Tuesday, 23 February 2016

More birds, bugs and stars

Good rains over December and January has resulted in long grass which brought out the bugs and those who prey on them. A recent sighting was this pair of Imperial Hairstreak butterflies (Jalmenus evagoras) in a small blackwood bush plus several pupae groups. Very hard to photograph up close on a windy day!

I'd recently spotted a few foxes out in the grasslands chasing things all over the place. I finally realised that they are catching and eating grasshoppers of which there are quite a few and of a decent size. This young one finally realized someone was watching him when my shutter went off from within 20 metres.
I've finally discovered where our resident goanna lives; here he is sunning himself on his balcony above a big hole 7 metres up a nearby Forest Red Gum. Marg was less than impressed a couple of weeks ago when he tried to get into the house via the cat-flap door!
Not a local but I recently got this nice shot of a Grey-crowned Babbler (Pomotostomus temporalis) foraging for food under a pine tree at the Tocumwal Golf course.
Finally, some astronomy. I had been trying to perfect time-lapse sequences that would run from sunset through the dark and into sunrise, with full details of both daylight scenery and full dark starry glory. Not easy as one jumps between auto camera mode then transitioning to a script driving BackYard EOS to vary the exposures beyond what camera auto mode will do then moving back to the intervalometer with full dark settings, only to reverse the sequence the next morning. Not to mention managing battery life!
Anyway, I got up at 4.30am to start the second BYE script and discovered the laptop had frozen. A quick view outside showed me a lovely sight of Venus and the new Moon so I quickly set things up for this shot and got a lovely shot of the Milky Way and a hint of the Zodiacal Light, together with my observatory dome in the foreground.
Canon EOS60D plus 18mm lens: 25 seconds at f/4.5 and ISO 3200.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

An eclectic mob

It has been a bit too cloudy for much in the way of astronomy lately and I've been too busy for much flying (although I did spot a Blue Whale and calf a mile or two offshore on the Ninety Mile Beach - alas, no camera on-board).

In the meantime, a somewhat eclectic group of recent bird sightings.

A pair of Channel-billed Cuckoos (Scythrops noveaehollandiae) have been regular visitors in Spring over the last few years and they stay as long as the mulberry tree has fruit. They get hounded from pillar to post by every other bird and are generally hide well inside a tree. So, I was pleased to get this long-distance shot recently.
PW recently took us to a new wetlands in Drouin (map here) where a family of Hoary-headed Grebes (Poliocephalus poliocephalus) were busy feeding in the shallow water.
Although not nesting in this tree on the Lower Newry Road where an old nest sits, this White-bellied Sea-eagle (Haliaeetus leacoaster) was taking a keen interest in some Pacific Black Duck, Chestnut Teal and Grey Teal families in the pond below.
Royal Spoonbills (Platalea regia) are fairly common on the Cemetery Road wetlands in Sale but not commonly close enough to get a decent shot. This one was too busy feeding close to the road to worry about me stopping for a few shots.
The flowering native plants in our garden attract both Musk and Rainbow Lorikeets which makes it easier to get closer shots of these fast-moving and fast-feeding birds. This Musk Lorikeet (Glossopsitta concinna) is enjoying one of our Silver Princess flowering gums.
We spotted this mob of 18-20 Emus (Dromaius novahollandiae) about 200m away in a paddock along Beaver Meadows Track recently. When we turned away to look at some birds on the other side of the track, their curiosity got the better of them and they came up for a closer look (see next photo).

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Bugs, birds & stars

Mother Nature has leaped into action with the arrival of Spring and everything is growing and procreating like mad. A quick wander around the garden with my macro lens produced more bugs than I could identify.

