Category Archives: Holiday Trips

Australian Adventure – The Birds of Australia – 3

Concluding the summary of the birds seen during our trip to Australia earlier this year, listed by general habitat ……

Fields and Farmlands

Whether out walking or on a drive, we found that open fields, parklands and farmlands attracted numerous species, most likely looking for that tasty worm or insect as they moved in small and large groups across the terrain

Eastern Cattle Egret (Bubulcus coromandus) – this common bird only arrived in Australia in 1948 but is now widespread over most of the country except the northwest and interior (which is vast). Looks identical to the Western Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) of southern Africa and has the same habits.

Masked Lapwing (Vanellus miles) – there is something about Lapwings that makes them one of my favourite groups of birds, and this attractive species is no exception. I think it has to do with their pleasing proportions, their neat appearance and the fact that they spend much of their time at ground level, like all respectable humans do. The Masked Lapwing has distinctive yellow wattles, much like the Wattled Lapwing (Vanellus senegallus) and White-crowned Lapwing (Vanellus albiceps) of southern Africa. It’s distribution is mainly over the eastern half of Australia. According to the reference book the one found in Victoria and photographed here is the subspecies novaehollandiae, told by the black hind neck and sides of the breast, as well as smaller wattles

White-faced Heron (Egretta novaehollandiae) – the most commonly seen heron in Australia, this species is found near water according to the reference books, but the few times I saw it was in fields such as the photo following.

Australasian Swamphen (Porphyrio melanotus) – now you may be wondering why I have shown this species under “Fields and farmlands” rather than lakes and rivers. Being used to seeing its southern African cousin skulking amongst waterside vegetation, I expected to have only fleeting glimpses of this species, if at all, so it was a surprise to encounter groups of them in parks and fields, walking about in the open and as common as our Hadedas.

Australian White Ibis (Threskiornis molucca) – found across most of Australia, this Ibis is equally at home in and near water or in parks and pastures. Said to be nomadic, with young birds dispersing, usually northwards, up to 1200 km

Australian Raven (Corvus coronoides) – a common endemic, this raven is similar in appearance to the other all black ravens and crows that make up the family Corvidae. I was able to narrow this one down by looking at distribution, habitat and the finer details such as the shaggy “beard” that sets the Australian Raven apart.

Straw-necked Ibis (Threskiornis spinicollis) – An endemic and Australia’s most common Ibis, which we can vouch for as we saw it in numbers wherever we travelled in Victoria.

Cape Barren Goose (Cereopsis novaehollandiae) – this endemic Goose has a limited distribution on offshore islands and the adjacent mainland in the far south of Australia. We came across it on Philip Island during our visit to the site of the Penguin Parade

Raptors, Swallows and others

Laughing Kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae) – an endemic and well-known species, the Kookaburra belongs to a grouping of 7 dry land “tree kingfishers” with the Laughing Kookaburra being the largest of them. Pairs produce an iconic chorus of loud “laughter” in the mornings which is unmistakeable and eerie at the same time as they are not always visible. They are mainly found in the eastern third of Australia as well as the southwestern corner – their natural habitat is forest edges, woodlands and parks but we saw them a few times perched on roadside telephone wires.

Black-shouldered Kite (Elanus axillaris) – so that’s why the southern African Black-shouldered Kite (Elanus caeruleus) was recently renamed Black-winged Kite! Presumably to differentiate it from the Australian species of the same name but different genus. The look and habits of this endemic are very similar to the one we know from SA, hovering and dropping onto prey, which is more often than not the introduced house mouse

Welcome Swallow (Hirundo neoxena) – the only swallow I saw and in small numbers except for one afternoon when a hundred or more were foraging for insects over Lake Guthridge in Sale, swooping and diving above the surface of the water

Whistling Kite (Haliastur sphenurus) – common over most of Australia, I had several sightings of this handsome raptor, often in effortless wheeling flight over farmlands and wetlands. The photo below was taken while walking on Sale Common, just after I saw the Kite landing in a tall tree

Grey Butcherbird (Cracticus torquatus) – Yet another endemic species, widely distributed over Ausralia except for the northern third. I came across this species just once while walking to the local supermarket – it was calling from within a dense tree and all I had was my cellphone to capture an image, thus the poor quality photo. Their name comes from their habit of hanging larger prey in a tree fork, then dismembering it with their sharp hook-tipped bill (much like some of the Shrike family of southern Africa)

Grey Shrike-thrush (Colluricincia harmonica) – we had just the one sighting of this common species during a drive out of Apollo Bay. It popped up onto the fence where it waited for me to get my camera in position, then just before releasing the shutter it flew down to the ground and off into the nearby bush leaving me mildly frustrated yet glad I had seen it

Azure Kingfisher (Ceyx azureus) – another one that eluded my camera – we were on the Sale Canal cruise when I was the first to spot it down river, the azure colour standing out against the green background. Next moment it flew up to the boat and perched on an open branch just long enough for everyone on the boat to see it, then flashed off upriver leaving me holding my camera in despair. Classed as moderately common, it is found along the northern and eastern parts of Australia

Nankeen Night-Heron (Nycticorax caledonicus) – this mostly nocturnal species (asleep but wary during the day as you will see from the photo below) occurs over most of Australia, roosting in colonies near water. They leave the colony in unison and forage during the evening and before dawn for fish and other aquatic prey

Willie Wagtail (Rhipidura leucophrys) – the name wagtail is a tad misleading as it is in fact classified under the Fantails and is the largest of the fantail family. They are well-loved and for good reason with their chirpy attitude and cute sideways wagging of the fanned tail – they would have easily taken to the Twist dance of the 60’s (which is also the only one I could master). Apparently fearless in defence of their nest, they will take on all-comers and are often seen chasing away eagles

Wedge-tailed Eagle (Aquila audax) – we had just one brief sighting of this eagle as it soared above the road while driving to Philip Island. It is classed as common and its distribution covers all of Australia. The largest of Australia’s raptors, it is easily distinguished by the wedge-shaped tail

The Colourful Birds (Like, Everywhere!)

