The Journey Home

Having spent most of the morning packing, lunched and bad fond farewells to our hosts in Stanley, we began heading for Melbourne airport a little before 15:00. Happily, Francine’s Telstra eSIM was still working, this being its last day, so we had satnav. This would turn out to be our last piece of great timing.

It’s about a 3-hour drive to Melbourne down the Hume [as in Human Hovel] Highway and we were handing the car back just before 18:00. Whereas arriving 5-hours ahead of the flight at Heathrow T4 on our outbound journey had worked well – we could check in and get access to the posh lounge – the same was sadly not true at Melbourne. Malaysia check-in didn’t open until 20:00 so we had to kill two hours in the noisy, bustling concourse. To cap it all we had to pay for drinks, too. Bother!

PXL_20240221_213552599-02Our 1st flight to Kuala Lumpur left on time at half past midnight. About eight hours later we arrived at a sleepy KL airport where the Malaysia Airlines Golden Lounge offered a civilized 4-hour wait, including a reviving shower.

The 2nd leg to Heathrow looked to be on time until we sat on the plane … and continued to sit. Someone had not made the flight and their luggage had to be offloaded. Finding it took forever (I can’t imagine how they even go about it) and we finally left an hour late. What a shame I’d had spoken too soon and sent a message to our taxi company from the airport lounge saying we appeared to be on time.

We made up no time on the flight and Oppenheimer occupied only three hours of the 14. I know an aeroplane isn’t the best of environments to watch a movie but I couldn’t really see what all the fuss was about.

After what seemed like an eternity we were approaching Heathrow with strong, gusting winds accompanied by, of course, the traditional rain. We managed to touch down. I say “managed” because, as we were taxiing to the terminal, our captain informed us that the plane in front of us had been hit by a gust of wind on its approach and had decided to abort and go round again. Ditto, the plane behind us. It seems we’d been lucky.

We weren’t so lucky at the gate; the air bridge was apparently stuck and refused to move towards our aircraft. We picked up another 15 minute delay while someone was found with a big enough hammer to encourage it back to life. Finally we disembarked.

Our bags arrived and we exited to find a lack of cab driver with an idiot board bearing our name. I phoned. Quite soon our taxi driver called me back and told us where to go to get picked up. He didn’t stop talking all the way home.

Welcome back – NOT.

Posted in 2024-01 Australia

Garden Visitors

On our last full day of this trip in Australia, two weeks of which have been spent in Stanley with the in-laws, I thought it would be appropriate to celebrate some of the visitors that have made an impression while we were sitting, relaxing on the front deck, maybe with a drink or three. We may not be able to repeat this experience ‘cos selling up and consolidating in Sydney is a topic on the cards.

The front garden of the property has a central flower bed, planted largely with daisy-like plants that several butterflies obviously enjoy. With a camera at hand, they occasionally posed advantageously for me. Here are three, all of which were small, but I would particularly draw attention to the delicately marked little Barred Skipper on the right.

Common Grass Blue PSSaltbush BlueBarred Skipper

Imperial JezebelAnother spectacular and much larger butterfly was actually snagged in the back garden – more of an arboretum of mixed trees, really, rather than a garden. This is the regally named Imperial Jezebel (Delias harpalyce). I find it a particularly curious butterfly in that all the impressive colour is on the underside of the wings. It is a member of the Pieridae, which means that it is one of the Whites – the topside, though I didn’t get a chance to see it myself, is mostly white with some dark markings. It’s a most unusual set-up.

The front garden also contains a bird-bath which, along with the daisies, also attracted some delightful feathered friends. Here we saw a Silvereye (Zosterops lateralis) and the gaudily marked Red-browed Finch (Neochmia temporalis). One evening, the daisies attracted an immature male Eastern Spinebill (Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris) which didn’t seem at all concerned by our presence.

