Sunday, 14 June 2009

That's all for now

I am now back in the UK after an excellent, although not entirely trouble-free (are they ever?!) trip. It was trimmed from the original 2 months and 3 weeks to just under 2 months, due to the fact that Australia ended up costing me a packet. Prices in Australia have gone up a lot since I was previously there in 1997 - more than I realised, in fact it's as expensive if not more so, as the UK - and I ended up trimming two weeks off Australia and 9 days off Thailand. Next time, I'll omit Australia and just do Asia.

The trip has had its ups, downs and grey areas, but it was highly successful. I saw most of the birds I wanted to see, apart from some seabirds due to the postponed pelagic, and got some pretty good photos, too.

 Ups: the birds, of course. Also, the Great Barrier Reef, the Warrumbungles, Cassowary House, Doi Inthanon, Khao Yai, the people I met such as Tony, Rob, Marie, George, Mr and Mrs Daeng, Somchat and 'Mr Nine'.

Downs: The biggest bummer was that the vile weather in NSW that week ensured the SOSSA pelagic from Wollongong got put back to the following week, which was a total bugger because I was leaving for Thailand before then, and the weather in Australia was pretty bad for a proportion of the time - I got wet in Cairns, Coonabarabran, Wollongong and Sydney.
Getting to Bangkok was a culture shock and the city itself  is a nightmare, gridlocked and polluted.

Things I'd do differently next time: Leave out or shorten Australia and lengthen Asia. Not be so short of money that I can't hire a car - public transport is a crap way to get around no matter where you are. Except perhaps in Singapore. Go to Asia in the winter (dry season).

Despite the troubles of the first few days I got to like Thailand very much, it's a fantastic place once you are out of Bangkok, and I hope to go back to do some more birding there, in the dry season.

Khao Yai

After arriving back in Bangkok from Chiang Mai, I stayed one night in the All Seasons Bangkok Siam Hotel in the city centre. I got a taxi from the airport and showed the driver a map with directions but, true to form as seems to be the case with Bangkok taxis, the prat still got lost and we took 2 hours to get there instead of 30 minutes. He spoke no English, it seemed, until he asked for a tip when he suddenly found he could speak very good English. He did not get a tip.

The next day, Monday, I set off for Khao Yai - taxi to Mor Chit bus station, a three hour bus ride to Pak Chong (during which I added Asian Openbill Stork to my list) and then a 20 minute journey by songthaew (pick up truck buses) to the Greenleaf Guest House 7.5 km outside Pak Chong, towards Khao Yai NP.

I booked a guide for the next day, 'Mr Nine', and we set off in his truck for the 'Cold Mountain' at 0545 the following morning. I had had no sleep the night before due to the combination of (the fear of) spiders and cockroaches, heat and a very hard mattress but I felt fine. The first birds of the day were Red-breasted Parakeets, Black-shouldered Kite and Black-collared Starling

On entering the park and paying the 400 Baht entrance fee we carried on to the first look out point and soon found Lineated BarbetGolden-fronted Leafbird, Grey-eyed Bulbul, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike and Common Iora. Further up we found male and female Great Hornbills and their nest with a grown young one inside it, who was still being fed by the parents. We stopped and took quite a lot of photos and I managed to get some nice flight shots.

[caption id="attachment_196" align="alignnone" width="480" caption="Great Hornbill, Khao Yai NP"]Great Hornbill, Khao Yai NP[/caption]

We went for a walk in the jungle. I got my camera out of the car and moved to the back of the vehicle. There was a sudden pattering noise, like falling rain, and I looked up, to see a Pig-tailed Macaque right above where I had been standing a second earlier - I had only narrowly avoided being pissed on by a monkey!
On the jungle trail, which was dense, leechy and spidery, we got good, but brief, views of a Siamese Fireback pheasant, which was one of my target species, although I didn't get a pic due to the brevity of the views and the fact it was too dark in the forest. We also heard Imperial Pigeon and Sultan Tit, and while I didn't see the pigeon (but saw one later) I got a very quick view of the tit plus we saw Barking Deer (Muntjac) in the dense vegetation. Other birds were Greater Flameback and Greater Racket-tailed Drongo.
There were a lot of spider webs strung between trees, fortunately well above head height (unless you were taller than 6'7") as these contained huge orb spiders bigger than a man's hand. To a spider-phobic person like me, these were frankly nasty-looking although they are not dangerous unless you are an insect or a small bird.

[caption id="attachment_197" align="alignnone" width="480" caption="This spider was bigger than a man's hand"]This spider was bigger than a man's hand[/caption]

The leeches, as expected, were a nuisance. I had taken all the precautions against them, such as leech socks and plenty of repellant but I forgot one small, but important, detail. I didn't even think about tucking my shirt in, with the result that I got leeches all round my middle and on my back, happily helping themselves. My off-white (naturally!) cotton shirt, fortunately an old one, looked like I'd been the victim of a stabbing, as it was soaked in blood because leeches inject an anti-coagulant so you bleed profusely and stay bleeding for a while afterwards. The shirt has subsequently gone in the bin as the blood didn't wash out despite using 'Vanish' on it. Oh well, you're not a world birder until you have been bitten by leeches while in the pursuit of birds...!

We spent the afternoon at the top, where we found an Oriental Pied Hornbill family - the female was busy de-legging the biggest centipede I have ever seen in my life, it was easily a foot long -  and the other side of the mountain and also took the road up to a military installation where the soldiers were kind enough to let me use the 'facilities' as well! We didn't see much up there, apart from a Stripe-throated Bulbul and a lovely view so we drove back down. About a quarter of the way down we found a small party of Silver Pheasants - male, female and juvenile male - stunning birds. We got some photos; Nine is a keen bird photographer, too  and we had great fun taking pictures and comparing them.

By 4.30 I was falling asleep and feeling dizzy because of the lack of sleep the previous night, but I soon woke up when we stopped, got out and saw a Crimson Sunbird, of which I got better views than I did of the one I saw in Singapore.
Back up the mountain the lifers kept coming: Red Junglefowl (the ancestor of domestic chickens and another target species for me), Green-eared Barbet, Crested Goshawk, Needletail Swift and the gorgeous Indian Roller, another target species and one that had hitherto eluded me. I photographed the Roller, but the light was going and 1250 ISO does not really make for anything other than a record shot.

[caption id="attachment_198" align="alignnone" width="264" caption="Indian Roller at Khao Yai"]Indian Roller at Khao Yai[/caption]

Sadly, it was time to head back out of Khao Yai and back to the guesthouse, but not without adding Wreathed Hornbill and Thick-billed Green-pigeon to the list. I was hoping to see Asian Elephants, but although there were signs of their presence, such as droppings (in the words of Dr Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park: 'That is one big pile of shit!') and wrecked vegetation, I didn't see so much as a flapping ear. Likewise the gibbons - there were hoots and screams and gibbon songs all day but I didn't see anything swinging through the trees. However, the brilliant birding was what I went for so the lack of ellies and gibbons wasn't that disappointing.

The guide cost 4000 Baht, around £78, but was worth every satang, as I saw birds and more of the park than I would otherwise have done. It was brilliant and I want to go back one day.

Travelled back to Bangkok the following day. I got accosted at Mor Chit II by taxi touts (one of the less savoury things about travelling in Asia is that foreigners get hounded all the time - 'Hey you, where you go?' and while I hate it and it is very annoying, it is just one of the things you have to put up with) and ended up paying over the odds for a ride back to the All Seasons Bangkok Siam, because I couldn't be arsed to argue, but he didn't mess about and I was there in five minutes flat!