First up were some native cockroaches. With more than 800 species in Australia, it took a while to pin them down.
An Ellipsidion sp wandering around a dead banksia flower.
Another smaller Ellipsidion sp enjoying a Kunzia flower.
Sharing a Kunzia flower.
I was unable to identify this little beauty foraging in a Banksia flower.
The bird too, both bush and wetland, are busy nesting and feeding, although they do seem a bit later this year.
This Brown Thornbill (Acanthiza pusilla) chatters and postures to lure me away from his nest in a Boxthorn bush.
Not my best-focused shot but it does show the grace and size of this Eastern Great Egret (Ardea modesta) in a nearby soggy paddock.
White-faced Herons (Egretta novahollandiae) are always moving from site to site looking for new feeding grounds.
A pair of White-necked Herons (Ardea pacifica) have staked out a nearby patch of flooded paddock.
Despite some really cloudy weather, I've managed to get out for a few night shots.
I casually set up my tripod on the pool deck to capture some star trails and fluked this tree branch nicely lined up with the South Celestial Pole. This is 8 hours of 15-second exposures shot at 18mm, f4.5 and 1600 ISO, spaced 60 seconds apart, and stacked with Starstax.
I've had my eye on this dead tree in a neighbor's paddock as good foreground material for a Milky Way backdrop. A test run before dawn produced this shot. A single 30-second exposure at 18mm, f3.5 and 1600 ISO.
Up early one recent morning, I spotted an overnight report of aurora across the region so I raced down to the end of the strip to see what I could see. The short answer was nothing as some cloud and sky-glow from the Latrobe Valley got in the way. A single 30-second exposure at 18mm, f3.5 and 1000 ISO.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Broome 1

Last month, we zipped off to Broome for a spectacular two week camping trip along the Gibb River road with Adventure Wild - more on that next post. I'm still working my way through 3000+ photos and chasing those last few, elusive bird IDs. As it was, we saw more than 150 species including about 60 that were new to us.

The long haul flight from Sydney to Broome provided some great desert aerial shot opportunities. Here are the best of them; I haven't had time yet to work out roughly where I took them. Note there has been no colour modifications, just exposure and shadows.

Coming up, birds, desert and more birds.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

North-east Victoria

With the glider due to go to Tocumwal for its annual service, Marg and I decided to take a few days along the Murray from there and also explore around North-eastern Victoria.

The Tocumwal golf course is always worth a stroll for its bird-life and even a short stroll brought up Grey-crowned Babblers, Red-rumped Parrots and Noisy Friarbirds - not to mention the hundreds of Galahs and possibly thousands of Corellas.
This Noisy Friarbird (Philomon corniculatis) has very prominent plumes, something I've never really noticed before.
Grey-crowned Babbler (Pomatostomus temporalis) chasing a last-minute snack before settling down for the night with two others (see below).

The next day, we drove along the NSW side of the Murray - great raptor country with a haul of nine raptors that day - Black Kite, Australian Hobby, Nankeen Kestrel, Black-shouldered Kite, Wedgetail Eagle, White-bellied Sea-eagle, Swamp Harrier, Whistling Kite and Brown Falcon.
This Australian Hobby (Falco Longinpennis) stayed put long enough to get a shot or two.
After Barooga, we followed the old stock route section from Barooga to Mulwala, seeing heaps of little birds loving the rough grass, fences and puddles along this rough, "3 chain" track. Zebra Finches, Flame Robins and dozens of Australasian Pipits were the standouts. A large mob (>60) of Shelducks also made a pretty picture in an adjacent paddock.

Along the way, we came a cross a pretty ancient drover with a few hundred head of cattle riding the "long paddock". He said he'd been on the road for 5 years! At $1 per cow per week, it was cheaper than feeding hay in poor times.

A trip through the Boomanoomana State Forest turned up a few Brown Treecreepers alternately foraging on the forest floor with short trips up a tree trunk just to prove they were Treecreepers.

Brown Treecreeper (Climacteris picumnus) shows off its interesting streaking.
Yellow Rosella (Platycercus elegans flaveolus) enjoying a later afternoon snack alongside the Corowa Water Treatment plant.
After a pleasant night in Beechworth, we spent the day in the Chiltern-Mt Pilot National Park in search of Regent Honeyeaters. Alas, no luck but heaps of other Honeyeaters (Yellow-tufted, Fuscous, White-plumed, White-throated, White-naped and Yellow-faced) at Cyanide Dam.
Yellow-tufted Honeyeater (Lichenostomus melanops) comes down for a look at us in poor lighting conditions
A stop at the Glenrowan West power sub-station on the way to overnighting at Benalla produced a few White-Browed Babblers but little else. The next day we visited the Reef Hills State Park South of Benalla where we got a good earful of a lost White-winged Chough churring for its mates nearby. Next onto the Mt Wombat Flora and Fauna Reserve near Strathbogie for some fabulous views but little else. A quick look at the fabulous new Yea Wetlands Interpretive Centre then a pleasant drive via Kinglake West back to Melbourne.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Jack Smith Lake & Above

Over the weekend, Marg and I had been trying to spot some Swift Parrots locally for the Birdlife Australia survey but without any luck. As Monday looked like being one out of the (autumn) box, we decided to go down to Jack Smith Lake to see what we might find.

