Close encounters with a Gang-Gang family

My neighbours were lucky enough to spot a family of five Gang-Gang Cockatoos land in their backyard – parents and three kiddies. They were skilled enough in modern communication to know you can actually use mobile phones to make, what we oldies would call, phone calls. They summonsed me to, with apologies to Monty Python, curtail my literary activities and high tail it, not to a cheese shop, but to their place.

Talk about cute, and most unconcerned about our presence.

There were some berries left on one large tree:

requiring agility and ingenuity:

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There were also a few chickpeas which the youngsters were keen to try:

But it was largely a case of just sitting or hanging and being photogenic:

Wonderful birds. We often see the adult pair, but this is the biggest family we have seen here.

Below the photos are in a slide show:

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Michael Monaghan

May 2020

Wedgie fun

IMG_6026 (2)I was observant enough, driving slowly the long way home, to spot two Wedge-tailed Eagles enjoying the thermals west of Canberra. They looked young, and seemed to be having fun, rather than  hunting.

The photos are not the best you will ever see, given the distance, but hopefully you will appreciate these magnificent birds.

The first sequence is of one of the two coming in to land on their chosen resting spot:

See below as  a slide show:

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As I said, they did really seem to be playing and learning as these shots will demonstrate:

And then some shots of them just sailing around, having a great time:

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I reckon I better go back to that spot.

Michael Monaghan

May 2020

Re-visit 6: Chateau Tahbilk wetlands

At Nagambie, in mid east Victoria ( about 90 minutes north of Melbourne, and just to the west of the Hume Freeway) is a vineyard, Chateau Tahbilk. They have added a great community service to their great community service of great wine. They have built walks along the river, creating a fantastic wetlands.

I first went there in 2016. I re-visited around mid 2019, but like all the Victorian wetlands, there was then no water.

But they should be highly recommended for the infrastructure they are providing for the community and for travellers.

The river provided some of my most memorable river scenes:

IMG_3022 (2)IMG_3020 (2)IMG_3021 (2)

Witnessing the beauty is the purpose-made, in Spain, leather camera bag given to me by my sons:IMG_3097 (2)IMG_3096 (2)

There are some spiders that clearly love it here:

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And lots of birds, such as White-faced Heron (remember all Egrets are Herons, but only some Herons are Egrets):

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The Straw-necked Ibis clearly did well here:

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One of our many brilliant kingfishers, the Azure Kingfisher:

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A great spot to drop in at on the way to Melbourne. Nice cafe too.

Michael Monaghan

RE-visited May 2020


Getting back to the Wetlands – An Update

This is an update having been back again, and had two first sightings.

Have been walking around the again wettish Jerrabomberra Wetlands.

As there has been in my own Canberra garden, there is some unusual activity. At home, there have been large numbers of rainbow lorikeets, which is unique in my lengthy experience here, as well as huge flocks of Sulphur-crested Cockatoos – I have over the last fortnight regularly counted over 50 –  and also Pied Currawongs – flocks up to 10. A flock of 7 White-winged Chough flew over skimming the roof line a few days ago, the first time I have ever seen them at my place, although I have, but only rarely, seen them in the pine rich suburbs.  To add to the din, most unusually there have been 4 or 5 Yellow-Tailed Black-Cockatoos frequenting this area, and unusually large numbers of Galahs – I guess they relate well to a fellow galah (overseas readers note: A galah in Australia is a name for a very silly person). Worringly, I have not seen more than 3 or 4 Indian Myna here for some years, but a few days ago saw over 20 all together in the corner of the garden. They dispersed and things seemed to have dropped back to normal number.

The horrendous damage to the littoral and range forests in the summer bushfires is probably the reason there are so many birds up here.

At the wetlands, there is water visible again after the terrible drought. However the heavy late summer rains has seen enthusiastic growth from the rushes so very little of the water is actually visible.

I have not seen Black-faced Woodswallows there before. They are cute the way they cuddle up even during the day.

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Black-faced Cuckoo-Shrikes were frolicking high up in the trees:

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Another bird I have often seen flying in the tall casuarinas near the wetlands, but not right in at ground level, is the Yellow-Tailed Black-Cockatoo. This family ,at least, is very scatty, although you wouldn’t think they could hear themselves think over the racket they make (the kiddies seeking food are even more uproarious), let alone hear my delicate footsteps.

