Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Xmas Day 2016

Its Xmas in Melbourne and time for another degustation day in North Carlton this year. Attendees were Ruthy, Richo and Katie, Mo and Steve, Louisa and Riccardo, Yi, Peter, Gwenda and Ian and of course us.

The theme of the day was Fairy Stories! So the hardest part of the meal was working out if a dish had any vague connection to a fairy story. We tried!

The first two courses were made by Richo, starting with 'The Little Mermaid', Kingfish Bacon, served with smoked salmon roe, washed down by a Moet rose...

The dish was a delight, great start to the day. The video work was a bit mixed, as Stuey stuffed up the focusing, but never mind. This is cancelled out by the excellent effort by the girls - Katie doing her bit in front of the camera with Nicky and Ruthy cackling in the background. The grog was starting to hit the mark and its only the first course!

Course 2 was a goats chevre with beetroot present in so many ways I would get RSI if I tried to type them all. This was matched with 3 contrasting pinot gris from Australian and New Zealand. It was just about voted as course of the day. Its fairy story was Three Billy Goats Gruff. I will let Richo explain, and for some reason this was enhanced by Katie doing the vertical splits...

Next up, course 3, was pork done three ways, AKA Three Little Pigs, of course, which consisted of:-
Pork belly - by Nicky
Pork cheek - by Steve, sabotaged by Nicky
Vietnamese pulled pork sliders with Asian slaw - by Stuey
This was helped along with 3 different Passing Clouds pinot noirs
We were treated to some magic tricks by Katie and her 'beautiful' assistant between courses. Many of them were remarkably similar to last Xmas. But that is OK.
Course 4 was called the Emporer's New Clothes....
The aim of this dish was to have a break and do some exercise, like go for a walk. That didn't happen as it was 37 degrees outside, so we all hunkered in with the air con!
Next came course 5, the beef dish, by Yi and Stuey. As Gwenda and Ian Langford were with us this was washed down with copious amounts of Mt Camel Ridge cab sauv and shiraz, from 04, 09 and more recent vintages.
Then we moved onto the sweet courses both by Ruthy. This was paired with a 2000 Calvados, when ensured that if people were not pissed beforehand they would be so after. First Course 6...
And finally the hansel and Gretel dish, course 7. Ruthys reference to asbestos was not literal. I hope!
The recycle bin got a bit of a hammering...

Monday, December 26, 2016

Xmas 2016

As you read this we are basking in an Australian summer. Xmas Day is forecast to be 36 degrees! It has been anything but that over winter, the coldest winter in our 20 years here. We didn’t come across the world for this much rain, we could have stayed in the UK!!

Xmas 2016 will be very similar to the previous year, and lots before that. A degustation day with Ruth, Richo and Katie, our god-daughter. This year we have Mo and Steve with us, and a few other friends, so the feast will start at midday and rock on late into the evening.

This will be followed by the Boxing Day test which will be the Pakistanis this year. We hope they put up a better fight than the Windies last year. Then it’s the Ashes again in 2017!

What a crazy world we live in. We have sat here in Oz watching the Poms vote for Brexit and the US vote for Trump. Irrespective of your views on each subject, both outcomes were a surprise that will lead to uncertain times. Life has been much quieter here in Australia. The rugby and cricket teams have been universally rubbish, and the Western Bulldogs winning the Auzzie Rules – as big a surprise as Trump and Brexit.

For us it’s been a year of saving for our new house. We signed the contract in Feb 2016 on a Victorian terrace back in Parkville, just around the corner from our old place (see above). But we don’t get possession until 31/3/17. Stuey went to an auction back in Oct 2015. It went for stupid money – the real estate market has gone bonkers in the last 2 years. So it looked like we had been priced out of Parkville….until two neighbours approached the agent that day as asked him to sell their places, via private sale. We were lucky enough to secure the one on the photo. But as the people in the house hadn’t got a place to move to, they needed a long settlement. So, possession on 31/3, house warming the following day – April Fools Day! So coupled with Stuart’s mother, Nor, moving from Poulton-le-Fylde back in to Manchester and Nic’s parents deciding it’s time to down-size, we’re keeping the real estate industry in business. However Woody, our one remaining cat is looking forward to returning to whence he came, over 16 years ago!

