Archive for January, 2019

We decided in Australia that we wouldn’t take any organized bird watching tours. We figured we could see enough birds on our own while out and about. The one organized tour we did take was an evening cruise on the Daintree River. Now you may or may not know that this is in the Daintree Rainforest … there are really big crocodiles here. As a matter of fact, many times when out and about on our own, we would see these signs.

Suffice it to say, come to find out, Deb was terrified the whole time we were in Australia — of the spiders, snakes, critters, jellyfish and especially the crocodiles. Actually she was eaten by crocodiles … every night in her nightmares. You should have seen how relieved she looked when we finally landed in New Zealand. But I digress. Let’s get back to the birds!

When we first arrived in Port Douglas we went for an evening walk. We saw several birds over the next several days right in town.

Appropriately enough, this bird is a Rainbow Lorikeet.This is the Pied Imperial Pigeon.Here is a Magpie Lark.The Laughing Kookaburra.A beautiful Bush Stone-Curlew.Willy Wagtail.The Helmeted Friarbird.The Orange-footed Scrubfowl. Funny story about this bird. We were walking up a hill kind of in the woods when we saw one of these walk across the path. I tried to get a picture but my camera wasn’t cooperating. I was lamenting the lack of a photo when Deb said, “Don’t worry … you’ll see it again.” To which I replied “You never know, this could have been a once-in-a-lifetime bird.” We walked back to town and, guess what, they were all over the place. We laughed pretty hard about my once-in-a-lifetime bird. I was able to see it again … and again … and again.This is a Figbird.The lovely Peaceful Dove … we saw this right at the airport.These Lorikeet were so colorful! And there were hundreds if not thousands around the town. They are considered pests to some extent.

The next day we had an evening Boat Tour scheduled for what we thought would be birdwatching … more on that in another post. We decided to spend the day birding in that direction (the Daintree Rainforest). Every place we went it seemed we would be thwarted … we saw the odd bird here and there (heck, they were all new to us!) … but I wouldn’t call it a “Big Day.” Here are a few of the highlight birds from the trip:

This is known both as the Spur-winged Plover or the Masked Lapwing. We thought it looked more like one of those masked Mexican wrestlers … Nacho Libre! This is an Oystercatcher.Check out these old man looking birds … terns.This is an Australian White Ibis.This is a Nankeen Night Heron. Almost the last bird we saw that night on the river.

The next day, the weather was a little untidy, so we had to adjust our timetable a little. We wanted to have a successful birding outing after the previous day’s attempt. I had read online that there was great bird-watching at the Kingfisher Park Bird-watching Lodge in Julatten. We showed up there around 1620 to see if we could get in a little evening viewing. As we turned in the driveway it was quite dark in the woods. We crept up to the house … it looked deserted. We knocked on the door and this guy came out like Lurch from the Munsters. He gave us this ‘what do you want look’ and basically said, “Can’t you read our signs.” Apparently, it is a very welcoming place … if you pay … and if you show up on time … neither of which we did. Not too welcoming. Not to be deterred, I cheerfully asked if he knew of somewhere close to birdwatch. He sent us on down the road and, to his credit, it was a good bird-watching location. Here are a few of the birds we saw there:

Chestnut-breasted MannikinSulphur-crested Cockatoo.Royal Spoonbill.Pacific Black Duck.

These were cool, but we knew we had to be on to some good birds. We didn’t want our previous two outings to color our opinion of the area, so off we went the next day … back to the tablelands. We stopped in 4 different places … and again … we weren’t having great success. It was getting late in the afternoon and we had to make a decision. We decided to press on to one more location … Mount Carbine. We drive for 1/2 hour in that direction and I realized I missed the town. As we were attempting to turn around, I saw a place named Mount Carbine Caravan Park. I kind of remembered this listed in a couple of the birding blogs I’d seen as a place to visit. Once again, we took a chance and drove in. We stopped at the office and the lady was very friendly! She said, “Sure, for $5 you can walk around and look at the grounds. We have a lot of birds here!” She was right! They even had one of the birds I’d wanted to see on the whole trip but didn’t think I would get to see it — the Frogmouth. This was a fantastic locale and we definitely hit the jackpot here. I told her I was very close to my 1,000th bird on my life list. She was so excited she walked us around and pointed out the different birds. She was really nice … Here’s a sampling of these birds:

