Thursday, May 27, 2010

Atherton Tablelands - Part 1 - Hastie's Swamp National Park - Nyleta Wetlands

On the road again :-) We were aiming at covering as much of the Ahterton tableland as possible and following the same argument as I used for our Daintree National Park excursion, you could argue that the rain made it all easier - There was no way we could bring the little Toyota up the wet and muddy dirt road to Mount Lewis .. guess the Golden Bowerbird and the Blue-faced Parrot-Finch will have to wait for our next visit then ;-) Cutting out the mountain gave us more time down around Atherton and we managed to visit: Hastie's Swamp, Wongabel State Forest, Mount Hypipamee National Park and Lake Eacham in the Crater Lakes National Park.

Hastie's Swamp National Park aka Nyleta Wetlands probably had one of the best bird hides I have ever visited and with a bird list clocking up 220 species it was a bit of a surprise that I should find the best spot in the bathroom sink! :-D

Just as we arrived it started to drizzle, which is not exactly what you want when hunting for waterbirds. It definitely put a damper on the action and I dipped badly on the expected Cotton Pygmy-goose. My lovely companion on the other hand happily ticked both Plumed Whistling-Duck and Wandering Whistling-Duck. Quite a few swifts were flying around and they did not all look like the "usual" White-rumped Swiftlet that we had seen up around the Daintree. However, I did not manage to get sufficient photographic evidence to make a qualified stab at what it was.

All good, we had a little lunch at the bird hide and decided to push on to the neighboring Wongabel State Forest.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Kingfisher Park - Morning Birding

It is enormously stressful being on holiday, but so very rewarding! :-D Getting up early next morning realizing that we would have to leave Kingfisher Park before lunchtime, we made sure to take 100% advantage of the time we had.

Sitting on the porch scoffing my breakfast while ticking an Emerald Dove passing by, was a fantastic start to the day - guess it was anticipating that some of all that muesli would not hit the spot at the excessive speed I was eating at. Little G. managed to outscore me with about 100%, also having to pull out the pen for a very curious Blue-faced Honeyeater.

After breakfast, we got the boots on and started our last round of the property. Bird-wise the equivalent of letting two kids run wild in a candy store! :-) Absolutely fantastic stuff, new birds everywhere - you nearly got dizzy spinning around trying to follow that unknown bird flying pass or looking after what bush that weird call came from. Spectacled Monarch above and Pale-yellow Robin (race nana) below.

Both little Shrike-thrush and Bower's Shrike-thrush were running around and Yellow Honeyeater decided to show. While all of this were going on I realized that I was in trouble - all the flash shooting the night before and what I had done in the Daintree rain forest had eaten away 60% of my battery life, there was still 3 days left .. and I had left my charger home in Sydney! I simply had to reduce the use of the flash, which was a bit of a disaster! Flash is the best (and only?) way to get good pictures in dark places.

Great guns! We clocked up nearly 3 hours of hardcore birding, including nearly 45 min of intensive stalking of a Noisy Pitta - which we heard multiple times, but never saw!

Got the little Toyota packed, made a final visit to the feeder and we were on the road again. This particular morning we indeed felt blessed not only had we had a fantastic birding morning, but also the weather seemed to smile at us .. for a couple of hours until it started raining again with a vengeance! :-D

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Kingfisher Park - Night Spotting - Miscellaneous

Bush Stone-curlews, a few owls and an army of frogs - that makes great numbers for any night spotting adventure. However, there were still a few goodies to be caught by those spotlights. The little bentwing bat above was a fantastic spot, hanging onto the tiniest crack in one of the bathroom doors at the deserted (and flooded) campsite it looked so peaceful just hanging there sleeping that I only reluctantly decided to use the flash. I stopped the flash output down 2 stops and the photo is taken from a fair distance. It is actually possible to identify the closed eye, the snout and some seriously good sized ears if you examine the photo closely.

The stopping down of the flash was very appropriate for the bat, probably because of the distance. However, always remember to reset your camera after fooling around with settings - in particular after using the timer function!! ;-) - While shooting the bat I got onto the wolf spider below .. the lighting seems to be more appropriate for a bit of boudoir action .. it nearly makes it look cuddly :-D

Gehyra Dubia above had me fooled for a while. I saw its cousin, the Northern Dtellas Gehyra australis when I was in Kakadu and did not notice much of a difference, but a quick look in the reptile book revealed that they each roam in their own parts of Australia .. in particular they like the safety of human constructions - based on my sightings 100% of them run around up-side-down on the ceiling inside toilet blocks.