On the way down, we got a close look at first a Whistling Kite then a Wedge-tail Eagle eating some roadkill on the verge. The wedgie decamped into the neighbouring paddock and proceeded to fly over a big, dispersed flock of ewes and lambs, swooping low over each lamb. The lambs didn't seem too fussed and the wedgie may just have been looking for dead lambs.

A quick trip into McLaughlins Beach produced some 70-odd Crested Terns on the beach plus more fishing in the flat sea, together with 3-4 Australasian Gannets. No Flame Robins along the road but numerous Red and Little Wattlebirds plus this little poser:
Superb Fairywren (Malurus cyaneus)
Jack Smith Lake was fairly dry but we had a good list of birds - Red-necked Avocets (2), Australasian Shel-ducks (16), Black-winged Stilts (8), Hoary-headed Grebes (2), Crested Terns (45 on nesting boxes plus another 50+ on the beach), Nankeen Kestrel, White-eared Honeyeater, Red-kneed Dotterels (8-10) were the standouts.
Crested Terns (Sterna bergii) leaping into the air.
Crested Tern accelerating in ground effect for a fast escape.

Red-necked Avocet (Recurivostra novaehollandiae) on the prowl.
A couple of recent shots of interest:
This White-bellied Sea-eagle (Haliacetus leucogaster)was conveniently soaring the clifss over the lake when I was down there with zoom lens at the ready. We've had a couple of instances recently of honking (mating?) behaviour but none within camera range.
Royal Spoonbills (Platalea regia) on the move.
At last, some clear, still nights to get some astrophotography going. This shot is from an EOS60D with a 50mm f1.4 prime lens running on an iOptron portable tracking mount. I stacked 20 minutes of 45 second f2.5 ISO 500 sub-frames in Deep Sky Stacker together with similar numbers of dark, flat and bias frames.
Antares region of Scorpius plus dust lanes. Antares is the bright star to the left of the dust lanes, Messier M4 is the bright object below it and the planet Saturn is the bright object at lower middle right. There are over 20,000 stars in this picture.
A previous post (Out of the blocks) discussed mountain lee waves (Wikipedia) and showed some photos. I've been filming timelapes of them and decided to share one shot today.


Shot at Coongulla in Victoria looking North where the wave is coming off Mt Wellington (5,400 feet) in an increasing NW wind. Thus, the wave length increases as time goes by. Shot as 10 auto-frames per minute and played at 24fps spanning about a two hour  period.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Mount Worth State Park

The Heyfield birdwatcher's latest outing was to Mount Worth State Park, located SE of Warragul (see map here and park information here).

Marg, Jos and me decided we'd stay locally the night before and we found Twitcher's Cottage very comfortable and good value; also only 2km from the park. I recommend it for anyone wanting some bush-walking or bird-watching locally.

Very windy and a few showers the evening before but we spotted a Grey Currawong, 6 Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos and heaps of Eastern Spinebills in the garden or nearby.

Out for a walk nearby before meeting up with the rest of the group in the State Park, we spotted these two lovelies in the nearby bush:
A Bassian Thrush (Zoothera lunulata) moved and jumped around too much for a photo. This one was actually taken a week before in the Edward Hunter Heritage Bush Reserve near Moe (map here); another great spot.
This Swamp Wallaby (Wallabia bicolor) sat and watched us for a bit near a small dam before deciding to take cover. We have one in the bush nearby at home but from time to time, he shows up near the house. Three weeks ago, we spotted him under a Cherry Tree right by the house.
Off to the park to meet up with the rest of the group and Merryn from Twitcher's Cottage as our guide. Birding was secondary to the fabulous vegetation and funghi as the combination of cloudy weather, very tall trees and very thick under-story made spotting very hard.
Dense tree-terns at ground level.
Mountain Ash towered 35-50m above the dense tree-fern forest floor. One old giant is 65m and that is with quite a few metres of its top missing.

A myriad of funghi and plant forms were spotted but I'll leave it to Gouldiae to explain what they are.
Some form of epithyte growing.
Close-up of the same epithyte.
Apart from more Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos, White-browed Tree-creepers, Varied Sitellas, Eastern Yellow Robins, and a few "little brown jobs", the highlight was a pair of Lyrebirds heard in the nearby bush. Their mimicry of Kookaburras, Shrike-thrush, Whip-birds, Yellow-tailed Cockatoos and others was fantastic. Merryn suggested that the first visitors of the day are likely to spot them out in the open.

Definitely a place worth another visit!