Saturday, September 25, 2010

Lamington National Park - The Final Days of A Great Holiday

I have raved about the benefits of having a terrace literally reaching into the rain forest, as you can see in the photo above I am not far from the truth, our O'Reilly's accommodation was indeed pretty well placed for someone that likes their trees.

We kept going to the early morning O'Reilly's Bird Tour and we kept being stunned by the trust those small feathered guys showed the bird guides. One of the days we had more of a walk around in the area and managed to spot another (slimmer) Thrush, another Green Catbird and 6 Topknot Pigeon in flight - the Topknots were new to me. :-)

We also kept pushing those tired legs ours, all in all we probably covered 50km over the long weekend, with the brunt of the distance covered over two good long full day hikes into the forest, 22 and 18km.

Those long walks are truly rewarding! If you are there purely for the birds you are probably better off staying close around O'Reilly's, where you can see nearly all the birds of Lamington except maybe for the Rufous Scrub-bird, but for everything else - including the exercise - you do really well by exploring further into the wild. The tiny Praying Mantis in the photo above was so well camouflaged that I nearly deleted the photo first time I went through the set.

Logrunners are great birds, they just scramble around in the very darkest part of the forest floor, often close to (but not on) the path. Therefore they become a quite easy tick, but it is very difficult getting good photos - some artificial lighting increases your success rate significantly though.

The final tick of the weekend was added after the sighting of a Noisy Pitta! I have been after that one for a while, up at Kingfisher Park in far north Queensland we used nearly 45 minutes stalking one calling from the bush, but we never got eyesight of the little colorful gem. This time in Lamington, the loud call once again alerted us and half of our little group managed to see the noise-maker before it took off. Seeing pictures of Pittas in a bird book gives you the impression that they are nearly unnaturally colorful and will be easy picking for any predators, but when they are hiding in the deep darkness of their rain forest habitat they still manages to blend in pretty well.

All good! - This will be the last Lamington post for this time :-) What a great spot - I will definitely try to go there again another time, and having proven (to myself) that it is in range of the Magna, one could even anticipate it happening more frequently in the future :-)

Friday, September 24, 2010

Lamington National Park - Creatures of The Night

Another stunning sunset and we were getting ready for a well deserved rest. A long day in the boots followed by an excellent dinner - there was no doubt that we could fall asleep .. if it had not been for all the excitement going on outside the apartment.

An army of moths and other insects were lured onto the rain forest terrace by the shine from the lights inside the apartment. Having had the macro lens on the camera most of the day using it as a fast semi-tele lens it was only appropriate to finally get it a bit of proper close-up action.

I (nearly) always try to name at least a few of the critters that make it all the way to a blog post - lets just be honest - it is a tough one this time :-) However, as always you realize how fantastic the internet truly is and a bit of looking around reveals that Australian moths apparently have a good solid fan base out there in cyberspace :-) The beautiful white and black spotted creature above could very well be from the Ethmiidae family - Ethmia clytodoxa maybe?

All good! Great finish to an eventful day. I have made a little Picasa album for those of you who consider starting a career in moth identification. Any help naming these critters is very welcome.

Lamington NP 2010 Insects

Tramping Lamington National Park - 22km of Pure Rain forest Excitement

Lamington National Park is sufficiently different to justify the drive, somehow it just manages to be that little bit more exotic than the familiar bush around Sydney - guess it is just the usual grass is always greener syndrome :-) But the selection of mushrooms is quite astonishing, the Antarctic Beech looks like something taken out of Tolkien and the Lyrebirds are Albert's.

After the morning bird tour and a massive breakfast we began the journey of the day - the plan was to give those lazy legs a good solid shock the first day by pushing 22km. I convinced myself that the logic of the exercise was to clock up as many kilometers as possible while fresh and fool(??) the body into thinking that only doing 18km the day after would be like a day off :-) .. I do not know if the rest of the party tried to apply any logic, watching them take off it actually looked like they just loved walking :-D

Lamington is the sort of national park that makes you want to know more about plants. The birds are pretty fantastic, but you do not have to walk much in the forest before you realize that this place is full of plants you have never seen before. Indeed there are quite a few species endemic to Lamington i.e. this is the only(!) spot in the universe where they grow! 5000 Year old Antarctic beech, 100 species of ferns and orchids galore, including the Lamington Underground Orchid, Rhizanthella omissa, one out of only four plants known to mankind to live its entire life underground! - We did not see that one though .. ;-)

Photographically Lamington is a challenge! I had once again opted for the macro which worked formidably well while being in the darkness of the forest. But I can safely say that it is slightly difficult to capture the grand views you get when the path veers close to the edge of the plateau and gives you first class tickets to a screening of NSW down below.

