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!