IMG_5960 (2)IMG_5962 (2)IMG_5997 (2)More commonly, Red-Rumped Parrots love this area, and there were a few about, as well as large numbers of Superb Fairy-Wren:

It is nice to be walking about in the beautiful Autumn weather. Crisp overnight (well bloody cold actually) but lovely in the sun.

Again lovely in the sun today, with some of the usual suspects, such as the White-necked Heron (which really should be called a white-necked Egret):

I am pretty sure this was a very hard to spot Little Grassbird. It was in the right area. If so it would be my first sighting here, although I did get a much better photo of one at Point Cook in mid-south Victoria.

Grassbird, LittleThe highlight though was my first sighting of a Golden-headed Cisticola (pronounced with the emphasis on the second syllable):

Cisticola, Golden-headed ssp exilis nonbr


Cisticoloa, Golden-headed ssp exilis nonbr

Michael Monaghan

May 2020


Great spots re-visited 5: Myall Lakes mid New South Wales coast.

I stopped in at Myall Lakes on the drive back from far north NSW in late 2018.  I found a spot on top of a sand dune, looking down into a small littoral forest, and just sat (well stood) there for about an hour. It could have been longer because I did get strange looks from people who walked past me going to the beach, and again coming back. But the sun was warm, not hot, and there were plenty of birds to study.

The stars were the Regent Bowerbirds. Certainly, they repaid my patience in just standing still for a long time. We have the male, who looks like he got up on the wrong side of the bed, then a juvenile higher up with a mature female lower, and lastly, a mature female.

Bowerbird, regent M lBowerbird, Regent juv on top; fem belowBowerbird, Regent F l

Lots of other birds too:

Variegated Fairy Wrens, male breeding, and female, presumably breeded upon.

Swallow, Welcome

Welcome Swallow

Spinebill, eastern

One of the most attractive birds, both in plumage and call, the Eastern Spinebill.

Eastern Yellow Robin (not really a robin).

Wattlebird, Red juvThornbill, YellowHoneyeater. Lewin'sHoney-eater, White-cheekedFinch, red-browed pCockatoo, Yellow-tailed black l

Then we had the ubiquitous and noisy Little Wattlebird (better called a no-wattle bird), the Yellow Thornbill, Yellow-spotted Honeyeater (a first sighting for me), White-cheeked Honeyeater, Red browed Finch and the magnificent Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo.

Away from my haunt, the forest was a magnificent example of paper-bark eucalyptus:Eucalyptus, Paperbark2Eucalyptus, Paperbark

There were, being close to shore, some great shorebirds, including the Great Egret (the line under the eye goes back beyond the eye) and the Pacific Black Duck:

Egret, Intermediate non br 3Duck, Pacific-black

And to round off a great spot, some interesting forest birds, including the Bar-shouldered Dove, the here serious Laughing Kookaburra, and the winner of the most aggravating call, the Wonga Pigeon:Dove, Bar-shoulderedKookaburra, LaughingPigeon, Wonga


So overall, a good spot to visit, and indeed, to re-visit.


Michael Monaghan

May 2020

Re-Visit 4: The Tasmanian West Coast steam train, from Strahan to Dubbil Barril.

By the way, the reason there is a rush of re-visits is that the last few days here in Canberra have been like the snowy days of late July. Maximum 6ish, but with the wind feels like minus a couple. A very useful 55mm (over 2 inches) of steady deep rain.

This fantastic trip is on the other side of the planet to north Western Australia, on the mid west coast of Tasmania. This trip was in March 2017, late February/March being the best time to visit Tassie.

No sane person would visit Tassie without consulting me. I can honestly claim to have  driven on every sealed road (pretty much) and many reasonable gravel roads. There are still plenty of 4WD-only roads for the future. So before your next trip, ask for my dossier on touring that wonderful island.

There are two critical things to know before taking this trip, well three. The three critical things to know are:

First, it is a trip worth travelling a long way to do;

Secondly, the Strahan to Dubbil Barril (that is the third thing, yes that is the correct spelling) leg, is the one you have to do;

Thirdly, no wait;  with apologies to those not expecting the Spanish Inquisition –

Amongst the many critical things to know are:

First, Secondly  blah blah

Fourthly, you have to book the Wilderness Carriage, not just because you get a large chocolate steam train, but you are at the back of the two carriages going up and there is a little balcony out back so you get a great view of the impossibility of building this railway – that might be the fifth criticality, this railway is impossible.

