Would you know an emu if you saw one?

We had no idea what an emu, a Tasmanian Devil, or a wombat looked like. Hey, we’re now in Australia for two-and-a-half months, and our time to learn these things had arrived.

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Emu

Sure, we could have looked at photos pulled up on our computers, but that isn’t as good as the real thing. Our friends, Gretchen and Phil, took us to get a good look at these critters at a favorite place of theirs, East Coast Natureworld, in Bicheno, Tasmania.

Joe petting a wombat

Joe petting a wombat

We had a ball viewing and photographing all the animals, birds, and snakes.

Forester kangaroo

Forester kangaroo

 

Tiger snake

Tiger snake

We even got to watch the Tasmanian Devils get their daily meal. The park interpreter called the Tassy Devils by name and rustled her plastic food container, a sound they recognize as their dinnertime call. Out popped “the boys” from their little den. She tossed wallaby meat into the enclosure, fur and bones included. All the while she informed us about the animals and their behavior.

Tasmanian Devil with wallaby meat

Tasmanian Devil with wallaby meat

The best feature at Natureworld was its aviary – with the most colorful birds we’ve seen.

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We plan to do some bushwalks while we’re in Australia. Thanks to our visit at Natureworld, we might actually recognize a native animal or snake now should we happen to meet. Not a bad idea!

 

April 2014

 

 

 

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Take in the view

Phil stood on the bench, stretched his long leg onto the iron fence and with the other leaped on to the huge boulder.  He sat down, enjoyed the view, and we snapped his photo.

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Phil – with Wineglass Bay in the background

Our friends, Gretchen and Phil, live in Tasmania, Australia, an island south of the mainland.  They picked us up in Hobart on a crisp Fall morning, and we drove to Freycinet National Park.  Our plan: hike the Wineglass Bay-Hazards Beach Circuit trail and camp that night at the beach in the Park.

When we arrived, wallabies were in the parking lot to greet us (with hopes we’d hand over some food, which we didn’t).

Trip with Gretchen and Phil Stone to Freycinet Nationa Park

The hike alternated between forest and beach, crossing an isthmus, then more forest and beach.

Trip with Gretchen and Phil Stone to Freycinet Nationa Park

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Hazards Beach

We had the beautiful beaches to ourselves, just no one else was there.  We had read that Wineglass Bay is rated one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.  It is. The weather was really too cool for a swim, and, as the hour was late, we continued on.

By the time we finished our hike and drove to the campground darkness had set in.  We put on headlamps and set up two tents on a sandy pad not far from the Bay.  After a tasty, warm dinner at the Lodge Café, we burrowed into our sleeping bags and were lulled to sleep by the waves breaking on the beach.

The next morning, we got our first daylight view of our campsite, surrounded by trees on the sides and facing the Bay.

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We walked on the beach to the Lodge for hot drinks on the deck to start the day. Then we walked back to our beach site, spread out mats, and enjoyed a picnic breakfast on the beach, with some Pacific gulls for company.  Friends and gulls looked out to sea and enjoyed the view.

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View from the Lodge

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April 2014

 

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Our pick for top place to go in Melbourne

As soon as we set the dates for our trip to Melbourne, Australia, we planned one special outing. We figured all other tourist destinations could be squeezed in if we had time, but our heart’s desire was to visit the Melbourne Water Western Treatment Plant. Yes, a sewage treatment facility. Why? That’s because it’s the place to see up to 275 resident bird species – over one-third of all the species in Australia.

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We contacted John and Allison through birdingpal.org. They generously offered to guide us and 2 other visitors from the US, Jeff and Barbara, for the day.   How many birds would we see? We suspect John strives for 100 different species, which seemed impossibly high based on our limited experience.

We gathered in a wooded area by the side of the road to the Water Treatment Plant. John got off to a very fast start. “Musk lorikeets,” he called out and binoculars went up. We hardly had a second to look before John called out, “White ibis in the field over there.” We swiveled and took a look and tried to record what we’d seen, but not fast enough as he called out, “Little raven.” And so it went. This was speed bird watching at its very best. We could barely keep up with John. We had never been in a place where so many different birds could be seen without moving a step.

