Cygnet

Black Swan cygnet – Isabella Pond, Tuggeranong, Australian Capital Territory.DSC_5169

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Uphill No. 2 – Mt Arawang

Mt Arawang sits comfortably overlooking a set of pleasantly mature suburbs in central Canberra. On this day, the 18th of January, in 2003 this area was directly in the path of a devastating firestorm ignited a week before by lightning strikes in the national park outside the Australian Capital Territory. Fuelled by eucalyptus trees, pine trees and dry grasslands, and driven by extreme summer weather, the firestorm hit the southern suburbs of Canberra, destroying 500 homes and claiming several lives. An Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) news photo from the time, by Greg Power, shows Mt Arawang and surrounds in the aftermath of the fires.

After 2003 bushfires - ABC news

A dozen years after the fires I walked up Mt Arawang for the first time. I began on a nicely broad track running around the base of the mountain. Long, dry native grasses covered the land on either side of the track. The always impressive Mt Tennent sat impassively in the distance as Mt Arawang rose above me.

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Mt Arawang overlooks a series of paddocks used for agisting horses. There are many horse-riding trails through here, including a section of the Bicentennial National Trail which runs for over 5,000 kilometres from far north Queensland to west of Melbourne.

The track continued around the base of the mountain and I began to wonder if I had missed the trail to the summit. A Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo flew swiftly overhead – moving too quickly for me to frame a good shot of it. I actually like the resulting photo all the same.

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Just as I was about to contemplate going back, the start of the summit trail appeared.

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As I began the ascent, it became obvious that this was not the same as the paved, stepped and carefully maintained trails that adorn some of our mountains. There were intermittent wooden sleepers, which helped greatly with footing, but there was also plenty of long grass and the odd overhanging shrub to push through.

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The trail rose steeply in a direct line to the top. Mt Arawang is not particularly high, but the horses were soon far below and the magnificent views that typify this area – including across to McQuoids Hill from Uphill No.1 – began to unfold.

Magpies apparently grow on the trees up here and seemingly fall to the ground when ripe.

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A Nankeen Kestrel soared on the air currents, its keen eyes seeking prey far below.

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As the trig station that marks the summit appeared, a fully ripened magpie appeared to complete the scene.

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The summit afforded magnificent views to the mountains, including across Lake Tuggeranong and the Tuggeranong Town Centre to the south and the Woden Town Centre (and the ubiquitous Black Mountain and its tower) to the north.

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The altimeter application on my phone provided a neat record of my height and precise location.

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With my free time running short, I found a slightly rough but very direct path back down the mountain – the track that I would have seen if I had looked straight ahead from the carpark. As it was, looking straight ahead as I descended, Mt Taylor dominated my view.

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All too quickly I was back at ground level, where I was farewelled by the sparrows that waited for me on the gate and sign that marked the entrance to this delightful nature reserve.

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Water Dragons

I paid a quick visit to the Australian National Botanic Gardens today and had to share some pictures of the wonderful resident Eastern Water Dragons that are a highlight of this beautiful place.

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Uphill No. 1 – McQuoids Hill

While I have been a bit quiet around here over the last couple of weeks, I have been quite busy in the real world.

With some free time courtesy of the Christmas, New Year and holidays-generally period, one of the things keeping me busy has been indulging my love of bushwalking – in particular, my love of being on top of hilly and mountainy things. As well as providing peace of mind, this is helping my needed quest for fitness.

Canberra is a fantastic place for this purpose, possessing as it does an extensive nature reserve system liberally adorned with hills and mountains that are readily accessible, generally have very well maintained and sign-posted tracks, almost always offer magnificent views and can mostly be conquered in an hour or so.

The first walk of my current uphill quest was McQouids Hill on the south side of Canberra, adjacent to suburbia and close to the Murrumbidgee River. According to the official government map, the summit of McQuoids Hill sits at an elevation of 732 metres. Apparently thereĀ is no agreed definition of the difference between a mountain and a hill, but bumps over 600 metres seem generally to qualify as mountains. In Canberra there are quite a few technical-mountains called ‘Hill’, perhaps because Canberra generally sits well above sea level and almost any landform with a bit of slope to it could be called a mountain. So, to keep perspective and make the taller things sound more impressive, we have plenty of hills as well as mountains.

The walk up McQuoids Hill traverses a bit of grassland before joining the nature reserve proper and begins to rise steadily.