Friday, 12 June 2009

Doi Inthanon

I was going to post this last Saturday, but I couldn't be bothered and anyway, it's better late than never. Travelled to Doi Inthanon (pronounced Intanon) on 3rd June, leaving Chiang Mai at 1015 am and arriving at Mr Daeng's at 1215. Went up with Marie and we did some birding on the way there. An unexpected tick was a Cinnamon Bittern which flew across the road by the Tesco store (yes, they have Tesco's in Thailand, too) at Chom Thong.

After paying our 200 Baht each at the gate we went up to the summit, via Mr Daeng's where I was staying for a couple of nights for me to drop my bag off,  Thailand's highest point at 2565 metres above sea level, where Green-tailed Sunbird (the race of Green-tailed Sunbird on Doi Inthanon is endemic to there), Chestnut-tailed Minla and Chestnut-headed Laughingthrush were active around the summit visitor's centre. Also at the summit, round the marsh area, were Ashy-throated Warbler, Dark-backed Sibia, Grey-throated Babbler, Rufous-winged Fulvetta and Large Niltava, the latter very hard to see high up in the trees as it called it's 'Doe Ray Mee' song. It was pretty cold at the summit, which made a pleasant change from the hot humid lower elevations.

On the way back down the mountains to Mr Daeng's we got - in the fog - Hill Prinia and Flavescent Bulbul.

The next day I was joined by guide Somchat, from a nearby village. He works for Mr Daeng and is a pretty good birder, finding stuff I most likely wouldn't have found by myself. It wasn't without some trepidation that I set off, at 0615, on the back of Somchat's motorbike, but it was perfectly safe and in no time did I feel in any danger, despite coming down the mountain at 35mph with no crash helmet (I don't think my mother reads this, or I will get in trouble!), in fact it was brilliant fun. The first lifers of the day happened to be in Mr Daeng's garden - Streaked Spiderhunter and Japanese White Eye. Further up the road, at KM 34 we encountered Green-billed Malkoha, White-browed Shrike-babbler (great names these birds), the fabulous Silver-eared Mesia, Oriental Magpie Robin (not a lifer as I'd already seen these in Singapore and Bangkok) and at Check Point 2 were Yellow-cheeked Tit, Grey-cheeked Fulvetta and Mountain Tailorbird. We also got a good view of Asian Emerald Cuckoo and a briefer one of Violet Cuckoo, just up the road from CP2. Also on that stretch of road was a Japanese Sparrowhawk, high in the trees.

We continued upwards in fog and rain to the summit where we got Grey-cheeked Minivet and Yellow-bellied Fantail. After a summit visit to Thailand's highest point and a look, from the road, at the grandly named 'Princess Sirindhorn Neutron Monitor', an astronomical observatory for cosmic ray detecting, and the shrine to the late King Inthawichayanon of Chiang Mai who the mountain is named after.

It was then straight down to the lower-altitude dipterocarp forest at around KM 15, but this only resulted in three new birds: Common Flameback, Collared Falconet and Blue-winged Leafbird. Following this it was up the mountain again, to KM 20 and the Vachirathan Waterfall, in the hope of a forktail species and Blue Whistling Thrush. We found Blue Whistling Thrush easily, plus Ashy Drongo, but no forktail.

Later, we went to some paddyfields, but only saw Pied Bushchat and Paddyfield Pipit and a lot of rain. I got soaked to the skin, so as we were passing Mr Daeng's anyway we went in and I put on a dry t-shirt before we headed out again (and me having purchased a plastic raincoat from the Doi Inthanon 7 Eleven store!) to look for the Black-tailed Crake at the campsite by the park HQ. Expecting the bird to be elusive and hard to see we went armed with worms, expecting a lengthy wait but it was actually walking around, plain as anything. The supposed hardest bird to see turned out to be the easiest, as often happens.
Further up the road, beyond the market stall area, again in torrential rain (was greatful for that 25 Baht plastic raincoat!) we went down a turn off towards Mae Klang Lung, and on the road, was a Slaty-backed Forktail. We'd only been to just about every waterfall and suitable-looking riverine habitat that afternoon searching for one and there it was, on the road, of all places!

The following day, Marie came to collect me and we headed back to Chiang Mai, but not without another couple of lifers - female Scarlet Minivet (I was to see the stunning male a few days later in Khao Yai) and Black-throated Sunbird. We birded our way back to the park entrance but got nothing new, bird calls were all around but the birds themselves kept hidden, apart from a Green-billed Malkoha and a Racket-tailed Drongo.

Had to stop at the Chom Thong Tesco store for some groceries, but there was no sign of the Cinnamon Bittern.

I didn't take many pics on Doi Inthanon, due mainly to poor light and rain/fog but what I did take are in the post below.

Chiang Mai

I arrived in Chiang Mai on 30 May, but the first few days were hampered by a bad cold and a touch of the flu - NOT swine flu (I hope). Went birding at a site known to local expat US birder Marie as the 'Trash Patch' due to the huge amounts of garbage dumped there. It was at the Trash Patch that the Thailand list finally got properly going with Ashy Wood-swallow, Green Bee-eater, Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker, Grey-breasted Prinia, Sooty-headed Bulbul, Streak-eared Bulbul, Pied Bushchat, Red-wattled Lapwing, Greater Coucal, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Wire-tailed Swallow, Black Drongo, Black-collared Starling, Large-billed Crow and Common Tailorbird. Photography was hampered by the heat, the non-cooperation on the birds' part (although I got some flight shots of the lapwings) and the fact my specs kept steaming up.

Also in Chiang Mai, after returning from Doi Inthanon, I did some more 'cultural' stuff, with a visit to Wat Phra Singh. The buildings of the Wat are beautiful, very colourful with gilded dragon-like things guarding the steps up to the entrance and golden Buddhas in many different poses. One Buddha lies in an out building at the back of the gardens; he is reclining (I think that represents Buddha attaining enlightenment) and there is a LOT of gold leaf on that statue, some peeling off.

[caption id="attachment_206" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="Wat Phra Singh"]Wat Phra Singh[/caption]


[caption id="attachment_207" align="alignnone" width="200" caption="Golden Buddha"]Golden Buddha[/caption]

I liked Chiang Mai a lot more than the polluted, crowded nightmare that is Bangkok. Sure, it's got bad traffic but is much smaller and much nicer.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Some pics from Doi Inthanon

I'll write a proper post about my three days on Doi Inthanon tomorrow, but I got around 50 or so lifers. I am now back in Chiang Mai and will return to Bangkok on Sunday, but in the meantime, here's some pics from the national park. I didn't take that many and what I did get were not very good, but a few came out reasonably well - well enough that I feel that I can at least inflict them on the viewing public.

[caption id="attachment_173" align="alignnone" width="640" caption="Black-throated Sunbird in Mr. Deang's garden"]Black-throated Sunbird in Mr. Deang's garden[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_174" align="alignnone" width="640" caption="Chestnut-tailed Minla at summit of Doi Inthanon"]Chestnut-tailed Minla at summit of Doi Inthanon[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_175" align="alignnone" width="600" caption="Collared Falconet in Dipterocarp forest"]Collared Falconet in Dipterocarp forest[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_176" align="alignnone" width="600" caption="Green-tailed Sunbird at summit area of Doi Inthanon"]Green-tailed Sunbird at summit area of Doi Inthanon[/caption]

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Whale watching trip photos

Because the Wollongong pelagic trip got called off and I couldn't make the rescheduled one (today, as it happened), I went on a consolation whale-watching trip out of Sydney. While a public whale-watching trip is nowhere near as good for birds as a dedicated birder-pleasing pelagic would be (I dipped on at least 10 species, probably more, that I could have added to my life list), at least I got good views - well, as good as you can get of an animal whose body is mostly below the waterline - of Humpbacked Whales and views of Black-browed Albatrosses.