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Welcome swallows

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Purple swamphens

We knew the Melbourne Water Western Treatment Plant is a premier birding site in Australia, but we had no idea why or what it would be like. The facility, covering 11,000 hectares (42 sq mi), is 35 km southwest of the city and has been operating for over 100 years. “All natural treatment of the waste water,” we were told. “No chemicals.” Trees lined the entry roads, but most of the areas we visited appeared to be ponds and wetlands bordering Port Philips Bay.

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We raced through the morning, and, by my count, tallied over 60 bird species seen by the time we collapsed on to benches in a bird blind to eat our packed lunches.

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We spent time in the afternoon looking at wading birds not easily seen. John set up the scope to aid viewing. We saw many uncommon birds. One was a female ruff, known as a reeve, a rarely seen migrant from northern Eurasia.

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The perfect environment for secretive crakes and rails

We birded all day long and only stopped as the sun dropped in the sky. An early evening tally revealed we had hit the mark: 101 species viewed! John and Allison were great guides and the Water Treatment Plant was the best place we went in our visit to Melbourne.

 

March 2014

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OH, MY!  4 bakeries + ice cream shop + frozen yoghurt store in 1 block

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Clearly, St Kilda, Australia, was going to be a change from other stops on our round-the-world trip.  Imagine 4 bakeries, an ice cream shop, and frozen yoghurt store in the same block.  Oh, my!  St Kilda, a suburb of Melbourne, exudes high-caloric attributes that are sassy, stylish, and arty.

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Entrance to Luna Park, an old amusement park

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Our first days were spent walking St Kilda’s old neighborhoods while we caught up on a little shopping.

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We cut through a park when we heard loud squawks coming from a tree.  We heard, but it took a few minutes to see, a pair of rainbow lorikeets.  Even the birds in St Kilda are sassy, stylish, and arty.

Rainbow lorikeets

 

March 2014

 

 

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Little Ones

Babies and little ones are endearing. Who can resist? The juvenile Australasian gannets charmed us. They sat in their high rocky nests with parents nearby for support. Soon the juveniles will be ready to take off from the cliffs at Muriwai, and, like many native New Zealanders of the human variety, they will be ready for an overseas experience, an “OE.”

For those gannets, they’ll spend the next 3-7 years cruising the oceans south of Australia before returning to this same rocky area of New Zealand to mate and rear their own juveniles.

Muriwai beach - breeding site for Australasian gannets

Juvenile gannet (left) and parent (right)

Juveniles are camouflaged on the rocks .  This is a color photo.

Juveniles are camouflaged on the rocks . This is a color photo.

We admired the Maori carvings and snapped lots of photos at the Arataki Visitor Center of the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park.  When we walked around one, we discovered a little wooden carved baby hidden to the side.

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Also at the Arataki were terrariums with insects and small lizards found in the park.  We especially liked the (too cute) green and forest geckos.

Waitikeri Ranges regional park

When we were growing up in the U.S., we used to see lots of monarch butterflies, but their numbers have dwindled in the U.S. in recent years with shrinking food sources and habitat space. So, the appearance of Monarchs in New Zealand surprised us.

We had seen a plant with little fluffy “balloons” in New Zealand and had no idea what it was.  A passerby told us it was a swan plant, and we looked it up to find that it is related to milkweed.  Days later, when we walked through a plant center with our NZ friends, Cliff and Ruth, we were shocked to see caterpillars devouring a swan plant in the nursery.  Ruth told us that we were seeing the caterpillars of the Monarch butterfly.  Of course!

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She pointed out a chrysalis on a nearby stem, and there flying around us was the real thing – a Monarch butterfly.  So, in that one little spot in a plant nursery, we saw the Monarch chrysalis, caterpillar, and butterfly.  Turns out Monarch butterflies were introduced into New Zealand in 1871 and seem to be doing just fine in its environment.

We don’t often observe “little ones” and certainly not so many in one day. We had set off to just see the baby gannets, but, thanks to Cliff and Ruth, we saw a whole lot more.

