Friday, February 25, 2011

Bowra Station - Creatures of The Night and Going Home

My last night at Bowra Station and I was out with the macro lens again. As always it was all happening, the creatures of the night very performing yet another fantastic show. To get an idea, while standing doing my cooking I literally had to be careful not to step on frogs that were busy jumping around trying to find a good spot for their nightly serenade performance.

A welcome abstraction from the frogs was a couple of geckos that had decided to call the shearer's quarters home, I believe they are Tree dtellas, Gehyra variegata. Old wooden buildings in the outback seems to host all kinds of exciting wildlife, the huntsman below had saved itself lots of work by catching dinner early.

The strange looking insect above gave me a bit of trouble, but it is probably a Mole Cricket Gryllotalpa brachyptera. Funny little thing that has the looks of a great digger - which it apparently is! - but it can also swim and fly, my first impression was that it looked a little front-heavy for such exercise, but nature will constantly surprise :-)

If you see frogs there will be snakes! - at least that is a saying I have heard plenty of times down here in Australia. I will say straight away that I did not see any snakes at all, I am sure they were there, but I well and truly missed them .. as it often happens with snakes. I had been slightly surprised when I realized that the campsite was directly up against the local swamp and with the amount of frogs around Bowra, and in particular around my tent, I must admit that I had checked the zip in my tent thoroughly before going to sleep. However, none of the other happy campers had seemed to worry so I did not want to be the "scared foreign tourist" and just adapted to the situation by performing the before mentioned extra check of the zip and my little "clean the boots before putting your feet in them"-routine in the morning. This second evening I had practically forgotten of the chance/risk of meeting a snake when a new Australian visitor arrived. After overlooking the campsite it was pretty clear that the shearer's quarters seemed much safer and I soon found myself in a weird situation trying to explain that "nah, you are unlike to see a snake and why should those snakes try to get into your tent?" and "they would not have placed the campsite here if it wasn't safe" .. arguments that I had used the night before convincing myself that it was all good :-D

After another great sleep, I was treated with the most fantastic sunrise. One of the first birds of the morning was a Major Mitchell's Cockatoo circling the campsite while making sure that no one could be in doubt that dawn was breaking. When the morning sun hits an agitated Major Mitchell's Cockatoo with raised crest, it is a great idea to have your camera ready, since this subdued colored bird becomes one of the most beautiful birds in Australia.

I had to leave Bowra, it was tempting to stick around for another morning, but when it comes to driving I very much like to have good time so that I can allow myself to stops along the way if something looks interesting - and after a little fueling trip to Cunnamulla the day before I was pretty sure that I would be seeing predator birds along those morning outback roads.

Indeed I did! Swarms of grasshoppers being exposed on the bitumen were easy pickings and had lured an excellent selection of large birds to land. Approaching slowly in the Magna seemed to be the best way of getting in close, but every move I made was being monitored and it was not appreciated when I rolled the window down and got the lens out.

I had another great encounter on the way home, approximately 50km south of Cunnamulla 2 Brolgas flew across the road - what a fantastic bird the Brolga is! Unfortunately the Magna had reached cruising speed and being alone in the car I felt it was to much of a job to control the car while shooting photos out the window. Luckily it is one of the birds, I have seen and taken photos of before.

I love driving in the outback, it is heaven compared to sitting in a queue in Sydney using 50 min doing the 18km to work knowing that you will have to spend the same amount of time going home later that day. You set the cruise control and keep an eye out for monitors and Brolgas and otherwise it is all easy ... except when trouble strikes!

There I was looking out for those monitors trying to cross the road when suddenly the road quality rapidly deteriorated. I remember sitting there thinking "this piece of road is pretty bad - they should do something about it". A quick glance in the mirror did however reveal that not only was the road bad, the Magna was belching out smoke from the right hand rear tire ... Time for a wheel change! Apart from spending a bit of time giving the Magna some new rubber, the trip back home went extremely well. I managed to make it all the way home to Coogee and all in all the long weekend escape to Bowra only cost me one extra day off from work - what a fantastic way to use a long weekend - Sitting here writing about it I get a very strong feeling of having to do something like that again.