We were walking at good speed, but still managed to see a few good birds. I managed to see a Green Catbird minutes after we started, that was new to me :-). The logrunners were everywhere and we used a few minuets trying to track down an Albert's Lyrebird calling from a hillside covert in thick scrub - those Lyrebirds are hard to see, and after a while we gave up and march on, happily knowing that our defeat meant that I would have to revisit another day :-) During the last few kilometers of the day, we spotted another exciting bird - A Thrush! Lamington is inhabited by both the Bassian Ground Thrush and the Russet-tailed Thrush, two very similar birds. I had a look on the internet where a few sites try to help with the ID of these two species including Graeme Chapman's site and Tim Dolby's, but I am still a bit on the fence about identification, luckily I managed to get a few very respectable photos, so hopefully a few of my readers can chip in with some ID help(?) - Thanks in advance :-)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Lamington National Park - Morning Bird Tour at O'Reilly's

Early morning just after sunrise O'Reilly's arranges a ca. 1 hour bird tour around the estate. It has become a many year old tradition to take guest around meeting some of the feathered inhabitants of the area and as always with animals it simply has to be on every single day to nurture the relationship that has been established between guides and birds. The tour is simply a must for all visitors, it is amazing to see how a few raisins, a bit of cheese(?..!) and years of patience have loosened the usual apprehension birds have towards us humans.

Before the tour really began, we could celebrate the first highlight of the day - a female Regent Bowerbird decided to perch itself in an exceptional photogenic position right outside the O'Reilly's reception - That was a new one for me :-)

After a quick walk around the grassy areas close to the complex and a visit to a Satin Bowerbird bower we dived into the rain forest where a little army of birds were ready to welcome us. I have seen Wonga Pigeon being very undisturbed by the presence of humans before, but Eastern Whipbird is notoriously difficult to get good photos of and here it was jumping around few meters from our feet - "Mister Whippy" was apparently in a great morning mood :-)

As always it is great value being taken around by one of the locals, we were taught how to spot "hidden" hanging bird nests and we saw the hollow tree where the Nightjar was spotted last time - unfortunately it looked like the Nightjar had left the spot - and a flood of tree and plant related knowledge was flowing freely after a couple of inquisitive horticultural questions were asked by a certain tree loving WA gentleman that had joined the birding excursion.

Great stuff and a fantastic opportunity of getting some excellent close-ups of some great birds. Anticipating the darkness of the early morning rain forest I had luckily chosen the fast macro (Sigma 150mm f/2.8) and could continue shooting it quite wide open and with assistance from the on-board flash, as I had done up in far north Queensland. In manual mode with an aperture of f/4.0 and a shutter speed of 1/160s I could control exposure by flash output compensation alone.

Great stuff! I am pretty happy about some of the Eastern Yellow Robin shots - it was a particular photogenic participant. The Yellow-throated Scrubwren is a bird that I do not see everyday, so nice with a close encounter. A Lewin's Honeyeater came along for the shenanigans, but there was no doubt that it was the bowerbirds that were stars of the morning - Great to finally see a Regent Bowerbird - we only saw females during the morning walk, but we managed to spot a male later during the day down at our "rain forest"-terrace - and a male Satin Bowerbird is always a treat.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Lamington National Park - Evening Photography From The Terrace

Being restricted to the terrace while the sun was setting behind the mountains was not to bad at all. Having all the camera gear there and good time I managed to experiment a bit.