Here are some of the photos I took on the whale-watching trip; I've also thrown in a snap of some obscure concert venue that sits on Sydney's waterfront, for good measure:

[caption id="attachment_153" align="alignnone" width="600" caption="A really crap pic, sickening when I think what I could have got if it hadn't been for the bloody weather. But, looking on the bright side, at least it's an albatross and it's on MY life list!!"]A really crap pic, sickening when I think what I could have got if it hadn't been for the bloody weather.[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_148" align="alignnone" width="600" caption="'There she blows'...or something like that"]'There she blows'...or something like that[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_149" align="alignnone" width="600" caption="As most of the animal is below the water you don't see it that well"]As most of the animal is below the water you don't see it that well[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_151" align="alignnone" width="576" caption="Mother and calf whales"]Mother and calf whales[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_152" align="alignnone" width="640" caption="Some obscure backstreet concert venue"]Some obscure backstreet concert venue[/caption]

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

'Bangkok, oriental setting...

and the city doesn't know what the city is getting' the Murray Head song about a chess tournament went.

Ok, so that's Australia done and dusted for now. I think I ended up on around 180 species which isn't too bad, 202 lifers in total now. I am now 4500 miles and three time zones nearer home, having arrived in Bangkok late last night - after walking miles from the gate to immigration, waiting ages for my bag to put in an appearance and then tracking down the representative from my hotel I eventually got checked in and to bed at around 1am this morning. The weather is very warm and overcast, though dry and I hope it stays cloudy because that will keep the temperature down, although as I type the sun is coming out.

It's a bit of a culture shock here, as expected. Very little is in English and even the alphabet is totally different. I plan to stay put for another couple of days before heading off to my first national park, probably Doi Inthanon in the north.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Sydney Harbour

I did a quick ferry trip to Manly in the hope of seeing some seabirds (the entrance to Manly is just inside the heads at the entrance to Sydney Harbour). It was a pleasant round trip, taking an hour and a quarter, but apart from Silver Gulls, Great Cormorant (that's the same species as our Cormorant back home) and two Crested Terns diving for food, it wasn't a lot of cop for birding. It was also heaving with families with small children - I detest small kids yet I seem to be some sort of brat magnet, a bit like the way people who loathe cats seem to attract cats - including one with a very obnoxious child of about eight in tow. This kid was so badly behaved and whiny that I am afraid to say that I was amused when she got soaked as spray came over the bow as we were getting near Manly harbour! The downside of that were the resulting screams of fury...!

After getting back to Circular Quay I caught another ferry round to Darling Harbour and booked a whale watching trip tomorrow afternoon. After yesterday's annoyances, I hope it produces something. A whale would be very nice, but a close view of an albatross would be nicer still. In the event of no whales the company gives a 50% refund, but that only applies in June and July. At other times, you get a free cruise to take during 2009, which won't be much good to me as I am leaving the country on Tuesday and won't be back during 2009. If we don't see whales tomorrow I will still ask for a 50% refund on those grounds (the ideal scenario would be a good view of an albatross or five, no whales and a 50% refund!).

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Bugger it

I was hoping to give this post a really crappy punning title such as 'pelmagic' or some such nonsense. Sadly, it was not to be.

The weather is pretty appalling and frankly I've had enough of it. Apart from last w/end which was glorious, most of my time in NSW has coincided nicely with cyclone-like conditions which have battered the coast and the Wollongong pelagic got knocked on the head this morning. We were having doubts about it as the seas were mountainous and I was wondering if we'd even make it out of the harbour, the way the waves were breaking in and also coming over the breakwater. In fact the boat captain was worried and considered the conditions life threatening so that was that; he genuinely thought that if we went side onto the waves, we'd definitely go over. I am happy in a way that he didn't decide to bat ahead and go for it, because it looked downright dangerous out there, but on the other hand I am pretty pissed off that I have been very unlucky with weather this trip - the Wollongong pelagic almost never gets cancelled so it's just my luck this is only the second or third time ever it's been scrubbed.
I console myself with the thought that I like living, hate getting wet and I had my camera gear with me and if that had gone to the bottom of the Tasman Sea it would put a slight downer on the rest of the trip and looking at the small, tatty old boat they use for these pelagics I wouldn't want to be on it in anything other than a flat calm.
There's a possibility it might be rescheduled for next Sunday, but I am flying to Thailand on Tuesday and I don't really want to give Qantas any more money just for a ticket change.

My only reason for the pelagic trip was to see an albatross or two. I may have dipped. Or did I...?

[caption id="attachment_164" align="alignnone" width="600" caption="The reason the pelagic was cancelled - mountainous seas."]The reason the pelagic was cancelled - mountainous seas.[/caption]

So, Wollongong was not a success, it has to be said. Not only was the sea trip cancelled this morning, I got soaked to the skin walking from the bus stop to the Wollongong Backpackers at Keiraleagh House as it hammered down, my bag with my stuff in it was wet through, I didn't have a change of jeans and when I got to the hostel the room they put me in had two unmade beds and rubbish on the table, floor and bin. So they moved me to another room, only to decide to clean that first one and make me move back there. I told them to forget it, I wasn't moving. Keiraleagh House itself is a 'period' house, as it is described in their own blurb. The fixtures and fittings are 'period' too - I don't think the place had been rewired or had new light switches (some looked downright lethal) since about 1939 by the look of it. It's also tatty, but otherwise not bad. Comfy beds, at least. However, would it kill these hostels to have bedside lights so people don't have to get out of bed to switch the light out and them fumble their way back in the dark?? Got talking to some pretty strange people, too.

All was not lost on the albatross front. We went to a couple of seawatching places between Wollongong and Sydney, first near Port Kembla at a little place called Five Islands and then a place just south of the city, Maroubra, where we got Black-browed Albatross (fittingly this was my 200th lifer of the trip), Cape Petrel, Australian Gannet, White-fronted Tern, Giant Petrel (we don't know whether Northern or Southern, though), Brown Falcon (this was at Five Islands) and Kelp Gull. So I was happy(ish) because I had at last seen an albatross species.

And the next person who says to me 'this is very quiet today' or 'you should have been here last week' gets shoved under a bus! It's frustrating so shut up!! I also got tired of hearing people waxing lyrical about how good pelagics are and that at least there'll be another one. Yeah, that's all very well for the locals, but two of us (there was another English guy there) are hardly local even to the southern hemisphere, let alone a little corner of New South Wales.

I know this post has been a long whinge. Sorry, but this and the weather were among the low points (and there have been one or two) of this trip.

I hope Thailand is better...I know the southwest monsoon will be arriving soon, but it won't be the sopping wet (and windy) place Australia currently is - the wet season doesn't necessarily mean rain every day. Australia's been more like the UK recently but at least on the plus side it's stopped the Australians being smug (no other nation does smug as well as Australia) for five minutes, they've been too busy whingeing about being cold.
I am now up to 202 lifers seen on this trip so far, something like 224 in total.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Coonabarabran and the Warrumbungles

I have just returned to Sydney from a 24 hour trip to Coonabarabran ('The Astronomy Capital of Australia') and back. This was actually supposed to be an astronomy trip, meeting some friends from the States who I know from the Texas Star Party, and not a birding trip. I say 'supposed' because it didn't turn out that way, thanks to the worst weather that Australia has experienced for 35 years...! Cyclone conditions ensured that a metre of rain has been dumped here, along with high winds, and the northern NSW and south-east Queensland coasts have borne the brunt of it with flooding, damage and deaths. The good news is that the drought here has ended, with dams almost full instead of almost empty, but it could have waited a week! I have had a lot of bad weather on this trip and can't help feeling slightly miffed about it.But now the Aussies have no grounds to take the piss out of the British climate! Still, the birding's been good here, even if the astronomy has been a no go.  We, that is my friends from the States and I, went to a local astronomy club meeting in  Coonabarabran (or 'Coona' to its friends and people who can't pronounce or be bothered to say 'Coonabarabran') which was entertaining and informative. The hoped-for clear sky didn't materialise and the rain went on all night. A fellow astronomer and birder, Anne, and myself were sharing a room and so we looked at my photos on her Mac until we gave up on the weather and went to bed at 1am. I have to say that I am very pleased with how well most of the pics have turned out, despite the conditions a lot of the time being poor for photography.  I'm hoping that the weather's better in peninsular Malaysia and southern Thailand, it should be, the monsoon is further north, although the term 'rainy season' is relative as, according to Lonely Planet, it doesn't always rain any more than the non-rainy season.

