Saturday, April 22, 2017

Easter in the outback

Parkes Radio Telescope

The Easter long weekend is a rare opportunity to get a bit further afield. This year we actually did something and headed west. We based ourselves in Parkes for a couple of nights which is just about where country New South Wales gives way to the outback. Parkes is famous for two things. A radio telescope and an annual Elvis festival when tens of thousands of Elvises bizarrely descend upon the place. The radio telescope is pretty good actually and secured a place in history by receiving the first pictures of man walking on the moon. Most of the time it just listens to the universe in the hope that the little green men will call.

Minor outback road

A few hours further west from Parkes are the legendary Nombinnie National Park and Round Hill Nature Reserve. These two areas are probably the closest bits of mallee country to Sydney and are allegedly full of mallee specialty birds. As we entered the red dust I had high hopes of adding significant numbers to the list. Stepping out of the car at Nombinnie I immediately ticked Gilbert's Whistler #485. And that was that!

Major outback road

There were a load of nice inland species like White-browed Babbler, Chestnut Quail-thrush, Cockatiels and Splendid Fairy-wren but no other mallee birds and no more ticks. It was actually easier to spot what had been around rather than what was actually there.

Emu

Sitting kangaroo 

There's not much shade in the mallee and so after a pretty hot day we headed back to Parkes. On the way we had an encounter with a very angry Eastern Brown Snake. Unlike the little Blue Mountains Crowned Snake the big Eastern Brown is the second most venomous land-based snake in the world and is very much in the deadly category. This one was particularly annoyed because I'd just run over his tail. Snakes sometimes head on to roads after dark because the surface is still warm and so this unfortunate individual was lying right across the road like a police stinger in the pitch black. We went back to check on it and were met with a very aggressive response. Sadly it likely wouldn't have survived and so I thought it a bit disrespectful to take a picture. On the way back to Sydney we did see another very nice reptile crossing the road though and so I jumped out and took it's picture instead.

Snake-necked Turtle
   

Double palindrome

View from Shipley Plateau, Blackheath

The pleasant weather has remained over the past few weeks and so we've been able to escape Sydney on a couple of occasions. It's always good to make the short trip up into the Blue Mountains and a recent visit to my in-laws turned up a couple of nice critters. There are often frogs of various sorts around the place and so the garden rock pools are always worth a look after rain.

Striped Marsh Frog

This time, however, the frogs were not alone and a little Blue Mountains Crowned Snake had fallen into one of the pools. Although they are venomous, their tiny fangs are too small to bite you and so, depite being pretty feisty characters, they are fairly harmless. This one got a bit animated but in the end I managed to rescue it with a shovel and set it on it's way.

Blue Mountains Crowned Snake aka Mustard-bellied Snake

It's also great to get a double palindrome on the car's odometer and trip clock. You have to entertain yourself somehow during the daily rush hour commute!

   

Sunday, March 26, 2017

You win some...

... You lose some. A few weeks back I was all set for a deja-vu themed post about a pratincole at Hexham Swamp. Amazingly another one turned up in the same spot as the Australian Pratincole that was successfully ticked at the back end of last year. This time it was the even more unusual Oriental Pratincole hanging around in exactly the same small patch of samphire and so once again I headed north. Unfortunately it started to rain heavily the day before I got there and, by the time I managed to reach the swamp, the area favoured by the bird was under water. It had been seen the morning before just as the rain arrived but has not been sighted since. Close.

Eastlake Golf Course

Since then the rain has continued almost non-stop filling the sea with effluent and making any outdoor activity impossible. Saying that, I have had some success on the birding front in that time. An Oriental Cuckoo #484 appeared on the Eastlake Golf  Course. With the next big storm imminent I wasn't going to make that mistake twice and so I got out of the office early and headed straight to the golf course. A summer migrant to the far north of Australia from northern Eurasia, it's apparently a pretty secretive bird and difficult to see even up there where it belongs. One of my fellow twitchers had dipped twice when specifically looking for it up north. But here it was, sitting on the 4th tee marker and not too bothered about anything.

Oriental Cuckoo

The rain finally stopped today and so we got out of the house at last and popped down to the coast for a little stroll. The whales aren't due for another couple of months but I did get a good close view of a Peregrine Falcon cruising along the cliff-tops. Let's hope that this is the end of the miserable weather and the start of a pleasant autumn. 

