Thursday, 19 November 2020

2020 The Year of Covid Lockdown.

 Well as another year is drawing to a close I'm sitting in Howard Springs Quarantine Facility doing my mandatory 2 weeks after another roster at work, It seems like this year has been a never ending cycle of Work and Quarantine, at least I will be home for Christmas this year. What began as a very promising year after the devastating Bushfires of New Year's Eve was completely turned upside down in March with the rise of Corona Virus aka, COVID19. As I flew to work in early March I couldn't help but wonder if I was going to be able to get back home at the end of my swing. As I turned out I have been able to get home after every swing but it has been challenging every time with the changing circumstances and mandatory Quarantine every time. I have managed to get away for a few days with my wife most times home but only for short trips within Western Australia as any interstate travel in impossible with the hard border closure. Early March was the last time I was over in Sambarland and as we drove home across the Nullarbor news was just breaking of a mystery flu like illness in China, who would have thought before the month was out we would be behind a closed border.

I was sitting outside my room in Quarantine this afternoon and filmed a couple of juvenile Blue Faced Honeyeaters to pass the time, when I went to download the video I stumbled on a couple of clips of a Knobby Fallow Buck I filmed the last time I was in Sambarland.   

I watched him feed across the paddock and back into the timber and I decided to let him walk as I already had a freezer full of meat. The Blue Faced Honey Eaters had led me to stumble upon these long forgotten clips and remind me of how the year has changed. My first trip home was a write off as far as venturing out was concerned with my 2 weeks mandatory quarantine and the whole state in regional lockdown. My next time home we were able to get out camping for a couple of days after my Quarantine period was up, and we had a very relaxing time in the Gascoigne region of Western Australia.

Campfire in the Gascoigne.

Old Masonic Lodge, Cue Western Australia.

Big Bell Ghost Town, Western Australia.

Swag and a fire, what more do you need?

Then all too soon I was on my way back to work and another round of Quarantine on my return. I put my time in Quarantine to good use and set about painting the house, managing to get half of it done before my 2 weeks was completed. Once my quarantine was over we got away to Denmark in the South West for a couple of nights and did Tree Top Walk near Walpole and stayed in a lovely little cottage at Karma Chalet's Denmark.

The Tree top walk through the Tingle trees at Walpole

The cottage outside.

And Inside everything you could need including a Fire. 

Then all too soon it was off to work again for another round of Quarantine on the way home only this time with a twist.  Melbourne had an outbreak of COVID19 infections and went into lockdown, the rest of the country reacted and on our return to the Northern Territory instead of being allowed to pass through the airport and Quarantine at home we were all sent to Howard Springs Quarantine Facility for 2 weeks. Fortunately we were able to secure exemptions from quarantining again on our return to Western Australia, though this required the use of a special chartered flight. I spent some of the time home finishing off the other half of the painting and cleaning up the back yard. We also had the pleasure of watching a New Holland Honeyeater raise a pair of chicks in a potted tree under our pergola. We then took a few days out to visit Pemberton and my friend Roy, who lives close by. We spent a day with Roy, who kindly gave us some Marron from his dam, and the rest of the time relaxing and Trout fishing although no Trout were caught.

Feeding time for baby birds.

Feeding time for hungry Humans, Marron courtesy of Roy.

 Early morning mist on the Trout Lake.

An evening thunderstorm at Howard Springs.
The Juvenile Blue Faced Honeyeaters at Howard Springs.

That pretty much rounded out my time at home this year so far and brings me to where I am today, back in Howard Springs Quarantine Facility. Where I am currently passing my time taking pictures and videos of the thunderstorms at the beginning of the Wet Season and the wildlife inside the wire.

Friday, 8 May 2020

To all those I owe my success, I thank you.

With all that has been going on lately with the Corona Virus Restrictions and the Bushfires before that, I thought I would take the opportunity to reflect on the hunting I have been able to do so far over the course of my life. Over the years I have been extremely fortunate and have had the opportunity to hunt many different species in many different places and countries but I consider myself a relative novice when it comes to hunting Sambar. When it comes to these big brown Deer I am still putting the complete picture together myself, it is a steep learning curve. I have had and still do have some very good friends that are well accomplished and renowned Deer hunters and often seek their advice on things I am unsure of. One likes to make me work things out myself and often answers a question with a question, though at the same time pointing me in the direction of the answer I am after. Another is more direct and straight forward, all will remain unnamed out of respect for their privacy, however they will know who they are when they read this.  I am truly lucky to have these friends and I thank them for their ongoing friendship and company. 