Despite it being a washout as an astronomy trip, it wasn't a wasted one as I ended up with some new species, including Emu and Red-rumped Parrot, and I was able to - at last - photograph a male Superb Fairy-wren still in all his blue glory. Most have moulted out of their spectacular breeding plumage but a few are late changing into their drab colours and this little blue boy was one of them. I don't know how the pic will look on a computer but I am hoping it will polish up enough so I can put it on my site eventually. We went to the Warrumbungles National Park yesterday morning, where I was able to take pics of Emus and kangaroos, but it was a brief trip as I had to get a bus from Coonabarabran to Lithgow (very scenic) and then a train to Sydney Central (not scenic because it was by then dark and properly pissing it down). I am going on a pelagic from Wollongong tomorrow so I had to get back for that. It was a pleasant journey until I got back to Sydney Central and ran into a smashed-out-of-his-tiny-mind, probably intellectually-challenged weirdo who was roundly abusing all and sundry, calling everybody 'gooks' (a nasty, perjorative name for Chinese and south-east Asians) no matter what their race.  As I had my stuff with me, I got out of the vicinity as quickly as possible, with a terrified young Chinese woman in tow and trying to assure her the bloke was just stupid and drunk. I wasn't scared, just annoyed at stupid people who get wasted and then aggressive. If I hadn't been lugging my belongings with me and in a hurry to get to my hostel as quickly as possible I'd have got the twat nicked. I just hope the idiot did get arrested.

Mentioning the pelagic, I was concerned this morning in case it was cancelled due to the wild weather south-east Australia is experiencing recently, but on phoning the SOSSA folks I was told by a cheerful lady that the pelagic is very much on as the forecast is improving and the storms moderating. I have booked a hostel for tonight and Sunday night in Wollongong. Unfortunately they only have dorms available, but I hope that a cancellation might open up a single because I hate sharing. Sharing with friends is great but sharing with a bunch of strangers, particularly backpackers who get pissed off and whinge at you when you go out birding at 0630 is not (lazy, drunken student bastards will just have to put up with it!).

With the additions to the list from the trip out to the Warrumbungles, I am now up to 195 trip lifers and the pelagic tomorrow should hopefully provide a few more.

[caption id="attachment_160" align="alignnone" width="640" caption="Male Superb Fairy-wren, still mostly in his breeding plumage."]Male Superb Fairy-wren, still mostly in his breeding plumage.[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_162" align="alignnone" width="640" caption="Galahs on telephone wire at Coonabarabran. Took pic while waiting for my bus to Lithgow."]Galahs on telephone wire at Coonabarabran. Took pic while waiting for my bus to Lithgow.[/caption]

Monday, 18 May 2009

Royal National Park and Scheyville areas

I met up with three other birders - Rob, Ed and Mark - for a day's birding in the Royal National Park, about an hour's drive south of Sydney on Saturday. Rob and Ed are expat Brits who, lucky them, now live and work in Sydney while Mark, like me, is just visiting for a few weeks.

It was an 8am start and the drive took an hour or so. The first stop was a place called Wattle Forest and this was alive with birds, producing loads of new species for me. The Bassian Thrush was elusive; we were told it was there by a group of Aussie birders, and we eventually tracked it down and got good views in the end.

Wattle Forest birds:

Yellow-faced Honeyeater
Fan-tailed Cuckoo
Lewin's Honeyeater
White-throated Honeyeater
Brown Honeyeater
Azure Kingfisher
Scarlet Robin
Eastern Spinebill
Wonga Pigeon
Green Catbird
Yellow-throated Scrubwren
Golden Whistl
Bassian Thrush (very similar to White's Thrush, split, I think, fairly recently)
Superb Blue Wren (Superb Fairy Wren)
Red-browed Finch

After the Wattle Forest we drove round to Lady Carrington's Drive, a nice track through the forest. Unfortunately, as well as being a good place for birders, it's also popular with joggers and pain-in-the-arse mountain bikers. The latter come along the track far too fast and the potential for a nasty accident is rather high. We were constantly having to watch out for these idiots and dodge them. One nearly ran me down while another shouted at us 'Move out of my way', rude bastard.

We walked about 4 or 5km along this track, hoping for Superb Lyrebird but, while we saw evidence of these and also heard one, we didn't get so much as a glimpse of one.

Lady Carrington birds:

Scarlet Honeyeater
Superb Blue-Wren
Satin Bowerbir
d (one male, four or five females)
Sulphur-crested Cockatoo
Pied Currawong
Noisy Friarbird

After dodging the cyclists and adding some good stuff to my list, it was on to the final birding place of the day, Mount Bass Fire Trail. This is heathland, with good views over the national park and also towards Sydney.

Mount Bass Fire Trail birds:

New Holland Honeyeater
Tawny-crowned Honeyeater
Little Wattlebird
Collared Sparrowhawk
Variegated Fairy-wren

The following day, yesterday, it was just Rob and myself and we headed west of the city to the Blue Mountains and Scheyville (pronounced 'Skyville') National Park. This is forest and, like Royal National Park, a lot easier to bird in than the rainforests and mangroves of the north.
There's also an open area where trees have been cleared to make way for pylons carrying power lines, known as the Power Line Cut, which is also good for birding.
The most obvious birds were Bell Miners and their carrying 'tink' calls, endearing at first, soon became tiresome, especially as Bell Miners are aggressive and drive other birds away, meaning if you come across Bell Miners not much else will be around.


Jacky Winter
Yellow Thornbill
Striated thornbill
Crested Shrike-tit
(looks like a weird Great Tit)
Red-browed Finch
Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike
Buff-rumped thornbill
Rose Robin
Grey Shrike-thrush
Bell Miner
Golden Whistler

From Scheyville NP we went to Bussells Lagoon where the birding was brilliant. It was hot but the birds were active, including the surprise Zebra Finch, we weren't expecting to find these so close to Sydney.

Zebra Finch
Swamp Harrier
Black-winged Stilt
Pink-eared Duck
Black-winged Kite
Australian Raven
Black-fronted Dotterel
Superb Fairy-wren
Whistling Kite
Grey Teal
White-bellied Sea-eagle
Great Cormorant
Pied Cormorant
Australian Darter
Australian Pelican
Australasian Grebe
Tawny Grassbird
Little Grassbird

Also saw Turtles and water dragons.

All too soon it was time to head back to Sydney, where we managed to get in the wrong lane of traffic and ended up crossing the Harbour Bridge. We had to go round and recross it to get back to the right side of Sydney (the south)!

My trip list overall is 208, with 186 of those being new birds. That makes my overall world total something like 730. I might make it to 1000 in total by the time I get home in June, but I'm not too fussed if I don't.

Today (Monday) I went for a walk round the city. I got a ticket from King's Cross to Central and walked back via Darling Harbour. It was a nice walk but took ages.

I am supposed to be going to Coonabarabran on Wednesday to meet some astronomy friends from the US, but it's a 7 hour train and bus ride and I will be up all night before heading back to Sydney on Thursday! It'll be nice to see my friends again, but I'm not looking forward to the travelling or the cost of it.

