Re-visit 9: Gippsland Lakes, Southern Victoria

These re-visits remind me how many great places in Australia I have been privileged to visit. The Gippslands Lakes, down around Paynesville and Metung, were fantastic.

If there was any doubt you should always have your camera, even if you are just going for a wee/jimmy riddle behind a bush, this is it. There are dolphins here which are unique to this spot and only found here (sic). They are the Burranan Dolphins, with quite unusual faces with the “nose” coming over the mouth. I was in fact just idly waiting for the return ferry from Raymond Island, but with my camera in case there was a UFO or similar, and, sure enough, there was similar. Dolphins.

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Tattooists are doing well in the dolphin world, although it must be hard to keep them still, and finish the work before the water washes it away; and one wonders what channel they get that has the Roadrunner:IMG_2939

One quite remarkable experience was to  witness a Pelican nursery at close range. A frequent advantage of travelling in off or shoulder peak times is that you end up being the only person on a tour. Sure, you sometimes  have to pay extra, but the value is in being quiet and flexible.

So I ended up the only person, well, fortunately except for the expert skipper, on a trip out on the Gippsland Lakes.

Late in the afternoon we drifted quietly to a safe legal distance from a breeding colony.

The breeding males were certainly apparent, with the blood enfused beak standing out:

 

There seemed to be lots of lost car key issues: they must be in here somewhere:

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It was astonishing to watch the dynamics. Some parents stayed at home and looked after the kiddies.

And there were flying classes graded to the skill level.

Some kids just flew from one end of the island t’other. Others flew for a few hundred metres;

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and in one of my favourite photographs, the older kids arrived back at sunset after a long day’s adventure.

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As always with coastal lakes, the magnificent White-bellied Sea-eagle was a star. Such clean colours in the adults, effortless gliding, and all-round majesty.

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Mind you, in terms of majesty there is always the serious contender, the Wedgie:

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White-faced herons (really should be white-faced egrets) are required by GHQ to have a presence at every water hole. I am sure each bird gets some sort of GPS location order to ensure they are so dispersed.

Royal Spoonbills are common enough, but nowhere near as well organised as the White-faced Herons.

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One of the great mysteries was the whereabouts of this sea snake. I didn’t see it at the time, but it is evident from my photos that something, or some bird, has moved it:IMG_2878 (3)IMG_2876 (2)IMG_2872 (2)

Raymond Island was a very short cable ferry trip off the mainland, and the star inhabitants on the Island are the Koalas, always hard to spot:

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Lots of other birds were about, given the mix of salt and fresh water, and the forests, so we had Little Pied Cormorants and Crested Terns:

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Pacific Gulls were plentiful, with their pronounced beak, here fascinated by the same feature as the Little Pied Cormorant:

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And every Black Swan is a White Swan wanting to get out. If you watch them flying, you will see the white swan under the black sun guard adaptation:

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There were also a few random locals, like the Grey Butcherbird:

Butcherbird, Grey ssp leucopterus

and the first time spotting of the White-eared Honeyeater:

Honeyeater, White-eared

Being close to the sea, the lakes also have some classic inhabitants:

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Another great day.

Michael Monaghan

RE-visited May 2020

Re-visit 8: Victoria River cruise, Timber Creek NT

Just a quick re-visit to the top western corner of the Northern Territory, because we were close up with some magnificent birds of prey on this river trip. They were being delivered fresh fish to “catch” in the water, but that did give you a chance to see their hunting glory.

Not that one would ever think of swimming up this way even in 38°, but a reminder near by:

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The White-bellied Sea-eagles, being amongst the most photogenic birds, were fantastic to watch. There were three or four, including this juvenile:

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The adults were in full flight (sic):

…generally:

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and enjoyed their “catch”:
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Black Kites were also around, with the concave tail that sets them apart from other kites:

This bird struggled to eat on the wing:

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And then there was a random Blue-faced Honeyeater to round things off:

Honeyeater, blue-faced ssp cyanotis

 

Michael Monaghan

Re-visited May 2020

Re-visit 7: Karrajini National Park, Kimberleys WA.

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The area around Karrijini National Park in the Kimberley, west of Exmouth, is riddled with georgeous gorges. These include Dales, Knox, Joffre, Weano, and Kalamina. This revisit is in the area from the Nunatarra Roadhouse, on the Ashburton River, to Karrinjini.

 

It was dry-ish, but apparently is not always so!IMG_2098 (2)

The rocks are about 2500 million years old, which is quite old, being nearly as long ago as St Kilda’s last premiership. The seafloor was where the surface is now, compacted, then lifted, by the drift of the continental plates. As is the case with many areas of ancient rock formations, the formations are generally the remnants of what was, eaten away over millions and millions of years by wind and water.

The temperature variation around here is confirmed by the extremes of the engineering:

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Dales Gorge is the dream of any landscape gardener:

 

It is quite a good idea not to suck on the blue asbestos (the infamous Wittenoom is nearby):

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At one point we were at the foot of the Dales Gorge falls, then later, higher; then somewhat later, close to beer time, much higher. The first mouthful felt well deserved.

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The other gorges are equally georgeous.

And of course there was plenty of wildlife, such as this lizard I nearly stepped on:

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And going through the photos, three not seen before birds of which I didn’t realise I had photos, namely:

The Painted Finch (male):

Finch, Painted m

Then the Yellow-tinted Honeyeater:

And the Western Bowerbird:

Bowerbird, Western

We came across a Wedgie feeding on a kangaroo carcass. They, the wedgies not the kangaroos, have quite inflexible talons, so they take time to extricate them from the carcass. Magnificent in the air, but not so attractive on the ground, methinks.

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This Sacred (Australian) Ibis seemed to be posing for the shot:

Ibis, Sacred

Making the Corella seem inhibited quiet types, are Blue-Winged Kookaburra:

The kites were fairly unconcerned by people, these Black Kites coming in quite close and sitting peaceably nearby. The clue to tell Black Kites from Whistling Kites I developed, is that Whistling Kites have a whole tail, whilst black kites have a bit missing ie concave.

 

Amongst the hardest birds to even see are the Red-winged Parrots, which really blend in with the vegetation (this is a juvenile):

Parrot, Red-Winged juv2

Parrot, red-winged juv

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An indication of the environment is this Little Corella, painted pink by the thousands of millions years’ old dust:

Corrella, Little

A stunning area, but just one small part of astonishing landscapes in the north-west of Australia.

 

Michael Monaghan

Re-visited May 2020

 

 

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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!).

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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.

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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