Friday, March 21, 2014

Photography Basics for Digital Cameras

I am a visual learner and just love the photography lessons on Jamielyn Nye's blog. She has a series of entries about the complexities of camera settings and other photography tips with lots of simple diagrams and examples.

She leads up to the Exposure Triangle by first explaining aperture, shutter speed and ISO setting in a very simple way.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Tasmanian Devil Research

I've just returned from a trip with Curious Traveller as a volunteer on a Tasmanian Devil Research project. It was a fantastic experience and certainly was meaningful travel.

If you like to travel with a purpose, keep an eye on the Curious Traveller website or follow Curious Traveller on Facebook.

Here is my journal entry with some photos for the expedition...

Saturday 1 March
As arranged, we left home at 6am, collected Brian then headed north to Launceston with a breakfast stop at Campbell Town. At Launceston we collected Julie and Garry at the airport then Jimsy, Matt and Lucinda at their respective accommodation.

We then headed west, stopping to collect our lunch from the bakery in Wynyard and to eat it at Fossil Bluff. I even found a small rock with shell fossils in it and at the lookout, a plant I thought I should know. (I eventually found it to be Busaria spinosa.)

Busaria spinosa

On west again then south to Arthur River where we will stay in a very luxurious beachc house for the next five nights. After dumping our things we went for a walk down to “The End of the World” along the river then along the beach. The weather is beautiful and only slightly windy. There were dozens of mammal tracks along the beach and Amelia and I had a fabulous time photographing them with my camera. They were later identified as pademelon, devil, wombat and various unknown shore birds. The rocks were all fossilised ripples and had a beautiful range of quite vivid orange-brown colours in the evening sunlight. More plants to identify later as Poa poiformis, Lagurus sp. And Leucophyta brownii. We also saw Pacific Gulls.

Tasmanian Devil

We met the four scientists when they returned from setting the first traps – Menna, Chris, Gini and Lilly. We all shared a barbeque dinner of local steak (yum!) and after Menna's talk, had some danish then dropped into bed by about 10:30.
Ian cooking the barbeque
The view from our beach house
 Sunday 2 March
Up at 5am and, after a quick breakfast, we headed for our sites to start our surveys on the four northern sites with Lily. Our team emptied 15 traps at each of four sites. We found 1 Tassie devil, 1 bandicoot, and 1 brushtail possum (that got away before measurements were taken) in the traps. The animals were weighed, tissue samples and blood taken and other particulars recorded. It was quite something to see how calm the Tassie devil actually is when being handled. I photographed a beautiful orchid, Dipodium roseum.

We returned to the house for lunch then busied ourselves during the afternoon with a choice of activities. I chose to update diary, ID various plants I'd collected then watched one of the video cards from the night cameras that others had gone out to collect.

Chris gave a talk about his research area on the effects of losing the top predators in a community (e.g. Tasmanian Devils). Dinner was delightful again with chocolate coated strawberries for dessert. We'll all end up with bad dreams tonight.

Some people went out counting via spotlighting tonight but I decided to stay in and catch up on a much needed early night.

Monday 3 March
Up early again after no bad dreams and this time was teamed up with Jimsy and Chris to do bird counts and habitat surveys at the four southern sites.

At the coastal heathland sites the vegetation through which we had to bushbash was about waist high and very dense. It was really quite awkward, especially as it was early and cool and the dew made our shoes and pants quite wet. At least it meant that snakes were not very active. No sightings so far but I'm sure that will change as this is peak snake season.

Black Rat
Spotted Quoll in carnivore trap

After we had finished the site surveys we were rostered to do Forest Raven count while driving along a 10km section of the road – Arthur River to West Point turn off. Although we'd seen quite a few during our bird surveys there were not many visible from the road at midday.

Back home for lunch and to try to identify the key plants of the day. At least the plants here are not quite as strange to me as the ones in the Kimberley and there are a few plant books this time.