The Pied Butcherbird.A White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike.This is a Tawny Frogmouth … the male … sitting on the nest! Awesome!This is a Bower bird … it builds a bower to attract the female.Here is the bower it builds … the red objects are to entice the ladies!!The beautiful Galah.Here it is with it’s top-notch extended.This is a Noisy Friarbird … slightly different than the Helmeted.This is the Blue-faced Honeyeaters.Here he is up close and personal with a Kookaburra. The Straw-necked Ibis … we had seen these earlier in the day.Here is a family of frogmouths! Can you see all four of them?Here’s a closer shot of an adult and the child is looking at us.The child was really curious. Apparently, the juveniles will stare at you because they are curious but the adults will ignore you. So cool …Finally, as we were getting ready to leave, the really nice owner put us on to a location to see the Australian Bustard. We went over and, yes! We added that lovely bird to the list as well. Here’s another shot of one … just hanging out in the farmer’s field.

This finished up a great outing for us in Port Douglas and the Tablelands. It broke the ice for seeing more birds too. Once we made it to the Blue Mountains and Sydney we kept seeing more birds. Here are a few photos we saw there:

There were plenty of these Australian White Ibis in Sydney.We saw this Crimson Rosella in the Blue Mountains.This Noisy Miner was also in Sydney.The Sulphur-crested Cockatoo was a frequent visitor to Katoomba.

Overall, we had an excellent time birding in Australia. We saw around 93 birds with 77 of those new to me! I even went over 1,000 on my life list. It was a great way to hit my number and enjoy a few birds.

Here’s a short video … of me birding and Deb looking for crocodiles!

Not sure we’ll ever go back to Australia.

Stumbling Piper

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Sorry for the delay in posting … we’ve had spotty WiFi since Malaysia … and I’m now in New Zealand! Australia was terrible for WiFi; it’s better here!

This was probably the best food we had in South-east Asia … Thai Food. They know their spices! Especially the hot ones … we really enjoyed this experience. We tried a variety of different locations/food options.

First, Deb signed up for 4 cooking classes from the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School.

Over those four days she prepared 28 different dishes. She had 3 different chefs teaching her everything from selecting foods/spices at the local market to food preparation to final presentation.

Each student had their own work station.

She made her own Thai Curry Paste too.

It was an excellent experience and I look forward to enjoying her dishes at home! Here are some pictures:

This is Panaeng Curry with Pork.Fried Fish with Chillies and Basil.Sweet and Sour Vegetables plus Chiang Mai Curry with Chicken.Roasted Duck Curry.

Next, we took the opportunity to try different street foods. We ate at both the regular tourist street food locales as well as off-the-beaten path local’s places.

This was the Tourist night market … see the Peking Duck hanging?This Jif Jar is the jar of fire for your meal.Don’t let this spoon fool you … it is also a knife. So we found out …This was the local market where we tried several traditional dishes.

All of them were pretty savory dishes and so inexpensive!

We had two plates of this PLUS drinks (cola) for $3!

Of course, figuring out how to order food AND drinks sometimes proved challenging.

Fortunately, many places had menus with pictures … no problem!

See this Fanta? Or Fanta-like drink? I had to walk 1/2 block to the convenience store to buy it so I could have it with my meal. Otherwise, you can get water out of the communal bucket. We usually just carried our water with us.

We then tried a series of different restaurants … finally settling on a routine of dining at the restaurant in the Treevana Hotel (near our place). They had 2-for-1 Mojitos (which were always fantastic).

These were “Golden Fried Sacs.”

Our meal, with drinks and dessert (often) usually came to less than $30 combined. The chef was super nice; he always spiced up our dishes and the food he cooked was awesome. The only time it wasn’t great was when they had a substitute chef … which wasn’t often, thank goodness! We were usually the only ones in the restaurant and we worked our way through the menu.

These gummies in white sauce were probably my least favorite.

We had our Christmas dinner at this restaurant … Deb celebrated with a flaming hot pot! Haha. Because we ate there so regularly, they started making special things for us. It was a wonderful experience.

Deb had punched balls with her hot pot.

We didn’t limit ourselves to just Thai food … we tried different places too — an Italian restaurant in Chiang Rai, western-style burger joint in Chiang Mai, a couple of pizza places. It was an eclectic mix for sure.