Just before Xmas we nipped down to Cape Paterson for a week, just as we did last year. Australia basically closes down on Xmas Eve – following that we have Xmas hols, the main Summer hols and financial year end for many institutions. So December is manic, trying to get things finished. So we run off to the coast.

Nicky has been working her many jobs with her newest career, as a professional coach, going really well – though sadly not quite well enough for Stuey to retire, but she is working on that. Her salaried jobs include a day at the Kids Hospital, one in the MCRI, and time with the Royal College and the Australian Dental Association. And if that wasn’t enough she has a long distance appointment at Plymouth University which gives her a good reason to make a couple of trips back to the UK each year.

Stuey did lots of music, the first half of the year with Orchestra Victoria, the latter half with Melbourne Symphony Orchestra plus a few trip to Tasmania. One of his highlights was doing the Elephant in OV’s production of Carnival of the Animals. Please note: Nicky made the costume – that girl guide badge was a sound investment all those years ago!

In January Stuey will go to Devonport in Northern Tazzie to coach the basses on a string camp, same as Jan 2016. It was knackering but great fun, with 150 participants in four orchestras aged from 7 to 70!

The first of our visitors for the year was Stuey’s Dad, Graham in Jan. We had a cricket net session with Charlotte, our friend who is an elite cricketer, and plays for the Sydney Thunder in the womens Big Bash 20-20 league. We then caught up with Barbara and P, Jane and Graham then Esther and Stephen. In addition to much eating, drinking and laughing, all were, or course, taken to Woodlands Historic Park, to see kangaroos in the wild…

…as Stuey’s new obsession is wildlife photography. It’s all Nicky’s fault as she bought him a ‘you-beaut’ 150-600mm tamron lens as a 25th anniversary present in 2015. The lens soon outshone the camera, so a new Canon EOS 80D ‘had to be bought’ in April and 10,000 pictures have been snapped this year, many of them birds. The yellow honeyeater was taken in Port Douglas on our holiday in June, was just one of over 100 different species that we saw over the course of a few days (not that it’s a competition of course!).

 Merry Xmas and here’s to a safe and less turbulent 2017, Stuey and Nicky


Saturday, June 11, 2016

One 'Del' of a day birding

Regular readers of the blog, er both of us, will remember that we popped up to Port Douglas in early June 2015. One of the highlights was our full day bird watching with Del Richards. We enjoyed it so much that we did exactly the same trip in early June 2016.

What Del doesn't know about the bird life in FNQ is not worth knowing. He is amazing, runs a bird show on local ABC radio, knows everyone we met or drove past and most importantly of all knows where the birds are how to get them to come out and say "G'Day"! He uses a combination of bird noises that he creates with a range of whistling techniques, and some pre-recorded ones in an iPod with small portable speaker. And it really works - in several locations we were looking at what seemed to be empty trees, then after a couple of bird imitations from Del the place was alive with birds. Genius.

The content of this blog entry is by no means a full catalog of what we saw - 87 species. I took almost 600 shots, many of which were left on the editors floor, but here are some of the better ones.

Del has as number of sites - he took us to most of the ones we visited last year, in the same week, first week of June, but we saw very different birds. We started in the middle of Port Douglas - the sports ground is a wonderful haven for honeyeaters and friarbirds

Next was a waterhole by a plush golf course at the Southern end of Port. Then we headed off up to  the tablelands, with a number of stopping of points before going thro Julatten, Mt Molloy and Mt Carbine. The burgers at Mt Molloy are worth the air fare alone!