The story behind the building of the railway is nearly as amazing as the railway itself.

The restoration has also been great achievement.

Put briefly, when, in around 1890, one James Crotty, already having experience in the  Victorian gold mines, bought into an area of Mt Lyell, he did so believing it was full of gold. Indeed he found plenty of gold, initially. His advertisements for financial backers enticed Anthony Edwin Bowes Kelly, a director of BHP, to come down and check it out. He knew a lot about gold, but he knew even more about copper.

Kelly quickly concluded that there was gold, but it was just the tip of a goldmine, and the gold to mine was copper. His apparent lack of enthusiasm led to the financial ruin of Crotty, leading him to sell to Kelly at a bargain basement price. The richer Kelly got, the less Crotty felt like forgiving him. Did I mention Kelly knew a lot about copper?

Having saved a motsa on the purchase price, and knowing there was copper in them there hills, Kelly could afford to invest in dramatic infrastructure.

So he hired engineers to advise him on the best route for the railway down to Macquarie Harbour, no doubt ruing the absence of convicts on Sarah Island to build it for free. The engineers quite professionally advised him it was impossible. Wrong answer! So he hired some new engineers, who also advised him it was impossible. Wrong answer! So he hired some new engineers, who professionally realised the correct answer was “Sure, no worries there” as they covered over their code of ethics. Did I say it was impossible?

You have to go to realise it was impossible. Hopefully the photos give a taste of that realisation. Amongst the minor issues were:

It rains like more than 365 days a year, I mean it rains and rains and rains, night and day, day and night, and even on weekends and public holidays. The rain takes no time off to rest.

The workers had no accommodation, and over 500 at a time worked all day in the rain, and slept outside, in the rain. Saved money on a shower I guess.

The geography is diabolical:

the King River floods treacherously and often;

the tributary creeks flood treacherously and often;

it is so steep, the first two consultant engineers (incorrectly then, and indeed now, it seems) said it was too steep for an engine to get up;

the rock is mainly shale and slate – so blasting it with dynamite has all sorts of fascinating side effects, likely to lead to there being far fewer than 500 workers all of a sudden – so all the cuttings, some 4 metres high, had to be done by hand;

it is dense rainforest, designed to stop convicts escaping from Sarah Island unless they ate eat other, and where it isn’t dense, it is denser;


it is worth repeating, it rains all the time.

No-one, except Kelly, had ever seen a steam engine or a railway – the engine and carriages arrived in a flat pack and they put it together informed by the picture on the front – luckily there was no user manual, because then it really would have been impossible.


No-one, not even Kelly, had ever seen a rack and pinion railway, only recently invented by, of course, a Swiss engineer, Dr Roman Abt. The technology is often called abt railway.

No-one, not even Kelly, had ever put a railway bridge together before, let alone got one into position over turblent flood waters. One original bridge remains, with the tortured remains of many other attempts ominously evident in the raging waters.


Getting the bridge in place was impossible.

It was near impossible to get beer up there, let alone a crane (if they had been invented). The big crossing is the bridge which survives. This alone is worth the extra for the back carriage.

From an access point they brought the bridge down on the already laid track. Then a couple of likely lads got the barge around under the far side of the crossing. Building up the height of the barge with bits of 2 be 4, they then pulled the barge over to under the leading lip of the bridge. Picture the barge loaded up with bits of 2 be 4 to the bottom of the bridge to be. The likely lads on the far shore, then pulled the barge by rope across the river crossing at the SAME pace as some more likely lads pushed the bridge from behind along the rails.

I mean, what could possibly go wrong.

Stunningly, not only did nothing go wrong, the bridge is still there.  And it is not just a hop, step and oops in length.


When you get to Dubbil Barril, probably an early misspelling, in the rain, you meet the train coming down from Queenstown, also in the rain.

IMG_1491Working on the trains requires being big and burly, because you have to turn the train by hand on a turntable, in the rain.

Another benefit of the Wilderness Carriage is that you get an expert guide who can explain much, including the many inspired attempts to clean the copper remnants out of the King River. I recall when asked how long it would take, she replied: maybe a few years, orrr maybe a few hundred!


