Archive for Dec, 2018


2018 – the best bits

2018 for me set off being a somewhat muted year but rapidly escalated into something as special as it gets. Finding someone special to share my life was a revelation that I didn’t expect. The downside of that is a whole planet separates us. 2019 will be spent putting that right.

One discovery for me in 2018 has been the state of Victoria in Australia. The pull of this part of such a remote continent has been extreme. It’s undulating landscape, amiable weather, compelling wildlife and of course one special inhabitant have made this the most special place I’ve ever been. Australia is just the best. My two months here within 2018 have been the most outstanding part of my personal year. Within that two months Tania has taken me to some fabulous places. Mountains, remote bushland, deep dark eucalypt forests, small islands and open wide beaches. However, one place stands out in my mind as it holds birds that have been a part of my life for so long in the UK. Rare birds. Birds that blew to the UK as waifs and strays. Birds such as Red necked Stints and Sharp tailed Sandpipers. In Victoria, Werribee has a water treatment plant holding these birds in mind boggling numbers. Numbers I could only have dreamed about. Who would have thought a sewage plant would have topped my years best bits… but it has. It even topped the Beluga in the Thames!

But what of my professional year. There have been some great times. Scilly once again was terrific, so was Wales, the Farnes were at their best and the Scottish tours were formidable. Picking the best? … well that’s easy. The 2018 Mammal Tour of the UK. Without doubt the best tour I’ve ever done. Some fabulous wildlife; Minke Whales and Dolphins of three species you could have touched. Red Squirrels, Pine Martens and Badgers at arms length. However, to single out one moment of the tour I would have to go to a small beach at the fishing port of Wick on the Scottish East coast. Reading books from being a child through to adulthood enables everyone to conjure up dreams. Bucket lists. Events to experience. Things to see, places to go. I crossed off number one on my own bucket list on that small beach last May. My guests and I experienced the sight of a Walrus in British waters. OK it’s not the cuddliest looking animal you’ll ever come across. But hell … what an animal!

Roll on 2019. Happy New Year.


Cuddly or what?

A night north of Melbourne in Bendigo paid dividends.

Sitting on a park bench backed by a rising moon and ever brighter street lanterns we watched Grey headed Flying Foxes leave their roost. Beating the air with their broad wide wings they moved out from their daytime trees and out into the farmland and forests to feed. A young girl cycling passed, smiled and wished us a Merry Christmas. It brought it home to me how odd it seemed to be sitting outside on a balmy night in December.

Tania spotted the first Possum as it ran across the lawns and scuttled up a tree. More came down from the tall eucalypts soon after. A Brush tailed Possum will sell it’s grandmother for a piece of apple. Several were tempted close. Endearing animals these small marsupials.



A superb bird

My continuing intense stare towards the undergrowth was broken by a whisper. Tania signalled she’d got one. There was an even bigger smile on her face than normal.

In January we had wandered around the Danenong Ranges for hours searching for Lyrebirds, without success. It looked as though we were going to have a repeat performance this time around.

We had walked the trail where statistics stated there was the highest concentration of Lyrebirds in Victoria. After six hours of concentrating on the dense low scrub underneath a bewildering variety of ferns and eucalypts we had seen nothing and heard just one bird calling briefly some 100m within thick impenetrable bush.

We were on the point of giving up but decided to return to where we had heard the bird earlier to see if it had come nearer the trail. After an hour nothing was showing so we turned around and headed for home. As we did so we disturbed a Swamp Wallaby. It broke the silence as it jettisoned its way down the mountain flaying the ferns and cracking branches as it did so. Almost immediately a Lyrebird called nearby. Straight away Tania saw it and beckoned me up the trail to where she was standing.

Through a window of vegetation in the gloom of the forest floor I could see a series of curled feathers; beneath them was a Superb Lyrebird. About the size of a pheasant it was a disappointing dark brown colour. However, it was the fine lattice of plumes the bird carried aloft that shook and waved as it moved that made this bird so beguiling.

I attempted to get a photo but it sank back into the trees. Moving slowly down the hill I managed to get closer and fired off a few record shots before it eventually moved away. Despite the unwelcome attention of leeches the walk away from the trail attracted, it could easily be said we had indeed experienced a ‘superb’ moment. I hope Christmas for you and yours will also be superb. Merry Christmas.


Monotreme extraordinaire

There are two types of egg laying mammals in the world; Platypuses and Echidnas. There are four species of Echidna but it is the Short beaked Echidna that lives over much of Australia. It is without doubt an extraordinary animal. It has a pouch but is not a marsupial. It feeds its young on milk but has no nipples and of course it lays eggs and is covered in course hair and spines.

We saw this one along with several others on Raymond Island in Gippsland during our trip there in November.

I envisaged them being nocturnal for some reason but they in fact only became active when the sun warmed the ground and their prey became active. Although they were very approachable they were as difficult as hell to photograph; their snouts were invariably under the ground licking up ants and termites. Their small eyes were nearly always hidden. However this individual put his head in the air to catch a scent and his eye caught the sun for a moment enabling me to get his best side.


Extraordinary Birds

Woodswallows are just what you would expect in appearance; ‘chunky ‘ swallows. We saw this Dusky Woodswallow and another bird presumably its mate swinging down on a couple of Ravens close to Cranbourne in Victoria a few weeks ago.


Big Gob

‘Big Gob’ is not a very endearing nickname for these extraordinary birds. I saw Tawny Frogmouths in January but it was a delight to see them again on my first evening in Australia last month. There were four together including this adult with two young and its mate. Normally you just get to see the birds sitting motionless in trees but we were lucky enough to see the adult birds flying around and catching insects to feed the young. In addition we also found a nest which was surprisingly unimpressive.



If you look up Kookaburra in a bird book it’s filed away under Kingfishers and allies. It is indeed very kingfisher like. Outside there were about 6 or 7 birds that came to feed each evening on the insects that gathered on the newly mown lawns. Such an iconic Australian bird with an iconic Australian call. They don’t call it the laughing Kookaburra for nothing.



In Oz during January I managed to get a glimpse of one of the rarer terrestrial mammals; but it was only a glimpse. Once prolific over the whole of Australia ‘Southern Brown Bandicoots’ have had a bit of a short straw of late. Introduction of foxes and loss of habitat have decimated populations. However, Victoria still has some good pockets of these cute long nosed marsupials. This month I wanted a better look. We waited and searched a likely area and given they are hard to find, so wick when you do find them and for half the time have their snouts buried in the leaf litter I was lucky to get any sort of shot.

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Dec 2018


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