Our favourite place in Sydney

The main reason for taking this trip is wildlife watching, and we have high hopes of seeing lots of interesting critters and birds in Tasmania. In Sydney we thought we might spot a feral pigeon or two if we were lucky, but otherwise had minimal expectations.  The plethora of Sacred Ibis mentioned in the previous post was the first clue that we were being unduly pessimistic.  The next day we took a bus to Centennial Park, which we hadn’t even heard of before we arrived, and had a great morning.  Places like this demonstrate just how good urban wildlife watching can be.

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The park was proclaimed in January 1888, exactly one hundred years after the founding of the colony of New South Wales. It was dedicated to the people, and there were certainly lots of people there when we visited, all making the most of this great opportunity to get closer to nature without leaving the city limits.  Centennial Park constitutes a welcome green oasis in the concrete and asphalt jungle, a mixture of open grassy areas, trees, ponds and cultivated beds, with a few statues thrown in to add a bit of variety.  In the woodland area we were delighted to see a roost of Sulphur Crested Cockatoos, including this one emerging from a hole in a tree trunk where she presumably had eggs or chicks.

img_9711In the same area is the largest colony of Grey-headed Flying Foxes (a type of “megabat”) in the Sydney area. They feed by night and during the day we would have expected to see them hanging upside down, immobile, sleeping off the excesses of the night before.  However they proved to be very active, squabbling with their neighbours and occasionally taking off like this one for a quick flight around the treetops.

The Laughing Kookaburra, an oversized relative of the UK’s native kingfisher, is one of Australia’s most familiar birds. We were amazed when this one flew into the lower branches of one of the very trees in which the flying foxes were hanging out a few metres above.
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The ponds also proved productive. Black Swans were present in abundance; they are handsome birds, with their crimson beaks contrasting vividly with their jet black plumage.  Amongst the swans were a couple of pelicans, their enormous bills making them an unmistakable and comical sight:

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All of which reminds me of an old birding joke that I feel obliged to share with any non-birders reading this blog:

Q: How do you convert a pelican into an American soul singer?

A: Whack it in the oven at gas mark 8 until its Bill Withers

Think about it.

I can only apologise for any distress that appalling joke has caused to the more delicate followers of Platypus Pandemonium. On the other hand I’m tempted to urge everyone not to worry, after all it’s gonna be a lovely day … (lovely day, lovely day)

Sorry!

Doing Sydney

img_9499We have just three days to ‘do’ Sydney and gravitate naturally to the harbour, where most of the action is to be found. Sydney Harbour Bridge is known locally, and with affection I think, as the coat-hanger.  It’s not a pretty sight, but I can’t help but be impressed.  Strong, solid, dependable, conveying a positive image of the city, a marketing executive’s dream.

Just across the water from the coat-hanger is Sydney Opera House. To be honest, I’m not totally impressed by the view from the quayside, but we take a ferry ride to see it from the water.  This is a better angle, front on, and from here it looks every bit as good as I’d expected.

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Between the coat-hanger and the Opera House is the Circular Quay, clearly the place where all the action is. We are visiting over a weekend, and the place is heaving with people catching ferries, admiring the cruise ships and generally taking in the atmosphere.  Buskers, mime artists and human statues all draw in the crowds: here a group of Aboriginals knock out a tune on a didgeridoo, there a man in a bronze suit sits apparently in mid-air (how do they do that?), further along another man plays an accordion tunelessly.  All human life is here.

We have a drink in the outdoor bar of the Museum of Contemporary Art, watching the comings and goings of vessels at the Circular Quay. The two girls behind the bar are Brits.  I ask if they’ll ever go back to the UK.  The older one, from Edinburgh, has been here a year and isn’t sure.  The younger one has been here just three weeks and doesn’t share her doubts.  “Never,” she says, “why would I leave this to go back to London?”  She gestures at the throngs of people clearly having a very good time under a hot Sydney sun, and I take her point.

We get a bus to Bondi Beach, just to see what all the fuss is about, and are underwhelmed. We are not beach people so our view is hardly unbiased, but to me it looks like little more than a big sandpit.  There are no surfers on the ocean, just one small guy walking down the street dwarfed by his enormous board.  I scan the sea hopefully for sharks but am disappointed.  Even some half decent art deco buildings can’t make up for the fact that Bondi Beach is a let-down.

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But Sydney has other, more pleasant, surprises up its sleeve. Early on our first morning we spot this bird next to a small area of water.  It’s an Australian White Ibis. We are so excited that we nearly miss our hop-on hop-off bus as we try to photograph it.  But when we get down to the Circular Quay there are several others all strolling around, totally unconcerned by the hustle and bustle that surrounds them.  Later in the day as we walk back to the hotel we spot more in Hyde Park, close to the Anzac Memorial.  Australian White Ibis are everywhere in Sydney.

So, a bird that seems wildly exotic to a British birder is as common as muck out here. I think we’ll like Australia.

No worries!

We struggle down to breakfast, red-eyed and jetlagged.

Our accommodation styles itself a ‘boutique hotel.’ Its cafe is popular with the locals.  They stream in off the street for pastries, muffins, cappuccinos to go.

The seating is made from re-purposed church pews, a blatant attempt to add a bit of character and atmosphere. We sit at a table in the corner.  Beside us is a shelf of second-hand books for swapping.  The authors are familiar: Karin Slaughter, Patricia Cornwell, Tim Winton.  And Stephen King.  Always, on swap shelves like these, there’s a Stephen King novel looking worn out and a bit sorry for itself.   Rather like us after a sleepless overnight flight from Singapore, the highlight of which was the eerie glow of an outback bushfire spotted in the darkness from 35,000 feet.

A large photo-book of New Zealand catches Julie’s eye, by a guy called Craig Potton. He sounds vaguely familiar, but in my befuddled state I’m not quite sure why.  His photos are excellent however, and New Zealand looks like fun.  Maybe we should visit one day and drop in on Craig while we’re there – I suspect we’ve got stuff in common.

The waitress, depressingly young and eager, bounces over to take our orders.

“French toast and berry compote,” I say. Then, as an afterthought: “And can I have some crispy bacon on the side?”

“Sure,” she replies, “no worries.”

No worries! The national catchphrase, emblem of a carefree and can-do culture.  It’s official then, we’ve finally made it to Oz.