Many times the seats were these little plastic children’s chairs and a low table. Our backs are very happy to have left these tiny seats behind! Of course, after each meal, you should brush your teeth …


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Australia: The Biking!

Yes, we finally made it to Australia! We had planned a visit for a total of 11 days here with a MTB tour scheduled in Port Douglas. It was to be a 1/2 day downhill adventure with a finishing ride along the beach. This was on the day before we were to leave, flying out to Sydney the next day.

We got dressed, waited outside for the pick up, all decked out and ready to go! Keep in mind that Deb had been telling me I should re-confirm our details with the company. I said, “nah, they’ll be here.” About 5 minutes after the scheduled pickup, I sheepishly called the company. They realized they had an administrative snafu and didn’t have us on the list. They were already on the trail and there was nothing we could do. Whoops. Why don’t I listen??

We were both pretty disappointed — this was going to be my one an only chance to ride in Australia and finish the continents for me! With this ride I would have ridden on all 6 (not sure I’d make it to bike in Antarctica … haha).

As we are both able to do, we flexed! We were heading to Katoomba in the Blue Mountains. We used this tool called Google to find another bike company, changed our schedule, and were able to hire a couple of bikes for a self-guided ride … not just any ride, but a 40KM’er! Sam at Blue Mountain Bike Tours really took care of us. We followed the directions and made our way out to Hanging Rock overlook.

We liked that ride so much we decided to spend one of our days in Sydney MTB’ing too. We tracked down Joe’s Mountain Bike Tours … fantastic! He had us catch the ferry over to Manly Wharf from downtown. Great views of the Opera House on our way to the ride!

We got there and Joe picked us up and took us to the starting location.

A really nice thing about this ride … full suspension bikes! It’s amazing how you miss it when you don’t have it. Great Canadian bicycles … NORCO.

Joe was a great tour guide and teacher. He gave Deb pointers for this ride and she rode everything … rock drops included! The trail was awesome (around Manly Lake). The views were equally great.

Here’s a video clip of part of the trail … this is the climbing video. A lot of fun!

We thoroughly enjoyed the ride … finished it up in style!

Afterwards we had dinner at the Wharf to watch the sunset before returning to Sydney.

Although it seems like a missed ride opportunity was bad at first, it turned into a great thing; we wouldn’t have ridden the other locales without this mistake. It’s always a good thing when you can turn a negative into a positive! Woo Hoo!

Stumbling Piper

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We made a short stop through Malaysia (6 days) over the New Year. We were focused on bird-watching this trip. We stayed in Kuala Lumpur but had trips scheduled with a guide to two separate areas: Kuala Selangor and Fraser’s Hill. We were very lucky that Bird Malaysia had assigned as our tour guide Andrew Sebastian.

He is a freelance guide and runs a nonprofit for conservation issues — here’s his website: https://www.ecomy.org/

Wow … did he provide fantastic bird outings! I can’t say enough about Andrew — he was fun, funny, kind, and very considerate. However, at the same time he was serious about birding. We were fortunate enough to identify 150 birds in 3 days … 86 of which were new to me. Our first trip was to Kuala Selangor and we started early …0730! We commenced upon a whirlwind trip that saw us returning back to the hotel around 9:30 pm. We visited Selangor Nature Park to begin and immediately started knocking off great birds on our list.

The Common Flameback Woodpecker … see the “flame” color?

Here he is from the front!This is the Laced Woodpecker …This is the Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker … just a wee fellow!Check out the Shrimp this White-throated Kingfisher has in its beak.

He was giving it a good whack on the branch to kill it so he could eat it!

A beautiful Grey Heron.A Mangrove Blue Flycatcher.Andrew leading the way and checking for snakes … it was extremely warm already!A final shot of the common kingfisher.

From there we went to the coast and identified a few more.

The striated heron.A lovely black-capped kingfisher.Some Redshanks.On our way out to the Rice Paddies we stumbled upon this Dollarbird.

We enjoyed our time at the rice paddies with a late afternoon / evening scan for ground birds and accipiters. Success as well!

A white-breasted waterhen.Check it out: 4 Snipes!Common Sandpiper.Great Egret.Greater Sand Plover.Lesser Sand Plover.Beautiful Purple Heron.An elusive Cinnamon Bittern.The Sandpiper checking me out.

