Category Archives: travels elsewhere

Off to Africa for two conferences

Some elephants we drove past in Kruger NP in 2010.
Some elephants we drove past in Kruger NP in 2010.

Just one more day at home.  Tomorrow I head to Brisbane, and Tuesday will be on my way to South Africa!

The trip was originally to present some research findings on the germination and survival of native fig seeds spread by local birds to the International Frugivory Symposium in the Drakenburgs late next month. Now I’ll also be presenting a paper on wildlife tourism and biodiversity conservation to the Best EN Think Tank conference at the edge of Kruger National Park.

Of course I can’t get that close to Kruger without spending some time there, so will be traveling with the NP for almost 2 weeks before the first conference.

I’m also visiting an elephant sanctuary, one that apparently uses elephants rescued from potential unhappy lives, not calves taking for the purposes from their mothers.  I’ve heard many calls for all places offering elephant rides to be closed down throughout the world because they are all cruel.  I suspect not all are based on cruelty, and the place I’m visiting in Hazyview seems committed  to animal welfare and conservation, so I want to see it for myself. I know firsthand that there are cruel methods and gentle methods of training horse, dogs and other animals, so suspect it is the same with elephant training.

The events of next week don’t seem quite real yet, and maybe won;t until I’m actually in Africa.  Internet access will be limited, but I’ll try to record some of what happens along the way!

Dugongs and more at Tangalooma

Dugongs and more at Tangalooma, Moreton Island, near Brisbane

I had a delightful surprise at a business breakfast meeting run by the Queensland Tourism Industry Council (QTIC) a couple of months ago.  I dropped my business card as usual into the bowl of cards while preparing to listen to a speech by our opposition tourism minister, and won the draw for an overnight trip for two to Tangalooma Resort, including return ferry journey, dolphin feeding, accommodation and buffet breakfast.

So two of us (Ronda and Denis) headed off in pre-dawn light to the wharf on Brisbane River, pleasantly surprised to find they had also allowed us free parking for two days.

So we were soon leaving Brisbane and heading for the one of the world’s largest sand islands

Leaving Brisbane
Leaving Brisbane
the
Even here we couldn’t escape the federal election campaign!
Approaching the resort
Approaching the resort

Near the resort is a grim reminder of the island’s whaling days – now the whales are appreciated more as magnificent, intelligent, playful animals than for their body parts. This harpoon was bent during such an animal’s struggles while its captors waited for it to slowly exhaust itself

harpoon - bent
Harpoon bent while a whate struggled to escape – thankfully this no longer happens along our coasts

Nearby a whistling kite fought his reflection in a resort window (they’re nesting nearby and don;t want rivals), and also rebuffed some crows that were protesting his presence

kite on roof
A whistling kite nesting in a tree nearby is taking a bit of time to learn that the bird it sees in the window is not a competitor
whistling kite nest
Nest of the whistling kite, in an Araucaria tree (Norfolk Island Pine)

 

kite above resort
The kite flying above the resort

A white-faced heron sat nearby

Heron at Tangalooma Resort
This heron tried to land on the same spot the next day, saw me sitting there, squawked and did a u-turn. After I moved on he came back to what he obviously considered his rightful place

A pied cormorant wandered down towards the bird feeding area

cormorant heads to feeding spot
This pied cormorans knows bird feeding on the beach will start soon
brdsnearjetty
The heron decided he’d better not miss out

 

pelican coming in
as did this pelican

While waiting for our room to be prepared, we watched fish and seabirds being fed

fish feeding
Tangalooma staff member feeding fish at the resort
puffer fish
Puffer fish amongst the rocks and amenomes in the feeding pond

 

pelican
“I’m ready!”
"Me too!"
“Me too!”

 

birdfeeding Tangalooma
Pied cormorans, Australian pelicans and silver gulls being fed at Tangalooma

Now the bit I’d really been waiting for!  After lunch we headed off on the eco-cruise to seek dugongs and other marine life.

wait for boat

ecocruise

 

And sure enough, within 20 minutes we had found a dugong

dugong
dugong surfacing for air: his tail is towards us, his face out of sight as he’s swimming away

They don’t leap out of the water like dolphins, just quietly feed on the sea-grass (they’re sometimes called ‘sea-cows’) and come every couple of minutes or so to the surface for a breath of air.  Our guide told us they do some farming – pulling out the sea-grass species they don’t like so much, which facilitates the growth of their favoured species

I had previously patted an Amazonian manatee (one that had been confiscated as an illegal pet and being prepared for rehabilitation into the wild, near Manaus) and seen a captive dugong a tSeaWorld, but this was my first sighting of a wild dugong, so I was quite enthralled. He surfaced several times before we left I’m to seek other creatures

turtle
a green turtle swimming past- like the dugong the green turtle is herbivorous, unusual amongst marine mammals and reptiles

A cormorant dived for fish alongside our boat

cormorant diving

The wrecks that were deliberately sunk as artificial reefs for fish and other marine life are popular with kayakers and divers

kayaking at wrecks

That evening we indulged in the activity Tangalooma is famous for – dolphin feeding

dolphin sign
Tangalooma is careful with  the feeding of dolphins.  The sign gives regulations on how to feed the dolphins, and info on which dolphins have visited recently

The feeding of the dolphins is carefully regulated, based on research on effects offending practices her and elsewhere

Lines of visitors are speed out so that the dolphins also spread out, not crowding together, competing for food and knocking each other over. Thy are not fed enough fish to satisfy ten, so have to keep up their skills at catching wild fish each day. Visitors are requested to hold the fish under water so dolphins don’t strain their muscles trying to reach up for them. Frozen fish are thawed in fresh water to avoid them being too salty. Young dolphins are not fed while still feeding from their mothers. Visitors are advised not to pat or otherwise touch them while giving them the fish, to avoid any stress.