Australia is famous for its colourful species such as Parrots, Cockatoos, Lorikeets and such like, and rightly so – they are literally everywhere, often in surprising numbers and are a feature of birding in this amazing country. It’s also an interesting fact of nature that the more colourful the bird, the less attractive their song seems to be – not always true of course but many of those that we encountered produced the most grating, unattractive calls.

Rainbow Lorikeet (Trichoglossus moluccanus) – this was the first of the colourful birds that we saw and we enjoyed almost daily sightings of them in the suburbs

Galah (Eolophus roseicapella) – this common endemic is a ground feeder and all of our sightings were of it walking about on lawns, when not in flight to the next grassy area

Little Corella (Cacatua sanguinea) – classed as locally common, we came across large flocks on a few occasions, as shown in the featured photo at the top of this post. They are found over most of Australia and are also ground feeders

Crimson Rosella (Platycercus elegans) – a common endemic which is confined to the southeastern corner of Australia and favours tall eucalyptus trees. The crimson colouring is quite breathtaking in its intensity and combined with the rich blue on the wings and tail makes for a spectacular bird

Eastern Rosella (Platycercus eximius) – another common endemic and like the above, confined to the southeastern corner of Australia. Despite the vivid colours it is surprisingly well camouflaged when among foliage – we had just one clear sighting on Raymond Isand

Australian King Parrot (Alisterus scapularis) – this endemic parrot is found in the southeastern parts of Australia and migrates to coastal plains in winter from its favoured habitat of mountain forests, parks and gardens

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo (cacatura galerita) – this noisy and conspicuous species is impossible to overlook, occuring in large flocks and often foraging on the ground or gathering in trees in surburbia. South Africans of a certain age (let’s leave it at that) will remember the NBS adverts that featured this bird demonstrating how it can raise and lower its bright yellow crest

And that concludes the pleasurable task of listing all the birds seen during our visit to Australia – roll on the next visit!

Australian Adventure – The Birds of Australia – 2

Continuing the summary of the birds seen during our trip to Australia earlier this year, listed by general habitat ……

Lakes and Rivers

Sale in Victoria, our base for the time we were in Australia, is blessed with a sizeable lake – Lake Guthridge – which is bordered on the one side by a main road and on the other by parkland and botanical gardens. A smaller lake – Lake Guyatt – adjoins it and the nearby river and Sale Canal all add to the abundance of water within walking distance of the house, providing plenty of opportunity to view the birds that favour these habitats.

Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra) – A familiar species, almost identical to the Red-knobbed Coot we know so well in SA, the only obvious difference being the absence of the red knob. Found over most of Australia, there were huge flocks on Lake Guthridge at times

Dusky Moorhen (Gallinula tenebrosa) – Another very familiar looking species, with small differences between it and the Common Moorhen of southern Africa, such as reddish instead of yellow legs and the lack of the white wing flashes. Australian distribution is limited to the eastern half of the continent.

Dusky Moorhen, Sale, Victoria

Black Swan (Cygnus atratus) – An Australian endemic, this is a species that has been successfully “exported” to South Africa and for years we had a pair on one of the small dams in our residential estate in Pretoria, brought there by one of the well-meaning residents. Good to look at but I am never comfortable having exotic species in places that they don’t belong. So it was a pleasure to see so many of these elegant birds in their natural environment and the sight of a group of them flying off to their roost at dusk, long necks outstretched, black bodies contrasting with white underwing will long remain in my mind.

Pacific Black Duck (Anas superciliosa) – this is the most abundant of Australia’s ducks, found in pairs or small flocks on most open waters. The iridescent speculum shows in flight or, if you are lucky as I was, while preening

Chestnut Teal (Anas castanea) – Australian endemic, common in southwestern and southeastern Australia, we encountered this distinctive medium-sized duck regularly on lakes and rivers

Blue-billed Duck (Oxyura australis) – I only had one sighting of this distinctive Australian endemic during our visit to Raymond Island, but that was enough to have it imprinted on my mind. Said to be moderately common, it is found mainly in southeastern Australia. It is a completely aquatic diving duck almost unable to walk on land and remains well out from shore

Maned Duck (Chenonetta jubata) also known as the Australian Wood Duck – Yet another endemic, this duck is unusual in that it prefers walking about on the grassy banks of the river or lake rather than taking to the water. We had several sightings of these ducks and never saw them in the water

Australasian Grebe (Tachybaptus novaehollandiae) – a small cute Grebe found over most of Australia but restricted to sheltered fresh water

Freckled Duck (Stictonetta naevosa) – such a cool name for a duck! It could easily be the name of a pub in one of those cosy villages in England. I was probably lucky to spot this endemic duck on the lake fringes on the last day of our visit to Australia, as the book gives its status as “Rare” with patchy distribution across eastern Australia

Australasian Darter (Anhinga novaehollandiae) – widespread across Australia and moderately common, it is also known as the “snake-bird” for the same reason as its African cousin – it swims with body submerged and its snake like head and long neck visible

Australian Pelican (Pelicanus conspicillatus) – A species which is hard to miss and surprisingly common on larger bodies of water, swimming and dipping in unison in their characteristic manner. Despite their large size, but perhaps because of their 2,3m wingspan, they are adept at riding updrafts of warm air to heights of up to 3000m and travelling long distances.

Yellow-billed Spoonbill – (Platelea flavipes) – A common endemic, found across most of Australia. Like all spoonbills it wades in shallow muddy waters, slowly sweeping the water with its spatula-like bill for fish, shrimps and crustaceans

Eastern Great Egret (Ardea modesta) – On the face of it this egret is identical to the Great Egret that we know from Southern Africa, but the books show its species name as ardea modesta, whereas the SA species goes under the name ardea alba, so clearly the boffins have decided there is enough evidence to separate it. Strictly speaking the SA species should perhaps be known as the Western Great Egret.

Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) – largest of the Australian cormorants and also widespread on rivers, dams, lakes and estuaries

Little Black Cormorant (Phalacrocorax sulcirostris) – common on inland waters across most of Australia

Little Pied Cormorant (Microcarbo melanoleucus) – smallest of the Australian cormorants, often abundant on lagoons, dams and lakes

Coastal

We spent most of our time inland but a week-long road trip included the Great Ocean Road and Philip Island near Melbourne, which afforded some opportunities to find species which prefer coastal habitats

Silver Gull (Chroicocephalus novaeholandiae) – the most common gull in Australia, this striking bird is found along the coast as well as on inland lakes

Pacific Gull (Larus pacificus) – classed as moderately common, this endemic gull is found along the southern and eastern coast of Australia. We had just one sighting of a juvenile gull

Australasian Gannet (Morus serrator) – I was excited to find this species offshore at Cape Otway Light station, having previously seen its African and North American “cousins”, all very similar looking. It was too far offshore for a decent photo so I have added one from the reference book

Sooty Oystercatcher (Haematopus fuliginosus) – I was hoping to see this species during our Great Ocean Road trip and was thrilled to find a pair on a rocky stretch of the coast. It is classed as moderately common and found along Australia’s coastline

Crested Tern (Thalasseus bergii) – The only tern seen during our trip happened to be one that I am very familiar with, as it is the most common tern seen when we spend time at our Mossel Bay home

Little Penguin (Eudyptula minor) – I have written about the “Penguin Parade” in previous posts so won’t repeat that here. Suffice to say that this species is a major tourist attraction and money-spinner for the authorities that control the viewing experience on Philip Island.

Australian Adventure – The Birds of Australia – 1

Our trip to Australia was primarily to spend time with family, but being the avid birder that I am, I was particularly looking forward to seeing and identifying as many Australian birds as circumstances would allow. Keen birders will know that thrill that comes with visiting a new part of your home country and it is doubly so when you visit a new country, specially one known for its variety of birds.

My first thrill was being presented with a fine Australian Bird book by Stephan and family on arrival and I was soon into it, marking up with a green highlighter all the birds that could reasonably be found in the State of Victoria.

For the first few days birding was limited to what I could pick up in the small garden and the surrounding neighbourhood, as well as on short trips into town. Once I got to know the area better I took longer walks to the local parks and lakes which expanded the birding opportunities greatly. Thereafter it was a matter of “taking my (birding) chances” when they arose.

So, just to sort the 68 bird species that I saw into some sort of order, I decided to list them by general habitat, starting with……

Gardens and suburbia

Common Myna – It just had to be the first bird on my list – that brashest of all species, strutting about the garden and stealing Maggie’s food (she being the family pet dog). They occur in abundance all along the east coast of Australia and are a declared pest, having been introduced in 1860 in a failed attempt to control insects. Little did they know……. The bird book actually suggests that you “destroy nests, trap and dispose of birds where possible” which is what a lot of people in South Africa would like to do!

Common Myna, Sale, Victoria

Pied Currawong (Strepera graculina) – a much more pleasant species with a pleasing voice – known for and named after the melodic “curre-wong” sound that one hears from afar. Common endemic which occurs along the east coast and inland areas of Australia, forming flocks in winter.

Pied Currawong, Sale, Victoria

Common Starling (Sternis vulgaris) – another species introduced into Australia, also in the 1860’s and also declared a pest, (We could learn from the Aussies). Abundant in the SE of Australia (No photo)

Red Wattlebird (Anthochaera caranculata) – an attractive species that we came across in parks, woodlands and gardens in several places. A common endemic and the largest honeyeater in Australia, which occurs from east to west along the southern side of Australia. Nomadic, with small to large groups following flowering events. This bird reminded me of the Cape Sugarbird which comes into our garden in Mossel Bay, both in appearance and actions. It’s named for the red wattles that hang on the sides of its face but are not always noticeable.

New Holland Honeyeater (Phylidonyris novaehollandiae) -I first came across this bird in the park and subsequently saw it a few times in gardens. I was immediately entranced by its bold colouring and active nature. A common endemic whose reliance on nectar makes it protective of its chosen source and it will energetically chase other birds that may venture too close. That intimidating eye should be enough warning on its own!

Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus) – another species introduced in the 1860’s, its distribution is limited to the south east corner of Australia

Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Female), Apollo Bay

Australian Magpie (Cracticus tibicen) – widespread and common, this distinctive large bird is found in suburbia and just about everywhere else. It has a variety of calls, often melodious and complex. There is a “computer-generated sound” quality to their calls at times

Magpie-lark (Grallina cyanoleuca) – One of my favourite visitors to the garden, where it forages for insects on the ground, this striking bird is common across Australia.

Spotted Dove (Streptopelia chinensis) – introduced from China, this dove is present in coastal eastern Australia.

Common Blackbird (Turdus merula) – yet another introduced species from the 1850’s but its distribution is limited to the south east corner of Australia. Visits the garden and, typically thrush-like, forages amongst the leaf litter. Not easy to photograph as they are very skittish.

Crested Pigeon (Ocyphaps lophotes) – I enjoyed the few sightings of this species which looks unlike any other dove/pigeon with its prominent thin upright crest. Occurs over most of Australia and an endemic to boot!

Common Bronzewing (Phaps chalcoptera) – we had just one sighting of this handsome pigeon, while viewing Koala Bears on Raymond Island. An Endemic, it occurs across Australia but is a shy and wary species

Parks, fields and farmland

Superb Fairy-wren (Malurus cyaneus) – the familiar “Blue-wren” of southeastern Australia, this endemic species can be tricky to see as it works its way briskly through dense thickets. One has to be patient and follow its movement until it hops into view, usually briefly. In non-breeding plumage it is far less colourful but still an attractive species to see

Superb Fairywren, Lake Guyatt Sale

Brown Thornbill (Acanthiza pusilla) – endemic species that forages in mid to upper foliage and also requires some patience in order to get a photo. Distribution covers the southeatern coastal and inland areas of Australia

Noisy Miner (Manorina melanocephala) – the name is apparently based on its raucous “pee-pee-pee” call but I never heard it call despite several encounters in parks. Endemic and a vigorous defender of territory.

