Explorer and Independent Biologist

Thursday, 12 May 2011

All good things...

It is with great sadness that I have to bring to a close this remarkable record of outstanding achievement.

Jim Fowler passed away on Thursday 12th May 2011 while doing what he had recently come to love best - kayak fishing on Coniston Water in the English Lake District. He leaves behind his two sons Alun and Carwyn, his sister Jill and his two adoring grandchildren, Jimmy and Heledd.

Gone but not forgotten, he will continue to be an inspiration to all who knew him.

Many thanks for the interest, support and stimulation you've provided through these pages; it is a comfort to know our loss is shared by so many wonderful friends.


Monday, 2 May 2011

Outback wildlife

Following previous floods further north in Queensland, the flood waters drained into the Darling River which overflowed its banks into the surrounding flood plain, covering huge areas. When Simon and I arrived in the Kinchega National Park, the water levels were starting to subside, leaving areas of muddy, boggy ground with lagoons that were drying out.

You can see the muddy margin of this lagoon 
on the far side, as it begins to dry out

Simon tinkers with his engine before a tour of the 
Kinchega National Park to observe the rich wildlife

Parts of the higher ground that was innundated 
is now rendered to an impassable muddy surface

There are numerous wet areas that were previously dry. 
This has resulted in population explosions of fish, 
and the birds that feed on them.

As the lagoons dry out, the huge numbers of fish become concentrated, 
making them easy prey for the voracious Great White Egrets, 
and many other fish-eating birds
 A mob of Pelicans circle round looking for somewhere 
to join in the feeding bonanza
The Australian Darter uses its dagger-sharp bill to spear fish

Whistling Kites sit around the margins waiting to swoop 
and grab a hapless fish from the water...

...whilst the Black Kite is more of a scavenger, 
snatching fish from other birds, or tucking into dying fish 
that have been stranded in shallow water as the lagoons dry out

Seed-eating birds, like these Red-tailed Black Cockatoos,
also benefit from the flooding when vegetation flourishes

Small flocks of Budgerigars appeared 
as migrating flocks dispersed
Many land animals will have drowned during the flooding, 
but this Stumpy-tailed Lizard evidently found a dry place to survive

This Laughing Kookaburra strayed too close 
without realising that 'Fowler' means 'birdcatcher'

This is my final post on an Australian theme.
I should like to thank my hosts
Simon, Bonny, Rosalie, Susana and David
most sincerely for their warm and generous welcome
and  for making me feel one of the family.

Next stop Japan!

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Outback Kinchega

After a day on the Southern Ocean, it was time to head back towards the centre of Australia and the outback.

The roads can be long, straight and deserted. 
It is not unusal to drive for 250 miles in a straight line 
without seeing another car!

In the harsh desert conditions of the Australian outback, 
Simon's  6-Cylinder factory-turbo Toyota Landcruiser 
is an appropriate vehicle for exploration

Our destination was the Kinchega National Park near Menindee...

...where our accommodation was the old sheep-shearers quarters 
of the former woolshed built in 1850
now preserved as a historic heritage site

This year the desert has come to life with fresh growth after recent rains

Flood waters from further north in Queensland drain into the River Darling 
that flows through the Kinchega National Park.

Lakes that have been dry for over a  decade are now brimming full 
as the River Darling flowed into the flood plain

The gum trees, now with wet roots, have lush new growth

I shall show more pictures of the Kinchega lakes 
and some of the wildlife in my next post

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Pelagic trip

On 23rd April Simon and I participated in a pelagic boat trip operated by the Southern Ocean Seabird Study Association (SOSSA), leaving Wollongong Harbour to cruise some 25 miles (30km) to beyond the continental shelf to 34.38S, 151.12 E. What birds might be seen depends on the time of year and we were delighted to record about 18 species of seabird from the boat.

On leaving the harbour, Crested Terns were flying past the boat

Clear of land, throwing out offal and food scraps 
attracted many seabirds close to the boat,
even close enough for catching and ringing

Among the first to be seen were Flesh-footed shearwaters...

...and the more elegant Wedge-tailed Shearwaters

A rare Providence Petrel puts in an appearance

Further out to sea, the first Albatrosses appear

Black-browed Albatross - note the characteristic under-wing pattern, 
compared with...

...the Shy Albatross
which has a much narrower black margin to the under-wing.

Some Campbell Island Albatrosses show up, 
distinguished from the closely-related 
Black-browed by the conspicuous yellow eye...

The yellow staring eyes of the Campbell Island Albatross,
compare with...

...the darker eye of the Black-browed

A Campbell Island Albatross is caught and I was allowed to ring this bird

A few Yellow-nosed Albatrosses appear

A single Buller's Albatross graced us with its presence
 The real excitement of the day occured when a Great Shearwater flew 
in and circled the boat. 
This species is extremely rare in Australian waters

The bird was enticed close to the boat with bait and was skillfully caught and ringed
We thoroughly enjoyed the whole excursion which was excellently organised,  with good company, friendly and extremely knowledgable & helpful leaders. The trip is excellent value for money and we recommend it unreservedly to anyone who loves the sea and seabirds.

Visit the SOSSA Webesite (and make bookings) here.

Thursday, 21 April 2011


Our next adventure in Australia was two days camping int the Wollemi National Park. It is the second largest national park in New South Wales, and contains some of the largest wilderness area of mountain and forest. It lies 129 kilometres northwest of Sydney and forms part of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. Our camping site was at an especially attractive part called Dunn's Swamp (see a film about the swamp here).

The forest and Canyons of the Wollemi National Park, New South Wales, Australia

 Dunn's Swamp fows through the centre of the canyon

Curious eroded rock formations known as the Pagodas

The Cudgegong River in full flow after recent rain in the canyon of Dunn's Swamp

Bird life included the Purple Swamp Hen...

 The cheeky Laughing Kookaburra 
that woke us at dawn with its cackling laughing cries...

And the charming Flame Robin

 When darkness falls, Simon replaces his binoculars with a head-torch 
and prepares a barbeque of lamb chops and bacon. 
Vegetables were represented by fried onion rings.
The beer contains yeast products.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011


Sydney Harbour Bridge, Opera House and Botanic gardens.
That's an item on my "Ought to See" list ticked off.
Now, please may we now go back into the outback?

Sunday, 17 April 2011


Our first foray into the Australian outback was four days camping in the Willandra National Park. The park is a former sheep station, that was famous for its wool. Now, the homestead and surrounding plains habitat are being restored to its original state and the biodiversity is recovering. Read more about the history of the Willandra National Park.

 Sunrise over a backwater of the Willandra Creek

The shearing sheds and buildings of the former sheep station 
are preserved for posterity in the Willandra National Park

Secluded billabongs are a haven for wildlife

The principal habitat under conservation are the grassy plains 
which stretch to the horizon

After a decade of drought, recent rains have brought 
life and colour back to the grasslands 

 With our two vehicles we set of for a safari 
around the Willandra National Park

The grasslands are a habitat for Emu and... 

Red Kangaroo

After the safari, David fishes for carp in a billabong...

...while Bonny and Simon set up a barbecue 
under the shade of a coolibah tree...

...watched over by inquisitive Gallahs

At the end of the day, a blazing sunset over the Willandra plains