I’ve just spent five days with photographer Michael Snedic at the O’Reillys Rainforest Retreat doing a photography workshop. Michael leads photo tours all over the world. This is the fourth time that I have participated in one of his activities and we get on very well together. I now regard him as a friend.
O’Reilly’s is located on the edge of the Lamington National Park, near the town of Canungra in Queensland. In 1912, eight men of the very extensive O’Reilly family each started farming there. They milked cattle and collected timber but they struggled to earn much income. In 1915 Lamington National Park was established around their land and some of the brothers established a much earlier form of O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat in 1926. The initial accommodation was very basic and ii wasn’t until the 1930’s when the government built a road into the national park that it began to flourish. Before then, access was only via horse and wagon along a precipitous mountain track. Now, it is a popular tourist destination.
Canungra is where I had a few weeks of compulsory jungle warfare training whilst I was in the army and before my departure for Vietnam. At that time I was too concerned with the physical demands of the training to be able to take in the beauty of the surrounding rain forest, but on this occasion, I had plenty of time in which to enjoy and appreciate this rather stunning environment..
The rain forest here provides a splendid habitat for a wide range of birds. On one day, we had an early start before breakfast to photograph some of them. With a long lens, we were able to get some nice shots but I had to go back to my bird book to remember all their names. Many of them flitted around very quickly but if we were fast, we could capture them as they perched on a branch for a short time.
Eastern Yellow Robin
Grey Shrike Thrush
Eastern Whip Bird
Especially popular with the international visitors were the parrots. Both King Parrots, with their red and green plumage, and the blue and red Crimson Rosellas were used to people being around and they would come down to feed from the bowls of seed that people were holding. There were many ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ as they occasionally settled on people’s heads. The grevillea plants near the entrance to the resort were very popular with Honeyeaters, Rosellas and of course, bees..
We swapped different parts of our program around to suit the weather forecast that was showing rain on some days. On one day, on which we planned to do a 7 km return walk to a waterfall it rained heavily all day. My guess is that around 30mm of rain fell that day. The rain reinvigorated the forest and put a shine on the leaves of the plants but it also made the track very boggy and slippery. Late in the morning, we reached a place called Picnic Rock but decided not to go any further as the final 400 metre stretch to the waterfall was really a slippery rock scramble. I managed to photograph one of the cascades at Picnic Rock before we returned to the resort.
Back in my room I changed into some dry clothes only to find that I had collected about eight leeches on my shoes and pants. I had one leech bite on my hand another on my neck. I had trouble getting some of the little buggers off and I ended up standing out on the balcony with my pants off, flicking them into the nearby bushes. I must have been quite a sight!
We had taken a picnic lunch on our walk but it was too wet to stop and eat it, so I ate it back in my room after I had changed and dried out. I felt really guilty about a Crimson Rosella that was wet and sheltering outside my window under the balcony. The poor thing looked vary bedraggled anyway as it was moulting, but it kept looking at me expectantly as I ate my sandwich and bobbed up and down every time that I took a bite. I felt very sorry for it and wondered whether I should invite it in.
One morning, we went to Lukes Farm. This was a cleared farm near the resort that was owned by one of the members of the O’Reilly Family. This site gave us a chance to do some creative work around the moss covered fences and the old cattle yards. It was lots of fun and I enjoyed the couple of hours that we spent there.
Another part of the mixture of photographic opportunities was to visit a nearby clifftop for a session of sunset photography. There was a lot of cloud and the sunset was a bit of a ‘dud’ but were able to capture some images as the light changed over time. I wasn’t very happy with many of my attempts there as I was focussing too much on the light and not enough on the composition.
Even though it had been very dry in this area over the last few months, some recent rain had been enough to make the grass green again and the humidity had produced some wonderful varieties of fungi. It stretched my physical flexibility somewhat to kneel down and get close up, but there were some very nice fungi shots to be taken. Almost every second step through the forest gave us some more opportunities to see different coloured fungi. These little white coloured ones were only about 6 mm across.
There is also the opportunity at O’Reilly’s to see a few Birds of Prey at their daily Birds of Prey Flight Exhibition. We were able to photograph a couple of owls, a Kestrel, a Brahminy Kite and a Wedge Tailed Eagle. These were magnificent birds but only kept here because they had been injured and rescued for their safety.