Grey Fantail (Rhipidura albiscapa) – a common endemic which occurs over most of Australia, this species did its best to elude my binos and my camera as it actively made its way through the lower canopy, frequently fanning its tail (Photo from Complete Guide to Australian BIrds)

Grey Fantail

Eastern Spinebill (Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris) – another common endemic, this is one of the more distinctive and handsome birds that I came across and found to be quite accommodating in perching in an open position for a reasonable photo. Found in the southeastern parts of Australia, its fine, long, down-curved bill identifies it as a nectar feeder.

The second part of The Birds of Australia will cover the birds of Lakes and Rivers, Coast and Sea – not to be missed!

Australian Adventure – The Last Day, Melbourne

After close to 6 weeks in Sale, Victoria, of which one week was taken up by a very pleasurable road trip exploring the Great Ocean Road, we felt ready to return home, nevertheless sad to say our goodbyes to Stephan and Liesl and Jocelyn and Christopher.

Up at 5am for final packing to catch the 6.55am train from Sale to Southern Cross station in central Melbourne – a relaxing and comfortable train in plush first class seats – this is the way to do it!

The 6,55am train arrives at Sale station in the mist

At Southern Cross we found our way to the baggage hall which we found had a facilty to store our bags for the day while we discovered some of Melbourne. This was also the moment for bureacracy to go a little mad as the baggage attendant weighed our bags before accepting them for storage (no transport involved, mind you) and finding them, to his apparent horror, to be almost one kg over their 20kg limit, insisted we remove some articles (our books did it) to reduce the weight, which he then placed on top of the bags and took them through a door into the storeroom all of 3 metres away. We did as instructed and left him muttering about the personnel at Sale station who had allowed this gross flouting of the baggage rules.

After that bizarre encounter we found a coffee shop and, suitably calmed and refreshed, we set off to find the Hop-on, Hop-off city bus terminal with the help of Google maps which even showed us which tram to take (thanks Stephan for showing me this useful feature). The tram trip was a mini-adventure in itself despite being just three stops and with some walking we found the terminal at Federation Square.

Bus terminal at Federation Square, Red Bus waiting

It’s always good to see a city at pavement level, warts and all, while walking the streets and seeing the citizens going about their normal business – we passed by the gracious St Paul’s Cathedral and the historic Flinders Street Station, both nicely preserved. The trams are an efficient way of getting around the city and as a bonus are free in the central city.

We boarded the Red Bus for the two hour round trip with 14 stops at points of interest, only disembarking at one as we still had to get ourselves out to the airport hotel that afternoon. This gave us a good overview without any real “wow” moments. The inner city as seen from the lower level of a bus looks much like most other modern cities, but once we moved further out there was enough to keep us interested …….

  • Melbourne University with its vast sports fields
  • Melbourne Star Observation Wheel in the Docklands precinct
  • The iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground / MCG which Aussies like to call the “G”. It draws big crowds (90 – 100,000) for some of the major sports events including that incredibly popular sport called “Footie” or Australian Rules Football.
  • Glimpses of Little Italy and Chinatown on the city fringes

We disembarked at Fitzroy gardens and walked through lovely parkland with autumn leaves falling (do they say “fall leaves falling” in the States?) and covering the vast lawns with a multi-coloured carpet.

In one section was Captain Cook’s cottage, which the blurb said is the oldest building in Australia – but there’s a catch to that – it was originally built in 1755 in Yorkshire, England by the parents of Captain James Cook and was brought to Melbourne in 1934. Apparently each brick was numbered, packed into barrels and then shipped to Australia where it was reconstructed in the gardens.

Captain Cook’s cottage, Fitzroy Gardens

While trying to get a photo without other tourists posing in front, I was curious about the people in period dress wandering about in the small garden – they turned out to be volunteers who “add to the memorable experience” and provide period clothing for tourists to dress alike and have photos taken, at a cost of course (I must apologise at this point for not enthusing about this potential “memorable experience” which I decided to forego)

Captain Cook’s cottage

We were peckish by this time and headed to the garden cafe where we were told that lunch was “finished”, so we ended up having tea and “party pies” – tiny vegetable pies – plus a slice of banana/walnut bread, which was an odd lunch but rather nice.

Then it was time to catch the red bus again, where it had dropped us off earlier and after a short wait one appeared. It wasn’t long before we were back at Federation Square and we retraced our steps to Southern Cross station, collected our bags (and put the books back in them) and found the Skybus to take us to the airport and our hotel for the night. All that remained was the flight back to South Africa the next day. It had been a busy but worthwhile day and a good way to round off our Australian adventure. We had seen but a glimpse of Melbourne and resolved to see more of it when the opportunity arose.

Melbourne Airport – early morning view from our hotel

Australian Adventure – Victoria : Philip Island

We left our overnight accommodation in Geelong after a hearty breakfast – destination Queenscliff. With plenty of time before our reserved ferry trip, we had coffee at a cafe, then drove to the ferry terminal and on to the ferry. 40 minutes later we drove off at Sorrento (no not the Italian one) and set off on the long route around the top of the bay and southwards to Philip island, which is accessed via a bridge across the narrow channel between the mainland and the island.

The rain had followed us for most of the day, varying between light drizzle and road-drenching downpours. We stopped at a farm cafe for warming soup and a break from driving and were treated to the sight of a flock of Eurasian Tree Sparrows taking refuge from the heavy rain under a parked vehicle.

Eurasian Tree Sparrows sheltering from the heavy rain
Eurasian Tree Sparrows

We reached Philip Island around 4 pm and headed straight to the accommodation that Stephan had booked for the weekend – they arrived a bit later and we discussed our plans for the next day, Saturday, besides the Penguin Parade for which we had booked tickets the previous week. We decided a visit to the Chocolate Factory would satisfy the kids – the actual ones and the grown-ups who like to be kids sometimes.

Chocolate Factory

Next morning after a slow and lazy start we headed across the island to the Chocolate Factory, not knowing quite what to expect. The entrance tickets set the tone – edible chocolate ones – and we spent a very entertaining hour or more going from one exhibit to the next, some of them interactive and full of fun.

After a good curry lunch we headed back to the house to get ready for the main outing of the day – the Penguin Parade. On the way we passed a small reserve and spotted our first Wallabies – when I stopped to take a photo through the fence, a small head cutely popped out of its pouch!