SilvereyeRed-browed FinchEastern Spinebill

Laughing KookaburraAnd [lose 100 points for beginning a paragraph with a conjunction] what visit to Australia would be complete without taking some notice of the good ol’ Laughing Kookaburrah (Dacelo novaeguineae)? When Michel cuts the extensive grass in between the trees of the rear arboretum, the Kookies are around waiting for chopped up worms. Sandrine, however, keeps a supply of raw chicken to throw for them when terrorists tourists are in town. One obliged by watching us with our cameras for some time. They’re a delight.

I’ve had a blast, this has been great. It’s actually been better than I could have hoped in that I’ve collected six new Australian dragonfly species [only 240 to go] and begun concentrating more on the butterflies and birdlife, both of which are equally spectacular.

I’m not exactly ready to return to England’s cold and grey shores – I am NEVER ready to return to England’s cold and grey shores – but I return a happy camper.

Posted in 2024-01 Australia

Bin Chickens

Africa has the Sacred Ibis (Threskiornis aethiopicus). The “sacred”  bit comes from the good ol’ Egyptians who worshipped the sacred ibis as the god Thoth, animals being incaranations of deities on earth.

Australia has the Australian White Ibis (Threskiornis molucca), a close relative of the African species. Whereas the ancient Egyptians revered their version, the same cannot be said for the Australians. Elegant though the Ibis may be, to my eyes anyway, its habit of scavenging to supplement its diet has earned it the less than complimentary name of “Bin Chicken”.

Regarded as something of a pest it may be but It is far from dumb, unlike Homo sapiens, where the “sapiens” bit frequently seems less than appropriate. Homo sapiens introduced Cane Toads into Australia to control Cane Beetle, the cane in question being sugar cane which is a huge cash crop in Queensland. Cane Toads are now an expanding epidemic in Australia – will we never learn? Cane Toads exude nasty toxins from glands behind their shoulders and along their backs as a defence mechanism.

Back to the Ibis. The Ibis (actually there’s a couple of species) has learned to grab Cane Toads in its forcep-like beak and shake them about causing them to exude their toxins. It then carries them off to a nearby creek to give them a darn good washing before eating them. This is apparently called the “stress and wash” technique. Brilliant!

Threskiornis molucca (1 of 2)Threskiornis molucca (2 of 2)We’re nearing the end of what has been a wonderful visit to Australia and I wanted to see what pictures I might be able to get of the belittled Bin Chicken. We’d spotted some down at Lake Sambell in Beechworth so off we toddled to snag ‘em on pixels.

Beechworth AsylumBin Chickens in the bag, we repaired to the Bridge Road Brewers in the centre of Beechworth – look at that, two decent breweries in a town of 4000 – for a spot of lunch before paying a quick visit to the Beechworth Asylum, which Francine had been interested in pointing her camera at. Unfortunately, she declared it to be a bit too hot to concentrate on any creativity. I do quite like this straight shot that she came away with, though.

Back to home base in Stanley to relax on the deck with a cold beer or three and any wildlife that happened to drop in.

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A Pilgrimage

Today we were back in the saddle on a trip in Michel’s car again but this time the roads and journey were less arduous. We were heading for Mount Buffalo which is a picturesque peak and national park topping out at 1,723m.

Mount Buffalo viewpointThe reason that this was a pilgrimage is that Francine’s mum’s ashes were divided three ways between herself, her brother and her sister. Her brother, Michel, scattered his portion of their mum’s ashes at one of Mount Buffalo’s overlooks. Having not seen her brother for about seven years, this was naturally something of an emotional day. Given the view, you might understand why this was considered a good resting place.

Lake CataniI couldn’t/wouldn’t say whether this was the main point of the day or whether our picnic at Lake Catani, near the top of Mount Buffalo, was. They were both important and, once we unpacked the hamper beside the lake, we realised that Sandrine had done us proud on the food stakes. We’d found a splendid picnic table, with a little shade, overlooking the picturesque lake.

