Sunday, December 4, 2011

Gundabooka National Park - Road Trip with Danish Visitors - Part 2

Next stop was Gundabooka National Park, one of my absolute favorite national parks in NSW. Back in 2009 I visited a very dry Gundabooka with the Amoores and was immensely impressed; 1,2,3,4. In 2010 I had planned to visit again during my drive north to Bowra station, but Gundabooka was flooded by torrential rain and I could not enter! This time around I had heard that the Bourke region had had a fair amount of rain and I was looking forward to see a much greener desert. Gundabooka is far enough inland to have the feel of proper outback and still it is reachable from Sydney within a good solid day of driving, or as we did, easily reached from Capertee Valley with some of the day to spare. The Australian outback did indeed given us a very rare display of lush green colors and a feel of life that I have never seen as strong before. Despite of us doing our journey midday we managed to see lots of wildlife along the road, indeed it got a bit of stressful with hordes of goats being attracted to the green grass growing along the road and not showing great respect to the traffic rules. I ended up sitting with a food ready on the break and no time to see what type of woodswallows it was darting around up above the treetops. Soon after leaving the bitumen we got ourselves the first great nature sighting - A Varanus Gouldii walked across the road in front of us, with as little respect for traffic laws as the goats had displayed. What a great spot! Great to show my Danish companions a good size proper reptile and good for me to see a monitor that was not a Varanus Various. Red dust all over, some scrubby mulga and mulga ants - Dry Tank camping ground always delivers :-) I had been very careful in keeping this trip pretty luxurious, I had even chosen a campsite sporting a bush toilet, since I was not aware of how accustomed my companions were to camping life. Clearly my efforts were recognized and appreciated ... The cheers would hardly stop after we realized how exceptional good an insect (and insect eating creatures) selection there was to find in the little shed, one of us was so concerned about the well being of the inhabitants that he straight away proclaimed that he would rather die than use the little room ... what a noble way of trying to avoid stressing those small insects! :-) - I am sure the Gehyra variegata Tree Dtella below appreciated the privacy.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Capertee Valley - Road Trip with Danish Visitors - Part 1

A visit by a couple of good lads from back home is always an excellent excuse for an excursion. These lads in particular being keen campers and having a a healthy interest in nature, there was no doubt that we needed to go bush. During their first week in Sydney, I kept working and they could potter around at the beach, loose the first layer of Danish winter skin and cover most of what city has to offer. At the beginning of the second week, we found ourselves in the roaring Magna with that long, shiny, masculine bonnet pointing in the direction of the outback. Capertee Valley was once again the perfect pit-stop for a straight-from-work Sydney departure. Apart from the months of darkest winter Capertee can easily be reached before night fall as long as you get out of Sydney in decent time - and it is advisable, since the drive into the valley is winding, narrow, dark and teeming with wildlife. We arrived in good time, despite of the obligatory bumper to bumper driving across the Blue Mountains - believe it or not, they have been fixing that road all of the years I have been living in Australia - 6 that is. Capertee Valley was firing on all cylinders though, as the sun sets in the west the shadows move longer and the cliff wall comes alive in orange, red and brown. An excellent spot for three hungry Danes to consume some camping tucker. Capertee Valley always delivers on the wildlife front, having used most of the afternoon getting sorted with the tents, dinner and wandering around town, we very left with the (smaller?) creatures of the night. There was a superior selection of insects about and with a fast macro lens, a fully charged flash and someone to help holding the spotlight, I at least had heaps of fun. Highlight of the night happened while we were gathered around the camping table. There we were telling each other the usual good(!) old stories and sorting out all the trouble of the world, when suddenly in the moon light (supported by the faint light from a couple of head torches) a shadow dropped from the roof above us - it was one of the largest huntsman spiders I have ever seen - I think it took first place for both of my friends :-) The huntsman seemed surprised about the attention it received. After having reached the ground it decided to sit still and we managed to get a few photos before we left it to go to bed. I am sure those tent zips where checked more than once that night.
The humidity and light at a campsite bathroom creates an absolute tip top hotspot for a bit of insect photography. The entire food chain is represented from the smallest tiniest flying fluff to larger fluff eating creations ... I am absolutely aware that this is a pretty poor naming efforts, my only defense is that no matter how much I love my insect book, I could not justify to include it in my only 23 kg of luggage when I left Australia - I am sure that it will make it next time around though. Great sleeping in the bush! .. and great waking up there as well, some porridge in the morning and a coffee while the sun rises, pure joy! We still needed quite a few hours of of driving before we would arrive at our furthest away destination - Gundabooka National Park. Early morning at the campsite bathroom we spotted another top predator insect - one of those eating the ones that eat the flying fluff - a praying mantis. What more can you hope for? :-)

Blogging Again :-)