All good! This is the last Bowra post from my 2010 trip, I will try to hurry and get the blog more up to date, however, generating "new material" for the blog has even higher priority.
Out of more than 2000 photos I have included 130 in my Bowra Station Picasa Album, a large part of them have been used in these Bowra Station blog posts, but feel free to follow the link below to see them all.
Bowra Station

Friday, February 18, 2011

Bowra Station - Another Full Day of Excitement

Another big day at Bowra and what a day! :-) After a great sleep I crawled out of the tent as the sun started rising and I was greeted by the local Chestnut-crowned Babbler family dancing around my tent looking for food. My plan for the day was pretty similar to what I had been doing the day before, but benefiting from being significantly more rested and alert I expected another cracker of a day exploring the south-western outback of Queensland.

Our little "Bore-drain-walk"-team was once again ready for a wander along the drainage canal and as the day before I was in for some of the most intense and varied birding I have ever experienced in Australia.

Most of the birds from the day before were still around. Spotted Bowerbird was jumping around in the trees and we once again found the White-winged Fairy-wren in its bush - this time it seemed to be much more relaxed with the attention and I managed to get in close and snap a few photos.

A newcomer this early morning was the Snake-necked Turtle Chelodina longicollis above. Notice how the turtle has hidden its long neck and head by folding it horizontally under the front edge of the carapace, all fresh water turtles in Australia (except for the Pig-nosed Turtle) do this, hence called 'side-necked' turtles. This is different from e.g. the American species that will pull their head straight in when threatened. Another feature of this great little creature is that if you pick it up it will "release a pungent fluid" that will keep you reminded of your wrongdoing for at least a few hours :-D .. it wasn't me ;-)

Birdlife was once again absolutely stunning! Woodswallows, Honeyeaters, Friarbirds - just to get an idea, in less than 50 meter we saw 3 type of parrots; Australian Ringneck, Blue Bonnet and Bourke's Parrot. I was very happy to finally get a photo of Bourke's P., I have seen it once before, but did not manage to get the snap-box pointed in the right direction in time. The Blue Bonnet is another bird I have only seen once before - actually I saw both of these great parrots first time during my trip to Mungo National Park Easter 2009, one of the very first blog posts here on Life of Allan.

No Bowerbird without a bower! After our morning stroll, the caretakers at Bowra had promised to show us the bower of the Spotted Bowerbird. Maybe the Satin Bowerbird makes a "nicer" bower by being so selective in its choice of color, but no doubt that the Spotted Bowerbird had put a lot of hard work into decorating its love nest. Apparently it is not the work of a single male bird, but instead a little gang of boys keeping the bower spotless. All the attention attracted one of the owners and I finally managed to get a decent photo of this species.

Another outback specialty that I have seen before, but not been able to capture well is the Red-backed Kingfisher. But it is all easy around the homestead at Bowra, the birds are used to the attention and will happily strut their feathers. My feeling is that it was significantly harder getting close to birds out in the landscape away from the homestead though, out there humans are rare and the birds much more wary.

However, there were still a few of those "wary" birds that I would not mind seeing and as usual if you are after a specific bird you odds of success are significantly increased by going to its habitat. So the Magna and yours truly once again challenged the red dirt tracks of Bowra.

Midday early summer in outback Australia is not prime birding conditions, but as evident from my earlier dragon post it is near perfect conditions for a bit of reptile spotting. Also I spotted some Mulga Ant nests, Polyrhachis macropa. I have always thought that their easily recognizable rim structure was made to protect the nest from flooding after heavy rain, that is probably right, but there might be even more advantages from this feature - like using the funnel to trap moisture during cold night etc. Read here and see a nest significantly larger than the one in my photo here - The quite large difference in size have actually made me wonder if the ants responsible for the nest in my photos are indeed the same species that is capable of making these enormous craters .. any suggestions are as always welcome.