I am always impressed by the performance of the Autostitch Panrama Tool that I link to in the "Software you can't live without .. and that is free" down to the right of this site. It is really free and it just works incredible well. Set your camera to aperture priority and choose something like f/13 for landscape, see what shutter speed the camera gives you in the center of your wanted panorama. Then set the camera to manual control and dial in f/13 and the shutter speed your camera gave you before. It might sound slightly complicated, but by locking in the same exposure for all the pictures you avoid changes in brightness across the final panorama. The program works on jpg files and handles everything itself - the only thing you have to adjust is what quality you want. Choose "Edit" and "Options" and then I prefer to use the "Scale (%)" setting at either 50 or 100% - but if there are a lot of pictures being stitched and your computer is memory weak, then 25 and even 10% will do just fine.

HDR is equally simple and just as exciting as making panoramas. At the moment I do not have a link to a free HDR software, I will see what can be done about that. Quite simply you take a set of photos of the same scene at different exposures (RAW images preferred). The software will then combine all the information of the photos and selectively let the photo with the most information in a certain region be the main contributor to that part of the final photo. In the photo above the most overexposed photo is probably the only one that was able to catch the details and greenness of the bush in the lower part, whereas only the most underexposed photo would have had the colors of the bright sky. It might all sound very complicated, but as for the panorama tool, it is super easy using the software and if you manage to hold the camera fairly still while shooting your photos, the software will take care of the rest.

Lamington National Park - Road Trip Into Queensland

We got an offer that we simply could not reject - a long weekend in Lamington National Park at O'Reilly's; good food, fantastic walks, great birds and exceptional company - yes, I really like my tent, the cous-cous camping dinners and even the solitude, but once and a while it is nice to be spoiled and "yes" cous-cous is great for camping, but to be honest my admiration of this tight packing carbohydrate is not so much due to its gourmet qualities - I would survive a weekend without! ;-)

Lamington National Park is located just north of the Queensland-New South Wales border. Knowing that we would have the luxury of running water et al. all of the weekend, it seemed appropriate to rough it a bit getting there - Driving the Magna is obviously always a joy, but 12 hours seems to be the point where even a good thing becomes slightly tiresome. To optimize our time up north, we left Sydney Wednesday afternoon straight after work and by bringing the tent and a bit of gear, we managing to bite the trip into two. There is a good selection of campsites close to the highway, so we pushed on until around 9pm, used about 30 min to get to a campsite and managed to clock up a healthy 8 hours of sleep before we hit the road again.

After all that driving I cannot help getting a bit jittery, luckily check-in at O'Reilly's went pretty smoothly and my companion agreed upon a quick 30 min dash into the rain forest. It was great using the legs a bit after the long drive and it did not take long before we had seen Yellow-throated Scrubwren and zoomed in on a little Logrunner family doing some excavation on the forest floor. Luckily I had brought the charger for the camera this time, because those rain forest are indeed very dark and can take a lot of flash. It was getting proper dark and we retreated to what should prove to be one of the best wildlife spotting locations of the weekend - the terrace of our rented apartment.

Pademelons in the field down below - at least until the arrival of a hungry looking dingo - bird darting around in the rain forest trees, that had conveniently been places centimeters away from the boundary of the terrace. As night fell the rest of our weekend companions arrived, just in time to see the influx of the nightly creatures of the forest - lured in by the light, an army of the most fantastic insects arrived and I was very happy, that I had brought the macro lens. The weekend had hardly started and it was already looking exceptionally exciting :-)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Sydney Olympic Park - Above And Below The Surface

Back in Sydney and we celebrated by going for a wander in Sydney Olympic Park with the boys - keen binocular slinging long time bloggers Iain and Jarrod. What a lovely way to spend a Sunday, we managed to clock up a good amount of kilometers while spotting wildlife, snapping photos and solving most of the troubles of the world.

Sydney Olympic Park always delivers - maybe not anything breathtakingly exotic - it is still in Sydney after all :-) but a good selection of fish, birds and insects, what more can you hope for? Also, as I argued in the latest Perth post, wildlife in parks is very photogenic, if you are after good wildlife close-up photos you are better off going to a busy park than into the wild.

Good stuff! Excellent company and a great day out, back to the car at the sneaky free car park at Triangular Pond - No Lewin's Rail this time around, but only little G. needed that one, so who cares? ;-)
Those of you who are still wondering what creature I caught in the first photo can see a half-"full body shot" of this underwater Juggernaut patrolling the waters of Sydney Olympic Park - I will suggest using tight tight speedos if you should want to go for a swim :-D