Ian then decided to take some of us south to Rebecca Lagoon. There we had some photography tips that were very helpful, especially for those with more sophisticated cameras than mine. The lagoon was a fantastic swale lagoon and a haven for black swans and other water birds. By climbing the well vegetated dunes we had great views of both the lagoon and the Southern Ocean.

Back for a talk by Gini about her PhD on tracking devils, quolls and feral cats then a delicious roast dinner.

Tonight it was my turn to go spotlighting. As well as lots of pademelons and a few Bennets wallabies we saw a rabbit and a large black wombat. When we arrived home there was a bit of time for a chat then late to bed by 11pm.

Tuesday 4 March
Up at 5:30am and out counting by 6:30am. This time I was with Menna and Lucinda counting birds along 4 transects in the north of the site. It was very windy (but warm) so there were not many birds to be seen or heard. On the way back we had to count scats (poo) and identify the animals who left them. We found wonbat, devil, pademelon and Bennets Wallaby. On our final transect we also had to do measurements and descriptions of the habitat which involved lots of plant identifications. We now have a huge collection of plant pieces and have identified most with the help of various books, Menna and Lily.

Back home for lunch then out again with Menna, Chris, Julie and Matt to do more habitat surveys. This was fine until the last site which required lots of bushbashing through chest-high, tightly-packed shrubs. This meant that by the time I got home I was done in.

Lots of time to chat and update internet tonight using Gail's phone as a hot spot. The sunset was fantastic and we all ate dinner outside tonight. I'll be pleased to collapse into bed having achieved nearly 16000 steps today.

Wednesday 5 March
Our last early rise this morning! After breakfast Menna, Gail, Ian, Amelia and I headed out to do the bird, diggings and habitat surveys on the remaining northern transects. It was really cool and overcast with a strong westerly wind which made hearing the birds really difficult and also kept the birds inactive.

The vegetation surveys required a bit of bushbashing and I ended up falling over gracefully into the heath when I got tangled in the knee-high scrub.

Back home for lunch and a start on the data entry for the vegetation surveys which I will continue on my return to Hobart.

At about 3pm we left for Woolnorth in the extreme north west of Tasmania. We had a brief stop to look more closely at an echidna that was trying to cross the road.

Although Woolnorth had started as a huge sheep station it is now concentrating on dairy and the milk is powdered and sent to China. Mike, the CEO of the Van Diemens Land Company that runs Woolnorth, met us at the gate. I chose to be gate opener in his car (with Lucinda) as he took us to various vantage points and one of their rotary milking sheds to see the last cows go through for the day.
The size of Woolnorth is impressive and the views of the adjoining wind farms, wind-swept headlands and cliffs, islands and Southern Ocean are all stunning.The wind was quite extreme though Mike then took us home to his beautiful house that also had fabulous views to the east.

There we had a barbeque dinner whilst waiting for the Tassie Devils to appear for their dinner. After dark a freshly dead wallaby and tied it to a stake. Not too long after this the wild devils smelled it and were happily engaged in a feeding frenzy while we watched and took millions of photos. We were lucky enough to also have a Spotted Tailed Quoll come right up to the closed glass doors.

It was a long and tiring drive home on dirt roads watching for the huge population of pademelons and other wildlife so that we did not add to the road kill tally. The other car (scientists) stopped to move a pademelon road kill off the road so that the devils were not attracted to it and put themselves in danger. On examination they found a healthy foey inside just beginning to get its fur. There were the phone calls between cars in and out of reception as we had Julie and Garry with us who are wildlife carers. Julie decided it was probably old enough to try to save so when we arrived home Julie took on the responsibility and kipt it warm in a few beanies and gave it water every two hours through the night.

I got home and just collapsed into bed after midnight. 

Thursday 6 March
It was wonderful to sleep in. Woke at about 6:30am and took my time to pack then helped to pack some of the household gear and had breakfast.

