Polar Bears, Churchill, Manitoba, Canada   3 comments

Literally 9 years to the day, I touched down again, for the second time in my life, in the town of Churchill, home to the largest population of polar bears.

Churchill is a small grain port on the coast of central Canada’s Hudson Bay, the second largest bay in the world after the Bay of Bengal.

Churchill draws people from all over the globe both in the Summer and the Autumn. In the Summer, around 3000 Beluga whales enter the Churchill river with the tides, to feed, to give birth and to raise their young in the warmer waters. Then in the Fall from the beginning of October till the end of November, the polar bears can be seen in their thousands as they wait for the ice to form over Hudson Bay. These is the time of year when Churchill comes to life, as thousands of tourists flock to see the bears before they take to the ice in search of seals.

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Walking around Churchill on this very cold and miserable day was a little daunting when I could barely see out from under my 6 layers of clothing and beanies and hood. With the ever threat of a polar bear coming into town, I would have never seen it until it was too late. The photo below is of my friend and travelling partner, and it gives you some idea of how I was dressed.

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It must get sunny at some time or maybe they use the umbrella for the rain.

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Getting to Churchill one has two options, fly from Winnipeg or take the train. There are no roads to Churchill and up till about 2 weeks ago, there was no train. Back in 2017 record snowfall hit Churchill  and when the snow melted, the subsequent flooding literally washed away the railway tracks. It has only been in the last few weeks that the tracks have finally been repaired and the trains have started rolling into town to test the tracks. For 18 months the only way to get anything into or out of Churchill was by plane, a very expensive option. Churchill residents were cut off and the government and the railway company both denied responsibility for the the expensive reconstruction.

In the Summer of 2017 an artist from Winnipeg wanted to give something back to Churchill after having visited there year after year to paint polar bears so she organised the SeaWalls Churchill mural festival where 18 artists from Brazil, Japan, Germany, Australia, Spain, New Zealand, the UK, the US and Canada travelled to Churchill to paint its abandoned buildings. The documentary Know I’m Here captured the international artists painting their large scale murals as residents feared for their future. By the time the murals were finished, residents  began to believe that their town was finally been seen.

Here is just a few of the murals that I captured. The size of them made getting photos very difficult.

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This trip was very different from my previous trip in 2009 where I had stayed in the town of Churchill and had travelled out daily to the tundra in search of bears.

This year I had chosen a specialist photographic tour with Frontiers North

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and this included 5 nights at the Tundra Buggy Lodge right in the heart of polar bear country and where one can fall asleep and wake to polar bears right outside the window.

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The Lodge consists of two accommodation units that can sleep up to 40 guests, a lounge, a dining hall, and staff quarters. Outdoor viewing platforms connect each unit and allow for outdoor photography. The accommodation wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea but for me, the top bunk was my home for 5 nights and the early morning starts of 4am when people started waking and wanting to use the bathrooms, was not enough to ruin my experience. Both accommodations units had 2 showers with toilet and an extra toilet and showers were limited to two minutes. It wasn’t such a good idea to be the first person to have a shower as it would take 2 minutes for the hot water to finally come through.

Dan’s dinner is used for breakfast and dinner. It offers a superb 3 course meal nightly and wine is included. For anyone who wants a good espresso, there is a coffee machine in the dining cart that you can help yourself too. It was never made public but is definitely there for anyone’s use. I used to sneak into the dining cart before breakfast and help myself to multiple shots of coffee. It was quite a treat when i wasn’t expecting to have good coffee on this trip.

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The lodge lounge is a great place to relax. It is also used for presentations, wildlife and northern lights viewing and for pre dinner drinks and snacks. The Wifi connection at the lodge is outstanding.

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The bunk system

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My bunk with the view.