Penguin Parade

The only thing we knew about the Parade was that it would be outside and we should dress warmly so, kitted out with jackets, scarves and beanies, we drove the few kms or so to the Philip Island Nature Park. By now we had come to know that top tourist attractions in Australia are very popular and the already full parking area confirmed this.

We walked to the main centre, a large building with shops, restaurants, toilets and an auditorium, past an even larger centre under construction, then on down the boardwalk towards the beach area to take up our position on the boarded seating along with numbers of other people hoping for a sighting of the Little Penguins. Our view was limited to a stretch of the beach, a rocky area and a pathway where the penguins would be passing by, we were told.

Penguin Parade boardwalks and seating areas – we were in the seating closest to the camera

It all seemed very organised and unlike any “birding” experience that I could think of, nevertheless I was fascinated by it all and looking forward to seeing these penguins, well named “Little Penguin” as they are the smallest of their species. They are just 35-45cm long and are also known as Fairy Penguin. It is the only resident penguin in Australia.

I was disappointed to hear that photography was not allowed “for the protection of the penguins” – I couldn’t help wondering what the long-term effect may be of up to 2000 people viewing the parade every evening, sitting under lights and crowding the boardwalks as the birds make their way to their roosts. Fortunately one can download photos from an app which is what I did and the photos which I have used here do represent the experience

The Rangers on duty told us what to expect, predicting the time that the first penguins would emerge from the sea after their day of foraging the open seas, in some 45 minutes time. While we waited, a couple of Little Penguins that had been left behind entertained the crowd before the “main show” started at the predicted time, with the first raft of penguins swimming in, scrambling up the rocky area, hesitating, then heading up the network of main and branch pathways in batches of 2 to 20 at a time.

They were beyond cute as they waddled by, bent forward like old folk and rather awkward out of the water, but moving surprisingly quickly. More rafts of penguins swam in, turning into waddles as they moved inland, some up to 3kms to their roosts. All in all several hundred penguins passed our position while we watched fascinated by the spectacle.

We walked back slowly to the main centre along the crowded boardwalk and watched some of the groups of penguins waddling by almost within touching distance, with many already at their chosen spots in the grassy dunes, some apparently courting. All that remained to be done was some shopping and the short drive back to the house.

Quite a special experience despite sharing it with so many others.

Next morning before heading back to Sale, we enjoyed a Mother’s day brunch at a local restaurant in Cowes, then took a walk along the beachfront and pier – a nice way to round off our visit to Philip Island and our week long road trip. I squeezed in some birding while the others enjoyed the seaside atmosphere

Australian Adventure – Victoria : What a Great Road

After our trip from Apollo Bay to the Twelve Apostles the previous day, we were looking forward to seeing more of the “real” Great Ocean Road and, looking at our route for the day, it showed the B100 following the coastline all the way from our starting point of Apollo Bay to Torquay then heading inland to Geelong.

The “real” Great Ocean Road

We left Apollo Bay by mid-morning and made our way very slowly along the B100, stopping frequently at spots with views of the beaches and rocky areas, or anything that looked interesting. The day also lent itself to indulging in some birding as we had the best part of a day to travel not many kms and the coastal habitat, the relaxed pace and fairly quiet road meant there were plenty of opportunities to stop at short notice to check out the surroundings.

Petticoat Creek, Great Ocean Road
Petticoat Creek, Great Ocean Road

One of our first stops had nothing to do with birding – I had pulled in at a roadside parking area where a school bus and trailer was parked. There was a group of young people in wet suits in the waves and we realised that this was a school outing to learn how to surf – how cool is that!

Cool Surfing class, near Apollo Bay

Soon thereafter, the sandy beaches gave way to a wide expanse of flat exposed rocks – I thought this looked like ideal habitat for a certain species and I tried a birding ploy that had worked for me before, although not guaranteed – I casually mentioned to Gerda that this looked perfect for Oystercatchers, in the hope that the birding gods would hear me. Lo and behold, even I was surprised when minutes later I spotted Sooty Oystercatchers (looking uncommonly like our African Black Oystercatchers) at a distance and pulled off the road, turned around and raced back to park at the first safe spot next to the road.

Sooty Oystercatcher

They were working their way across the flat rocks but were too far away for a decent photo, but my luck got even better as I noticed another pair much closer and was able to take some reasonable shots as they continued their busy way. Not far from them was a Pied Cormorant in the process of swallowing a small fish, so the stop was doubly productive.

Sooty Oystercatcher
Little Pied Cormorant

Just a few kms further the beach changed again – this time to a rock and boulder strewn expanse and, when I stopped to have a closer look, we noticed carefully stacked columns of varying sized stones forming cairns at one end of the beach. It seems someone started stacking these columns and others continued, for no particular reason other than creating an interesting feature.

Rock-strewn beach
Stone piles

By 1pm we reached Lorne, having travelled all of 42 km in two and a bit hours! I turned off to have a look at the Lorne Pier and fortuitously found our lunch spot for the day right next to the pier – aptly named Lorne Pier Seafood Restaurant. There was a light drizzle and strong wind whipping up the sea which, combined with a rainbow that suddenly appeared, made for a pleasing scene.

Lorne Pier

We were soon ensconced in the warm restaurant and ordered two different fish dishes – Gerda had Barramundi, I had John Dory, both beautifully fresh and perfectly prepared – we were so glad we had found this place. One of our favourite TV series is Australian Masterchef where Barramundi and John Dory fish feature quite frequently in the dishes prepared by the skilled contestants, so it was quite exciting to be enjoying these tasty fish dishes ourselves in such an appropriate location.

Lorne Pier Seafood Restaurant

In front of the restaurant was a small beach with many seabirds present – mainly Greater Crested (Swift) Terns and the ubiquitous Silver Gulls that I had come across in a few spots.

Crested Terns
Crested Tern
Silver Gull

The immature Silver Gull below shows a few differences from the adult – dark eyes rather than light, remnants of the juvenile brown colouring on the upper wings

Silver Gull (Immature)

After lunch we drove slowly through Lorne and up the hill to Teddy’s Lookout high up on the ridge overlooking the twisty coastal road and headland we had passed earlier.