Ian drove the volunteers in the bus as we left Arthur River and headed east along the coast to Burnie. There we had another pit stop at the park then headed for one of the vets. There had been a series of phone calls around Tassie to find a carer to take over with the joey and she had suggested that she would pick it up from the vet later that day. We named the joey Gini after our Gini who had found it.

After a coffee for some we headed on to Mole Creek and the Trowunna Devil Sanctuary. There we had a light lunch and a talk from Androo Kelly, the owner/manager. This was followed by a tour including lots of behind the scenes sections that tourists would not normally see. The experience at Trowunna was highlighted by three spotted tailed quolls that came up to me right at face level when every one else had moved away. I had to quickly take my camera off zoom because they were too close to me.

We then drove to our accommodation (Mole Creek Holiday Village) and settled in. What a beautiful cabin I am in – we've named it the “big house”. We have two cabins but the big house is our dining and lounging area.

Off to the Mole Creek Tavern to buy our drinks and go to sit beside the creek that runs through the pub grounds. We had been told there was a platypus there and lo-and-behold out came the platypus. What a joy to cap off all our experiences during the expedition! The only significant animal we have not seen is a Tasmanian Tiger and that is not likely.

We had dinner at the pub and Gail was able to relax a bit as she did not have to cook. There were the very informal thank yous and Jimsy and I, as veteran Australian Geographic scientific expeditioners, had written our thanks to the Curious Traveller and UTAS teams in the form of a very unpolished poem...

After tessellating cases and loading up the bus
We drove to Arthur River where we met the rest of us
To research Tassie Devils with the UTAS science crew
Led by the tireless Menna with Chris, Gini, Lily too.

Menna as our leader led us far along the track
Where we met all sorts of birds and quolls and devils in the sack,
We were scratched and burnt and tired but the data was all done
And now our journey's ended we'll remember all the fun.

Menna, thanks for mentoring and teaching us so much
And thanks to all the UTAS team for our part in your research.
We learnt about the west coast plants and habitats and weathers
How to ID poos and watch real scientific methods

But most of all we thank you Gail, Ian and Amelia
For your thoughtful, calm and patient cheer and even washing windows.
Such a crowd of disparate vollies, we were worse than cats to heard
But you coped with us superbly with just a kind word.

The dinners were delicious and breakfasts were quite beaut
With coffee, chocolate strawberries and skroggin for the ute
Slices, eggs, home made dishes, nothing goes to waste
But as we've found this week that everything has gone to our waist.

So thank you Gini, Lily, Chris and our leader Menna
Ian, Gail and also young Amelia
For all our fun and science we've shared together
You've satisfied our inner need to be a curious traveller.

After dinner we returned to the “big house” to watch “The case of the baby-faced assassin” which I had bought at the sanctuary shop. So the evening ended with a movie, a chocolate and a glass of wine before crashing into bed late again.

Friday 7 March
Jimsy and I seem to have the same sleep patterns. We were both up soon after 6am and spent the morning quietly catching up on diaries and photo sorts before the others got up at about 8am.

A late breakfast and goodbyes to the UTAS team and Gail, Amelia and Brian before the bus set off for Launceston.

We had a detour to Liffie Falls with another detour because the map was not as clear as it should have been. We walked through forest of huge trees and giant tree ferns and saw lots of filmy ferns and bracket fungi. Because there are no termites in Tasmania the old trees rot more slowly and are very visible in the canopy as well as on the forest floor. There are many old stumps left from hand logging days with the step hold cuts still showing.

Axe cut step holds in a huge trunk.
Ian and Eucalyptus obliqua (50m tall - The Big Tree)
Our lunch stop was at the Deloraine Deli which sold all sorts of Tasmanian deli foods and bottled goods.

On then to drop off Lucinda, Matt and Jimsy then into town to drop Julie and Garry at their hotel thus saying goodbye to the last of the Curious Travellers. Ian and I then continued south to Hobart (2 more hours) and home at last. We three then collapsed into bed by 8pm for a long long sleep.