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Every morning after breakfast around 8am the 20 passengers from our accommodation unit would board our buggy and go out exploring for the day. Morning tea and lunch would be served on the buggy and we wouldn’t return to the lodge till around 4.30pm in time for pre dinner drinks and generally a talk from Polar Bear International or someone else. We never had to travel too far as there was bears everywhere. One morning we had 8 bears right beside the lodge so half the day we didn’t travel far at all.

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Obviously the reason I went all the way to Churchill was to see polar bears so without making this blog too long I shall include just a few photos from our first day.

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Posted December 17, 2018 by broomee in Uncategorized

Vancouver Island, BC, Canada   3 comments

Touching down in Vancouver after a 14 hour flight from Australia, my friend Marieta and I were shuttled across to the South terminal where we boarded our Pacific Coastal flight to Vancouver Island, a destination I had not been to before but definitely need to spend more time there and at a better time of the year.

We were right at the end of the whale season, the 31st October, but who said whales know anything about dates. Our first priority was to book on a whale watching tour with the hopes of maybe seeing Orca. Our accommodation at the Regent Waterfront in Victoria was extremely hospitable and not only did they upgrade us to a waterfront suite, they also organised our whale tour booking, what a great start to our trip.

Getting our bearings we went for a wander along the waterfront taking in some of the sights. It was Halloween.

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Fisherman’s Wharf boat houses, what great colours.

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Autumn colours is not something we experience where we live in Australia so seeing these magnificent hues of red, orange and purple was something very special. 

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The dome of the British Columbia Parliament building in downtown Victoria is an impressive structure.

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What an impressive piece of architecture.

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After a delicious meal at The Flying Pig restaurant a couple glasses of wine, who says you can’t take photos.100_5084

And just a block away is Thunderbird Park a very small park displaying totem poles, adjacent to the Royal British Columbia museum.

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Eagle Wing tours took us out to view marine life the next day departing from Fishermans Wharf in a semi closed catamaran rather than a high speed open vessel. Most whale watching tours close up at the end of the October, Eagle Wing operates all year round, but does not guarantee whale sightings in the fall and winter.

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And we did find Orcas (Killer Whales), how lucky were we.

Killer whales along the coast of British Columbia and Washington are among the most studied killer whales in the world. They are found in all the oceans of the world but prefer cooler waters, hence we don’t see them often in Queensland waters in Australia. In the North Pacific there are 3 known ecotypes, Resident, Transient and Off shore.

Resident orca travel in pods made up of a number of extended family groups, their diet consists primarily of Chinook salmon and other species of fish.

Transient orca travel in small groups, usually up to eight animals, they vocalize infrequently and eat marine mammals, including seals, porpoise and other whales (humpback calves). On the occasions where transients are seen showing surface activity it is usually while they are in the act of subduing or killing their prey as we witnessed.

The third ecotype, the Offshore killer whales travel in very large pods. Little is known about this group. It is thought that these killer whales feed on schools of fish however hunting of other marine life has not been ruled out.

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We never saw a seal being thrown in the air but it was very clear that these orca were hunting and all the tail slapping indicated that they had a seal beneath the water and were drowning it. The seagulls were hanging around for the bits that got left behind.

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If you look very closely to the left and on the rocks of the photo below, you will see 2 terrified seal pups. If you look closely you will see that there is actually 3 orca in this photo. Notice how close the orca get to the rocks. They actually got a lot closer than this.

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We were fortunate to witness 3 breeches from the Killer whales but sadly none on camera. Humpback whales area lot easier to capture breeching due to their size. I need a lot more practise with Killer whales. Something I would like to do in the near future, spend more time photographing Orca.

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After a good couple of hours with the Orca we tried to stay with them but they were too quick. We were taken past an island which is home to feral animals that were originally put on the island to start a wildlife reserve. When that plan feel through, the animals that had been put there soon began to multiply and now there is a large number of feral animals that live quite happily on this island. 

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The cutest of them all was the river otters.