The earliest picture I have of myself hunting, Tuppal Creek Deniliquin Circa 1988

I started hunting many years ago in the 80's 1987 to be exact, having just joined the navy I was in Melbourne and Wednesday afternoons were reserved for sport. Not being of the team sporting type, I was relieved to discover clay pigeon shooting was one of the sports on offer. I took to it straight away and it was not too long before I was invited to shoot Starlings with some of the guys on the weekends. Less than a year later i found myself in Sydney and being as I was to be based there for the next few years I promptly acquired a firearms license and bought my first rifle, a nice CMC Mountaineer by Howa in .243 win with a 6x40 tasco scope in a set of Hilver rings. I still have that rifle though it sports it's 3rd barrel now, yes it has seen some use over the years. Weekends were spent in the Riverina or the Western plains hunting Goats, pigs and foxes, I soon developed a liking for spotlighting foxes and purchased a CMC in .222 rem specifically for them. My then Girlfriend's family were from the riverina and I got plenty of invites from her family friends to shoot rice and grazing country around Deniliquin. It was here in the now destroyed Conargo Hotel I met a man who would over the course of a few years teach me to understand Foxes and to actually shoot. He was once a fox shooter himself and had since given the game away but what he taught me was invaluable, he has since passed on but the lessons he gave remain.

It was through him I met another man, a Sambar hunter. I had mentioned I wished to try and hunt Sambar and he offered to introduce me to a friend of his that lived in Myrtleford. Plans were made and I was introduced to his friend one early morning in July 1991, I will never forget the heads on his lounge room wall when we were shown inside the. I knew then I had been introduced to the right person, he showed us where to camp on a map and where to hunt and we set off for a month of Sambar hunting in the Buffalo Valley. It was not long before I discovered how little I actually knew of stalking and hunting in general, but a chance encounter with a Stag early one morning only served to spur me on. I was eager to learn and during this trip a chance encounter with a lost hound and a phone call to its owner led to another introduction and an offer to join a hound crew for a hunt.

The very first Sambar Preach I found, Buffalo River Valley, Circa 1991.

Back to the Stag, I was travelling around the fringe of a pine plantation early in the morning and suddenly there in front of me not 50 meters away was a Sambar Stag, he was huge, (32" to be exact but more of that later) I was sporting a Sako .30-06 using 180grn Winchester fail-safe projectiles. I put the cross-hairs on his chest then had second thoughts as to how effective the .30-06 would be against this huge animal. I dropped the rifle off my shoulder and stared at him as he sniffed the air, I shouldered that rifle another 4 times but never fired the shot. I had doubts as to the effectiveness of the .30-06 against this animal, little did I know how effective a .30-06 actually is at the time, and for some insane reason I thought " I've been hunting 2 days and seen this Stag staring at me for 5 minutes, and if it's that easy I will hold out for a bigger one". I let that Stag walk away, never to be seen by me again.  How do I know it was 32" well I later mentioned it to my Sambar hunter friend, he chastised me saying I will probably never see another like that one in my life, he has been right to this day. He kept an eye on the catchment where I saw that stag and 2 months later shot it himself. Do I regret not shooting that Stag, at the time I did but now i don't, I hadn't earned it and it would not have meant as much to me as the one I am yet to take will.

The very first Sambar Rub I found, Buffalo river Valley, circa 1991.

The following years saw me at sea for a lot of the time and I took my rifles with me, I made use of the opportunity to hunt where ever I could when we were in a foreign country, a trip to a local gun shop was usually all that was required and a day or so later I was often out hunting. This was between 1991 and about 1996 and I had a wonderful time returning to the Victorian Alps during winter to hunt Sambar whenever I could. I was camped up at lake Cobbler Hut, the night Australia recorded it's lowest ever temperature, -23 at Charlotte's Pass, I will never forget that night. Sleeping on the ground in a 3 sided hut high on the Cobbler Plateau, I can still feel it when I think about it. I still enjoy camping above the snow line in Winter, however my sleeping arrangements have vastly improved since those days. It was during these years I learned the value of synthetics " polar fleece" over cotton when hunting in the wet, I returned home so cold and frozen from one trip I developed pneumonia which took a month to recover from. In 1992 I turned my long term girlfriend into my Wife and I am pleased to say she has always supported my hunting, I think the worst I have ever got from her was a, "I would prefer you didn't hunt this weekend, I have something I'd like you to do with me this weekend". I wonder how many guy;s are that lucky?.