The Barking Owl is a medium-sized hawk-owl. Hawk-owls lack the definite heart-shaped face of the tyto-owls (which include the Barn Owl). There are two subspecies of Barking Owl; one occurs in eastern, south-eastern and south-western Australia but this one is found in northern Western Australia, the far north of Queensland and the Northern Territory. The usual call of the Barking Owl, as its name suggests, is a remarkably doglike woof-woof. However, early settlers were startled to discover that the owl is also capable of making a very different call. Pioneers were occasionally awoken by the terrified screams of a woman being brutally murdered in the bush — at least that’s what it sounded like. However, instead of mayhem, it was simply the alarm call of the Barking Owl, which may be repeated at intervals of several seconds or several minutes.
The Brahminy Kite occurs throughout southern and South East Asia, and in Australia it is widespread along the north coast. These raptors often perch inconspicuously for long periods on exposed perches before swooping down onto prey in the water or on the ground. Their prey usually comprises fish and insects, and they often steal food from other birds, such as gulls, terns, ibis and other raptors. They also scavenge carrion on the ground.
The Wedge-tailed Eagle is Australia’s largest bird of prey and the third largest eagle in the world. It was once considered to be a menace by farmers, who were convinced that eagles swooped down and carried lambs off in their talons. As a result, thousands of eagles were shot and poisoned. It is now known that Wedge-tailed Eagles mostly take rabbits, and seldom eat lambs — usually the carcases of dead lambs rather than live ones. Nevertheless, in some parts of Australia, these majestic raptors are still shot and poisoned, despite being a legally protected species. This bird has a wingspan of nearly 2 metres, a characteristic long, wedge-shaped tail, and legs that are feathered all the way to the base of the toes.
Wedge Tailed Eagle
We were lucky enough to see a couple of reptiles. One was an Angle Head Dragon and the other was a small python. Both are quite harmless.
The Dragon was cold and was very happy to sit on a log while we worked around it. This reptile is native to eastern Australian rainforests and rainforest margins. It is usually seen perching on the trunks of small trees or on buttress roots or old stumps. When disturbed, it tends not to dash for cover, but rather slides around the trunk until it is out of view. Its diet includes insects and other creepy crawlies such as spiders and centipedes.
The Jungle Carpet Python, is a type of python found in the rainforests of Queensland, Australia. Adults typically measure 1.5 – 2m in total length, however, females are known to grow to over 2.5 m. As with most species of snakes, females are typically larger than males. These are tree living snakes and are strictly carnivorous. They feed on medium-sized rodents such as rats and mice.
O’Reilly’s corporate logo is the Regent Bower Bird. We were surprised (and very grateful) when on one morning , one of these birds came into the feeding station outside the dining room window as we were eating breakfast. These birds are very hard to see in the wild, so we made a mad dash for our cameras before it went away again. It’s a small, slim bowerbird with a long, straight slender bill. The male bird is glossy jet black with bright gold on its head, nape and wings. The male’s bill and eye are yellow. It feeds mainly on fruit which it finds in the forest canopy and upper layers of the forest.
Just after it left, we had another surprise visit – this time from a Satin Bowerbird that also came to the feeding station, We had seen its bower in the forest earlier. Satin Bowerbirds are renowned for decorating their bowers with all manner of blue objects collected from the nearby vicinity. These odds and ends may comprise feathers from parrots, flowers, seed-pods and fruits, butterfly wings and artificial items such as ball-point pens, matchboxes, string, marbles and pieces of glass. Occasionally, objects of different colours, especially greenish-yellow, are also used where blue items are difficult to procure. These are carefully arranged around the bower to assist the male to attract a mate. After mating at the bower, the female bird will build a nest in a tree.
Mature male birds have violet-blue eyes and are uniformly coloured black, however, light diffraction by the surface texture of the feathers results in an almost metallic sheen giving them a deep shiny blue appearance. The satin bowerbird is common in rainforest and tall tree’d forests in eastern Australia from southern Queensland to Victoria.
I still have several hundred photos to process so I will be busy for a few more days to come.
You will Find Michael Snedic’s website here