Given the lake, I couldn’t help but research any dragonfly sightings that might have been recorded here. There were several and it wasn’t long before I spotted a few subjects flying around some bushes near to out picnic table. I was torn between eating and stalking. OK, stalking won, at first, at least. Eventually I managed to snag one settled. I could see it was a Tigertail and I hoped it might be another new one for me. Sadly not, it was a Swamp Tigertail (Synthemis eustalacta), the one I’d first met in Yack-and-and-and-and-dah. [Whoops!] Nonetheless, it was good to see more.

Synthemis eustalacta, Lake CataniWhen I say more, there were loads. After eating, along with Michel who seemed to be getting into this dragonfly hunting scene, I went down to the water’s edge where there were shallows and reeds. In the reeds, dozens of male Swamp Tigertails were staking claim to territory. I hoped to find a female amongst them but sadly didn’t.

Ischnura aurora femaleEventually I spotted a very small damselfly lurking in the reeds, looking a bit nondescript. A brief glimpse of a male, which I failed to capture on pixels, told me that this was a female Aurora Bluetail (Ischnura aurora).  They’re always good to see and can be tricky to photograph, lurking in vegetation and being only about 20mm long.

As is frequently the case when it comes to Francine’s brother, there was a bit of a detour on the way home. Visions of refreshingly cold beers may drift around before my eyes but they have to be suppressed for a while in the knowledge that we’ll eventually get there.

Passionvine HopperWe popped off up a there-and-back road to a small bridge that crossed a delightful modest river, slightly more than a stream. There were Hawker-type dragonflies buzzing tirelessly up and down, so tirelessly that they proved too elusive. However, Michel, who seemed to be a new recruit to the wildlife spotting fraternity, found this terrific little critter on an information sign beside the stream; it’s a Passionvine Hopper (Scolypopa australis).

We made it back to the main road and I got my refreshing cold Hazy IPAs eventually.

A good pilgrimage.

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Valentines Day in Australia – very appropriate since, as I’m fond of saying, I love Australia.

After yesterday’s lengthy road trip, we fancied kicking back and doing not much at all, so we spent some time in downtown Beechworth. Beechworth is the nearest town of any import and a mere 10kms away from where we are staying in Stanley. Beechworth has a population of about 4,000 so is about 1/10th as manic as home in the UK. This a nice size town.

PXL_20240216_235822002-01Beechworth StreetBeechworth centre is a crossroads or, more accurately, a roundabout with four roads emanating from it at 90° to each other. One street (which we’re looking up in the photo) is the main shopping street with very Australian 45° parking up both sides. We’ve never been unable to park. It’s great. Not unusually for Australia, its arcaded “sidewalks” remind me of the west in America.

PXL_20240216_234410669-01PXL_20240216_234659562-01Small though it is, Beechworth just may be the sugar capital of Australia. On the right hand side of the next junction up on the street photo is the Beechworth Honey Experience. It’s a sizable shop so, quite naturally, contains more honey than you can shake a tasting stick at. A sizeable corner of the shop is given over to a tasting bar which is where the tasting sticks, which you can’t shake at the honey, live. I’ve tried to count; there would appear to be no fewer than 51 different honeys to stick tasting sticks into. Yikes! I couldn’t help but note that a goodly number of the customers, of which there are many, are a goodly size. I can’t think why.

PXL_20240213_233958423-01PXL_20240213_234139282-01At the other end of town, down the road on the left of the roundabout, is the Beechworth Sweet Co. This is about as large as the Beechworth Honey Experience, the space being given over to all manner of sweets and chocolates. I have never seen so many inventive ways of filling your body with sugar. This is just a part of one of many walls covered in dietary disaster. It does, however, deserve a very loud round of applause for flying in the face of tedious political correctness by featuring a beautiful old golliwog in the sign emblazoned atop its entrance door. Wonderful!

