Saturday, 17 November 2012

Eclipse 2012 - Day 7 - Atherton tablelands

A bit of a hike from where we were staying, the Atherton Highlands had some nice birding spots and waterfalls to view.

We started at Cathedral Fig - a 500 year old strangler fig with a "room" inside the roots.

And we saw a Victoria's Riflebird here!  It was right next to the strangler fig displaying but it was hard to photograph from our angle, but its call was very distinctive.

Then onto Millaa Millaa falls.  It seems like every time there is a body of water in North Queensland, everyone wants to jump into it.

Then we went to see some of the crater lakes.  Lake Eachem is a great picnic and swim spot, and Mt Hypipamee has crater lake (not for swimming) but Dinner falls has lots of swimming spots.

Then stopped by some wetland areas to do some more birding, with some success there and along the roads!
 Black kite and black winged stilts

 Brolga and Plumed Whistling ducks

 Brown cuckoo-dove and Red-tailed black cockatoos

And then our final stop was Curtain Fig in Yungaburra, another 500 year old strangler fig.

We saw a Wompoo Fruit-Dove AND a Lumholtz Tree Kangaroo (crappy picture though)!

Then the long drive back.... wrecked our record by letting the kids have McDonald's for dinner whilst we ate KFC!  We're heading back home tomorrow... it's been a great trip!

Friday, 16 November 2012

Eclipse 2012 - Day 6 - Kids stuff day

We were going to go to the Atherton tablelands today and do more sightseeing and birding, but hubby forgot his binoculars!  So we decided to move Saturday's timetable to Friday, which was to do kid friendly things.

We started off in the morning heading towards Cairns for the Kuranda Scenic Railway ride, but the kids were getting restless so we took a detour via Cattana Wetlands, just to let them stretch their legs.  However we decided to walk all the way to the bird hide and just as well we did because we saw a Royal Spoonbill there!  Well worth the trip!

It was damn hot so I was hoping to get out of there as soon as possible, and we headed off the the Scenic Railway to find that it leaves at 2 times, both before we got there!  So we changed plans and drove up to Kuranda and I caught the train down with the kids after we had a look at the Butterfly House.

Then onto the train!

It took almost 2 hours for a full journey, with one stop in between.  The kids seemed to really enjoy that, and also weren't scared of the tunnels.  Hubby picked us up at Cairns and then we headed to the Esplanade so the kids could play in the water for a bit.

My son was popular with Japanese tourists.  They all seemed to stop and look at him and take pictures of him playing with the small fountains in the shallow end of the Esplanade.  Hubby was out taking pictures of seabirds and he got some real beauties.

Then we had Japanese sushi train style for dinner.  It was one of the only times this holiday they weren't being forcefed their food, or them gorging themselves on potato chips.  I was happy because they were eating fish, vegies (seaweed, edamame and cucumber) as well as rice.  They fell asleep on the way home, and just as well, because we have an early start tomorrow for more birdwatching!

Eclipse 2012 - Day 5 - Cairns Highlands

More wildlife hunting for us!  Mostly birds though :)  We made our way back to Mareeba via Mt Molloy and headed out to Lake Mitchell.  It looked like it was something highly illegal because we had to open a chained gate to get in there... but it looked like lots of people do it (maybe it's a cattle drove area).

Here are some of the highlights from this area:

 Jabiru and Magpie Geese

 Large Billed scrubwren and white necked heron

 Grey browed babbler and Black Swans, Australasian Grebe and Blue billed ducks

There were also green pygmy-geese, lots of cormorants and pacific black ducks there too.

Then we went on to Mareeba wetlands, and saw figbirds and blue faced honey eaters on the way in.  Boy was I excited when I got there to see comb crested Jacanas!  There were a lot of birds out there to photograph.
 Comb crested Jacana and Darter

 Dollarbird and Emu

Green pygmy-goose and Little Pied Cormorant

Then onto the famous Skyrail from Cairns to Kuranda.  We were hoping to catch the cable car up and the steam train down, but it was too late in the day for that.  We started opposite to everyone else - we did a return from Kuranda, whereas most of the other tourists were doing it from Cairns return.  It was packed and one of the guys working there told us to take the cablecar all the way down, and then get off at the two stops on the way back.  It was good advice.

J was scared as we approached the cable cars - he had the wide eyed anxious look, and kept saying "No, No" as we approached the front of the line.  He wouldn't even walk into the area, we carried him in.  E was enjoying it, as she had done one before with grandpa in Taiwan.  However, once he got in, he loved it, and he wailed when we had to get off at the stops, wanting to go back to the cable cars.  It was a good experience of the rainforest but creature poor - no butterflies, birds or animals to be seen!  The only exciting thing we did see from our cable car was a black shouldered kite carrying a fish in its claws flying up to the forest.

The whole skyrail one way without stopping takes 35 minutes!  That's one hell of a cable car ride!  We stopped on the way back to do the quick boardwalks and by the time we got back to Kuranda the markets were closed.  What a shame!  Would have liked to check out the arts stores.  We had a quick walk by the Cairns esplanade before dinner.