Finally, I feel that I have time for blogging again. Quite a few things have happened over the last half year or so, and I have found myself in a situation of having fantastic exciting things happening all around me and no time to write about them. Luckily, I have managed to take photos of most of the shenanigans and with a Danish winter approaching there will be many dark hours to kill in front of the little computer. Since my last post I have finished my job in Sydney, used 2 months traveling around Australia and moved to Denmark, where I now live and work. Much of my Danish life does, luckily enough, not qualify for the blog, hence I will have more time writing about those amazing two months of exploring Australia. I took close to 15000 photos (14418 to be exact), drove just over 20000 km and had more gnocchi dinners than I will admit. I had snow on the tent on my first night in the Blue Mountains and had a swarm of mosquitoes attaching a month later in Kakadu National Park. I saw the whitest beaches of Australia, the reddest dirt WA has to offer, the darkest green Queensland rainforest and a sky so blue that I sometimes still wonder how I could leave :-) All good, I will get cranking and get some blog posts flying. There will be a few posts before I get to tell about my big trip, hopefully I will be up to date soon. Happy reading and thanks for tuning in - Cheers Allan

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Long Reef - Wandering Tattler Twitch

Earlier in the year I was out twitching the Wandering Tattler at Long Reef - as was the rest of Sydney. Long Reef is prime wader and Mark Young habitat, if you have not yet seen Mark's blog about the life around Long Reef, then press here or follow the link in the "My Blog List" to the right.

I had once again teamed up with Jarrod, who is normally an excellent early starter, but this Saturday we managed to truly mess up when we decided to begin our journey midday - making your way to the northern beaches through Sydney traffic a Sunday midday is less fun than filing your tax return and it takes longer time!

Well, after some very slow driving we finally arrived and eagerly pushed up the hill to overlook the reef. For some reason it felt like the entire world had decided to make this day a struggle for us - in reality all our troubles were probably self-inflicted due to exceptional bad planning - not only was it high tide and the reef flooded, just as we reached the top of the hill it started raining cats and dogs! In combination with the howling winds from the east, long reef did in no way look like a place to to spend a Sunday afternoon and attempting to find a dark Wandering Tattler in these conditions seemed a little foolish.

Somehow we had to justify a nearly 3 hours drive through Sydney traffic and we went down to inspect the tiny area of the reef that was still accessible. A few common birds where scattered around on the sand and rocks, but after a quick inspection we got alerted to the presence of a few exciting blue creatures caught in the shallow waters surrounding the reef.

A first for me was the incredible beautiful Glaucus atlanticus, aka blue sea slug. Not a large creature, but one of the prettiest water living characters I have seen during my time in Australia.

We saw quite a good number of these small blue gems of the ocean and a fearless Jarrod even assisted a couple of the stranded ones in making their way back to deeper water. Indeed us humans should do what we can to help this blue nudibranch, since its main food source is Blue Bottle, Physalia utriculus, and blue button, Porpita porpita - see the photos below. Both of these blue stingers are common around Sydney and the sting of the blue bottle in particular is an unpleasant experience that many Sydneysiders will have to endure when swimming in the sea on summer days with a easterly blowing. When the Glaucus atlanticus eats its victims it is capably of storing the most poisonous parts of its food and up concentrate the venom in the very tip of its "fingers". The means that the Glaucus atlanticus can deliver an even more vicious sting than the stingers it feeds on .. I am not sure Jarrod knew that when he volunteered to model in the photo above :-D

Feeling our luck changing after the success with the Glaucus atlanticus we once again started considering if there was indeed a chance of seeing the Wandering Tattler – the reason we drove to Long Reef in the first place. If the bird was still at the reef it would clearly have searched refuge at the still exposed rocky section now separated from the mainland by a ca. 100 meters flooded area … well that was there the bird was, then that was where we had to go to see it!

Luck follows the crazy – Danish saying “held følger de tossede” – Arriving at the rocky outcrop there was at first nothing indicating that we would be able to see or even less likely get decent pictures of the Wandering Tattler, weather had worsened, it had started raining again, that does not matter much when you are soaking wet up till above your knees, but the exposed reef was also significantly more windy than it had been ashore and I had nearly given up, when a tattler looking bird suddently took off from a sheltered part of the reef where we would have had no chance to see it if I had decided to stay.

It looped up and around the southern end of the reef and for a couple of seconds it looked like it was aiming at landing at our feet, just towards the end of its approach it seemed to suddenly realize that a couple of humans had entered its habitat and it broke off the approach and landed on a rock few meters away – There was our Wandering Tattler slightly confused a few meters in front of us, “wandering” up and down the rock as a model on the red carpet – Luck did indeed follow the ones with wet feet this Sunday afternoon at Long Reef.