It was a lovely spot for all that,

and the afternoon tea was pretty good too, especially if there were a couple of dozen of you, just the thing for a wet afternoon (it was raining!).



Michael Monaghan

May 2020







Re-visit 3: Cape Peron, Francois Peron NP

Another great spot, although you need to know what you are doing to get there – or better still, have a mate who knows what he is doing. Tyres down due to the seriously deep super fine sand was so necessary, that they have a air pump and instructions in place.



Confusingly, it seems half the coastline in Western Australia has a Cape Peron (Peron naming nearly as many places as Governor Macquarie, except that he did so in French). Usefully to distinguish the many others, this Cape Peron is in the Francois Peron National Park, north of Denman, and also north of the amazing Monkey Mia, on the Western Australia north coast.

SkipJack Point , on the East of the peninsular, had fantastic contrasting colours:

Skipjack Point 2Skipjack Point

And the whole area had amazing rocks:

The water was absolutely crystal clear, so from the cliff top you could see all sorts of water-life, dominated by the sharks. Sharks turn out to be harder to identify than SLBBs (Silly Little Brown Birds). Apparently a useful identification tool is the teeth, but, as Lord Blackadder would note, I think I see a flaw in that plan.  My expert adviser suggests it is probably a Galapagos Shark.

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There were also Manta Rays:


It was a good spot to experiment with different camera settings with the waves, so here is a selection:IMG_1943 (2)IMG_1942 (2)IMG_1933 (2)IMG_1932 (2)IMG_1931 (2)IMG_1930 (2)IMG_1926 (2)IMG_1925 (2)

There were thousands of shore birds, which looked unsurprising. But then when you look closely it often turns out you have birds you didn’t even know were there. So in a standard flock of Crested Terns, I discovered Caspian Terns.


Tern, Caspian(near) and imm Crested

and Pied Cormorants (not Little Pied Cormorants):

Cormorant, Pied; Tern crested and Tern Caspian (red bill)Cormorants, Pied

Other surprise findings were the Ring-necked Parrot (core breed for this sub-species is the Port Lincoln Parrot) and the Yellow-throated Miner (very similar to the Noisy Miner of the East), and the Western Australian variation of the Silver Gull:

Parrot, Ringneck(port lincoln nominate)Miner, Yellow-throatedGull, Silver (WA)

It was quite flat:

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Michael Monaghan

April 2020

Another sensational spot re-visited: Zebra Rock Mine, east Lake Argyle

This is one of the top things I have ever done. Not the mine, which is to what we detoured off the Victoria Highway, just on the Northern Territory side of the border with WA (although this was amazing enough), but the absolutely stunning sunset cruise on the inlet creeks running into the east of Lake Argyle. This was June 2016.


This tour is no longer listed on their website, but hopefully that doesn’t mean the trip isn’t still, in normal times anyway, available.

The Zebra Rock is unique now to this site in the world. The owners have, it seems still today, tried to maintain a balance between leaving large seams of rock in place, whilst sujecting enough to the skills of lapidary to raise the funds to maintain the site (and camping ground).

There are two other rocks on the site which are also, so far as is known, uniquely here. I can’t recall their names.

The tour, which we had to be coaxed into undertaking because we had taken the main Lake Argyle tour the evening before, was brilliant. We were encourage to ask a small group who had been the evening before, all of whom enthused: “It is the best thing we have ever done!” I have to take their word for that, and luckily we did;  for we three it was indeed one of the best things we have ever done. The memories of how brilliant had faded a little, until I went back to sort out some photos for this blog.

It was a rough hour or so in a rickety old bus to the creeks, where the vista of water, trees and wildlife opened out before us.

Argyle, east of lake

A swim never looked so inviting, well….

Crocodile, freshwater

Only freshies above the dam wall, it is thought…hoped. We left the Collingwood supporter to his own devices.

The bird life was astounding. I will start with various of the Heron family (all egrets are herons, but not all herons are egrets – a hint from a wonderful book called Glimpses of Australian Birdlife (updated) by Peter Slater and Sally Elmer).