Australian Raven
   

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Random encounters and the year's first twitch

I've always got my camera with me just in case I come across something interesting and so here are a couple of the critters that I've stumbled across in the last couple of weeks...

Lace Monitor

This Lace Monitor was hanging out in a picnic ground at Bobbin Head when some little kids chased it across the grass. As goannas do, it rushed up the nearest tree. After a while when the danger had passed it decided to settle down for a bit of a snooze and to catch some sun.

Bottlebrush Sawfly

The sawfly is related to wasps and things but doesn't have a sting so they're alright in my book. They're called sawflies because the female uses a saw-like egg-laying tube to cut a slit into the stem of a plant to lay her eggs inside. This one is a Bottlebrush Sawfly and lays it's eggs in the native bottlebrushes of which there are several in my in-laws' garden. 

Ringtail Possum

This Ringtail Possum has been hanging out in the back yard for a few weeks now. We surprised him on the back fence when we got home the other night.

St. Andrew's Cross Spider

Not all spiders are horrendous. Only most of them. The St. Andrew's Cross Spider is one of the prettier orb weaving spiders and is a common sight round Sydney. They're so called because of their web design which often includes a big white diagonal cross at it's centre.

Grey and drizzly Shoalhaven Heads

The first twitch of the year has also been successfully completed! The trip took me south of Sydney to the Shoalhaven Heads where I've picked up a load of vagrants in the past. Either this is one tremendous hotspot for rarities or it's a tremendous hotspot for rarity spotters. Either way, a young Inland Dotterel #483 which is normally found in the dry desert and gibber plains of the interior was reported down there and so I was into the car and heading south once again. Thankfully it was the only cool and overcast day we've had this year and so it wasn't too much of an ordeal to be walking about on the beach looking for the bird. It was tracked down without too much difficulty hanging out with the Golden Plovers just where it was supposed to be. That saves me a bunch of time in the future trekking about in a desert!

Inland Dotterel 
   

Beating the heat

It's still impressively warm here at the moment and so last weekend we got down to Clovelly and, despite the warnings of stingers in the water, we piled in for a snorkel. The water was warm and clear at last and no sign of the bluebottles either.

 Clovelly's friendly Blue Groper

Common Stingaree 

Tarwhine (with Bream and Trevally)

Clovelly Bay is the territory of a lovely big Blue Groper who is a lot more friendly than his neighbours round the corner in Gordons Bay. As soon as you get down under the water he rushes over to see you and he actually seems to enjoy human contact and is even happy to be stroked. At one stage I was down trying to photograph a bream when I felt a nudge in my side. Mr Groper wasn't happy that I was ignoring him and had swum over to give me a friendly biff!

White Ear Parma 

White Ear Parma (juv.) with it's fluorescent blue markings

Bream (and who's that coming to say hello?!) 
   

Fishing on the Hawkesbury

Hawkesbury River

We've not been fishing for a little while so the other weekend we headed just north of Sydney to Brooklyn on the Hawkesbury River. We decided it was time to hire a small boat and head out into deeper water in search of some bigger fish. Saying that, we still just had our little kid's rods, the usual frozen prawns from the supermarket and our simple bream rigs. I think that by now, however, we can agree that 'bream rig' is a bit of a misnomer and in fact it's a super all-purpose set-up that can catch just about anything. Anyway it's a load of fun on light gear and on this occasion we had 9 different species in a couple of hours fishing.

 Port Jackson Shark

After anchoring the boat it didn't take too long at all to hook up to our first fish. You never know what's going to emerge from the deep round here and first up this time was a small Port Jackson Shark. This was followed by a couple more sharks, several Tailor, Flathead, Whiting, Bream, Tarwhine, Scad, Estuary Catfish and finally, and certainly the heaviest fish of the day, was Emily's pufferfish. The pufferfish has tremendously strong teeth which form a beak that you certainly don't want to become acquainted with your fingers. The one that Emily caught actually bit through the metal fishing hook!

Tailor

Estuary Catfish

Anyone for fugu?