The hostel I am staying in may be tatty, and the room smells like someone has been smoking in it in the recent past, but it has proved to be nice and quiet - however, the neighbourhood is well dodgy. I am sure next door is a brothel, judging by the superannuated slappers and dodgy blokes I've seen going into it, there are prostitutes everywhere (usually with cops rounding them up!) and there was a shooting in the next street in the early hours of yesterday morning! Still, it's an interesting place and I actually quite like it.

Friday, 15 May 2009


I am now in Sydney after a quick 3 hour flight (just under 3 hours actually) from Cairns. It beats the horrible five day bus ride I made when heading up there and flying's surprisingly cheaper too; Cairns to Sydney via Jetstar cost me $249 while Brisbane to Cairns on a Greyhound Australia bus (sorry, I mean coach; they hate you calling them 'buses' as I overheard a driver telling a young German tourist the other week).

I have bought a coach ticket (a mere two hours on a coach, as opposed to several days, is no big deal) to Wollongong for next week (people keep asking me 'Why on earth are you going to Wollongong, it's a bloody shithole, mate' and when I tell them it's for ocean-going birdwatching they are even more sceptical! Besides if I want to go to Wollongong, then I bloody well will!) and arranged accommodation in the local backpackers, just up from the harbour. Sadly, I can only get dorm accommodation but it's better than nothing and it's only for 2 nights - I am then returning to the scruffy backpackers I am esconsed in here in Sydney for a couple of days before heading to Asia (it's scruffy but adequate and I have a room to myself with - oh the decadence - a TELEVISION!!). I am definitely splurging on a decent hotel when I get to Asia - I gather that Thailand is so cheap that even a four star place is within my budget! I hope that particular gen is spot on!

I am glad to be in Sydney, I was here briefly a couple of weeks ago (I think - I have lost track of the passage of weeks!) and the bus coach I was in drove over the famous Harbour Bridge and I got a brief look at the Opera House. I got a better look at the Opera House today from the airport shuttle and it looks better from ground level than it did from the bridge. I'll do the touristy bollocks at some point and take pix of the bridge and Opera House before I leave Sydney next week.

The main reason I am glad to be here is not because of famous buildings, but because the weather is nice, pleasantly warm and with clear skies, unlike the tropical rain and relative heat and humidity of the Wet Tropics. Being a fair skinned Briton of Celtic extraction, the Sydney autumn weather is much more to my liking! I like visiting tropical places and seeing the tropical birds (bird species are more numerous in the tropics) but I am always happy to leave.

Must remember to look into getting to Coonabarabran (about 7 hours/500km from here) by train. There's an astronomy event on and I am hoping to spend the night of the 19th and 20th there before going to Wollongong for next Saturday's pelagic. By the way I'm getting the same questions about Coonabarabran I'm getting about Wollongong...!

Going birding tomorrow hopefully, with a fellow Bird Forum member who lives in Sydney.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Great Barrier Reef

Went to the Great Barrier Reef yesterday. I made sure that I went on a trip that included Michaelmas Cay, known for its seabirds. Well, it was not a disappointing trip, that's for sure! I added Lesser Crested Tern, Least Frigatebird, Brown Booby, Noddy and Sooty Tern to my list, bring the lifer total to 147 (can't remember the overall trip total).

I also did some snorkling, for the first time ever, and once you get over the urge to hyperventilate (very unpleasant) it's easy. The hyperventilation soon passes, especially when you encounter your first corals and brightly coloured fishes! I saw brain coral, mushroom coral, giant clams, and many fish whose identities I have no idea of. A couple I do know of were Yellow-tailed Fusilier and Batfish, and that's because they came begging to the boat and the crew ID'd them for us. Being a strong swimmer, I also dispensed with the fins as I found them a hindrance not a help.

Michaelmas Cay was easy to do snorkling in, you could just swim from the beach but the other place, Paradise Reef had to be done from the back of the boat in choppy seas but that was good fun too.

I am flying to Sydney tomorrow and while Cairns has been a bit wet for most of the time I've been here, it has been relatively hot and I'll be quite glad to duck back down below the Tropic of Capricorn again to a cooler climate. Sydney will be chilly and probably windy. I'm not ruling out wet either but I hope it's not too wet. Going birding this weekend, then a trip to the Warrumbungles if I can work out how to get to Coonabarabran from Sydney.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Wet wet wet

It was another vile wet day in Cairns. I know this is the 'Wet Tropics' but the rain is getting more than a little tiresome, especially when I am told the couple of weeks prior to my arrival was glorious warm sunshine. I met expat birder Tony for some birding around Cairns Esplanade and despite the shit conditions in which we both managed to get soaked feet (I was wearing soft shoes) we managed to get three more lifers for my list:

Beach Stone Curlew
Mangrove Robin - these proved easier to see than we thought, we eventually saw 4 and I even managed to get some (bad) photos of one as it perched briefly on a pillar at someone's front gate
Golden-headed Cisticola - this was on some 'waste ground' and it was only as we were leaving the area we saw it.

Other birds were:

Sacred Kingfisher
Black-fronted Dotterel
Fairy Martin
Varied Honeyeater
Brown Honeyeater
Brahminy Kite
Forest Kingfisher
White-bellied Sea-eagle
Silver Gull
Caspian Tern
Gull-billed Tern
Intermediate Egret
Little Egret
Straw-necked Ibis
Australian White Ibis

We drew a blank on Bar-shouldered Dove, Far-eastern Curlew and Nankeen Night-heron.
The total number of lifers now comes to a nice round 140 and I hope I can add a few more before leaving Australia on the 26th.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Yorkey's Knob

This afternoon Tony (local expat British birder) and myself went to Yorkey's Knob (oh go on, giggle, I know you want to ;) ) which is a 20 minute bus ride from Cairns and is a good little birding spot, especially by the golf course, where there is a lagoon holding plenty of waterfowl. As usual with golf courses there are plenty of people 'ruining a good walk' and there is the outside chance of an errant golf ball coming your way but it's relatively safe.

Thanks to Tony I added four new species to my list:

Green Pygmy Goose
Rajah Shelduck
Scaly-breasted Lorikeet

With these four additions that makes 137 lifers on this trip so far.
The Mistletoebird was a right little sod - we could hear them, but they were very difficult to see but we eventually tracked down a male and female over by the football pitch and I managed to get some good (I hope) shots of the very pretty male bird, all decked out in black, white and red.

Other birds were
Yellow-bellied (Olive-backed) Sunbird
Spice Finch
White-breasted Woodswallow
Little Black Cormorant
Rainbow Bee-eater
Brown Honeyeater
Dusky Honeyeater
Australian Darter
Intermediate Egret
Little Pied Cormorant
Forest Kingfisher
Double-eyed Figparrot
Sulphur-crested Cockatoo
Pacific Black Duck
Australian Grebe
Laughing Kookaburra
Spangled Drongo

According to Tony they are thinking of renaming Yorkey's Knob because of the ridicule and giggles the name causes - it's a bit like the unfortunately named village of Fucking which is in Austria and which tourists from English-speaking nations just love to visit purely for the novelty of visiting a town with a rude name. Actually, there's a place called Twatt in Shetland. I've seen photos of birders posing by that sign.

[caption id="attachment_155" align="alignnone" width="600" caption="Laughing Kookaburra"]Laughing Kookaburra[/caption]

This coming week

I have booked myself a trip to the Great Barrier Reef on Wednesday. I now have to nip into town tomorrow or Tuesday and buy a new cossie, shorts and underwater disposable camera! The trip I've booked on goes to Michaelmas Cay where I should see a few seabirds such as frigatebirds, noddies and boobies (why do the last two names sound rude?!), but even if I don't see many birds, I should see some cool, colourful fish.