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I had been told that no visit to Victoria is complete without a visit to Butchart Gardens so we spent $60 on a taxi to get us there ready for the gates to open at 9am and expecting to join a queue. Everything I had read said that every season was a good time to visit and that every season offered something different,

We were disappointed, there was few flowers to be seen however the Japanese Gardens did make up for it.

The two photos below were taken of a glass house display. Spectacular but what I expected to see from the entire gardens.

Mental note: do not visit Butchart Gardens in November.

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We had planned a 4 hour visit at the gardens, it was all over in 1 hour. While we were sitting waiting for the bus to take us back to downtown, I saw the smallest little bird hoovering over some flowers, I was extremely impressed to say that I actually saw a Humming Bird. I never got a photo as the bus arrived.

Arriving back in Vancouver after a beautiful sunny day in Victoria, the rain had settled in.  It stayed all the next day while we wandered around Granville Island Market.

Mental note: Visit Vancouver and Vancouver Island in the Summer  for good weather, orca and humming birds.

 

Posted December 6, 2018 by broomee in Uncategorized

Lady Elliot Island, Southern Great Barrier Reef, July 2018   4 comments

Lady Elliot Island (LEI) is a coral cay situated at the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef and only a short flight from Hervey Bay, it was also the last destination on my itinerary with my friend who was out visiting from Seattle. LEI’s beauty speaks for itself and as you will see from my photos, turtles are a highlight and so are Manta Rays but unfortunately I have no footage or photos of the later.

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Giant Clams

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Bluespotted Fantail Ray

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Sea Urchin

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And even a Black – tipped Reef sharks seen in the distance.

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But turtles, how can you not love these beautiful marine creatures, they are so graceful, so friendly and they are there in abundance. No matter the time spent with these creatures,  a snorkel with them, leaves you wanting more.

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Posted October 9, 2018 by broomee in Uncategorized

Central Australia from Uluru to Alice Springs   2 comments

The Wedge-tailed Eagle is Australia’s largest bird of prey with a wingspan of 2.3metres. I didn’t know until I read recently that Wedge-tailed Eagles may hunt singly, in pairs or in larger groups. On our drive from Uluru to Alice Springs we were fortunate to see a number of Wedge-tailed Eagles in one location, this would explain what I read. When hunting in larger groups it is not hard for them to bring down a large adult kangaroo.

We did witness from a hot air balloon three kangaroos clearly trying to escape the talons of this powerful bird. The youngest being the joey was the target and the eagle came back twice with talons out ready to lift the joey away. Fortunately the joey and it’s family lived to tell the story. This is not something you witness every day and unfortunately there was no photographs taken. It was something you had to see to believe. Even the balloon operators said they had never witnessed anything like it.

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The Galah known for its humorous antics is one of Australia’s most familiar and abundant parrots. It is found over most of Australia.

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A bird I am unable to identify but a real cutie, possibly a Gerygone.

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Emu belong to a group of flightless birds known as ratites.  The Emu is the second largest flightless bird in the world after the Ostrich.. and is only found in Australia.

An Emu’s preferred habitat is open plains so the Red Centre is the ideal place to find them. They are also found in snowfields, forests and savannah woodlands.

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Zebra finch are social birds and are found in large flocks which makes them easy to spot. They are Australia’s most common and wide spread Finch found in much of Australia, excluding the cooler, wetter south. Zebra Finches are one of the fastest maturing birds with only 70 – 80 days between hatching and sexual maturity. They pair for life and both parents care for the eggs and young.

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Australian Ringnecks are found in pairs or small flocks over lightly timbered areas, open woodlands and tree-lined watercourses. They feed mainly on the ground, but also in trees and shrubs, usually in the morning and late afternoon, resting in the heat of the day.

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The Grey-crowned Babbler is a noisy and social bird, usually found in small groups of four to twelve, and is often seen on the ground or in low trees. It is sometimes called the Yahoo, after one of its calls.

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Another unknown bird and possible a juvenile.