The bird above is a brown falcon, and to the left is a bush stone curlew, plentiful around Port Douglas, especially at the Sheraton Mirage golf course

Below the birds are:-

A double eyed fig parrot - one of many 'firsts' for us on this trip

There are two common kingfishers seen around Port Douglas - the one above dining on a cricket is the forest kingfisher


A great bowerbird, in its bower


Birds were not the only wildlife on offer - most waterways in Port have big warning signs, for these...

Yellow Oriele

White browed crake

Yellow honeyeater

Lemon bellied flycatcher

Female leaden flycatcher

A roo, of course

There were plenty of raptors around and about. We disturbed two huge wedge tailed eagles, but I wasn't quick enough on the draw. But this Nankeen (or Australian) Kestrel posed beautifully

The dreaded BIF (Bird In Flight) photos are notoriously difficult to capture. But whistling kites make very good models.

This yellow bellied sunbird was one of a lot of brightly coloured birds, very different to the ones we get back in Victoria

Probably the star bird of the trip is the rainbow bee eater. Its very common, but wonderful to photograph due to the range of colours. Fantastic birds that tell me I am Up North

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Heart Morass

Heart Morass is a great birding site, close to Sale. Though I didn't manage to get any good shots we saw yellow billed spoonbills - quite different to the royal spoonbills we see at Venus Bay. They were in a tree, living comfortably with the cormorants and pelicans...

Pelicans are plentiful in this part of the world. Am still slightly amazed that they ever get off the ground
Marsh birds can be tricky to identify, but we are pretty sure that this fella is a black winged stilt
This is a common tern
But the big prize for the day was left until last. Between Sale and Bairnsdale we could see a pair of wedge tailed eagles, circling up high. On one occasion they dropped to allow us to get a half decent photo. There is no doubting what this bird is from its tail. It was huge.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Sale common and flooding creek

We enjoyed a great walk from the port of Sale around the flood creek. There are lots of swans, ducks and swamp hens, including this cute chick who has yet to grow into his claws

There were large numbers of wrens and other small ground birds but my camera skills are not quite up to scratch just yet. But I was pleased with this photo of a new Holland honeyeater, of which there were many in the right bushes

Jack Smith lake game reserve 15 Dec 2016

We took a holiday in Eastern Gippsland in Dec 2016. In another sign of impending aging it was based around bird watching sites. I would like to acknowledge Ben Cruachan for his tips on birdying sites in the area.

Our first stop off point was Jack Smith game reserve, a duck shooting site in season, but thankfully we were out of season. There is a rough dirt road down to a series of freshwater lakes close to 90 mile beach. On the way we met a blue tongue lizard.

At the far end of the dirt road we hit the aptly named 90 mile beach. Just inland was a waterway filled with waders including red capped plovers, the photo below showing both male and female.

And a new spot for us was the red necked avocet
A bush walk later on revealed some more new birds for us, including a golden headed cisticola
And a few we have seen before, such as a brush cuckoo
and red browed finch

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Wonthaggi Wetlands - mid Dec 2015

Pardelotes are just stunning birds. And were lucky enough to find a spotted pardelote who stayed still enough for me to get a few decent shots.

Its a wonderful walk down to the wetland waterhole. Heaps of birds there, but probably more species on the walk to the water. Two more today were a silver eye...

...and white naped honeyeater

Cape Paterson kangaroos - Dec 2015

I don't think we will ever tire of seeing kangaroos in the wild. One of our favourite spots is the eco village, nowadays called The Cape, at the Western end of Cape Paterson. At dusk we can be found on the bench with a cold beer in hand, plus binoculars and the camera, watching the sun set and the roos come out to feed. Magic.

Bald Hills Nov 2015

We returned to one of our favourite wildlife spots for a second time, Bald Hills nature reserve in Gippsland. It late Nov, hot weather and we saw different species as a result.

The find of the day were a pair of shameless echidnas, who really didn't seem bothered about us


We saw lots of birds by the main water hole but the rest of very dry. The best shots were of a quite common bird, the Eastern Yellow Robin. First then adult:-

and then a juvenile, which looks very different