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Everything posted by Treepol

  1. @Wesley H I think @xelas is offering good advice. Distances in Africa are so great and some roads are in such poor condition that it can take a long time to drive just a short distance. I don't think you have time to include Kruger and even a side trip through Botswana will keep you on the road and eat into your precious game viewing and sightseeing time. If you go from JNB to Namibia via KTP you will see a lot of wildlife. I would also suggest that you increase your sightings and spend a few nights at Marrick Farm and take advantage of their very reasonable rates to do night drives for rare nocturnals, a day trip into nearby Mokala NP where there is a healthy rhino population and maybe even a trip to Kamfers Dam for the year round flamingos.
  2. Diverse, colourful, extreme – Papua New Guinea (PNG) is one of the last frontiers for travellers and remains one of the least explored countries in the world. I have always wanted to visit PNG, a nation that comprises the eastern half of the colourful rainforest island-continent that lies between Australia and the equator. Much of Australia’s 20th century history is entwined with that of PNG and I know many people who have lived in PNG, working as teachers, booksellers, engineers, agricultural advisors, aid workers and administrators pre- and post-independence, all of whom have colourful tales of this culturally rich, scenic and geographically remote nation. Just a 90 minute flight from Cairns, PNG is home to 38 species of Birds of Paradise (BoPs), unique cultures and a largely rural/subsistence economy. This year, I booked a scheduled Birds and Culture tour with Sicklebill Safaris rather than making my own arrangements. My goals were to see Birds of Paradise and to attend the colourful Mt Hagen ‘’singsing’’, a cultural show where clans gather to flaunt, flourish and flutter in traditional regalia, featuring music and dance from the Western Highlands province and further afield. Sicklebill arranged travel with local operators and key guides by private mini-bus, scheduled flights and river boats which are common forms of transport, due to ragged jungle roads and a feudal land ownership system that is jealously and violently guarded. Rugged mountains, tropical rivers and coastal islands are home to tribal peoples whose villages of thatched huts now have satellite dishes and men who hunt with spears now sport mobile phones. A local guide is essential for communications and access to, and safe travel through complex land ownership and village sensitivities. Visits to some Bird of Paradise leks and habitats involve mud, steep hills, jungle treks and long river trips. Highlights were: · Paiya village ‘mini-show’ and the Mt Hagen ‘singsing’ · Boat trip up the Fly and Elevala Rivers · Birding around Kumul Lodge · Birds of paradise My pre-trip reading revealed the following: · During the colonial period PNG was governed at various times by the Dutch, Germans and British. It was part of the British Empire in the late 19th century and administered by Australia from 1906-75. Independence was celebrated on 16 September 1975 at a ceremony attended by Prince Charles, who was referred to in Tok Pisin (Pidgin English) as ‘the nambawan pikinini bilong Misis Kwin’; The nation of PNG comprises the eastern half of the world’s second largest island; The population of around 7,000,000 people uses one or more of over 800 languages; ·70% of the country is covered by tropical forest; ·PNG comprises one of the world’s largest remaining rural communities with 82% of the population living outside urban centres; · PNG is classified as a developing country by the International Monetary Fund, with 40% of people living a subsistence lifestyle; Social and religious systems are a mix of traditional and modern practices; The PNG coastline was mapped many centuries ago, yet land exploration occurred as late as the 1930s when Australian gold prospectors Mick and Dan Leahy trekked into the highlands, discovering the amazing hidden world of central PNG Stone Age tribespeople dressed in loincloths, grass skirts and plumed head-dresses who hunted with poisoned arrows; During World War 2 over 200,000 Australian, American and Japanese soldiers died in PNG, many along the Kokoda Trail. The fuzzy-wuzzy angels (as the PNG people were known to the soldiers) who assisted soldiers from both sides of the campaign are remembered annually at Anzac Day services in Australia and New Zealand; PNG may harbour undiscovered plants and animal life as fore-shadowed in Throwim’ way leg (1997) by Tim Flannery a book which records a relatively recent expedition to PNG and West Papua in search of new species; and · A guide told us that 70% of land in PNG is privately owned which caused me to wonder about the average number of acres owned per capita and per family when compared to Australia. Before winging my way from Cairns to Port Moresby I spent a few days around Cairns and the Atherton Tableland, which as well as being very scenic also have interesting birds and wildlife.