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Central Australia is supposed to be a great place to find a Red kangaroo the largest of the kangaroo family, however we were not so lucky and could only find Wallaby’s and Wallaroos.

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Wallaroo’s

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The grand finale to our Northern Territory trip was a hot air balloon ride at Alice Springs. It was a good experience seeing the dawn awaken at 0 degrees but it would have been nice to see red kangaroos, wild camels and wild horses roaming beneath us as we drifted over them. Having not been in a Hot Air Balloon, I never realised how small an area you have to move around in (none), not an easy place to take half decent photos and not the place to carry an expensive camera and lens.

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Posted September 27, 2018 by broomee in Uncategorized

Kings Canyon, Watarrka National Park, The Red Centre, Australia   2 comments

Just 3 hours from Uluru is the majestic Kings Canyon with it’s sandstone walls that tower 100 metres above the canyon floor.

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Its a long way to go for a day trip if you want to include the 6km scenic rim walk so there is just two options for accommodation, The Kings Canyon Resort or Kings Creek Station which is a working cattle/camel station and is the largest exporter of wild camels in Australia. It offers accommodation in the form of camping, permanent safari tents and glamping on the Escarpment.

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The reason one comes to Kings Canyon is generally to walk the 6km scenic rim which takes approximately 3 to 4 hours and is worth every minute of it. But there is more to Watarrka National Park than just Kings Canyon.

Prior to leaving for the trip, I had organised a helicopter flight departing from the station, over Baggots Gorge, on to Peterman Pound and out to the Middle Ranges, never realising what a spectacular rugged vista we would be awarded. The door less flight took us over land that we would never have seen had we not been in a helicopter. It was truly breath-taking and bloody cold with the doors off. It was hard to hold the camera still as I struggled to keep myself in my seat. It was also the moment when we realised that having the doors off a helicopter at 6.30am at 0 degrees in Uluru, was not a good idea. A note was taken by the Swiss pilot to let her colleagues know that we wouldn’t be requiring the doors off on our next flight.

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Wild horses below.

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One would think that scenery couldn’t get much better than what we had just witnessed but then we had the scenic rim walk the next morning.

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And the walk begins.

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The car park below.

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A permanent waterhole surrounded by lush cycads and plant life at the base of the Canyon is known as the Garden of Eden. If you are not looking for the path to the Garden of Eden it can easily be missed.

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Carved out over time by water and wind, the weathered dome rock formations are known as The Lost City.

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I am sure you will agree it is a breathtaking place and one not to be missed when you are in the Red Centre.

Posted September 19, 2018 by broomee in Uncategorized

Batchelor Butterfly Farm and Litchfield National Park   4 comments

The town of Batchelor is best known as the gateway to Litchfield National Park. With a population of approximately 350 people, its not hard to work out how small this town is. With no accommodation in the National Park, except camping, Batchlor is a good choice if you are looking for a bed for the night.

One of the attractions at Batchelor is the Butterfly farm and petting zoo which also offers accommodation and a restaurant. Arriving in Batchelor in the afternoon, we spent a few hours photographing butterflies.

The Cairns Birdwing

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The Orange Lacewing

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Common  Crow

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Orchard Swallowtail female

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Orchard Swallowtail male

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The Monarch and the easiest to photograph.

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Varied Eggfly

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The next day we headed into Litchfield National park. Located 130kms from Darwin, this is a very popular park for both tourists and locals who want to get away for a few days. Litchfield National Park has several stunning waterfalls, some that flow and some that cascade into crystal clear pools below. It is also home to the magnetic termite mounds.

Not far from Batchelor these termite mounds can be found in a vast area of land, void of trees but covered in hundreds of up to 2 metre high magnetic termite mounds. These structure are up to 100 years old and are unique to northern parts of Australia.

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The thin edges of the termite mounds face north – south, and the broad flat surfaces face east – west. This aspect minimises their exposure to the sun, keeping the mounds cool for the magnetic termites inside.