 Masked dotterel and white faced heron

 I'm hopeless at identifying stilts, sandpipers - they all look the same!
We had dinner at Ochre - which was featured on the plane as an interesting place to eat.  They had typical tourist fare there with an Australian game menu, so we tried that.  The food was interesting, but unfortunately service was slow even though we booked for 5:30 (it didn't help that I didn't realise that the restaurant was 4 blocks from where we parked our cars) and the kids got really tired.  We didn't get to finish our mains, but they looked really fantastic on the plate!

Damper and Dukka

Spicy Prawn and Crocodile

 Crocodile Wontons and salmon mousse cones

 Kangaroo terrine and Emu carpaccio

Sliced Kangaroo on Bokchoy, Sliced Wallaby on Potato, and sweet potato fritters

Wattleseed Pavlova and Berry sorbet

We remembered late at night we forgot to buy the paper!  So we were driving around looking for the newspaper and finally found one at the BP petrol station.  Phew, a souvenir of the trip!

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Eclipse 2012 - Day 4 - Eclipse Day

I was so excited I could hardly sleep.  I was up from midnight researching weather and writing and thinking about what I would do if the weather was bad for the eclipse at sunrise.  I finally lay down at about 330am and the alarm went off at 430am and we packed food for the kids, the cameras, beach towels and headed down to Four Mile Beach at Port Douglas, which is directly east facing.

Of course, we weren't the only ones with that idea.

The beach was full of people but there was pleny of space for everyone.  The tide was coming in as well, so we kept ourselves way back from the water, as we watched the horizon for sunrise.

Stay away clouds!  Looking promising...
Sunrise and first contact - extremely hard to see in top left because of cloud distortion
Oh no no no, you are not going up into those clouds...

God damn it!  Get out of those clouds!
My children oblivious to me getting agitated at the sun behind the clouds
Approaching totality behind the clouds... CRAP!
Minutes before totality... get OUT from those clouds!
The beginning of totality occurred behind a cloud.  The sky darkened, the stars became visible and it got cold.  I whooped even though I was disappointed that I was going to miss the eclipse because of stupid CLOUDS, because the whole experience, with everyone screaming in excitement around you was pretty awesome.  But then, halfway through totality, lady luck shone on our side and the sun began to move out from behind the cloud... (I wish I could gif this)

Yay out from the clouds!

This is a picture of the corona and you can see the solar flares

Diamond ring effect as totality ends
And back behind the clouds again
 So exciting!  So lucky!  I was thrilled, and the kids even got to see the black sun.  I think they were fascinated by totality even though they didn't understand it - hubby was explaining it to E and she remembers that the sun was black and it looked like a moon.

After the thrill of that wore off, my tiredness caught up with me.  But I'm never too tired to take pictures of birds - here are pics of a bar-shouldered dove and a pied imperial pigeon that I saw on the way back home.

We headed out to Mossman Gorge to have a look - there are some walking trails and you can also swim in the water there - crocodile free!

Spectacled monarch in nest
Australian brush turkey walking nonchalantly past all the tourists
After that long walk and letting the kids play in the water up to their ankles, we went on a bird tour with Del Richards of Fine Feather tours which I admit I was a bit concerned because of the kids!  How were we going to keep them quiet?  What about walking?  I am not carrying the kids... sigh, if it was just me and hubby and Uncle S, then we could go on longer walks.  Anyway it turns out we just get driven everywhere in a 4WD and just hop in and hop out of the car.  Much easier!  Except the kids got cranky and restless and noisy during the trip, though were often pacified by drinks, cruskits, rice crackers and chocolate.

Here are some of the best shots of the birds we saw today on that tour.  It was pretty cool, we got to see a fair few birds, ones I never thought I would see!
 Bush stone-curlew and chesnut breasted mannekin

 Collared sparrowhawk (take my word for it!), double barred finch and red browed finch

 Double eyed fig parrot and forest kingfisher

 Greater bowerbird and his bower (nest)

 Peaceful dove and bar shouldered dove, and red winged parrots
 Silvereye and yellow spotted honeyeater

 Spangled drongo

Other birds we saw that I didn't get pictures of included Australasian Grebe, Royal Spoonbill (boy was I excited to see that flying past us!), Pacific Black Ducks, Blue billed ducks, Little black cormorants, Figbird (hubby saw that, I didn't), Black Kite, Whistling Kite, Magpie Goose and Brown honeyeater.

Del took us to see platypus!  My favourite animal!  I was thrilled to see them, and it was hard work keeping the kids quiet, and we got to see them a few times before the kids were too noisy and scared them off - it was actually in someone's backyard lagoon which fed into the streams!  I would love to have platypus in my backyard!  We saw some agile wallabies as well (pictured) and a red-legged pademelon (wallaby).

We were buggered after that.  Hot, sweaty, sticky, covered in dried sunscreen and insect repellant - I was looking forward to getting home and having a nice hot shower.  We had mexican for dinner and I put the kids to bed and crashed... until midnight.  Now I'm up again!  Tomorrow we will be doing the cable car and steam train ride (a very kid friendly day, unlike today!).