  3. I have just returned from a couple of weeks in North Queensland with Mum and @@GnuGnu. The itinerary was: Day 1 : Fly Hobart-Cairns, overnight at the Hilton Double Tree on the Cairns Esplanade Days 2-6: Overnight at Chambers Rainforest Lodge at Lake Eacham Days 7-9: Overnight at Red Mill House, Daintree Days 10-11: Overnight at Milkwood Lodge, Cooktown Day 12: Overnight at the Hilton Double Tree on the Cairns Esplanade My last visit to Northern Queensland was in 1991 when I travelled overland to the tip of Cape York and visited Thursday Island. This was before I became interested (obsessed some would say) with wildlife viewing which was the focus of this year’s trip. This year in addition to wildlife we were seeking sun as a respite from the Tasmanian winter, local food and produce and a relaxing trip with some downtime for reading and birding. High on my list of ‘want to sees’ were wild Cassowary, Kingfishers, Rainbow bee-eaters, Striped Possums and Tree Kangaroos. I was delighted to be leaving a chilly Hobart with a forecast top of 10C to fly to tropical North Queensland. Large raindrops and a cold wind blew as I hurried across the tarmac to the plane for the flight to Brisbane and from there I had one connection to the Cairns flight. Flight times were 2.5 hours to Brisbane and then a further 2.5 hours to Cairns. I arrived at the hotel around 9pm and found Mum and @@GnuGnu before settling in for the night. Next morning I took an early morning walk along the boardwalk where pelicans preened in the early morning sun and Welcome Swallows wheeled and dived overhead. After breakfast we picked up the hire car and headed west to Lake Eacham on the Atherton Tableland where Chambers Rainforest was to be our base for the next 5 nights. This hide-away is tucked away in the rainforest and is a peaceful haven. My first visitor was a Victoria’s Riflebird followed closely by Spotted Catbirds and Lewin’s Honeyeaters. The resident Brush Turkey jealously guards the territory around Chalets 1-3, chasing off all other birds. Whenever I heard a quiet step and a rustle on the stairs, it would be him trying to creep onto the deck - think vervet monkeys with wings and you will get the idea. The first night 2 sugar gliders came to the feeder.
  4. @kittykat23uk thanks for this detailed report on Augrabies NP and your beautiful photos. Definitely something for me to consider for another trip. Likewise the Kalahari Meerkat Trails Sanctuary. I'm so pleased that you have another guide and I hope that his enthusiasm and helpfulness lasts for the rest of the trip. Great start to KTP for you both, its one of my favourite parks.
  5. @kittykat23uk Marrick really delivered for you - aardvarks and aardwolf. Looks like you had excellent roan sightings too.
  6. @Geoff I like your Big Year philosophy to aim for 150 good photos, post chronologically and hold off for better images if possible. I posted a few OK images in December 2017 and hope for better shots of local birds this year. Great start with the Nankeen Kestrel and Tawny Frogmouth, excellent eye shot of the Tawny Frogmouth.
  7. @janzin do you have a contact for Andrew Dazell? I'm up for a half day birding at Vic Falls this year...
  8. @xelas I have a guide who is taking me for a day's birding to Kirstenbosch, Harold Porter and maybe Intaka. She is then taking 3 of us to West Coast NP with an overnight in Langebaan and then to Franschoek - I am sorry I didn't add an extra night so we could go to Strandfontein, however my other 2 friends aren't as ''birdy'' as me so the current itinerary is probably a fair split of activities/interests. I am still waiting to hear if Lawson's will be running their 2018 Birds and Wildflowers trip as I am now even more enthusiastic after seeing your photos - still no Wilderness, De Hoop or Strandfontein though.
  9. @xelas what a cracking collection of birds you have in your Big Year so far, and amazing photos of course. I have been paying attention to the locations where the photos were taken and hope I am as lucky in Kirstenbosch, Karoo and Harold Porter this coming August. I have some serious regrets about not including Strandfontein, De Hoop and Wilderness in this year's itinerary based on your sightings, however I can partially console myself by noting that I am visiting in winter and some of these beauties may not be present and others won't be in breeding plumage!
  10. @JohnR thanks for following up. This turned out to be an intermittant problem - always the hardest to pin down.