Teddy’s Lookout, Lorne, Great Ocean Road
View from Teddy’s Lookout, Lorne

Passing through Lorne we found the Grand Pacific Hotel and just had to stop and admire its beautiful architecture.

Grand Pacific Lorne, Great Ocean Road
Grand Pacific

We noticed a number of well looked after older houses in Lorne, such as this one with its elaborate decorative trims

Lorne

Moving on, I upped the pace to avoid getting to our destination in Geelong too late. The coastal road continued in the same twisty fashion and before long we were passing through Anglesea, then Torquay, a larger town, after which the traffic became heavier as we headed to Geelong on the outskirts of Melbourne. Our accommodation for the night was Bindaree, a beautiful old house amongst many others in the area.

Bindaree, Geelong
Bindaree, Geelong

Tomorrow we head to Philip Island, a ferry trip and a few hours drive away.

Australian Adventure – Happy Anniversary!

It was meant to be an idyllic day for a wedding anniversary, one that we would remember for the rest of our days – we had arrived in Apollo Bay the previous afternoon and were about to have our first taste of the Great Ocean Road that stretches for a couple of hundred kms west of Melbourne and is said to be one of Australia’s finest scenic routes with a fascinating history. It would take us to the famed Twelve Apostles where we anticipated pulling off the road at a convenient spot to view this natural spectacle. 

We were also counting on there being a selection of delightful restaurants along the way, where we could choose to celebrate our significant day in style with a memorable lunch and, on the way back, we looked forward to spoiling ourselves with a late afternoon tea and perhaps a sweet treat at a pleasant café.

We awoke full of anticipation for the day ahead – the overcast weather with squalls of rain was not ideal but did not put us off from our plans. Soon we were heading westwards out of Apollo Bay on the B100 – the Great Ocean Road – except there was no ocean to be seen as the road threaded its way through mostly forested countryside.

In fact, this was the way it stayed for the entire day other than a deviation to check out Cape Otway Lighthouse and on the final approach to the 12 Apostles. It crossed my mind that calling this stretch the “Great Forest Road” would make a lot more sense.

Before long the turnoff to Cape Otway lighthouse loomed which seemed worth a visit and we drove along a narrow road lined with tall trees and fields for 12 km to the entrance.

The entrance to Cape Otway Lightstation

Our first sight of the sea since leaving Apollo Bay

My only bird sighting of note from the cliffs was a lifer –

Australasian Gannet (Photo : The complete guide to Australian Birds – George Adams)

A short walk in light drizzle took us to the unimposing restaurant – the limited choice of basic dishes and the canteen-like feel was not quite what we had in mind, but we weren’t sure where the next opportunity would be and being quite peckish we ordered 2 beef pies and coffees at the counter.

The restaurant at Cape Otway

The pies came on paper plates and we had to fetch our cutlery at a communal table in the next room, after which we tucked into our anniversary lunch seated on a bench at the front window – well at least we had a view of the lighthouse.

View from the restaurant

Pie lunch

As it turned out the pie was delicious and filling, but left us hoping that our afternoon tea would be a bit more stylish and appropriate to the occasion.

I took advantage of a break in the rain to walk to the historic lighthouse and climb the narrow spiral stairway and a final steep ladder to the top where an outside platform, buffeted by strong wind which threatened to unbalance me, afforded spectacular views up and down the rugged coastline.

Cape Otway Lightstation

Cape Otway Lightstation

Not as bad as the warning sign made out

View from the top

I descended carefully and returned to the restaurant to collect Gerda and we were soon back at the car and on our way to the main road – next stop Twelve Apostles, which we expected to be fairly quiet – after all it was a low season weekday and poor weather to boot. After negotiating more twisty, forest-lined roads for the next hour and a half, we emerged closer to the coast and soon passed the first small parking area for those wanting to view the Twelve Apostles, noticed it seemed full and hoped there would be others along the road. As it turned out there was just one more parking area and as we turned off we found it to be vast and packed with cars, buses and crowds of people jostling for the toilets and spots to take cellphone selfies.

We sat dumbstruck in the car for a minute or two, seriously contemplating leaving without seeing the famous sight – fortunately good reason prevailed and we joined the throngs on the 10 minute walk to the viewing platform, where I threaded my way between more selfie-taking tourists crowding the deck and walkway until I found a gap where I could take in the unique beauty of this natural feature, frame and take a few photos.

Twelve Apostles

Twelve Apostles

We were in need of some refreshment but my crowd phobia had kicked in and the busy canteen was not particularly inviting, so we left, relieved to get away from so much frenzied tourist-ing.

Before long our thoughts turned to the hoped for tea venue – full of hope we popped into Princetown just off the B100, only to find it was the classic one-horse town whose only horse had apparently bolted – the only café was closed.

I was also watching the car’s info panel which was showing a depleted petrol tank with less kms left than we still had to travel – no reason to stress as there was bound to be a convenient petrol station – except I could not remember seeing one on the way there. After a half an hour of tense driving we entered the town of Laver’s Hill and were relieved to see a petrol pump outside a wooden shack with its door hanging open and keys dangling in the lock – but our relief was short-lived as there was not a soul to be seen anywhere nearby. Had we entered some sort of a ghost town?

We carried on down the main street and at the end of the small town we pulled in at a café with an old-fashioned, somewhat rusty petrol pump in front of its door. Gerda was convinced it was a museum piece placed there for show but the young lady inside assured us it was working, so after finding out how to operate it (no such thing as a petrol attendant in Australia) I quickly filled up the tank and we could relax again.

The same charming young lady sold us a fresh- looking slice of apple pie each to go with our take away teas, which we enjoyed at a rough wooden table next to the petrol pump and a large garbage bin. Despite the surroundings, the apple pie was so good we went back for seconds!

Lavers Hill

The rest of the trip back to Apollo Bay went smoothly and we arrived after dark – the day had been eventful but one thing we knew – we would not be forgetting it soon!