Tamgalooma sunset

dolphins lining up

feeding dolphins Tangalooma

dolphin and suckling calf
Young dolphin having a feed from Mum

 The close contact with these wild creatures does have an emotional impact, and we hope that many of the people participating now have a more positive attitude towards them as a result

Next morning we enjoyed a hearty buffet breakfast (also included in our prize)

Tangalooma breakfast
a Tangalooma breakfast

We spent the day relaxing, watching birds and finally watching another bird feeding session and dolphins feeding session before finally leaving.  We would have loved to spend a few more days

pelican jump for food
“I really want this one!”

 

more soon ….

 

For information on how to have a holiday at Tangalooma, visit http://www.tangalooma.com/info/home/

Snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef

Agincourt_Reef_!
At the edge of Agincourt Reef, part of the Great Barrier Reef in Far North Queensland

Snorkelling at Agincourt Reef, Far North Queensland

What to do with a break from wildlife-iewing?  Perhaps go wildlife-viewing!

I had a meeting of the Rainforest and Reef Research Centre to attend in Cairns, and since it was close to both Christmas and our wedding anniversary, this time Denis came with me and we spent a couple of days after the meeting in Port Douglas and one day out from there to the Great Barrier Reef.

Our first morning atPort Douglas was breakfast with the birds at Wildlife Habitat – more on this later

We also booked a full-day tour with Quicksilver which took us to three locations on Agincourt Reef (level with Cape Tribulation) on the Great Barrier Reef

Here are some photos with the digital camera we hired:

Not sure what this big fish was - maybe one of the groupers?
Not sure what this big fish was (below the coral) – maybe one of the groupers?

 

Hello, Big Fish!
Hello, Big Fish!
We saw a a variety of corals at Agincourt Reef
We saw a a variety of corals at Agincourt Reef
Some of the coral  was very colourful
Some of the coral was very colourful

 

Blue on blue
Blue on blue

 

 

a unicorn fish
a unicorn fish

 

Moorish Idol: quite a common fish but always lovely to see
Moorish Idol: quite a common fish but always lovely to see

 

Some of the group went scuba diving
Some of the group went scuba diving

 

 

but Denis and I stuck to snorkelling this time (this photo was obviously NOT taken by me)
but Denis and I stuck to snorkelling this time (this photo was obviously NOT taken by me)
Denis snorkelling
Denis snorkelling

 

 

a sea-star
a sea-star

 

a white-tipped shark (not a dangerous species - although some small fish may disagree)
a white-tipped shark (not a dangerous species – although some small fish may disagree)

 

 

a black-tipped shark (ditto)
a black-tipped shark (ditto)

 

a clam
a clam

 

Can you understand why we found it hard to leave the water when time was up?
Can you understand why we found it hard to leave the water when time was up?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Birds of the Esplanade, Cairns

Birds of the Esplanade, Cairns, Tropical Queensland

tern catching fish
tern catching fish

It wasn’t a great start to my one free morning in Cairns earlier this month: The coral reef was out there with its swirling, colourful pageant of fish I wouldn’t have time to see. Tropical rainforest and the chance of wild cassowaries would also have to wait for another trip. I could still stroll along the esplanade, famous for its birds…

I could stroll along the esplanade, famous for its birds, but the sky was grey and rain was starting to fall. I decided to go anyway .

The first birds flying toewards me looked like seagulls until I noticed the black on their  their heads.  They were terns, and for several minutes swooped  back and forth over the shallow sea, every now and then dipping  into the water to catch small fish. Visibility wasn’t great, but I’m pretty sure they were gull-billed terns (see the strong, dark bill in the photo), which could help explain why i thought they were gulls at first. This species is more associated with inland waters but does visit coasts as well, and is found on every continent.

Indian mynahs (introduced long ago to Australia) and silver gulls were common enough on the sand and rocky platform, and I saw  the occasional pair of masked  lapwings, all of which are common  in southern Queensland. Then I noticed a long down-curtved bill on a pale brown bird: my first whimbrel – not very common down south – for many years. In fact my last sighting had also been right here, from the Cairns Esplanade

whimbrel
whimbrel

I was not expecting to see kingfishers, but suddenly there were two sacred kingfishers, which I associate more with woodlands than coastal mudflats, flitting across the water and landing on rocks and stumps

sacred kingfisher
sacred kingfisher

Further out, a few common sandpipers were probing for invertebrates in the mud

common sandpipers
common sandpipers

A bit of a diversion from birds: I came across a wonderful (but obviously temporary) sand sculpture – I was later told it was done by Swiss visitors

sand sculpture, Esplanade, Cairns
sand sculpture, Esplanade, Cairns

Back to birds, a conpicuous flock of pelicans awaited.  They had probably been feeding during the night (pelicans often do) as they didn’t seem interested in anything other than sleeping or preening.

pelicans, Esplanade, Cairns
pelicans, Esplanade, Cairns

My final two sightings for the morning were both young birds. The first thus had me confused for a moment, and I wondered if it was a reef heron before deciding it was a white-faced heron without much white on the face (because it was not fully adult). The other was a nankeen night heron, not yet as pretty as it will be when mature, but still a lovely bird

young white-faced heron
young white-faced heron

 

young night heron
young night heron

Definitely more satisfying than spending the morning in a hotel room or cafe (I did enjoy a nice hot chocolate afterwards)