  11. @SuperD if you are considering Southern tanzania with a stopover in Zanzibar, I would suggest driving one way and flying the other. Its possible to drive Dar to Mikumi NP in a day and I'm told this will take us up to 8 hours this year. Accommodation at the Tan-Swiss Inn is about $100 US per night and it is in Mikumi town, just a few kms from the park gate. Warthog Adventures can arrange both flights and ground transfers. If you travel in May, you may get an early-season discount, however as others have said the bush is thicker at this time of year, however in a park like Ruaha you would still see a lot of game unless you were exceptionally unlucky - have a look at Gregor's Ruaha NP green season report from a couple of years ago. . I would think that Foxes would offer a good rate for May at Ruaha River Lodge. Alternatively, you could try Warthog Adventures and stay at the national park accommodation. The en-suite cottages look OK, although the food on offer sounds a bit repetative. There are 2 reports from Ruaha NP staying in the national park accommodation on ST, one by Gregor (green season) and one by Flytraveler. The last quote I had from Warthog was $280 US for the first day vehicle hire (includes vehicle, guide and fuel) and $180 US fro second and subsequent days - you need to add in park fees. I believe the cottages are between $50-$100 US per night. These figures were obtained in 2016 so they are sure to have increased by now.
  12. @SuperD you are correct in thinking that gadventures and Intreid are not safari specialists. Some of the questions to put these companies are: how many people will be in the vehicle - will there be a window seat for everyone, is there enough room for you to hold your camera and photograph from the vehicle? is the accommodation located inside or outside the park? If outside the park, how long is the drive to/from the park gate? what is included in the cost - all meals, park fees, is there a fuel surcharge? If you are looking for a group departure you could check out Drifters. Foxes offer well priced safaris in Southern Tanzania and this location would meet your need for a visit to 'wild' Africa with not too many other jeeps around. The number of people in the vehicle could be the luck of the draw, so maybe you could ask about bookings and the number of other people staying in camp on your dates. Alternatively, you could contact Warthog Adventures in Iringa and enquire about a budget safari in Southern Tanzania staying in a mix of TANAPA cottages in Ruaha, and the Tan-Swiss Inn for Mikumi. If you opt for Southern Tanzania its easy to include a few days in Zanzibar. Wild Wings have some short scheduled safaris to Kruger which would combine well with a trip to Marrick Farm and Mokala NP for dryland species. Whilst Marrick have excellent pricing, be aware that they also offer hunting safaris although there is limited contact between hunting and photographic clients and you may be lucky and have no hunters in camp at all should you decide to visit. Good Earth tours do well priced itineraries around the Northern Circuit of Tanzania.
  13. 1. Chestnut Teal, Gould's Lagoon. January 2018
  14. New Zealand has some unique bird species of which the iconic kiwi is the best known. The Wrybill, a plover with a side-turned bill, a medley of seabirds including albatross, petrels, shearwaters and penguins together with endemic parrots, wrens, robins and tomtits were all new to me. I was delighted with sightings of Yellow-eyed and Fiordland-crested penguins and the variety and number of albatross seen on 2 pelagic cruises. A few Australian species such as Swamphens and Silvereyes and some introduced European species were also seen. The South Island of New Zealand is a land of dramatic coastlines, roughhewn mountains, green paddocks (mostly dotted with sheep), sandy beaches and foaming waterfalls. Kaikoura Knob's Flat Lake Tekapo Katiki Historic Reserve Mountains near Homer Tunnel, Milford Road The island is remarkably scenic and it is hard to believe that around the next corner is a sight even more dazzling than the one disappearing in the rear view mirror. Indeed, the scenic overload makes it easy to become nonchalant about the plethora of memorable vistas. I travelled with Wrybill Safaris, joining the group at Wellington half-way through the trip for the last 12 days of a 21 day trip. The itinerary was: Wellington Picton Kaikoura (2 nights) Hokitika Franz Joseph Wanaka Te Anau Stewart Island (2 nights) Omarau Omarama Christchurch I will write more at the end of the report about travelling with Wrybill through the South Island, the New Zealanders (Kiwis) love of the great outdoors and some conservation work that we saw. Day 1 I left Melbourne around 6.30 pm arrived in Wellington at midnight (there is a 2 hour time difference) and thanks to efficient immigration and customs made it to the hotel around 1 am. After good night's sleep I went in search of breakfast, walking as far as Queen's Wharf before returning to the city area and found a cafe called Arabica. After breakfast I wandered back to the hotel, packed up and checked out before returning to Lambton Quay in downtown Wellington (Welly to the locals) to take some photos of this staid port city. The wharf area reminded me of Cape Town and Hobart. Made it back to the hotel in time to meet Sav Saville of Wrybill Birding. The rest of the group are at Te Papa (the National Museum) and we meet them there before heading to the Inter-island ferry terminal. Once on board the ferry Sav bags us good inside seats with ready access to the deck area where we spend most of the trip and are rewarded with distant views of White-capped and Salvin's Albatross, Fairy Prion, Fluttering Shearwater, King and Spotted Shags, Arctic Skua and a solitary Little Blue Penguin. A New Zealand Falcon flew overhead, too high for us to identify the prey in its claws. The crossing was quite calm, although there was a slight swell once we left Wellington Harbour and entered the open waters of Cook Strait. Closer to the South Island we see a number of yachts and motor cruisers as the locals take to the sea. Within the sheltered waters of Queen Charlotte Sound there are homes dotted around private coves with sandy beaches and private jetties. Many appear to be holiday homes, but all are boat access only as they cling to the edge of the land where no road goes. Tomorrow we are going on a boat cruise to Blumine Island in search of rare New Zealand endemics. The only mammal seen today was a Dusky Dolphin.
