Friday, April 3, 2015

Australia: From the Coast to the Mountains

After our early morning visit to Two Peoples Bay, Eileen and I used the rest of September 12, 2013, to drive back to Albany and set off for our next major destination, the Stirling Range to the north. It was, mostly, a travel day, but there was enough along the road to justify (I hope) an interlude posting between descriptions of the hot spots. 

For one thing, the drive westward to Albany took us past some coastal scenery worth sharing. 

At the right time of year, viewpoints along the coast become good spots to look for migrating Southern Right Whales (Eubalaena australis) and Humpback Whales (Megaptera novaeangliae). I joined a few people straining for a glimpse of one somewhere...

Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo)
...but aside from a Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) flying by....

...and a few blurry dots in the distance that may just possibly have been alive, I couldn't spot anything. 

Australian Magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen)
Australian Magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen)
Instead I had to make do with wildlife closer to hand. Australian Magpies (Gymnorhina tibicen) are bold and aggressive birds (not above attacking people in some areas) and are not universally beloved. I like them myself:  as members of an entirely Australasian family (Cracticidae) they remind me that I am back in one of my favourite parts of the world; their group choruses are wonderful to listen to; and they are, I think, very handsome birds. 

Australian Magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen)
Australian Magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen)
When I first visited Australia in the 1960s, there were supposed to be three species of magpie: the eastern Black-backed Magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen), the southern White-backed Magpie (G. hypoleuca) and the Western Magpie (G. dorsalis), in which males like this bird have a white back and females have a darker, scalloped mantle. By that standard, the western birds would count as lifers for me, but for some years now all three have been considered as part of a single variable species. Australian Magpies, by the way, are only distantly related the 'original' magpies in the rest of the world, which are members of the crow family.

Albany itself is an attractive town (with, for me, the essential feature of a good bookstore), and its Victorian-era Town Hall is not only attractive but useful (it houses a visitor information centre). We stopped by for some books and brochures. 

After our break in Albany we drove north through open farmland towards our next destination. 

We didn't see a lot of wildlife on the drive, but there were (quite literally) signs of its presence. Western Australia has a number of special turtles, and this silhouette may represent the Southwestern Snake-necked or Oblong Turtle (Chelodina colliei, formerly C. oblonga), which (among other peculiarities) has a surprisingly varied vocabulary.  It can produce at least seventeen underwater sounds, and as it lives in murky waters with low visibility it may need them. 

Roadside stops along the way gave us a chance to stop and smell the flowers. 

Corymbia cf ficifolia
Actually, they didn't have much smell, but they were certainly colourful. This is probably Corymbia (or Eucalyptusficifolia, confined in the wild to a small part of the southwest but widely planted as an ornamental. 

Bell-fruited Mallee (Eucalyptus preissiana)
This may be Bell-fruited Mallee (Eucalyptus preissiana), or a similar eucalypt (there are some 600 species of eucalypts and their close relations, so there is a lot of room for error). 

Eventually our goal began to loom in the distance. Mountains are hard to come by in Australia, and the isolated Stirling Range north of Albany is all the more impressive by comparison. It is also botanically unique, boasting a huge list of plants, a large percentage of which are found nowhere else. 

Scallop Hakea (Hakea cucullata)
Meanwhile, there were plants to see along the way.  This is, I believe, Scallop Hakea (Hakea cucullata).

Calomanthus cf quadrifidus
This is one of the aptly-named claw flowers - probably One-sided Bottlebrush (Calomanthus quadrifidus) or something similar. 

New Holland Honeyeater (Phylidonyris novaehollandiae)
The flowers produce quantities of nectar, and were an irresistible draw for this New Holland Honeyeater (Phylidonyris novaehollandiae). 

New Holland Honeyeater (Phylidonyris novaehollandiae)
New Holland Honeyeater (Phylidonyris novaehollandiae)
New Holland Honeyeater (Phylidonyris novaehollandiae)
New Holland Honeyeaters are inveterate nectar feeders.  They may spend up to 90 percent of their day in pursuit of flowers, picking up what protein they need from flying insects. This one obviously had no intention of allowing an intrusive foreigner with a camera to drive it from its meal. 

Sahara mustard (Brassica tournefortii)
There are so many spectacular native wildflowers in southwestern Australia that it comes as a bit of a shock to realize that even this botanical paradise has alien interlopers. Nonetheless it has weeds like everywhere else, including this Sahara mustard (Brassica tournefortii). 

The Stirlings were closer now, and they were to provide us with enough for a series of postings. The road would take us north and then east, to the oddly-pointed massif that looms ahead of our car in this final shot. It is called Bluff Knoll, and that is where we will be heading in my next entry.

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