Some way to the right of the town roundabout, though don’t ask me for directions (we never took the same route twice) is Bilson’s Brewery. As well as being a bit of a brewing exhibition, Bilson’s has a very decent restaurant in very pleasant, bare brick and beam, surroundings so this is where we chose to have lunch – fortunately there was an empty table. It’s a local success story and a very popular venue.I washed down a lunch of falafels with a pint or two of Billson’s very good 7% IPA.

Anax papuensis, BeechworthWe needed to walk off lunch and the drinks so we went for a circumperambulation of the Lake Sambell Reserve. Being a water body, there are, of course, dragonflies to entertain me (as if I hadn’t been sufficiently entertained already). At one point on the walk I managed to make friends with a cooperative, patrolling male Australian Emperor (Anax papuensis).

I also love Beechworth.

Posted in 2024-01 Australia

Mitta Mitta

Michel decided that it’d be a good idea to go to a pub in Mitta Mitta for lunch. IMHO, it was a bit too far for lunch since we bettered 300kms on the round trip. With the occasional pothole – though rather less than in our collapsing roads – and the stiff suspension of an M-series Beemer, I’d have to call it less than relaxing.

It was certainly a long way to go for bangers and mash, although the bangers were admittedly  local “artisan” beef bangers. My usual stance is that bangers should be pork; flavour them if you wish but you really can’t beat pork sausages. The most curious sausages I’ve ever tasted were undoubtedly mussel sausages in New Zealand which I apparently liked. Another curiosity were emu sausages sampled when we visited the red centre of OZ many years ago, though I an remember little about those.

Synlestes weyersii female, Mitta MittaSynlestes weyersii male, Mitta MittaFlowing beside the rear grounds of the pub was Snowy Creek. It didn’t look very promising at first glance but given a little patience and once getting the eye in, I spotted a damselfly. It was large for a damselfly and my initial impression was that it was a kind of Flatwing but then I realised that it was hanging rather than perching; Flatwings tend to perch. This was no damselfly that I’d seen before so Mitta Mitta quickly became more interesting. I needed help, not having my poor ol’ Australian Field Guide (and I do mean poor). With more help from iNaturalist I discoverd that I’d found some Bronze Needles (Synlestes weyersii). Both sexes were present so I’d got the set. I have one other “Needle” and it, too, has a long, sharp, forward-facing point on the side of its thorax so perhaps this is where the name comes from.

We bumped our way back via the Dartford Dam which was little more than an impressively large wall retaining inconceivable quantities of water.

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About 25 minutes south of Michel’s pad lies Myrtleford. It has both a river and a creek so I searched sightings in that area for dragonflies. There were a few that looked potentially interesting and our hosts mentioned some lunch spots that sounded worth a try. So, particularly as there was a handy-dandy car park beside the creek, off we set.

Hemigomphus heteroclytus, MyrtlefordThe dragonflies weren’t scintillating but there was one worthy of note which cooperated. This is a Stout Vicetail (Hemigomphus heteroclytus). I find some of these genus names a bit odd; “Hemigomphus”  means “half a gomphus”, really. It looks pretty whole to me. 😉

Tobacco ShedMyrtleford used to be a major player in Australia’s tobacco-growing industry. It lasted, I read, until 2006 when it finally collapsed. Nearby the car park was a preserved old tobacco drying shed providing some architectural and historic interest.

Superb Fairywren, MyrtlefordWe wandered off towards the big river but the only usable access point was taken up by a family or two with dogs running and splashing in the water. All was not lost, though. Back in the bushes that lined the pathway was a pair of Superb Fairywrens (Malurus cyaneus), the male of which admirably demonstrates the reason for the common name.

Phoenix TreeThere is a curious artwork beside the main road running through Myrtleford. It’s a root system and chunk of a fallen River Red Gum Tree and is called The Phoenix Tree ‘cos it depicts a Phoenix rising from the ashes, which actually look more like flames to this self-confessed artistic numbskull. It’s also called a sculpture that was “created” by  the artist so I assume some of it was carved, though it all looks pretty natural. Maybe that makes it a clever artwork.