  15. @kittykat23uk I'm really enjoying your Marrick and Mokala days, something very special for us to look forward to in July. Shame you missed rhino in Mokala though. Just wondering, did the Marrick guides say anything about sightings of Zorrilla aka Striped polecat? How often did you see the hunters during your stay at Marrick?
  16. @janzin I'm looking forward to this TR for your wonderful photos as well as your candid assessment of both parks visited.
  17. @penolva thanks for your Mara TR and the tip about Brian's camp. I am so looking forward to your adventures around Sandai. Where did you decide to stay on your next trip in September?
  18. Final thoughts on NZ I was looking for a short break before Christmas that didn't involve long flights and stumbled across the Wrybill Birding website after a Google search. I contacted Sav Saville who sent me the 21 day itinerary which was longer than I wanted to be away, but I noticed in the blurb that it was possible to buy part of the itinerary, so I signed on for 11D/10N. I flew Hobart to Wellington in about 6 hours with a Melbourne stopover and was collected by Sav in Wellington in time for the ferry crossing to the South Island. This is one of the best trips I have ever done in terms of organisation (no wasted time), value for money, diversity of species from kiwis to penguins and a variety travel. The accommodation was in self-contained motels that were clean and comfortable. There were some long travel days but we also enjoyed 2 pelagic trips, trips to Blumine and Ulva Islands and 2 night time kiwi adventures. Oh, and the company was pretty good too. New Zealand is a pleasant and easy country to visit. The population is approximately 4.5 million of which just 1 million live on the South Island which is uncrowded, wild and scenic. However, density ramps up around established tourist areas such as Queenstown and Franz Josef. New Zealanders are friendly and helpful and provide a good standard of service which was very noticeable in shops, on ferries, in post offices and in hotels and restaurants. It has more bird species and greater variety of species than I expected. The parrots are a sight, especially the kea and kaka whilst the albatross we saw on 2 pelagic trips were such graceful, whiter than white birds. I was delighted to find that NZ is home to 3 penguin species. The scenery is outstanding and varies from windswept coastlines, quiet coves and long sandy beaches. The forests are green and provide ample opportunities for refreshing walks. Glaciers spill down mountains, snow-covered mountains stretch away into the clouds and impossibly brilliant turquoise coloured lakes are a photographer's delight. Many people travel independently in hire cars, camper vans and motor homes. The number of motels offering self-catering facilities is popular with budget travellers. The two islands are linked by a reliable and frequent vehicular ferry whilst tiny Stewart Island is serviced by a passenger ferry and outlying Ulva Island by water taxis. The road network is extensive and well maintained. Petrol costs over $2.14 NZ per litre and cafe and restaurant meal charges are on par with Australia with a steak costing between $35-$40 NZ and fish and chips between $22-$30. New Zealanders are friendly and helpful and provide a good standard of service. We were travelling through the South Island on a long weekend when someone in the bus said 'I wonder if anyone in this country goes to work because they all seem to be out in it.' This was an acute observation and I began to take photos of the locals enjoying their homeland. A day on safari with Sav The day began with a breakfast that Sav provided that we prepared in our self-contained accommodation. There was a choice of fruit, cereal, yoghurt, toast, spreads, ham and cheese. I liked this no rush, no fuss arrangement because breakfast was quick and we could work out for ourselves how much time we needed to get ready to leave - this seemed to vary between 2 hours for some and 45 minutes for others. The earliest time we set out was a reasonable 7.15 am. Sometimes we hit the road straight after leaving the overnight accommodation whilst other days we did a walk before getting away. Wherever possible the day's travel was broken by a walk to see birds or sometimes a coffee stop to break the journey. Some days we made a number of stops en route to search for birds. Lunch was usually purchased (by Sav) from local bakeries and eaten on the road whenever we wanted or sometimes we stopped at a cafe as time permitted. After arriving at our accommodation we usually had about an hour before bird call and dinner at a local restaurant or pub, again purchased by Sav.