First, some Pied Herons, followed by a young Nankeen Night-Heron:




Next Great-egrets:

Egrets, Great

Egret, great homeward

This Eastern Cattle-Egret was right on the western edge of its territory, and there were no cows in sight: Egret, Eastern Cattle on western limit of territory

Glossy Ibis were plentiful, the last one showing breeding plumage:

Ibis, Glossy2Ibis, GlossyIbis, Glossy breeding

Trees were so full of nesting and roosting birds that, given their water damaged stage, it was amazing they stayed standing; the first Little Pied Cormorants, then from the top, wagtail, great egret and white-necked heron:

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Wagtail, Great Egret and White-necked Heron

Black Cormorants were also abundant:

Moving on to the Crane family, a star is the Jabiru, proper name being the Black-necked Stork, the first one being a breeding male:

JabiruJabiru in flightJabiru homeward

Thousands and thousands of birds were heading home for the evening, including this family of Radjah Shelducks.

Shelduck, Radjay fem in front.Shelducks, Radjah family 2

Many other water birds were prominent such as these Black-fronted Dotterels, and White-headed Stilts (the last one being a kiddie):


Stilt, White-headedStilt, White-headed immNot to be outdone, plenty of woodland birds also took advantage of this fantastic environment. White-breasted Woodswallows are often found as hybrids with Black-faced woodswallows, but these ones look clean and crisp in their white-breasted uniform, and following them is a young White-bellied Cuckoo-Shrike:

This, is a female Rufous Whistler:

unknown2With lots of little water rodents, and breeding birds, birds of prey were also well at home. This is a young White-Bellied Sea Eagle, followed by an Eastern Osprey (which, despite the name, can actually be found around virtually the whole of the mainland Australian coastline):

Eagle, LittleEagle, Little 3Eagle, Little 2

Osprey, Eastern

And now the story really starts.

It was still daylight. Now came a full moon rising in the east, directly opposite the sun going down, this time, in the west. Since the terrain was essentially flat, both events were astonishingly spectacular.

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Then the full moon appeared.

IMG_4782 (2)IMG_4786 (2)This next is one of my all time favourite photos, the moon being held to provide evening light to the roosting cormorants:


We got great reflections in the water, the stairway to the stars:

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Then to wrap of a wonderful evening, the combination of moon and navigation lights gave us some seriously weird effects;

I recall we finished off the evening with a 60s rock sing along in the bus on the way back, followed by superb freshly made scones and cream (well, we hadn’t had dinner – we had managed a wine or two but).

One, of a dozen, very happy traveller:

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And this now identified is a White-headed Stilt (in flight obviously):unknown

Michael Monaghan

April 2020


Re-visiting some great spots: Old Police Station Waterhole, not near anywhere, mid east Northern Territory

Egret, GreatSince none of us are going anywhere, I thought it would be a good opportunity to re-visit some geat spots I have been fortunate to get to, and sort out my photos from that trip in the process.

In July 2016, on an extended 4WD drive trip around Western Australia and the Northern Territory, with great friends who also knew their way around, and knew vital things like how to swear at a flat tyre to get it to stay up for 100km to the nearest town. where was I, oh yes, one great spot we went to was the Old Police Station Waterhole, which can loosely be said to be in Davenport, Northern Territory – sort of 260 km south-east of Tennant Creek off the Stuart Highway, and some other road-like structures.

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On the way-ish we went to a place you all know, namely Frews Ponds. Apart from gaining fame for being half way between the Daly’s River pub and Newcastle Waters, and not actually being recognised by Google Maps, it is the site of the 1872 stupendous feat of joining the telegraph line between Darwin and Adelaide, and hence Great Britain.

Telegraph join Frews PondsTelegraph 2

Also in the area are some great roadhouses, frequented by road trains that take longer to pass (they are passing you) than it now took to get a dot-dash-dot message to the mother country. roadtrain

Also nearby, in the very loose sense of that word, is the furthest north that John McDougall Stuart got in 1860; presumably he took the highway named after himself.stuart

On the way, the rare river lands contained lots of great birds, such as Brolgas and Straw-necked Ibis.

But once at the Old Police Station Waterhole, just us and a couple way down there somewhere, it proved an absolute treasure, not just because it was the first spot in weeks where you could turn your back to the water and not be taken by a giant croc!.

Old Police Station Waterhole

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What looked like a fairly young Whistling Kite landed in the tree right in front of us and proceeded to devour an unfortunate Golden Orb Spider, which as you see was big enough to contain a red pigmented internal organ.