I think, I wrongfully claimed that the bird sighting had finished for the night(?) Making it back to the establishment, we saw a few Macleay's Honeyeaters curled up for the night - what a sight! They had assumed the disguise of fur balls .. and if it was not because we were told I guess identification would have been troublesome :-D

Fantastic stuff! Nearly 2 hours of spot lighting and we had seen an amazing selection of what moves during night in the far north end of Queensland. We decided to just quietly sit and enjoy the evening and see, what would be attracted by the feeders installed around Kingfisher Park. Before we had to give up and go to bed, we had seen Bush Rats, Fawn-footed Melomys, Northern Brown Bandicoots and a glimpse or two of the clearly distinguishable White-tailed Rat.

Kingfisher Park - Nightly Frog Bonanza

During my time here in Australia I have seen very few frogs! I have seen many more snakes than frogs .. or at least that was the case until we went on our nightly Kingfisher Park adventure. You could argue that constant rain for a few weeks should give optimal conditions for the small jumpy wet-loving creatures .. and it is a argument the frogs seemed to agree with.

Once again it was absolutely fantastic having "local" guides along, knowledge of where to look and what to listen for comes in exceptional handy when on the hunt for some night pictures. It surprised me how much of the shenanigans we found up high in trees and bushes - guess the naming, i.e. xxx Tree frog, should have been a give away ;-) and the logic probably follows an argument like, if everything is wet you can just as well get away from the predator patrolled ground and have a blast in the top of a palm tree.

As is evident from the amount of pictures - and I promise you that there are more - I had quite a few willing(?) models to practice with and I am actually very happy with the outcome of the exercise. I changed the settings of the camera slightly compared to first time I tried this type of semi-macro night shooting down in Kosciuszko National Park.

The procedure is now to force a faster flash sync speed, I use manual mode and a shutter speed somewhere between 1/160s and 1/250s to ensure that I get no motion blur, the D300 should be able to handle as fast as 1/320s, but for still sitting frogs with the 150mm it should not be needed. If you are trying this yourself, then remember to check how fast you can go and still sync your flash, google is your friend .. or give in and read the manual :-D The closer you get the more light the flash will give you! That is seriously good news, since the closer you get the shallower is your dept of field. This means that if you get in close with the flash you have enough light to close down that aperture and get more of the subject into focus. Shooting at around f/4.0 - f/4.5 I could keep an ISO setting of around 640 and still have enough light for that photon hungry sensor, not bad at all. It all sounds like I knew what I was doing, but do not worry it was all a strike of luck! :-D I was just lucky getting a usable combination of settings early on.

I am in no way a frog expert and while taking the photos I was already grueling over the trouble I would have to go through, trying to find a list of names matching what was displayed. Luckily the Kingfisher Park blog has helped me out by listing most of what we saw. With no certainty at all I will suggest that it looks like a Northern Dwarf Tree Frog in photo 3 and 4. First picture could be a Dainty Green Tree Frog and the last two pictures could be the Jungguy Frog. That leaves only the second picture ... Desert Tree Frog maybe? As always, any suggestions are welcome.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Kingfisher Park - Julatten - Birding in Topgear :-)

We arrived at Kingfisher Park birdwathers lodge late! There was probably less than one hour of daylight left, but we still managed to squeeze in quite a bit of excitement the first day!

Kingfisher Park is one of those near mythical bird spotting places, it boasts a bird list rivaled by very few places in Australia and maybe more importantly, many of the birds on that list are absolute stunners! The place is all about nature, it covers about 12 acres of grounds which works as a sanctuary for frogs, mammals, reptiles, birds .. and campers - you will not be the only one carrying a pair of binoculars! Keith and Lindsay Fisher, who runs the place, also have a blog with weekly updates on what has been seen in the area - follow the link here.

Before we stopped the car Gemma had already seen her first new bird - Orange-footed Scrubfowl - and before we had paid the room, I had clocked up 3 new species - Macleay's Honeyeater was all over the place! Leaving the packs in the room we set out for a super fast little tour of the property before night fall. Literally 20 meters from our front door we dived into the darkness of the forest and instantly we had our first ever glimpse of the Buff-breasted Paradise-Kingfisher - What an absolutely fantastic bird! It flies like a flash of super bright colors through the dark forest and you are instantly aware that this is something very special.

It soon got too dark for wandering around alone and we retreated to our rented accommodation. We once again had to leave the tent unused, not only was it still raining, but the campsite had been declared unfit for use .. it resembled a swimming pool. A good solid serve of gnocchi and we were ready for what the night would bring - We had signed up for a Kingfisher Park night spotting tour.

All in all we were 5 night spotters heading out into the night for a bit of excitement. The tropics are so very much alive and it seemed the rain had just enhanced the presence of life around us. First stop was to secure an owl, which was easily done - at one point we had views of not one, but two barn owls sitting up high seemingly considering if it was worth the effort getting out there in the rain for a bit of hunting. A popular topic on the nightly walks around Kingfisher Park is apparently the difference between Masked and Barn Owl. According to our guides all of the owls in the pictures below are the Barn variety.

