honest nowhere near strong enough for a real pelagic excursion.

Soon after we had parked the Magna and started walking the very large gull in the first picture past us flying along the rocky shore and it looked like it was looking for somewhere to land! The Australian selection of gulls is very limited (if you do not count the six or so rare vagrants) there are only three in the club: The Silver, Kelp and Pacific Gulls. Silver is hard to avoid, Kelp is around if you look for it, but Pacific is hard to find around Sydney - it is much more common down south, but we had not seen it at Ben Boyd and here we were back home in Sydney with an enormous gull very much looking like a juvenile Pacific Gull cruising around in our backyard!

The gull had landed down on a hard-to-get-to rock platform, but the need for a confirmation picture gave us wings .. or rather enhanced crawling capabilities :-) As soon as we got a closer look, there was absolutely no doubt that we had indeed bagged the Pacific Gull, not bad for a Wednesday afternoon.

After a bit of celebration(?) we continued our walk out towards the usual sea bird lookouts at the cliff top. As expected the weather was not rough enough to push the passing shearwaters in towards the coast and into range of the Bigma - if you wait long enough you will always get a few reasonable pictures, but nothing compare to the amount of close vicinity action that happens on a good stormy winter day along the coast .. a few months and there will hopefully again be a bit of albatross action on the blog.

Great afternoon trip to Long Bay, very exciting once again seeing a new bird! I had already planned another Victoria trip where I would be (nearly) certain to see the Pacific Gull, but there is something special about being surprised and seeing birds where you did not expect to see them.
We had been out a few days earlier trying to get pictures of the Sooty Shearwater slightly further down along the coast. In these economically unstable times I have decided to save the price of an entirely new blog post by including a few pictures from that trip here in the end of the Long Bay endeavor. These are handheld, but of fair quality - considering the distance. This winter I should probably give my monopod one more chance - I seriously did not like using it last winter, but I guess it is a question of giving it a fair go and if it can give me a stop or two it could dramatically reduce noise in these sea bird pictures where I usually have to crop quite hard to get something usable.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Botany Bay National Park - La Perouse

There you go! After having traveled nearly 1000km down south and back, visited two national parks and used 4 days doing it without seeing a single new bird, you drive 10 minuets down the coast for a little stroll in the park and an Australian Hobby suddenly leisurely glides by :-) The picture is nothing to cheer about, but sufficiently good for ID.

We had decided to do a little walk around the headland, a great way to spend a few hours here in Sydney. The walk covers a good selection of habitats and it is always nice to hit a bit of sea breeze.

It looked like all the good predators were out showing their feathers this late January weekend. We noticed a predator being harassed by a gang of ravens, typical for a juveniles not knowing how to avoid trouble in the world. Being a bit shell shocked after having been picked upon by 3 grown up ravens, the juvenile Peregrine Falcon was happy to have found a quiet spot and was not keen to get back on the wings again, allowing us to get a good close look.

Despite all the ranting about how fantastic macro lenses are, I must admit I had only brought the Bigma for this walk, sometimes it is just not convenient to changes lenses in the bush and the bird-in-flight pictures could not been done with the macro, the Hobby was simply too far away. However, even a old, heavy, light hungry super zoom can be fired up for a bit of close up action ;-)

Happy about the picture above, pretty sharp! Handheld, 1/250s at 320mm (480mm full frame equivalent), cropped a bit, but otherwise straight from camera.
Great walking close to home and realizing that the local bush also can deliver and that you do not always have to travel to where the grass is greener to see something new.