All good, we got much more out of this rainy Sunday afternoon than we deserved and a new bird significantly adds to the joy of driving home through Sunday afternoon Sydney traffic.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Botany Bay National Park - Quails, Spider Wasp and Red Knot Twitching

One of the spots around Sydney that I return to over and over again is Botany Bay National Park – the southern part between Boat Harbour and Kurnell in particular. Earlier in the year I managed to get down there a couple of weekends in a row, firstly because I truly enjoy the walk along the coast and find the area down there slightly more exotic and less crowded than the coastal scrub around Coogee. If that was not enough, then with the presence of a Red Knot at Boat Harbour I was easily convinced.

I saw my first Brown Quail in Botany Bay National Park, and once again I had the joy of getting up close and friendly with a few BQs. You need luck to get in close, since you often do not realize the presence of these small fluff balls until they break cover in front of you and take off with the sound, and speed, of a gun salute .. leaving you behind wondering which type of quail you had just missed seeing.

On the way out from Boat harbour, I had seen something take off in front of me when I was close to the lighthouse, so on my way back I slowed down and took a careful look down the path – there was a little Brown Quail family pottering around on the path slowly making their way towards me. How easy was that, I hid behind a bend and even had time to change lens back to the Bigma (I had been using the macro for the photos of the Jewel Spider above). As they approached I could stand still and get excellent close-ups without moving, only as I tried to engage the flash it dawned on the quails that they were not alone, and they left the path and disappeared into the scrub.

A first for me during these Botany Bay trips was one of the fiercest battles I have ever seen in nature. I have heard about how spider wasps, Pompilidae, attack spiders and lay their egg inside them, but seeing it in reality was something that I never expected to witness. On one hand it is a terribly vicious way for the spider to die, on the other hand, it can be argued that the spider does not exactly run an insect friendly business and that it is only fair the spider wasp fights back taking out a few of the otherwise superior predators living off its defenseless relatives.

Another first was the sighting of a Red Knot. I had Jarrod along for the Knot spotting - with waders in non-breeding plumage you can always use an extra pair of eyes. It ended up being as difficult as expected and at some stage we were actually a bit afraid that we would not manage to locate this visitor to the reef. Similar to a “Where's Wally” puzzle, we had bee looking for the usual red-and-white shirt and the distinct facial features of mister Red Knot, just to realize that colors were all wrong – the bird was indeed sporting the most boringly possible non-breading outfit ever seen, and the sneaky bird had decided to take a position with its beak hidden underneath a wing, just to make the game even more challenging.

Well, we got our bird in the end, it is actually quite nice when it takes a bit of effort and the additional quail and spider wasp action were nice bonuses – not to mention that I managed to get out and about in yet another weekend.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Christmas in Denmark - A Snap Freeze Experience

As always I had my usual summer escape to the cold end of Europa over Christmas - hereby once again highlighting the severe delay this very blog suffers from. In Denmark we statistically get ca. one white Christmas per 10 years i.e. the ground actually being snow covered on the 24th of December. A usual hobby of ours is to follow the various meteorologists publishing the probability of getting a white Christmas all the way through December - 2010 was different, very early on the bookmakers could stop taking bids, everyone knew it was going to be a very very cold white 2010 X-mas.

Danish winters teach you some good lessons in life, a couple worth highlighting here are: Eat well - it helps keeping you cozy and warm, and the other one is to get your lazy carcass outside every time there is just a hint of sunshine, you never know when the sun will be shining again. I have had heaps of joy following both of these rules of life! ;-)

As hinted above, this years winter was indeed something special. A delta T of -50 hits hard when you have slowly started adapting to the Australian temperature of life. A day after having been exposed to a leisurely 35°C in Sydney, I found myself in a very different habitat sporting a temperatures down to -17°C, I managed to capture the thermometer in the car in previously unseen territory of -15°C, you will have to trust me on the additional 2 degrees of frost.

A cold crisp Danish winter day is actually surprisingly good for a solid walk, as long as you keep yourself moving and dress wisely it is pure joy. The wise choice of cloth should include a "system" that keeps your fingers warm and still allow you to press that trigger ... I need to upgrade my equipment in that regard, holding 3 kilo of ice cold metal will make your fingers numb instantly when the mercury is in the minus two digits range.

I managed to squeeze in a bit of ice birding during a visit to a historically early frozen Limfjorden - normally this stretch of inland water in the north of Jutland does rarely freeze solid and of the few times this have happened before in my lifetime, I do not recall it ever happening this early in the year.

Birding during such conditions you have to be careful not to stress the birds, the last thing you want to happen is the birds having to burn precious energy fleeing their position because you pushed in to close trying to get a better shot. They are already stressed by suddenly having lost their natural defense against the usual 4 legged predators - foxes in particular - having access to their now landlocked roosting areas away from the coast.

A snow dressed Danish winter landscape, with high blue sky and crisp air is a pretty beautiful sight - quite lucky, since resent events means that I will probably soon have to spend a bit more time under such conditions.