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.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Royal National Park

Things have been incredible busy around here during the last few months and once again I have have had a hard time balancing the act of getting out there exploring and the task of getting it all written down and documented. Hopefully this blog post will be the first of a quick series of postings that will bring me nearly up to date ;-) One can only hope.

Some time back I did a few walks with the Amoores in the Royal National Park, here is a little sum up of the highlights. The Australian summer do not invite for big excursions into the wilderness – you simply cannot carry the water needed for big walks, and relying on picking water up along the way is risky business – those small creeks have a nasty tendency of going dry when exposed to hot Australian summer weather.

A national park pass is a great idea, particular if you are doing short one day trips out of Sydney, since all of the parks around the metropolitan area is covered by the little sticker – in particular The Royal National Park down south of Sydney, aka “The Royal”.

The coastal national parks close to Sydney all delivers a great combination of the raw power of the sea mixed with spectacular sandstone cliffs, windblown heath and pockets of bushland. The mix in landscape ensures suitable habitats for a broad variety of wildlife. The Royal National Park is the biggest and arguably the most impressive of them all - not much beats a wander along the roaring sea, seeing how the waves pounds the sandstone cliffs, while White-bellied Sea-Eagles soars above :-)

These trips to the Royal National Park were indeed more for the joy of getting out rather than us targeting specific birds or other wildlife and as always, when you get out of your hobbit hole things starts happening around you and it is not necessarily what you expected to find.

The coastal heath delivered the usual gang of birds. You seriously have to admire how the New Holland Honeyeaters have conquered every single stretch of scrubby coastal heath on the NSW east coast, so much indeed that I have finally stopped taking those NHH photo, where a daring individual sits high, exposed above the scrub, taking looks at those camera slinging travelers passing through his windblown habitat. Instead I concentrated on the fantastic explosion of color, that was added to the otherwise dull scrubby green heath by a larger than normal presence of wildflowers.

I have tried to avoid it for years when it comes to wildflowers, but as with the birds and the other stuff I take photos of it all becomes more interesting when you start naming it. Pretty photos are all good, but if you can add names, then you also get the stories and the insight. So here we go, with great help from the all knowing internet I am willing to risk it and name the wonderfully red and white colored beauty above as Native Fuschia or Fuschia Heath, Epacris longiflora. Easy - even with next to no Latin skills it makes sense to name these elongated flowers "longiflora" i.e. long flowers.
The Rush Fringe Lily, Thysanotus juncifolius, below was actually the reason why I started looking for wildflower names - it is a stunningly beautiful flower and I simply felt that I needed to put the effort in to at least name this little gem. Next time I promise that I will bring the macro lens for some more appropriate close ups. The flower only last one day, but there are probably a couple of neighbors slightly out of sync, if you need more than 24 hours to return.

The strange looking "flower" below is from the Drumsticks & Conesticks family, Proteaceae. Spending some time online I have reached the conclusion that this one is the Narrow-leaf Drumsticks, Isopogon anethifolius.

A tip from a guide book steered us up along a little fresh water creek, through some scrubby bush and suddenly we were at our own private little waterhole, with waterfall, shade and some very confident and photogenic Water Dragons, Physignathus lesueurii.

The level of confidence should be pretty clear from the photo below - if food is on the other side and the way has been blocked by a shoe I will just have to climb the shoe .. and the fact that the shoe was well and truly attached to the leg of a human, that did not try to sit particular still, was of less concern :-) Not even the pregnant member of our little bushwalking gang showed that much lust for food.

A final treat, was the spotting of yet another wildlife species lured in by the power of food. While sitting eating on the sloping rocks bordering the waterhole tiny amounts of food must have dropped into the water, because suddenly a crayfish, Euastacus, emerged from the deep, searching for a meal. It was so eager indeed that strategic placement of crumbs in hard to reach places, nearly lured it out of the water.

Great stuff, once again the Royal delivered! These trips are very much a testimony to the fact that if you get out, you might not always see what you expect, but you will see something exciting.