Unfortunately there was no Sooty Owl around, but we were quite happy to see a little group of Bush Stone-curlews .. if it was not for the puddle of water we were standing in, I think G. would have performed a little dance :-D In an attempt of getting a bloggable picture I actually managed to flood my boots, so you will have to do with another owl.

No more birds were seen that night, but lots of other stuff, so I will return shortly with a frog or two and a few mammals .. to be continued.

Daintree National Park - Full Speed the Rest of the Day

After having done the Jindalba Boardwalk and a bit of driving we decided to head towards Cow Bay. It was not really weather for getting in the water, but judged by the amount of danger signs we were met by at the beach, that is not even something you would consider up north this time of year :-)

There were all the usual warning signs alerting you about the various dangers lurking in the water .. and a few new ones! Up north you have to be particular careful of marine stingers, like the notorious box jellyfish Chironex Fleckeri. As the sign reads, they are present during the summer months, however, if you ask one of the locals about the safety in going swimming, they will argue that the stingers do not know the calender so why take a chance.

Even if we had considered taking a chance with the stingers, we would not have been able to hit the water this rainy afternoon - a good size saltwater crocodile had been seen at the northern end of the beach where a freshwater creek was running into the ocean. Good stuff! A good firm grip on the camera and we headed north to get some pictures of the monster :-)

We never saw the monster of Cow Bay! Maybe we were to busy keeping a good distance to any potential hiding place for a good size reptile? We saw a frog belonging to a very different weight class and a few good birds. Varied Triller male and female below and our first Spectacled Monarch.

A good stroll along the beach and some of the exotic fruits we had stocked up on in Cairns and we were ready for the final part of our Daintree adventure.

As some of you readers might remember, we had invested in a never ending cruise ticket allowing us to take another go on the Daintree River, yours truly have a hard time saying no to free stuff, so we once again found ourselves on the River in a tinny. This time about 13km downstream from Daintree Village.

Crocodiles are very clever animals! They understand that there is no reason to fight the force of a fast flowing river. So instead of using huge amounts of energy swimming against the current, they will just let the river take them downstream and wait for calmer waters before making their way back to a favorite sand bank. This also meant that we had much better views of these ancient creatures during this our third cruise of the Daintree River.

A couple of salties and a green tree snake or two seems to be what people can expect on these tours. Not bad at all, I managed to get a few slightly better pictures during this trip, including the juvenile crock in the very top of this blog post.

All good - the Daintree is a absolutely fantastic spot! It would have been lovely having more time to explore, but in our attempt of covering as much of Far North Queensland as possible we were heading for the Atherton tableland where we were expecting equally great adventures.

As the sun sank in the East we had quite a few good bird sightings. In less than 5 minuets of driving from the ferry, a Blue-winged Kookaburra and a flock of Channel-billed Cuckoos made us stop for a few pictures. Whereas the usual suspects, such as Forest Kingfisher and Yellow-bellied Sunbird already at this stage seemed so very common :-D

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Daintree National Park - Into the Wild ... on Boardwalks :-)

Across the river and into the wild! Daintree National Park is something very special, outside Australia it is probably not as famous as Kakadu National Park or the Great Barrier Reef, but it is one of those places that you will do yourself a great favor by visiting!

Being on a super tight schedule only having 5 days in the far north, we had to take some brutal decisions when it came to decide how we would be spending time. So crossing the river early in the morning we already knew that we would only have 1 day in the rain forest so better get on with it! :-)

For the first time the constant rain was actually helping us out. The rivers north in the park had swelled during the last days of rain and made it four wheel drive only .. Not having shelled out the donuts for a proper river-crossing-capable rent-a-car we were left with a chunk of the Daintree National Park perfectly fit for a 1-2 day visit if you gave it a good go .. so we did! :-)

You can go to all the outlooks and enjoy the vistas and you can sit in your car and in awe see the raging river blocking the road in front, but the most fantastic thing we did during our one day in the Daintree was to dive into all that greenness - the forest up there is just so incredibly full of energy! You can nearly feel how things are growing around you; warm, wet and luxuriant vegetation.

It is quite appropriate to visit a rain forest during rain, you really get that feeling of how potent the forest is around you. It might have hurt our wildlife spotting efforts slightly, for the birds it would make sense to fly somewhere dry! We picked up a few good birds though, including the Wompoo Fruit-Dove in the picture above - what a great bird! I had contemplated a bit on how to setup the camera, all that water made it near impossible to change lenses while walking in the forest. I chose to go for the macro lens; 150mm is obviously a bit shorter than the reach of the Bigma (500mm), but in the dense dark forest you do not need the excessive reach and the f/2.8 of the macro comes in very very handy when under the foliage cover.

Great stuff - really great stuff - so great indeed that I have included a link here to the far north Queensland real estate :-) You definitely get more space for your $ than in Sydney .. it would not be the worst place to retire to one day when I get old .. in a few years - 3 in fact :-D