Sunday, February 25, 2018

The pros...

Vincentia, Jervis Bay

We've just had a lovely weekend down in Jervis Bay with a few friends and unusually for me we spent most of our time just hanging out on the beach and in the surf. Of course I can't be doing that for too long and so we also found a nice rock platform and broke out the fishing gear.


The frozen prawns did the trick again and we were soon pulling out some nice fish.

Crimson-banded Wrasse

Eastern Wirrah Cod 

Just south of Jervis Bay there's a place called Bendalong Beach which is known for it's friendly stingrays. We had a few prawns left over and so we headed down there and sure enough a number of rays turned up for a feed. No monster stingrays on this occasion but several nice eagle rays which would swim up and butt your ankles. They were more than happy to let you stroke them and were very much at ease. I always thought that the eagle rays were harmless but I've since read that they too have a nasty stinging spike at the base of the tail. Maybe I wouldn't have been as hands on with the larger ones if I'd known that beforehand!

Southern Eagle Rays

... and the cons

No swimming

Of course the Australian fauna isn't always fun as some poor woman found out in Botany Bay on Friday when a Great White decided to have a little nibble. You have to keep your wits about you and I'm sure the constant low level stress is not doing me any good at all!
No clean clothes

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Super blue blood moon

The other evening was apparently a bit special for those who like to watch the night sky. We had a super moon, a blue moon and a total lunar eclipse all coinciding to give a massive blood moon. This hasn't happened here in Australia since December 1983 but in some other parts of the world it hasn't been observed for up to 150 years. What better place to see such a rare phenomenon than Sydney where the sky is always clear with never a cloud in sight. Except this one particular night. Clouds everywhere. Rubbish.


At least I got another bird for the list by just sitting there in the house. The latest official IOC world bird list has just come out and so I thought I'd better check up on the most up-to-date thinking regarding Australian species. As luck would have it there have been a couple of splits down here over the past couple of years. One of these is the Golden Whistler from over in WA which is now regarded as a full species. Thankfully I made a note of everything I saw a few years back when I was over there and so the new Western Whistler which was #428 goes onto the list taking the total up to 489. Armchair tick!

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Christmas creatures

I'm back to work now following a pleasant break spent mostly up in the Blue Mountains. Just that little bit of altitude is enough to knock a couple of degrees off the oppressive summer temperatures but it's a bit of a struggle just now with the mercury rising above 40°C with depressing regularity.


Mountain Heath Dragon 

At least the hot weather brings out the critters and so one should always have a camera at the ready. The highlight of my holiday was a 7-8ft Diamond Python which showed up one afternoon on the in-laws' back lawn. Being a python it was remarkably chilled out and didn't mind me getting close. And being a python, I didn't mind getting close to it. I don't think I'd be jumping into the bush in bare feet after a Tiger or a Brown!
Diamond Python

My mother-in-law has a very cute Peron's Tree Frog living in her watering can at the moment. It emerges each night at which point it lives up to its other name - the Maniacal Cackle Frog!

Peron's Tree Frog

We managed to get away for a couple of day-trips as well. One of these took us over to the Capertee Valley which is a favourite spot of mine for a few of the more dry inland bird species. Nothing too unusual this time except for a friendly wombat out for a stroll in the middle of the day.



Of course when it gets very warm there's always the option of throwing yourself into the ocean with the hordes. Between kicks to the head I managed to spot a couple of octopuses on my last dip. Caught out in the open, one of them promptly stopped and pretended to be a seaweed covered rock by curling up and making it's skin go spikey like the surrounding vegetation. A remarkable disguise that my attempts at a picture just don't do justice.

 Octopus in disguise

Friday, December 22, 2017

Merry Christmas everyone

The beauty of the twitch is that you just don't know what, where, or when until it suddenly happens. The call then has to be made regarding whether a day off work and a bit of a drive is worth it. It usually is!

The ocean beach at Old Bar

Last week the twitchers around the country were thrown into a frenzy as a completely new species for Australia was reported on the mid north coast of NSW. Not only that but a flock of 15 had lost their way and significantly overshot their migration from the Aleutian Islands to south east Asia. The birds were just over 300km north of Sydney which is well within striking range and so on Monday I joined the migration of twitchers from all over the country heading for the small seaside hamlet of Old Bar.

Aleutian Tern

After a pleasant stroll along the beach we reached the sand flats at the mouth of the Manning River where the Aleutian Terns #488 were hanging out. Non-breeding terns and waders are a nightmare for me to identify and with a strong breeze blowing all of the birds were hunkered down against the sand and my scope was jumping all over the place. A few good candidates were sitting about among the native species but the diagnostic dark trailing edge to the inner wing was nowhere to be seen. But then, after a bit of a wait, a group of terns flew towards us struggling against the wind with the characteristic underwing pattern clear to see. They alighted right in front of us. No fewer than 10 birds! Tick and thanks for coming!

On the way back through the shallow water I managed to stub my foot on either a rock or an oyster but whatever it was it made a bit of a mess. Luckily Emily was on hand to improvise a field dressing from a pair of socks which did the job until we found a pharmacy. Nice.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

New pigeon!

Well it's officially summer now so I guess I'll just have to put up with the summer temperatures which are becoming increasingly unpleasant once more. We're also getting our fair share of rain as well which means it's hot and sticky which is rubbish but, on the flip side, the tomatoes and cucumbers in the back yard are loving it. I'm just hoping the possums don't find them before we get the chance to enjoy some as well.