Fez Cafe 1400It must be lunchtime so we went off to find one of the more interesting eateries. We chose the Café Fez and sat in the open front, complete with finely misted water as open-air-conditioning, a trick out of Arizona’s book, enjoying a mixed platter of mezze. Very acceptable.

The café is surrounded by what I can only describe as an enormous bazaar full of eclectic stuff that looks fascinating but which you’d never know what to do with, unless you were a contract interior designer, perhaps. Just click through some of the categories.

Francine’s sis-in-law turned up in the afternoon – she’d hitherto been up in Sydney on some art-related distraction. Drinks were in order.

Posted in 2024-01 Australia

A Bush Walk

Michel wanted to take us on a walk from his place. It sounded for all the world as if he was determined to find [and where Michel is concerned, determined really does mean determined] a Human Hovel. ¿Que? Don’t ask. We were happy to be led and entertained.

A short distance from Michel’s pad is Cook Lane which pretty soon becomes a rough track through the bush. Given all the trees and undergrowth in which to hide, though I did spot a few insects, once again it was the bird life which held my attention most.

For identifications, though Michel does have a book of Australian birds, I was quite reliant on iNaturalist for help (and I wanted to record my sightings, anyway).

Eastern Yellow Robin, StanleyFirst up was this little cutie, an Eastern Yellow Robin (Eopsaltria australis). Well, it has a coloured breast so maybe that was the naming inspiration.

Red Wattle Bird, StanleyA little further along the track this character settled in a tree close to me. Unfortunately it settled a bit too high up but I was able to get a recognizable picture. This is a Red Wattlebird (Anthochaera carunculata) – the red wattle being just about visible beneath its eye.

Hume and HovellEventually we broke out of the interesting bush to join a less than interesting road. We tromped along it anyway until Michel found his target. The target turned out to be a modest brick monument to “Hume and Hovell”, who passed this way in 1824. Ah ha, “Hume and Hovel” not “Human Hovel”. These were two explorer chappies who mounted a famous expedition – famous if you’re an Australian, anyway – in search of new grazing land in the south of the new colony. Naturally, once having heard “Human Hovel”, this is all it could now be to us.

Human Hovel found, we headed back on our return trek, which began a little differently. It was getting quite warm now, though, topping 30°C, so by mutual agreement we cut short our return detour to re-join the main outbound track.

Rhipidura albiscapaI’m very glad we did because I was next entertained by this lovely little chap with white eyebrows, a Grey Fantail (Rhipidura albiscapa). Grey Fantail? It couldn’t possibly be called a White-eyebrowed Fantail, could it? No, of course not. Such are common names.

Austroaeschna multipunctata, StanleyI finished with a star, though. Quite unexpectedly, there being no visible water nearby, a larger dragonfly zoomed across the track in front of me. Even more unexpectedly, especially given its Hawker-like appearance, it settled on a tree trunk beside the track. It remained long enough for me to collect a series of decent pictures. It was a Multi-spotted Darner (Austroaeschna multipunctata) and another new one for my collection. Excellent!

This had been quite a lengthy walk in the heat and definitely required a few cold Hazy IPAs to slake the thirst.

Posted in 2024-01 Australia

Wonga Wetlands

After a late night, this morning was a bit delayed and quite leisurely. Eventually Francine and brother Michel went off to a PYO farm to collect some blackberries.

I tried my luck at a small pond below Stanley Barge Dam where, on our previous visit in 2017, I’d found some damselflies. This time- nada, nichts, nothing; not a sausage or pas un chat as the French would have it.

Michel took us to Albury where we sat on the River Deck enjoying lunch overlooking the Murray River. Being stuck in a rut I had the burger and I didn’t even have to tell ‘em to “hold the pineapple”. It was a good one so I’m hopeful I can get off my burger fixation now. Francine opted for a roasted squash salad with lentils and Michel demolished a classic Australian barramundi fillet.