  19. Kiwis at play We were travelling through the South Island on a long weekend when someone in the bus said 'I wonder if anyone in this country goes to work because they all seem to be out in it.' To be fair, it was a long weekend, however this was a keen observation and I began to take photos of the locals enjoying their homeland. The fun started on the first day where this yacht was sailng in sheltered Queen Charlotte Sound. Picton Shacks at Arthur's Pass This coffee cart at Bluff was advertising local delicacies of venison and whitebait Gardening at Oban, Stewart Island Oban, Stewart Island Lake Waihola Lake Tekapo
  20. Conservation in New Zealand NZ is working hard to bring severely endangered bird species back from the brink. The government's Predator Free 2050 policy has resulted in a concerted program costing $70 million per year in order to reduce and finally eradicate stoats, rats and possums for conservation and agricultural purposes. Rabbits are also targeted for eradication. A number of strategies have been successful, chiefly removing predators from islands so that endemic species can thrive and keeping these island environments free of predators. Mostly, the selected islands have remnant populations of the target species already present such as we saw at Blumine Island but in other places birds may have been transported to designated sanctuaries. The use of traps is key to the success of making and keeping environments predator free, such as this one we saw at the Homer Tunnel. This information board was near Lake Tekapo. In two examples I saw more extensive intervention in the conservation of endangered birds. Firstly, a series of pens has been built in the Wanaka area in which pairs of Takahes live in a captive breeding program. The pens are large enough for the birds to forage naturally and the area of each pen is based on wild territory ranges. Secondly, the Black Stilt is in dire straits so Dept of Conservation employees remove eggs from wild nests and incubate them and then raise the chicks before releasing them back into the wild. We saw the hatchery and aviary complex on the way to Omarama. Current thinking is that any egg left in the wild has zero chance of hatching or the survival of young chicks. Signage was also good and well placed to remind people of acceptable behaviour around birdlife areas.
  21. Day 12 The last day dawns and we are allowed a luxurious 9 am start. We re-trace yesterday's drive with a brief stop at the Black Stilts outside Tekapo. The drive back to Christchurch is uneventful. The city was devastated by earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 and we noticed many patches of cleared ground where buildings had once stood and a great deal of construction work as re-building continues.
  22. Mallard ducklings, Wanaka Marina, New Zealand
  23. @mopsy thanks for this Ruaha green season report. I will be there in early July so the colours will be very different but I hope we have your luck with the cheetah. The zebras look as though they are almost grazing on lawn!
  24. 2. European Grenfinch, Gould's Lagoon. January 2018.
  25. Day 11 There were no long distances planned for today as we are on a quest for Black Stilt, Wrybill and White-winged tern. The day began at Oamaru and we are headed to Omarama with a drive through the dry McKenzie Basin which turned on some spectacular scenery. Heidi asked if we could have a photo stop at the turquoise-coloured Lake Tekapo where Sav spotted a pair of Black Stilts so we hot-footed it down to the pool where the birds were feeding, passing a flock of Canada Geese on the way. The Black Stilts seemed to be oblivious to us, which may explain why they are one of these most endangered shore birds in the world. Banded Dotterels fluttered all around the lake shore, whilst a White-faced Heron looked on. The scenery in this area is outstanding and our cameras clicked away. Along a side road a windswept Pied Stilt fished in a shallow lake. We are deep into sheep country now, where large station owners farm the national flock. Our guides look hard for Wrybill and White-fronted Tern when suddenly down a rocky track a breeding pair of the terns is discovered. Still on the track of Wrybill, we drive down another stony track to the shore of Lake Tekapo where a family of Paradise Shelducks is paddling. Nearby, a young Black Stilt with mottled plumage is fossicking at the water's edge. After a scramble over river rocks a pair of well camouflaged Wrybill is located and we are able to watch their feeding behaviour as they are unperturbed by our presence. After a few more photos of the spectacular McKenzie country and a shot of cloud covered Mt Cook we head towards Omarama. A stop at a salmon farm produced very close-up views of New Zealand Scaup and a pair of nesting Great Crested Grebes. A pair of Eurasian Coots was also floating around.

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