As I mentioned in my last post, a rare fruit-dove that is normally restricted to the rainforests up north was spotted in the Royal National Park. They do turn up as vagrants down here but very rarely and so I got myself down there sharpish to check things out. The bird was reported to frequent the same fruiting fig tree about 150m south of a particular picnic area and so hopefully it would be a simple case of locating said fig tree and ticking the bird.

There was indeed only one fruiting fig just south of the picnic area but it was a little way off the path up a steep slope and looking into the thick foliage in the overcast conditions proved tough. My eyes are just not what they used to be and so I was pleased when another twitcher arrived on the scene. After about 10 minutes scanning the tree he was onto the bird and the Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove #487 was onto my list. Getting a picture was unfortunately impossible at that distance in the dim light which is a shame because this was one of the prettiest birds that I've seen. It's spectacular colours were more like a parrot than a pigeon making it a most satisfying tick.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

New car twitch

The new car is here! Well actually it's been here for a couple of months now but I only just got hold of my cargo tray for the boot and so the whole hellish process is now finally over and I can start to enjoy it at last. It's been very stressful!

New car

I wasn't planning to buy a new car but, as it turns out, my needs are apparently pretty niche and so having to go through a dealership was unavoidable at the end of the day. The car I was after just doesn't turn up second-hand. My Suzuki Grand Vitara is one of, if not the only, family sized true 4x4 that's still small enough to drive easily round the inner city and is half the price of these other ridiculously large off-roaders. This year's model is also the last one that can properly handle the rough stuff before sadly being re-designed as a useless city soft-roader next year. And so I was forced into getting rid of the old Focus slightly before it's time which was actually a little sad.

Anyway, with migrations now well underway and things on the move, the twitching is back on and the other weekend saw two pairs of Orange Chats turn up in a field in Kiama Downs which is a pleasant little drive south of Sydney. Usually found in the arid interior they are already on my list at #392 from my trip to the gibber plains on the edge of the Sturt Stony Desert. However, over there I only saw the rather plain looking female bird and so, despite not being a tick for the list, I was keen to get a good view of the male.

Random new cycle path across a field

The birds were frequenting a random cycle path that runs a short distance across a random field and sure enough, after a couple of false alarms with Richard's Pipits, a lovely male Orange Chat hopped into view. The second male soon showed up as well before we were rudely driven from the area by a super aggressive Magpie. I've never been attacked by one before although it's well known that that's what they can do at this time of year. It's actually quite alarming as they certainly don't hold back!

Orange Chat

There's a Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove in the Royal National Park at the moment too so that's maybe on for this weekend...

Monday, October 23, 2017

Hamilton Island revisited

Ragged palms are the only real sign of March's cyclone

I'm back to work again now and my sister's visit last month seems like an age ago. Once again we headed up north for a cracking week on Hamilton Island in the Whitsundays. The island copped the full brunt of Cyclone Debbie at the end of March and there's still a bit of damage about the place but really it just meant that the palm trees were looking a bit ragged on top. Otherwise it was the same old cocktails by the pool, turtles swimming by in the sea, and wallabies and Bush Stone-curlews running around on the pristine hotel lawns. I also saw a couple of Yellow-bellied Sunbirds in the gardens this time which was a real treat. It's a very long time since I last saw them up in Cairns.

Views from Passage Peak

I also managed to haul myself up to the highest point on the island this time which was a bit of a hot slog interrupted by vicious horseflies but the views are worth it and we even spotted an enormous Leatherback Turtle cruising past in the channel.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Reef snorkelling

Humphead Wrasse or Napoleon Fish

Moon Wrasse

 Lined Butterflyfish

It's always good to get back in the water on the Great Barrier Reef. Alas, no turtles again while I was actually snorkelling but plenty of other things to keep one entertained including Flying Fish and Humpback Whales on the boat trip out to the reef.

Yellowbar Parrotfish


Anemonefish in their anemone

Surf Parrotfish

We were told that the cyclone had hit the reef pretty hard but the number and variety of fish is still mighty impressive. Sadly the visibility wasn't as good as it has been in the past so decent pictures were difficult to take but I still managed to sneak up on a few obliging fish for some record shots. Saying that, you don't have to be too sneaky where clams are involved!


An hilariously grumpy looking Bengal Sergeant

Reef fishing

Lazy Silver Gull

A lot of my time on Hamilton Island was spent fishing around the various islands of the Whitsundays and also the Lindeman Island group just to the south. Unfortunately there were no catches of a lifetime but I did come away with a story of the one that got away.

Stripey Seaperch

Indonesian Snapper


I don't know what it was that I hooked but the power was freakish as it stripped line from the reel even with the drag set as high as possible. As I clung on for dear life the skipper was getting excited about the "head shakes" coming from the fish at which point he threw the boat into gear and, like some scene from Jaws, we pursued the beast across the ocean. The fish knew exactly where it was going though and was soon heading deep into the reef where it managed to break us off. No idea what it was but that's what keeps you heading back for more.


Coral Trout

Honeycomb Cod

Even with a lack of success trawling for Marlin and the other big sport fish, the reef fishing in tropical waters is always a lot of fun too. An impressive range of species were caught with only some of those being pictured here. Most catches were returned to the water but at the end of the day you always head back to shore with enough legal size fish for a good feed.

Grass Sweetlip

Grass Sweetlip a couple of hours later