As lunch was beginning to digest, Michel ran us a short distance to Wong Wetlands so I could walk off my burger and look for dragonflies. He was definitely getting in to finding water.

I did find some but they were less than scintillating – the usual suspects for this time of year pattern, I suspect – and mostly less than cooperative.

White-throated TreecreeperMuch more interesting on this occasion were the birds. We were lucky enough to watch a quite cooperative White-throated Treecreeper (Cormobates leucophaea) working its way up a tree trunk, as they do, quite close to us. Its very slightly bigger (about 1cm) than our native Treecreeper, to which is is unrelated [it says here].

Australian DarterEqually as interesting, though a lot less cooperative in that it was stuck out on a branch with painfully bright backlight, was an Australasian Darter (Anhinga novaehollandiae). We’ve seen other Darters in Sri Lanka and Africa so it was interesting to add an Australasian version to the collection. Darters are sometimes called Snakebirds because of their long slender necks. They’re a bit Cormorant-like, really.

Wonga Wetlands essentially acts as a reservoir of “reclaimed water”, that is water from sewage treatment. This water is not allowed to be dumped back into the Murray River so it’s being used to create this wetland habitat. There are signs warning you to keep out of the reclaimed water, which makes you wonder just how treated it is, but the wildlife seems to thrive in it.

We’ve got far too many blackberries. 😀

Posted in 2024-01 Australia

Yackandandah Revisited

I just love some of the Australian place names and this one is no exception. This would probably not be the case if one was prone to stuttering a little, which might lead to asking directions to


Happily there are no other places in the vicinity beginning “Yack…” and with very few roads to choose from, following the road signs simply by looking for somewhere that begins with “Yack…” in blissful silence is a doddle. This was where we headed on our first solo excursion of our 2017 visit so we were quietly confident.

We both had reasons to want a Yackand-and-and-and-andah [whoops] reprise. In 2017 Francine had been taken by a cleverly arranged collection of old, empty picture frames in an equally old wooden cart positioned outside a gallery. For one into the more abstract/arty genre of photography, they were an irresistible subject and a second go was called for.

Yackandandah framesSadly, the passing years have not be kind and, though the frames are still artfully arranged, the colours were dreadfully faded losing much of their charm, much to Francine’s disappointment. Here’s an impression of what they looked like six years earlier.

For my own part, this was where I had completed my collection (females to go with earlier males) of Austroargiolestes icteromelas (Common Flatwing). [Anyone having trouble with Yackand-and-and-and-andah, might be advised to avoid attempting that 12-syllable name.] These had been in Commissioner’s Creek. Since our latest visit was at a very different time of year, I wanted another look.

Synthemis eustalacta, YackandandahAustroargiolestes icteromelas [steady] were there none. However, my efforts were rewarded with another splendid new species for my collection, a male Synthemis eustalacta (Swamp Tigertail). The creek also gave me my second look at Austrogomphus guerini (Yellow-striped Hunter) which I had first seen below Woolshed Falls.

Yackandandah arcadeLike many old gold mining towns, Yackandandah [got it] has arcaded streets to shield pedestrians and coffee drinkers from the sun. We wandered up one side of the main street then down the other before our lunch bell sounded and we needed refreshment. A pub menu beckoned.

Franco is a fan of a decent hamburger. Now, here’s the thing; Australia has a love affair with beetroot such that nearly all hamburgers come with beetroot included. I was aware of this and I quite like beetroot. Here, though, a second ingredient reared its ugly head – pineapple. Pineapple, in a hamburger!? I think not. Pineapple in a hamburger is akin that another gastronomic abomination, usual tagged “Hawaiian” or some such – pineapple on a pizza. Ye Gods, Italians would probably turn in their grave. I ordered a hamburger sans pineapple and all was well. Could’ve done with a bit more beetroot, actually. 😀

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