This pufferfish is a Lagocephalus sp. which is very toxic and is eaten over in Japan as the (in)famous fugu. After several years training, the fugu chef can prepare the fish such that only a small trace of the poison is left which is enough to give the diner a bit of a buzz. If the fish is not prepared correctly the diner will die. Apparently part of the chefs' final exam entails preparing the fish and eating it themselves!

   

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Hot

The new year has kicked off with a small heatwave. 40ÂșC this morning at 9am! This makes it thoroughly unpleasant to be doing anything. Even swimming is dodgy as evidenced by one of the lads at work being taken out by a swarm of bluebottles in Gordons Bay on Monday. The school holidays means you can't find a free grain of sand down at the beach anyway.

Red Wattlebird

Seems it's best to just sit it out and wait for things to ease off. At least Emily's tomatoes are doing very well outside the back door in the current conditions. No need for a greenhouse here!

Tomato

I've also discovered my new favourite bee. The native Blue-banded Bee which is not only a pretty bee but, according to Wikipedia, is apparently an exponent of 'buzz pollination' which is very good for agriculture in Australia. As well as lavender it especially likes the tomato flowers too. 

 Blue-banded Bee
  

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas everybody and all the best for the coming year!

Bream - Clovelly

As usual it's hot and sticky here and feels nothing like Christmas. But then again, you can't really go for a swim in the sea in the middle of December back home and so the topsy-turvy Australian festive season does have the odd perk.

Red Morwong - Clovelly

Blue Groper - Gordons Bay 

We've started getting back into the ocean to escape the heat over the last couple of weeks but unfortunately the water hasn't been too clear yet. No matter, plenty more opportunity to get some better pictures in the coming months.

Mado - Gordons Bay
   

Saturday, December 10, 2016

New Zealand wedding number two

Snow-capped Mount Egmont/Taranaki

The second wedding was up on the North Island in New Plymouth which lies at the foot of the spectacular Mount Egmont or Mount Taranaki depending upon how politically correct you want to be.

 Native forest

Apparently the volcano is not extinct

We only had time for a long weekend but I managed to take myself off into the native forest on the lower slopes of the volcano as well as attending the cricket with my father-in-law at the marvellous Pukekura Park.

The quirky Pukekura Park

Bird-watching was again useless but I did manage to get Little Black Shag NZ#71 at the cricket and Emily spotted a group of Wild Turkeys NZ#72 as we sped back up the road to Auckland.

 Christmas turkey
  

New Zealand wedding number one

Mischievous Kea

We've been over to New Zealand twice in the last month. Emily has a long list of cousins of marrying age and so it's always nice to get over there for a good wedding now and again.

Banks Peninsula

Holiday house

Wedding number one was down on the South Island on Banks Peninsula next to Christchurch. Emily and I also took the opportunity to spend a few days on the west coast again for a bit of kayaking and kiwi hunting. One can indulge in both of those pastimes at the township of Okarito. Kayaking is great fun on the lagoon by day and then, after dark, you head out into the forest with a guide, two-way radios, electronic tracking equipment and red torches to find New Zealand's rarest kiwi - the Okarito Brown Kiwi. The tour boasts a 95% success rate but sadly we were the 1-in-20. It was still great entertainment though. It's pitch black and thick undergrowth and so you only see the birds if they actually step out onto the path right in front of you. You have to be silently waiting at that precise point of the track and so it's all about tracking their movement and predicting where they're going to emerge. We had one bird snuffling only a few metres in front of us and another calling loudly close by but neither made that final step into the open.

 Rare west coast sunshine at Jackson Bay

My favourite west coast native - Weka

Back over on Banks Peninsula we put our fishing gear to good use and lobbed a few prawns off the rocks. Local anglers would have been very frustrated with it all I'm sure but we had a load of fun catching lots of Spotted Wrasse. The 'Spotty' is apparently a real pest and swarms of them stop your bait getting to the proper big stuff but I don't care about that. A fish is a fish and noone was drawing a blank.

Spotted Wrasse (male)

Spotted Wrasse (female)

The fishing was certainly more fun than the general birding as New Zealand once again put forward a strong case for World's worst bird-watching destination. Despite visiting a few wetlands, estuaries, sewage treatment plants and woodlands, I could only add the Australasian Shoveler NZ#70 to my paltry list.