 

March 2014

 

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Listen and look – it’s magic!

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Joe and Rod used the art pieces, “Listen-stop” by Phil Dadson to hear amplified and modified sounds.

Our AirBnB hosts, Barbara and Rod, took us on an outing to the Brick Bay Sculpture Trail, known for its lovely setting, art, and winery. We whiled away an afternoon with them, enjoying each other’s company, on a perfectly warm and sunny day.

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Brick Bay Farm

One morning, for another jaunt, the two of us caught the bus to Shakespear Park, located at the tip of the Whangaparaoa Peninsula. We were the only ones on the bus so we sat up front and chatted with our friendly bus driver, Jan. When we arrived at the park, the driver got out of the bus, and a number of pukeko birds raced over to her. Magic!

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Shakespear Park has an old growth forest filled with great trees and bird chatter.  Eventually the path opened up to rolling hills of grassland and continued to a lookout on the highest hill with a view of the Hauraki Gulf. We sat on a bench, munched on nuts and apples, and enjoyed seeing the far-off Coromandel peninsula, the skyline of Auckland, and several of the offshore islands.

We followed the Heritage Trail and swung down to a tree-lined beach.

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Gulls and oystercatchers lined the beaches, but other birds could be seen, too.  In the midst of the pied stilts, we spotted a bird we’d not yet seen. What was it?  We flipped through our bird guide and found in the description of the marsh sandpiper, that they “associate with pied stilts.” (NOTE:  We received an email from Barry, a birdingpal expert, who has helpfully corrected our bird ID.  This outlier is actually a bar-tailed godwit.)

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Did you notice the one bird that doesn’t quite fit in with the pied stilts?

New Zealand has a number of islands where pests, such as rats and stoats, have been eliminated to make way for bird sanctuaries.  We caught the ferry to one of these islands, Tiri Tiri Matangi, on a gloriously sunny day. We had a few birds we wanted to see, so we took a guided walk on the island in hopes that our guide, Martin, would point them out. Magic! We saw them all – and more.  A highlight for us was seeing a juvenile takahe.  Takahes are native New Zealand birds, numbering less than 300.  Most reside in a valley in the remote Murchison Mountains on the South Island. Tiri Tiri has fewer than ten takahes, so it was special to see a juvenile with its parents.

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Parent takahe (left) with orange beak, juvenile (right) with dark beak

On our walks each day – whether it’s in the neighborhood, to the beach, or a park – we spend time listening and looking.  The result?  Quite often it’s magic.

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March 2014

 

 

 

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Road trip seals a friendship

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Buzzy Bee is a popular children’s toy originating in 1930’s New Zealand.

Road trips are best with scenic stops, and Cliff and Ruth knew just where to take us.  We had only met a few days earlier, but they already knew exactly where we’d love to go.  First up on the “Twin Coast Discovery  Highway” was the Bay of Island’s Honey Shop, where we observed some of their clever bee hives and sampled the tasty Manuka and  Pohutukawa honeys.

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In addition to enjoying the taste, Manuka honey has demonstrated antibacterial properties.

One of the most important historical sites in New Zealand is at Waitangi, where a treaty was signed in 1840, considered the founding document of the country, giving Britain sovereignty over New Zealand and giving the Maori rights as British citizens and of land ownership.  Human Rights Commission New Zealand reported “New Zealand’s history since the signing of the treaty has been marked by repeated failures to honor these promises.”

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Cliff and Ruth on the beach at Waitangi.

Not far away was Oke Beach.  We posed on the steps leading up, then down, to one of the most beautiful beaches in New Zealand.  Dolphins fed in the waters right off Oke Beach and stayed in sight during our entire visit. 

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The fire department near Oke Beach.

Another beach with beautiful features: the colors of water, sky, and beach in the later afternoon light were worth painting (and Beth just might do that…on her iPad).

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A trip with strangers could have been derailed by any number of things, but we enjoyed every day, every outing, and the wonderful company of Cliff and Ruth.  They may have been strangers when we started our 4-day trip, but we’re “best of friends” now.

March 2014

 

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