Midday seems to be prime time for getting your predator in flight photos. The Whistling Kite above was as curious as the Square-tailed Kite had been the day before, but as discussed in that post, you do not always get the same quality even though conditions seems identical. The Whistling Kite photos are fair and easily good enough for the resolution of a blog post, but they lack the sharpness I managed to get the day before. Maybe a tiny variation in the light available - a third of a stop - pushed shutter speed just outside of what I could handhold that day(?)

I do not know if it was from having been in the sun for one and a half day or what, but apparently I managed to direct some of my attention towards the ground. Exploring Australia I have often seen the perfect cylindrical holes that tells you that there are spiders under ground. Once and a while you can be lucky to spot an inhabitant sitting deep down in the shadow of the hole, but so far I have never been able to get good photos before the spider retreated out of flash range. The little cute feller above displayed a very different behavior and I was very happy to record a solid series of shots of the spider sitting high in its tunnel observing the shenanigans above.

Again local knowledge proved priceless! We had managed to convince one of the Bowra caretakers to come along for another trip up to the area of the Hall's Babblers. On the way there we were having a little stop looking for the Chestnut-breasted Quail-thrush when suddenly a little blob in the top of a tree ca. 50 meters away was identified as a Pied Honeyeater :-) I have seen the Pied Honeyeater before in Gluepot SA, but I would never have called the scrubby looking PH in the photo above from 50 meters away as being one of the best Australian honeyeaters around - It would have been even better if it had been the Black H. :-)

Another great find was a Brown Falcon on the nest. The larger predators are very careful where they build their nests and it was clear that the mum falcon did not appreciate the attention. We kept our distance, but I was lucky to at least in a few of the photos catch a glimpse of the juvenile offspring taking a look at the world around them.

Another great day at Bowra, the sun was low when we finally made our way up to the escarpment and we managed to find the Hall's Babblers again. The long drive is a small price to pay for the adventures that the outback will deliver - sitting writing this post I cannot help feeling that it will soon be time to leave again :-)

All good - Probably my longest single blog post ever, so thanks for reading along and you can pat yourself on the back for making it all the way. I will try to squeeze the rest of the trip into a final large Bowra post soon'ish so that I can get onto some of the other stuff that have happened "lately" :-)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Bowra Station - Nightly Frog Bonanza

What a night :-) I had set up camp few meters from the local "swamp" and I did not have to move much to be able to take photos of the inhabitants. As night fell I was surrounded by the chorus of a million frogs and they were all way too busy finding love to care about me running around snapping a few photos.

With the help of the "Frogs of Australia" website and some in-field guidance by Todd Burrows aka WildatHeart78 on Flickr I am pretty certain that the first photo of this blog post is my very first burrowing frog; Ornate Burrowing Frog, Platyplectrum ornatum. Burrowing frogs will as the name suggests burrow themselves underground if conditions above ground somehow are not in their favor, they will reemerge back to the surface when conditions have changed - often after rain. I have heard about this behavior before, and been amazed by the adaptability that makes it possible for these water loving creatures to inhabit some of the driest areas in the world.

Second photo is probably of a Broadpalmed Frog Litoria latopalmata and below here I think it is a Spotted Marsh Frog Limnodynastes tasmaniensis. The Frogs of Australia website has a feature, where you can first select by state and subsequently by region, which leaves you with a list of only 42 species to choose from when zooming in on the Outback and Gulf Country of Queensland - huge help for someone like me new to the wonderful world of identifying frogs :-)

Green Tree Frog Litoria caerulea is easily recognizable (above) and there is a chance that the little feller below is Broad-palmed Frog Litoria latopalmata, but I am not sure about that one. Final frog of the night (last frog photo) could very well be Wrinkled Toadlet Uperoleia rugosa, but as always help and suggestions are very welcome.

When I am sleeping in the bush, I always(!) either keep my boots inside the tent or I make sure I clean them out properly before attaching them to my feet in the morning. Early morning at Bowra I had jackpot :-) A frog had actually decided to spend the night in my boots - guess they were nicely warm and humid - a better fit for a frog than for my poor feet :-D The reason for my little morning ritual is not so much for the frogs, but rather to be sure that spiders and snakes have not taken a liking to my footwear during the night. Notice that the spider in the photo below is carrying spiderlings - probably a Wolf spider.