Australian Adventure – Victoria : Apollo Bay

Continuing our road trip through Victoria, we had spent the night in  Sassafras in the Mount Dandenong area outside Melbourne and the following morning, after continental breakfast in our room, we set off to Apollo Bay, a distance of about 250 kms from our overnight stop. Ordinarily, this distance would be a comfortable half-day drive for us, but in this instance it meant finding our way through Melbourne’s inner city suburbs, then taking the M1 highway around the south of the city and further eastwards.  I had to avoid the more direct tolled highways which required an electronic tag or special account, neither of which were available to us

Our route

Closer to our destination we turned off the highway and found ourselves on narrow country roads with pleasing scenery, whereafter the road became seriously twisty as it wound its way through forested hills, so much so that the constant turning had me feeling somewhat light-headed. Thankfully, we eventually crested the last hill and saw the sea far below and we were soon enjoying the last stretch of the trip along rugged coastline up to Apollo Bay. 250 kms has never felt so long!

I stopped at the first opportunity to stretch and take in the coastal views, which included the first of many surfers we were to see on the Great Ocean Road and a pair of Maned Ducks at a small pond in the sand

Surf’s up – near Apollo Bay

Maned (Wood) Duck – female

Maned (Wood) Duck – male

After checking in to our comfortable accommodation at the Stay Inn, we followed the advice of the B&B owner and enjoyed a memorable dinner that evening of freshly grilled salmon, chips and coleslaw at the Fishermen’s Co-op at the small harbour. Seating was at a “rough and ready” table outside in less than comfortable weather but the superb food made us forget everything else.

We got chatting to the guys at the next table – just  another example of how friendly we found the majority of Aussies to be – one was from Melbourne, the other his cousin visiting from Israel and they demolished 3 platters of seafood between them while our jaws dropped at the sight of whole crayfish being so casually eaten.

Next morning we awoke to cold, overcast weather which brought squalls of rain at regular intervals. We took our time enjoying the continental breakfast provided in the room, hoping the weather would improve. Our room overlooked the front garden which provided a lively source of entertainment as numerous birds visited  the bird-friendly plants.

Room with a garden view – Stay Inn, Apollo Bay

New Holland Honeyeaters, which I had come across in Sale, were true to their name and reveled in the nectar-producing plants while Eurasian Tree Sparrows searched the grass and pathways for seed.

New Holland Honeyeater, Apollo Bay

Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Apollo Bay

I was fascinated by the cutely named Willie Wagtail which popped up briefly, a perky bird elegantly coloured black and white and with a  broad tail that he wagged vigorously, but from side to side rather than the up and down of other wagtails.

Willie Wagtail

After breakfast, with the rain letting up, we drove through the village – I soon spotted a sign pointing the way to “Scenic Route” and headed along the indicated road into attractive countryside with green fields, plenty of picturesque cattle and the odd river – all adding up to a totally idyllic scene –  whoever had decided to call it a scenic route knew what they were about (in fact that’s something we noticed frequently – Aussies do seem to know what they’re doing)

Scenic drive, Apollo Bay

Scenic drive, Apollo Bay

Scenic drive, Apollo Bay

Apart from the many Cattle Egrets amongst the cattle, there were Maned Ducks at the river and a lifer in the form of a Grey Shrikethrush sat briefly on the fence – too briefly for a kodak moment. There was also a Little Pied Cormorant perched on a tree stump in the river

Eastern Cattle Egret, Apollo Bay

Little Pied Cormorant, Apollo Bay

It happened to be our wedding anniversary and the rest of the day was taken up with a drive to the famous Twelve Apostles, which did not turn out quite as we had imagined – but that’s another story……..

 

 

 

Australian Adventure – Victoria : Mount Dandenong

We had made no specific plans beforehand to travel while visiting Stephan and Liesl and the grandkids in Sale, Victoria but decided to “play it by ear” once we had a better idea of the area, this being our first visit to Australia. That said, we were keen to see more of Victoria State during our stay and to give the family a “mid-term” break from having us around  for the full 5½ weeks (not that there was any hint of this from their side, but we knew from our own experience with our parents).

After much discussion and studying of maps and info on the attractions, we decided on a 7 day road trip that would take us to Mount Dandenong area outside Melbourne, then to Apollo Bay and the Great Ocean Road, returning to Geelong near Melbourne and on to Philip Island where we would meet up with the family for the weekend.

It did not take long to book a rental car and the various B&B’s that fitted our budget and looked as if they would meet our expectations. Come Monday 6 May 2019, I collected the rental car and we set off, heading out on the Princess Highway towards Melbourne.

The map below shows the route we followed :

Sassafras-17

Gerda and I love a road trip almost more than any other form of travel – not sure why, though – perhaps because it lets you feel part of the countryside as you move along and you have the freedom of stopping on a whim, whenever and wherever you please. So we were both in a state of mild excitement, but also a touch of anxiety at the prospect of driving unknown roads – thank goodness I had activated my old I-phone with a prepaid Australian sim and enough data to work the navigation app for the full duration of our trip!

And what a pleasure driving on roads where other vehicles, large and small, are doing pretty much the same speed and in a predictable fashion! I did not see a single guy in a sleek sedan slicing through the traffic to show how amazingly superior he is (oops, my prejudices are showing again)

Towns in this part of Victoria are surprisingly close together, something I did not foresee, and we passed through several and bypassed others on our way to Melbourne – it’s worth mentioning some of the names just because they are so curious – Rosedale (OK that one’s ordinary) a pretty little town, Traralgon (try saying that quickly), Moe, Warragul and my favourite – Nar Nar Goon, followed closely by Narre Warren.

At the latter town we left the highway and the rolling landscape soon changed to hills that became higher and the roads steeper and narrower. Passing through Belgrave we soon found ourselves on the Mount Dandenong Tourist Road, a steep, winding road that had me slowing down even more as we passed through tall forests on both sides that almost touched high overhead and formed a majestic tunnel, lined with enormous ferns at ground level.