Off to Yorkey's Knob (now that's a name guaranteed to raise titters among British schoolchildren) this afternoon. I have no idea who Yorkey was or why a place is named after his knob (titter) but it is a good Cairns birding spot, I'm told.

Planning to spend rest of week birding round Cairns before flight to Sydney on Friday morning. Then I have to work out how to get myself from Sydney to Coonabarabran for the 19th May (astronomy event in the Warrumbungles) - doing much in Australia without your own vehicle is a pain.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Rain, Cassowaries, big spiders and more rain

I went to Cassowary House for three days, which was quite nice and I am now back in Cairns. I havent got any lists to hand, as I'm in a dingy city-centre internet cafe and everything is back at the hostel I'm staying at (Castaways in Sheridan Street - a dear little place, highly recommended). I'm in Cairns for another week before flying to Sydney.

I did manage to - easily - see the Southern Cassowaries, both the male and the much larger female (she's a big bird, standing head high to me, and I am not short) plus Victoria's Riflebird, Helmeted Friarbird, Red-necked Crake, Macleay's Honeyeater, Spotted Catbird (makes a sound like a catfight), and others which I can't remember off the top of my head.
I had two geckos in my room, a little one which lived on the ceiling and a much larger, foot long one, which lived behind the fridge. Unfortunately I didn't see much of the bigger one, he preferred to remain mostly out of sight. I had the misfortune to be visited by a large black huntsman spider the first night, it took me ages to gather the courage to evict it, using a large glass. It wasn't a big one, as hunstmen go, but at three inches across, plenty (too) big for me. It was duly turfed out.

Went for a walk down Black Mountain Road (dropped off 3km up the road from Cassowary House) and walked back. Unfortunately the heavens opened and I got both soaking wet, then boiled when the sun came out, and plastered in mud. I saw very little and was not happy when I got back. The sole addition to the list was a Barred Cuckoo-shrike.

I don't know if this is the tail-end of the Wet season or not, but Queensland isn't living up to its Sunshine State tag - it's done nothing but chuck it down for days.

I have been stung for $164 to change my Qantas ticket. Austravel told me that it would be GBP50 (why can't foreign keyboards have a pound sign on them? Ours in the UK have $ signs and even, in some cases, Euro signs!) or $100 to change the ticket but what they didn't say was that Qantas would relieve me of another $64 for the privilege. The reason I changed my ticket is that I am burning through dosh quicker than if I'd chucked it on a fire. I knew Australia had got more expensive since my visit in 1997, but what I didn't realise was just HOW expensive - I bought some groceries the other day, just a few items, and it came to an outrageous $23. In some cases it's even worse than rip-off Britain - and the Aussies are rightly complaining.
So, I am leaving Australia on 26th May instead of 12th June. However, because of Thailand's visa rules my flight to London  has also had to be brought forward so, unless I can be bothered to change it again, I'll probably be going home a couple of weeks early. No bad thing, as I want some money left to get my car back on the road (needs MOT) to look for a job - what jobs are left after the latest round of redundancies, the Isle of Wight has had a real hammering recently, I'm told.

[caption id="attachment_157" align="alignnone" width="640" caption="Southern Cassowary"]Southern Cassowary[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_158" align="alignnone" width="479" caption="Male Victoria's Riflebird - my first ever Bird of Paradise"]Male Victoria's Riflebird - my first ever Bird of Paradise[/caption]

Monday, 4 May 2009


Very busy couple of days here in Cairns. Went birding round Cairns, including the local Cemetery, Centenary Lakes and the Esplanade yesterday with Tony (a UK birder who moved to Cairns 2 years ago) and today we went to Lake Barrine and Picnic Crossing Road (near Yungaburra), courtesy of local birder and guide John, which meant the list grew quite nicely.


Yellow Oriole
Brown Honeyeater
Bush Stone-curlew
Rainbow Bee-eater
Brush Cuckoo
Fig Parrot
Scrub Fowl
Dusky Honeyeater
Yellow Honeyeater

Spangled Drongo
Large-billed Gerygone
Straw-necked Ibis
White-breasted Woodswallow
White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike
Black Butcherbird
Little Kingfisher
Wandering Whistling-duck
Intermediate Egret
Australian Goshawk
White-rumped Swiftlet
Great White Egret
Black-fronted Dotterel
Red-capped Plover
Gull-billed Tern
Caspian Tern
Bar-tailed Godwit
Varied Honeyeater
Masked Lapwing
Red-necked Stint
Royal Spoonbill
Spice Finch
(also known as Nutmeg Mannikin)
Metallic Starling (or Shining Starling)
Rainbow Lorikeet
Yellow-bellied Sunbird
(aka Olive-backed Sunbird)

 Other animals: Mudskipper; Spectacled Flying Foxes (very pretty)

Lake Barrine and Picnic Crossing Road (birding was a bit quiet today):
White-bellied Sea-eagle
Large-billed Scrub-wren
Brown Gerygone
Lewin's Honeyeater
Eastern Spinebill
Eastern Whipbird
(great views, normally hard to see)
Little Shrike-thrush
White-throated Treecreeper
Pied Currawong
Grey-headed Robin
Spectacled Monarch
Pale-yellow Robin
Forest Kingfisher
Sacred Kingfisher
Brush Turkey
Pied Monarch
Red-browed Firetail
Leaden Flycatcher
Black Kite
Spotted Harrier

Other animals: Agile Wallaby and Duck-billed Platypus.

I am off to Cassowary House tomorrow for three nights before coming back to Cairns for a week - I want more photos of those gorgeous Bee-eaters! - then I am flying (no more bloody coaches!) to Sydney. I am planning to go to the Warrumbungles, Wollongong and Sydney before flying home via Asia.

Can I get another 362 species to get to 1000 birds on my life list?

Sunday, 3 May 2009


I have managed to edit and uploaded some photos, courtesy of my friend Tony in Cairns. I used his Mac to edit them so, as I have never used a Mac in my life before, they might be not quite as well edited as I'd like, but they're on line and looking pretty much okay if a bit big.

If you click on my Flickr RSS link to the right, you'll see them. Click on 'More Photos' to go straight there or go to

Thursday, 30 April 2009


Rubbed out yesterday's whinge, after all it's supposed to be about having a good time, shite backpacker's places or not! The Brisbane Palace 'Base' is still a right dump though but was adequate for one night and comfy enough even if the mattress felt like it had been hewn from the nearest quarry, but I wouldn't like to stay here for more than a night or two. However, just downstairs is a bar where you can buy a decent breakfast, tea and coffee included, at a discount if you're staying at the 'Base'.

I found a new home for my rucksack, I donated it to a charity shop just around the corner from here which is miles better than just ditching it which would have been a criminal waste. I hate wasting stuff, especially with earth's resources fast running out. However, I am not sure my new bag is big enough although I will send some stuff, such as Australia field guide, some magazines I got, a spare towel (I now have two as I bought a larger one, the hand towel I brought from home was too small being a hand towel, really) etc, back to the UK before I leave Oz.

I also bought a more comfy pair of shoes as wearing walking boots all the time is not comfortable. A pair of plimsoll-type shoes, very soft, probably won't last five minutes, cost $21 in the general purpose store just round the corner from here.

As I was unable to check in until 2pm yesterday afternoon I did what only a birder can do - I went birding. I only went to the Botanic Gardens which is a 20 minute walk from here, down by the Brisbane River. I wasn't able to add much to the trip list, unfortunately, only Welcome Swallow (very like Barn Swallow, only without the black band across the chest), Laughing Kookaburra (sounds like a demented monkey), and Australian White Ibis (very common round here) being new additions. The previous afternoon/early evening, from the bus somewhere north of Newcastle NSW, I did see White-necked Heron and Cattle Egret.