The Eastern Marsh Harrier, Peregrine Falcon, Black-shouldered Kite, and White-bellied Sea Eagle were amazing. Great birding …

Marsh Harrier on the attack!Peregrine Falcon relaxing in the evening.Another view of the falcon.The White-bellied Sea Eagle.This Black-shouldered Kite was building a nest.Here he is perched in a tree.Those red eyes! So brilliant!

We finished up with another walk in complete darkness at the Nature Park to try and see an owl. No luck. However, as we were driving to see a fire-fly display we spotted an owl flying overhead. We quickly stopped and Andrew identified it for us as I tried to snap a couple of photos. Cool.

This is as good as it gets with my P900 at night … unless I have super bright light.

We were so excited (and tired) that we decided to skip the fireflies. What a great day! We saw a total of 74 birds this day. Awesome!

We had a couple of days off (thank goodness!) to recover before we started the adventure again–this time to Fraser’s Hill … we were spending a day-and-a-half here (which stretched out into two days). The birding started immediately … although it started slow, we sped up and were seeing plenty of birds by the end.

We worked our way up the hill. Andrew told us that the birds would come in “waves” … so we needed to place ourselves in the right location. We did that several times over the two days.

The Little Bronze Cuckoo.The Ochraceous Bulbul … like an old man. Check out the frog in this White-throated Kingfisher’s mouth. See the Red eye? This is the Spectacled Bulbul.This lovely bird is a bar-winged flycatcher-shrike.I spotted this guy hiding away … a yellow-vented pigeon.I caught this late … a black and crimson oriole.Who doesn’t like a Drongo?This beautiful bird is called a Large Niltava.This is the female.A rufous-browed flycatcher.

So many beautiful birds … and this was just the start. We made our way around Fraser’s Hill two or three times over the next couple of days. Andrew even took us over a slight defect in the road … here’s a shot of it. Fortunately, we survived! Looking at it, you wouldn’t think you could drive a car there …

The birds were stunning. Most of the time we were on the move looking … however, we did wait a couple of hours to see this partridge. It is endemic to the area — you can only see it here in Malaysia. Success!

Here are some of the brilliant birds we saw up on the Hill.

The Silver-eared Mesia.The chestnut-capped Laughingthrush.Maroon Woodpecker.The Blue Nuthatch … check out the eyes!The fire-tufted Barbet.The Streaked Spiderhunter.The Blue-throated Bee eater.The Slaty-backed Forktail.The Red-bearded Bee eater.

Such an absolutely great time … thanks, Andrew, for an awesome time!

We walked many miles and I took thousands of pictures (it felt like). The end result is wonderful memories.

Stumbling Piper

Oh yes … we celebrated New Year’s in Malaysia!! Happy New Year!!

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Sorry for the long delay in posts … we’ve had spotty WiFi ever since we left Thailand.

As we made our way around Southeast Asia we found ourselves laughing at the language problems … a lot. Both from our attempts and from others. I realized quite early in the trip that using future perfect tense was a bad idea. For example, if we were speaking to someone about an ongoing tour and we asked “At what time during the tour will we have lunch?” The reply was usually, “Yes, we are going to have lunch.” Often we just waited to see what was going to happen.

Traveling to six different countries with different languages and dialects, we felt really good that we could say “hello,” “thank you,” and “good bye” in the local language. Anything else was a bonus! We did learn in Thailand how to say “medium” (Klang) … otherwise the Thai massages were going to kill us.

Usually, the people to whom we were speaking spoke English either very well or way better than we spoke their language. For us, the funniest thing we saw were the signs written in English … often the meaning was clear but the translation was not. Here are a couple of examples:

Here are a couple of more where we really didn’t know what the translation meant — usually with a menu (we found).

Yep, really not sure what this means. Anyone for a golden crispy bag? Or some punched balls? They were quite tasty!

Then there were the products shipped from China to Thailand written in English. These were pretty funny too.

Universal stents are not only for your heart but also for your phone.

I almost bought this “Dracket” for my phone. I’m not sure this cable is so smart.We bought this Colth prom the Gar experts … we thought 1 Free 1 meant 2 for 1. We were wrong.

Finally, there were signs not translated but we definitely got the meaning … or if not, we just asked a nice local to show us the picture and we were able to go from there!

The next post will find you enjoying the birds of Malaysia!


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