Kite, WhistlingKite, Whistling2Kite, Whistling3Kite, Whistling4Kite, Whistling5Kite, Whistling6Kite, Whistling7Kite, Whistling8Kite, Whistling9

A valuable learning to distinguish Whistling Kites from Black Kites is that a Whistling Kite has a whole tail, and the Black Kite has a bit missing (ie it is concave).

Kite, Whistling taii

Both Great and Intermediate Egrets abounded (another thing I have learned is that all Egrets are Herons, but not all Herons are Egrets). The first are Great Egrets, identifiable by the slight extension of the eye piece to behind the eye:

Egret, Great2Egret, Great

and then this is an Intermediate Egret, pictured with a Royal Spoonbill:

Egret, Intermediate, and Royal Spoonbill

There were also plenty of Australasian Darters, known colloquially as Snake Birds, with the first picture showing why. The second picture is of a Little Black Cormorant (left) and a Darter.Snake Bird (Darter)Darter, Australasian m, juvDarter, Australasian

Some White-naped Honeyeaters were frolicking, with the reason for one being particularly keen on a wash evident at the end of the second sequence:

Honeyeater, White-naped bathingHoneyeater, White-naped bathing2HOney-eater, White-naped bathing3Honeyeater, White-naped bathing 5

It was a remarkable area, with massive sandstone boulders, some split so clinically it would make the Incas proud:

And there were plenty of asses (some might cruelly say, other asses):


Other birds to feature were white-necked Heron (breeding plumage is the claret shaded stuff):

Heron, white-necked br

magpie-geese (perhaps interbred with domestic geese) :

Goose, Magpie cross

Black-faced Cuckoo-Shrikes, followed by black faced woodswallows:

Woodswallow, Black-faced

Lots of Zebra-Finch (probably Australia’s number one avian export):

Little Corella and Rainbow Bee-eaters:

and then finally, the cunning little smugglers, the budgies (First the female with a pinkish cere – the little area above the beak, then the male, with a blue cere):

Budgerigar m adult


What a wonderful spot. Thanks to my expert friends.


Michael Monaghan

This edition: April 2020

The hide develops

A number of people have noted, in response to my excuses involving imperfect glass, “Well, have you thought of opening the window!”.

Well, yes I have. But it has a window bolt which would be at least 28 years old, because I have barely touched the window since I moved here. So, why don’t I go through that box of old keys, the ones I really ought to chuck out but you never know when you will need one. So I went through the many keys of unknown application, and, Voila, sure enough, none fitted.

Hmm, but then the brain-wave – the lock being so old it might pre-date one-way screws, so why don’t I just take it off, and replace it with the trusty bit of wood in the slide groove. Sure enough, using my now readily available screw-driver, because I had cleaned up the workbench, I removed said lock and opened the window. Wow, I should have been an engineer.


So then, given the relative success of Prototype 2 (see yesterday’s blog), I moved on to Prototype 3. Using clamps and tape in case I made a muck of it, I constructed, not an extensive ad for Storage King (and seriously it could never be good for their business of making boxes for the box to be useful only when cut open),  a hide wall. There is enough vision through the conveniently located cuts between the folding bits of the boxes – Storage King must have foreseen such a use – and the camera, on a tripod, is focussed (ha!) through a hole in the cardboard with the lens itself seeking action through an old nightgown. I knew there was a reason for keeping that.20200422_12134120200422_121335

So now we have the ability, but with some practical issues to be resolved, to take pictures whilst hidden from view, and through an open window. But if I open the window when the birds are there, they will be alerted and will flee. I even dry lubed the window tracks,so moving the window would be quieter, but I think I will have to get up at sparrow’s each day and open the window before the action starts? I can’t leave it open, or my other daily, or more correctly nightly, visitors, the ringtail possums, will be permanent residents before I can say “antidisestablishmentarianism”.

So now I could take photos unseen by the birds – but remarkably, not one single bird up there all day! Figure that. I remember the owner of a cloud forest bird lodge high (otherwise it wouldn’t be in the clouds) in Ecuador, complaining of the perils of Galapagosisation – the belief that all wild animals were as accessible as they were on Galapagos.


Still, a great advance. Inevitably inherent in any prototyping exercise, there are a few teething problems there for the solving.

Michael Monaghan

Later April 2020