I am on something like 55 or 58 lifers now. The trip list altogether is around 61 species which is a tad meagre but I am hoping to add much more to it up in Cairns and the north.

When we left Sydney on Wednesday(? Losing track of the days) we went over the famous Harbour Bridge - I didn't realise this actually carried a main road! - and got a good, if quick view of the Opera House. The Opera House did not look as pristine as it does on telly or on the tourist postcards, more a grubby rice-pudding off white.

I see on the news that the world is on the verge of a global flu pandemic, courtesy of what's being called 'swine flu', which is a delightful mixture, apparently, of pig, bird and human flu viruses. Lovely. Here in Australia there's a big flap going on with heat scanners at airports (presumably to catch those coming in with a high fever), but the disease is already spreading across the world - the UK has got it. There's talk, probably in the more sensationalist parts of the media about airports being shut down. Scary, but I hope this dies down before I leave Australia next month.
Still, nasty or not, and it undoubtedly is, it is somewhat reassuring to know that no matter what we humans do, Nature is still very much in charge.

Setting off for Cairns later this morning. Forgot to reconfirm bus again, but Greyhound Australia told me the other day it's only really necessary when you get on at a request stop rather than a main bus station. 29 hours on the road coming up, but with only one night and one and a half days of daylight travel it shouldn't be as bad as the trip up from Melbourne which took two nights and one day.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009


I am killing time between buses in Sydney (came up from Melbourne overnight), so a little posting is in order here, I think. :)

I did go for a short birding sesh on Sunday morning and the lifers came thick and fast. I went for a walk through St Kilda and down to the waters edge. There were
Silver Gull
Pacific Gull
Pied Cormorant
Black Cormorant
Crested Tern
Black Swan (at last - tickable non-ornamental Black Swans! For a European, or indeed any non-Aussies, it was strange seeing black swans instead of white ones)
Rainbow Lorikeets in the trees
Australian Magpies
Common Myna (introduced species, I think)

I have also never seen so many fitness fanatics in one place either - I know we have our share in UK but runners, swimmers, cyclists, etc, were out in force. I went back to the hostel for a 'quick nap' at 10am - the 'quick nap' lasted until 4.30pm!

The trip list is coming on well. On Monday I took a tram - the tram network round Melbourne is excellent - from St Kilda to the Botanic Gardens and added a whole load of new birds, think I got around 20 new species.  The birds(s) of the day though was Yellow-tailed Black-cockatoo of which 12 were feeding in a tall tree, there were also plenty of Sulphur-crested Cockatoos around as well. This is how you should be seeing parrots - in the wild, not in some poxy horrible cage. That goes for all birds.
The fitness fanatics were out in force in the Botanic Gardens too, seriously I have never seen so many joggers, cyclists or power walkers in one place in my life. I suppose that's part of the Aussie dedication to sports and, because they are so sport mad, I still find it hard to get my head around the fact that Australia is the world's fattest nation (up there with us and the USA?).

I didn't see the penguins in the end, I was going to go on Monday evening (they live under the St Kilda breakwater and emerge at dawn to go to sea and return at dusk) but the weather was appalling, torrential rain, and I didn't fancy a 15-20 minute walk in those conditions. I am hoping that I might catch penguins on the Wollongong pelagic trip next month, and I think there's a population of them in or around Sydney somewhere, too.
If I fail to see any penguins this time, it's an excuse for a return to Australia one day.

Black Swan
Australian Pelican
Sulphur-crested Cockatoo
Bell Miner
Australian Magpie
Dusky Moorhen
White-browed Scrub-wren
Common Myna
Purple Swamphen
Pacific Black Duck
Magpie Lark
Chestnut Teal
Little Pied Cormorant
Spotted Turtle Dove
Little Raven
Willy Wagtail
Grey Fantail
Australasian Grebe
Yellow-tailed Black-cockatoo
Red Wattlebird

It's only been a week and I am already sick of hostels, with their faux matiness, crappy bunkbeds and 20-somethings who have been on the piss all night, come in at 3am making noise like elephants in clogs and then have the cheek to moan when you get up at 8am! Luckily the next few places I am in a single room. At least in Asia I'll be able to afford proper hotel rooms, something I can't do here in Australia.
I had a last birding session in Melbourne yesterday, with local birder (or 'birdo', as they call them here) Penny Johns, a return to the Botanic Gardens and a walk along the Yarra River adding some new birds to my list. Unfortunately the weather was iffy, with squally showers (this was after a night of torrential rain, which, let's face it, the region badly needs - they are in the middle of a severe drought with water levels down 36%, partly drought and partly problems with the Murray-Darling River system) so not conducive to much birding. Did manage to add Wood Duck, Brush Wattlebird, Crimson Rosella, Eastern Rosella, Pied Currawong, Noisy Miner, Grey Butcherbird, Little Black Cormorant and Australian Darter to the list. We aso visited Birds Australia (Royal Australasian Ornithologists' Union) in Melbourne, which was interesting and they gave me some copies of their magazine Wingspan to read on the bus, which was nice.

I liked Melbourne a lot. It's a pretty city and full of lovely green spaces. A bit like Singapore without the overbearing heat and humidity. I was actually quite sorry to get on the Greyhound and leave.
I had a quick count and so far I am on 61 trip species, 55 of which are lifers.

Sorry there's no more photos yet, but none of the public computers at the hostels or anywhere seem to have any image editing software so I can't resize them or anything.

I have decided to do away with my rucksack, as it is doing my shoulders serious damage, and I am sick of hauling it onto my shoulders so I bought a holdall on wheels (wish I'd brought mine from home rather than using a rucksack) but my stuff only *just* fits in it. Fortunately it's expandable! God knows what I'm going to do with the rucksack though, I am loathe to just bin it, so wasteful, so I'll find a charity shop somewhere who might like it.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

The big land Down Under

As I can't be arsed to rewrite this, it's a cut and paste job of a post I put on Bird Forum just now.
I've just arrived in Australia and the fact that Melbourne is less than warm is a nice change after the sauna of Singapore!
It's 0644 and I've not gone to bed yet, probably won't until bedtime now, not that tired and the birds are out there waiting! Or until it gets light enough to see what I am doing, it's a crowded hostel room, I didn't want to wake anyone so I opened the door, slung my rucksack in and came down to the computers instead.
Did make one mistake though - I've not been to Melbourne before and jumped into a taxi at Tullamarine Airport thinking it won't cost more than $25 'cos it can't be that far appalling $63 later I was wishing I'd waited another hour for the airport bus! F**king rip-off merchant. Even in Singapore where the airport is just as distant the taxi's only a fraction of the price. I'm pretty pissed off but, you live and learn.
At least I have found that my debit card works ok - I had some hassle at the ATMs in Singapore but that could have been because I forgot my PIN. I had to use my debit card to pay for the hostel as the taxi prick relieved me of what little Australian cash I had on me.
There are penguins here in St Kilda, down at the breakwater, so I'm going on a penguin hunt later.

I blamed Wordpress for messing with the posting the other day. It wasn't them, it was Firefox. The hostel in Singapore had Firefox and this one here uses IE (which I normally use at home - I don't rate Firefox much, although it is better than IE for some things).

Friday, 24 April 2009

Singapore Botanic Gardens

Well, I had a far more productive day at Singapore Botanic Gardens. It was hotter today but the humidity was not as bad - either that or I'm getting used to it (just when I am about to fly to Australia and freeze in Melbourne for a few days!).

Collared Kingfisher
Javan Myna
White-vented Myna
Common Myna
Yellow-vented Bulbul
Little Heron
White-breasted Waterhen
Pacific Swallow
Long-tailed Parakeet
Brown-throated Sunbird
Common Tailorbird
Striped Tit-babbler
Peaceful Dove
Spotted Dove
House Swift
Asian Palm Swift
Olive-backed Sunbird
Black-naped Oriole
Oriental Magpie-robin
Pied Triller
White-throated Kingfisher
Coppersmith Barbet
(heard only - I could not track the little bugger down!) and
White-bellied Sea Eagle (this was high in a tree overlooking the Botanic Gardens Swan Lake - good pickings to be had, judging by the size of the fish in it).