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Early on I encounter my first bird photo opportunities – an Eastern Rosella and two Crimson Rosellas (an adult and a youngster, still growing out of its green juvenile plumage).

High above – unfortunately too high for a decent photo – a Wedge-Tailed Eagle soared on the air currents.

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As the track climbed it afforded glimpses of some of the mountains that surround Canberra, including Mt Tennent (elevation 1,375 metres). Confusingly, Mt Tennent is named after the bushranger John Tennant; it is known by the Indigenous people of this area as Tharwa (a name now used for a village nearby and the road leading to it).

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McQuoids Hill also overlooks the Murrumbidgee Country Club, where golfers can enjoy a beautiful course while avoiding the kangaroos that graze on the fairways.

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Along the way I found some Black-faced Cuckoo Shrikes, busying themselves rummaging among spider webs. I have seen other Black-faced Cuckoo Shrikes doing this in other places, so imagine the spiders are a bit of a delicacy for them.

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Nearing the top. The trail up McQuoids Hill is not a great one – worn dirt and loose gravel that makes for continuous slip hazards. Careful footing is a must.

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The tricky track is all worth it once you reach the summit. While not a particularly large hill/mountain, to the south and the west the land drops off into the Murrumbidgee River valley. This affords wonderful views across the Bullen Range to the soaring mountains of the Brindabella Ranges that are such an important part of the Canberra landscape. The Brindabellas form part of the landlocked Australian Capital Territory’s western border with New South Wales. To the north the white buildings of the Mount Stromlo Observatory can be seen in the distance.

Beautiful, calming and centring vistas – definitely worth the walk up.

There were quite a few of these flowers on the summit. I’m not sure what they are, but they are nicely adapted to the often harsh environment.

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At this point of summer, with the plentiful native and introduced grasses drying off, grasshoppers abound. One of the hapless hoppers ended up making a nice meal for a spider whose web sat amongst the undergrowth.

Heading back down, the slippery track was even more of a hazard – through partsĀ of the descent I stuck to the very edges of the track, where rocks and sticks provided better traction.

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A highlight of the descent was finding some Yellow Thornbills busy among the trees just next to the track.

All too quickly I was back at ground level. There are many agistment paddocks in this area and there are many trails for horse riders.

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The path back to the car ran beside the golf course and I took the opportunity to quickly practice my sports photography (using the big lens from enough of a distance that I wouldn’t disturb the golfer).

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One last bird for the day – another lovely Eastern Rosella to welcome me back to the car (or so I like to believe).

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Dusky Young Things

I have been lucky enough to see many signs of new bird life around here in the last couple of weeks – nests being built, young birds in the nest, juveniles recently left the nest.

Here is a taster of some more shots to come – a pair of hungry Dusky Woodswallow chicks.

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Owl Power

The Powerful Owl (Ninox strenua) is Australia’s largest owl. At up to 60cm in length (plus tail) and with a wingspan up to 140cm, it is an impressive bird. Not content with nibbling on field mice, the Powerful Owl preys on medium and large tree-dwelling mammals, like possums.

Easily the most famous and popular bird in Canberra at the moment is a Powerful Owl. People have come from near and far (interstate and possibly overseas) to see it. It is pretty rare to see one of these fine birds, particularly in a suburban area and in a place where it can be seen during the day.

First spotted by a member of the Canberra Ornithologists’ Group about three weeks ago, the Owl spends its days perched high in a tree beside a lawn bowls club on the edge of the city centre. It blends well into the dappled shade of the tree and can be fairly hard to see unless you know the right spot (stand in the last car parking space directly in front of the green keeper’s shed, find the middle of the irrigation sign and look straight up!). Or you simply find one of the photographers and follow the line of their giant lens :-)

I have visited the Owl twice and had the chance to take some photos the first time. Its dark perch high in the tree makes it a challenge, but well worth it.The Owl spends much of its day-time dozing, but sometimes has a stretch and looks around. I have not seen it on the days it has been holding prey in its powerful talons – so far two ring-tail possums and a sugar glider have been observed.

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Cowtown

I went for a walk late this afternoon, up into the hills behind our home. Cows are left to graze in certain parts of the nature reserve, to help keep the grass under control. While I only had my phone camera with me, the coincidence of cow and sunset was impossible to resist.

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