Sassafras-18
The winding road to Sassafras and beyond

Sassafras
Ferns are massive

Dandenong Ranges
Dandenong Ranges National Park

We found the tiny village of Sassafras, our chosen overnight destination, after some agonising about whether it actually existed and even stopping to ask directions in a particularly weak moment. Relieved at eventually finding it, we enjoyed a late lunch at Miss Marples Tea Room in a proper “Ye Olde Englishe” cottage in the main road, accompanied by a room full of other tourists (sans selfie sticks thank goodness)

Miss Marples tearoom, Sassafras
Miss Marples tearoom, Sassafras

After lunch we strolled around the village, popping into a few of the interesting shops – we were on the lookout for something to enjoy that evening in-room rather than go out to dinner and peered into the only shop that looked promising – a deli kind of place. The owner saw us and beckoned us closer and proceeded to feed us samples of just about every delicacy in the shop while keeping up a chatter and assuring us we were just the best people to have visited his shop – what a salesman! Needless to say we left with a bag full of salmon paté, Wensleydale cheese, crisps, a superb fig and quince jam and a punnet of organic strawberries, all of which became a yummy supper later on.

sassafras-19.jpg
It did not take long to walk the whole village

Sassafras
Sassafras main road

Morgan, Sassafras
This Morgan V8 looked perfectly in place in Sassafras and the owner was kind enough to stop when I indicated I would like to photograph it

Our accommodation – Belle le Vie, just outside the village – turned out to be exotically furnished, very comfortable and well appointed, set in lush gardens. A Laughing Kookaburra made its presence known with a solid demonstration of why it got that name – a cackling sound like no other.

Belle le vie, Sassafras
Belle le vie, Sassafras

Belle le vie, Sassafras
Belle le vie, Sassafras

Laughing Kookaburra, Sassafras
Laughing Kookaburra, Sassafras

There was just time for a walk before dusk, so I walked back up the road leading to the B&B and found an ANZAC memorial on the edge of more forest with even more massive trees towering above, making me feel quite insignificant.

Sassafras
The road to Belle le Vie

Sassafras
Autumn colours

Sassafras
So many enormous trees

Sassafras
Sassafras

Bird life was scarce the whole day, but I was thrilled at being able to get up-close photos of the Crimson Rosellas after seeing another tourist pointing his cellphone at a tree in the middle of Sassafras village and finding a pair of them showing off their vivid colours.

Crimson Rosella, Sassafras
Crimson Rosella, Sassafras

Crimson Rosella, Sassafras
Crimson Rosella, Sassafras

Next morning we made a brief detour before heading towards our next destination, to have a peek at a flower farm that Gerda had read about somewhere – it was worth the trouble!

Flower nursery, Sassafras
Flower farm, Sassafras

A promising start to our road trip indeed!

 

 

 

Australian Adventure – Cruising down the River

I mentioned the Sale canal in an earlier post and that it links the Port of Sale, now a small boat harbour, to the Thomson River and beyond to the Gippsland Lakes. The Port, the canal and the Swing Bridge were all part of the solution to the challenge of transporting resources out of and bringing supplies in to the area during the late 1800’s when gold was discovered in the area and fine cheese was being made and exported to Europe

There is a twice daily cruise of around two hours by boat down the canal and the Thomson River to the Old Swing Bridge and back and we had waited for some warmer, less windy weather to join the afternoon cruise. The last day of April, a Tuesday, turned out to be such a day and we reported at the dock at 1.45pm where we met Alan, the Captain and owner of the Rubeena, paid the requisite amount and stepped on board the historical boat.

A guard of honour was waiting for us and the navy band struck up as we boarded ………….. actually I made that bit up but that was what it felt like, despite the boat being quite small.

The Rubeena was built in Sydney and was originally licensed on 4 April 1912 (that’s just 11 days before the Titanic sank) and spent most of her working life on the Gippsland Lakes. She has been carefully restored and takes up to 40 passengers, but on our trip there were just 6 others apart from Gerda and myself so we had plenty of room to move about.

Rubeena at its berth in the Port of Sale

The Rubeena

The electric motor is a bonus as it makes the cruise a quiet, gentle experience, especially when the weather is as perfect as it was, with a mild breeze hardly stirring the smooth surface of the river as we set off.

Setting off down the canal

Alan was an excellent captain and guide, giving a running commentary on the features we passed and the significance of the canal, particularly how it served the Sale area during the pioneer years. The canal was dug by horse and scoop and was completed by 1890

Captain and owner Alan in full flow

We were fascinated by the “canoe” trees – old gum trees with visible indentations where the original inhabitants of the area had harvested timber for canoe-building without destroying the tree. According to Alan, some of these trees were  350 to 400 years old and still standing on the banks of the river.

A typical “Canoe Tree”

The canal/river is lined with majestic old trees

At certain spots he also pointed out the sections of the original river course that were diverted and “straightened” to make it more shipping-friendly

Our turnaround point was reached after just more than an hour of gentle puttering – the Old Swing Bridge, which we were able to study in detail as we passed slowly beneath it, then turned around and retraced our route back.

Swing bridge

The mechanics that make it work

Swing Bridge – one half showing with the other half hidden behind vegetation

The bridge is a remarkable example of 19th century engineering with its intricate mechanics which swing it open 180 degrees to allow taller vessels to pass by on either side. It is the oldest intact, operational bridge of its kind in Australia.

I had mentioned my interest in birding to Alan and he kindly made a point of identifying the birds that we spotted along the river, most of which I had already got to know, but happily there were two new birds to add to my growing Australia list –

  • Nankeen Night-heron – as the name suggests, these birds are mostly nocturnal but Alan knew where they roosted during the day and pointed them out high up in a tree, warily watching us from behind a veil of feathers, much like a mysterious eastern dancer may do

Nankeen Night-heron

  • Azure Kingfisher – I spotted it first some way upriver whereupon it flew past the boat, landing briefly right next to us before flying further – unfortunately too quick for me to photograph it

(The photo is taken from The Complete Guide to Australian Birds by George Adams)

Other birds that we encountered along the way were –

  • Australasian Darter

  • Great Cormorant

  • Eurasian Coot

  • Australian Swamphen

  • Australian White Ibis

  • Dusky Moorhen

  • Pacific Black Duck – see the featured image at the top of the post

Two hours had passed and we were sorry it had ended – a really pleasant way to spend a sunny afternoon