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Built by termites, they are amazing architectural feats complete with arches, tunnels, chimneys, insulation and nursery chambers.

And then there is the cathedral mounds that measure up to 4 metres high and can be found almost anywhere in the top end.

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Wangi Falls is one of the most popular and easily assessible water holes in Litchfield National Park.  Wangi Falls is the only location in the park where there is a cafe.

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Florence Falls is a spectacular double waterfall and extremely popular as you can see from the people in the pool below the falls. On my previous visit to Florence Falls the track to the pool below was closed. The walk down is short but is all steps however, coming back you have another option of a leisurely stroll along the track that runs beside the creek and has a gradual incline.

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Buley Rockhole has a series of cascading waterfalls and rock holes. It is located on the same road to Florence Falls and is very popular both in the weekend and school holidays with locals. On my previous visit to the Rockhole, we were the only people there.

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Our last stop before heading to the Mercure Hotel at Darwin airport was Berry Springs.

Berry Springs was once  a recreational area for the personnel of the armed forces in World War II. Now days it is used by locals as beaches are not an option in the Territory. During the Wet Season (Oct to April) the park and pools generally close, this is due to flooding and crocodile sightings. Once the crocodiles have been trapped and relocated, Berry Springs will be re-opened for recreational use during  the dry season.

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Posted September 13, 2018 by broomee in Uncategorized

Nitmiluk National Park – Edith Falls and Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge, Northern Territory   2 comments

Nitmiluk Gorge previously known as Katherine Gorge draws people from all over the world to witness its beauty. It winds along 12km, 13 separate gorges in total, with sandstone walls more than 70 metres high.

There are a number of ways to view the gorge, by foot, canoe, helicopter or boat. One of the best ways to see a small but magical part of the gorge is by cruise. Cruises operated by the traditional land owners Jawoyn, operate from dawn to dusk.  In the evening there is a dinner cruise which should be booked well in advance. It includes a river cruise on Gorge 1 and 2, then a candlelit dinner under the stars on the boat. It is truly a mesmerizing experience. Having done both the dawn and dinner cruise, I can highly recommend both, the colours of the gorge are forever changing and these are the best times to witness the gorge in the best light.

Accommodation at Nitmiluk is limited to 1 or 2 bedroom chalets, permanent tents, camping, caravan sites or the exclusive Cicada Lodge.

Edith Falls (Leliyn) is on the parks western boundary and it’s draw card is the pandanus-fringed plunge pool. With easy access, it is a must see and do for everyone visiting Nitmiluk or the town of Katherine.

Edith Falls (Leilyn)

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Couldn’t resists these toilet signs.

Ladies

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And Mens

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Nitmiluk Gorge One from the lookout on the Baruwei Walk.

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And Nitmiluk at water level.

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Fresh water crocodiles.

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Our accommodation was in one of the chalets and dinner was enjoyed beside the swimming pool. We were fortunate to have some time to photograph some of the bird life around the Nitmiluk grounds.

The Blue Winged Kookaburra I searched for during the day but the best i could come up with these night shots, taken by the pool. Obviously the lights were attracting insects and the kookaburras were making the most of an easy meal. The lighting unfortunately blows out the colours of this beautiful bird.

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The White Bellied Sea Eagle seen on a gorge cruise.

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The Red-winged Parrot is a species I have seen but never had the opportunity to capture a photo of. A trip to the Northern Territory finds me a lot of species I can tick off my bucket list.

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The Red-collared Lorikeet another bird species new to me as it is only found in the Top End of the Northern Territory and Western Australia.

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The Red-tailed Black Cockatoo

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And I cant give you a 100% identification of these birds below but I am fairly confident they are a species of Wood Swallows, correct me if i am wrong. They looked very comfortable tucked upon the branch together and made for a nice photo.

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Posted September 11, 2018 by broomee in Uncategorized

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