Not a large list, would have done better with cooler conditions, earlier in the morning. I'm hoping to see the 'missing' species in Thailand and Malaysia in a couple of months.

Durians: I tracked some down and I ate a bit. It is REVOLTING!!!! They taste absolutely vile and smell worse and have to easily be one of the most disgusting things I have ever tasted. But at least I have tried one although it's made me feel sick: the horrible stuff is repeating on me so I am having to relive it every so often, but at least I have some indigestion stuff handy and that seems to have stopped it.
The only way I can describe the taste and smell of durians is rotten brie cheese mixed with gorgonzola and vomit. The appearance is pretty gruesome as well, it's yellow and lumpy but somehow looks worse than just badly made custard - like when one of the dogs has just been sick...
Someone walked past me earlier with one and I am not surprised that they are banned from public transport, they are awesomely bad smelling. Heaven knows how or why some Asian chap or chapess decided that these things would be good to eat!

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Hot 'n' humid

Went to Bukit Timah today but, frankly, it was so hot and humid which, coupled with only 4 hours' sleep last night meant I ended up doing very little! The heat was 31 degrees (high 90s) and the humidity an appalling 90%! Walking was hellish, but I did manage to see some species, such as Yellow-vented Bulbul, Asian Fairy-bluebird, Pacific Swallow, Germain's Swiftlet, Crimson Sunbird (brief view, hoping for better!), Javan Myna, Tree Sparrow, and Banded Woodpecker.

As well as these birds, there were large monitor lizards on the path, I nearly stepped on a three-feet long specimen, and abundant monkeys, which were very cute - I love monkeys - but there were signs everywhere warning people not to feed them as that makes the monkeys aggressive and is bad for them. There were also some large and beautiful butterflies and some scary-looking large ants.

Last evening I went up to the 21st floor and took a photo of the city lit up, something Singapore is famous for. I had to go high to get above the roof of the next-door Buddha's Tooth Relic Temple, a large and lovely new Chinese temple (must get photo of that before I leave on Saturday). Five minutes after this photo was taken, a spectacular tropical storm erupted.

Funny sign on MRT train, among other prohibited items was a sign stating 'No durians'. Durians are spectacularly smelly fruit very popular in SE Asia, so I am going to track some down tomorrow to see if they really smell as appalling as they are reputed to be.

For some reason Wordpress is being shite and screwing up the formatting, hence funny, all over place appearance.

Logged on to the BBC to find bad news: Saints have been deducted 10 points: if we stay up they get deducted straight away and we go down; if we don't survive relegation this season then they get deducted next season so we will start League 1 on -10 points. Saints fans had an idea this was coming but it's no less a kick in the teeth for all that, and quite frankly I think the FA are run by a bunch of morons and the whole system is completely retarded. Relegation was a very real possibility, but to be relegated by a bunch of bureaucratic tossers makes it very hard to swallow. Those bastards certainly know how to kick a club and it's fans when we're down. However, the club's demise was started by Rupert Lowe and the former board, who want stringing up from the Itchen Bridge for wrecking the club in the first place. Gutted.
I thought distance might make it less painful, but it doesn't.


[caption id="attachment_59" align="alignnone" width="150" caption="Monitor lizard hunting worms at Bukit Timah"]Monitor lizard hunting worms at Bukit Timah[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_60" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Singapore at night"]Singapore at night[/caption]

Tuesday, 21 April 2009


After a 12 hour flight on a Qantas Boeing 747-400 over some very interesting places - Ukraine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and skirting the southern edge of the Tibetan Plateau and passing Mt Everest (didn't see it though) arrived in Singapore earlier than scheduled.

It is very hot, much greener than I thought - there's more countryside on Singapore Island than I thought there would be, I thought it was all city apart from places such as Bukit Timah and Sungei Buloh, etc, and very, very tidy (massive fines for littering - Britain take note!).

Bird list off to start with Eagle sp. along river and Mynas on grass outside the hostel (need to consult SE Asia field guide to find out their identities).

Off to find some food and - most importantly! - beer. It's 7.30 pm here (7 hours ahead of UK) and the jet lag is making me think it's lunchtime!

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Last minute preperations

The travel documents have finally arrived. They emailed them just now, so that's good. Everything is sorted now, all I have to do is pack and leave for the airport on Monday. Those lovely Oriental and Australasian birds await...

Looks like the trouble in Bangkok has ended so, unless it flairs up again, that part of the trip is still on.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Not long now

Ok, so everything's gathered together and I can fit it all into my 60 litre rucksack, with room to spare (taking the 60ltr because I want to get my monopod in it, something I can't do with a smaller one) and it's way below the 20kg limit (it's not even 10kilos), except my camera gear - three lenses, two bodies, CF cards and charger - and binoculars which will be coming in my carry on baggage (which weighs just 7kg, the limit).

Travel insurance is sorted, accommodation in Melbourne and the far north of Queensland (I have a couple of very long bus rides ahead of me!) is arranged and information gathered. This time in a fortnight I will be in the departure lounge at Heathrow T4. Bring it on!

Monday, 30 March 2009

The odd bits and pieces

Three weeks to go and some slight monetary panic - will I have enough to last me the whole three months? I should do if I am careful and don't go blowing the money on camera gear in Singapore! The travelling round will cost me the most money, buses around Australia aren't as cheap as they were (some journeys cost more than flying the same distance).

Last day at work tomorrow, while part of me is not sorry to see the back of it, I am starting to have a few concerns about what I'll do when I get home, but I'll cross that particular bridge when I reach it. Hopefully (some hope!) the recession might be starting to end by then, who knows.

Just realised I have to buy more travel insurance - I though the one that comes with my bank account would cover it, but it only covers 45 days, which is a complete pain, considering that I'll be away for 90. I'm not stupid enough to go away without adequate travel insurance, as an accident, delayed flights, lost/stolen baggage, etc, can happen to anyone, so I spent the evening on and found some good deals, so I won't be paying Austravel £104!

Sunday, 22 March 2009


Just what I need, a new blog, but this one is only here as somewhere to put my posts from my travels. I had intended to use for this but it's a complete pain in the backside, being slow and only working approximately half the time (when you're lucky).

So, I have added this to my Wordpress account and hopefully it'll be useful. If I put all the stuff on my usual blog, it'll just get lost in among everything else.

With four weeks to go the trip planning is finally coming together. I have booked my accommodation in Singapore having decided that, owing to the early evening arrival, I don't fancy traipsing around the city looking for somewhere to doss. It's not exactly luxurious accommodation, being a 12 bed dorm in a backpackers hostel but it's cheap and as I am doing things (as usual) on a tight budget that's the main thing. Besides, I'm not going to be spending all my time there, it's just a place to crash.
I have also booked a place on a Wollongong pelagic on the 23rd May, that should be excellent. Even if there isn't much around, I will be happy with even a solitary albatross! I want to add an albatross, any albatross, to my life list; I have never seen one before and albatrosses are birds I have always wanted to see. Wollongong is a town south of Sydney famous for its pelagics.
I have also booked a bus ticket from Melbourne to Sydney. I am aiming to get up to Cairns for some tropical Australian birding, but am trying to do it the cheap way and it looks as if the cheap way is in segments as even $60 here and $80 there (been taking advantage of Greyhound Australia's cheap deals) works out cheaper than lashing out $700 to do the journey in one big hit.
One more week of office purgatory to go, then just under three weeks after that before I'm off.