Some of the Pig Tusks I have collected over the years.

The tracks of a very large boar I was chasing for several months in 1998.

1997 saw the birth of my son and we began the task of raising a family, I moved from NSW to WA due to work and my hunting took a backseat for a number of years, hunting opportunities in WA are limited and raising a family took precedence. During this time I took to spearfishing and through my diving club I met a man who's  owned a concession in South Africa. He returned to South Africa some years later and we keep in touch to this day, my Wife and I have visited him there numerous times and I have been afforded the opportunity to hunt a vast array of South African Game all the way from the East Cape through the Karoo up into the Kalahari and across to the Limpopo and Mpumalunga on the Mozambique border. During this period I met another man in South Africa who has become a very close friend, we too have hunted together extensively and he has since moved his young family to New Zealand and I have plans to hunt there with him in the very near future. As my son grew I involved him in my spearfishing and hunting and we hunted together in Africa for 3 weeks prior to him joining the Army, that is time together I will forever cherish. I changed jobs a few times over the years and have been lucky the rosters I work have allowed me to hunt during the week reserving the weekends for my family, something I am sure has contributed to the longevity of my marriage. 

Hunting in the Kalahari with my son, his Red Hartebeest, without doubt the hardest animal he has hunted.

My Spearfishing took me to Mexico and the United States and it was here that I met guy's that went on to become great friends, and we have dived together now for many years. I have been fortunate enough to be afforded the opportunity to spend time with them hunting Elk, Mule Deer and Black Bear in the mountains of Colorado.
I will never forget my first encounter with a bugling Bull Elk, a huge slob of a Bull 7x7 antlers in full rut, slobber just dripping from his nose as he Bugled not 30 yards from me, me pinned in plain view, arrow nocked unable to draw my bow. I eventually drew on that bull only to have him bust me at half draw, but what an experience. I plan to return to the mountains of Colorado to hunt Elk again as soon as I can, next time hopefully I am successful. I have been offered the opportunity to hunt Canada Geese and Turkey along with White Tail Deer and plan on doing so just as soon as I can. 

Hunting Elk in Colorado.

I have since purchased a home in a Northeast Victorian town, with views of the mountains and on a good day I can glass Sambar making their way up to the ridge lines in the early morning from my back verandah, well that was before the fires. I have made a few local friends and hunt often with a couple of guy's, I hunt most often during the week when the bush is quiet, I leave the weekends to the houndmen and reserve them for my wife, an arrangement that has served us well over the years. I still enjoy hunting Sambar and I am still to take a representative Stag, I have found a few over the years, trail cameras verify their status as Trophy animals but I am yet to encounter them in person. I have no problem keeping the freezer full but still find that one trophy Stag elusive. I thought 2020 would be my year of success up until the busfires of New Years eve and then the Corona virus restrictions, now I see they are being eased a little and we will be able to get out and hunt again soon, however my Stags may have to wait another year of two, if they are even still alive. I have been watching 3 in particular for the past 2 and a half years, or rather my trail cameras have, and I have picked up cast antlers that verify their size at just over 30' inches. Still I wait and continue to learn from those friends that have afforded me their time and advice, to all of them I thank you.   

One of the Stags I have bee following for a few years, I hop he is still alive after the fires.



Saturday, 18 January 2020

Bushfires tear through Sambarland

New Years Eve is supposed to be a happy celebratory occasion, this year was different for many people. I was preparing for a night of celebration when the phone started pinging with warnings. I have the Vic Emergency App on my phone that alerts me to emergency situations within a certain proximity of my house. A quick look showed a bushfire had started to the Northwest of my house, over the course of then evening the alerts turned from watch and act, to prepare to evacuate then to Evacuate immediately. I was fortunate to have someone looking after my house and they messaged me they were wetting down the house and garden in preparation. This was somewhat of a relief but I was still more than a little worried. The mountain behind my house is only 2km away and embers were travelling up to 10km and starting new fires.

View from my house before the fire.
 I was getting regular updates for a while then power to the town was cut and I knew it would be a few days before I could regain contact with my neighbours and probably weeks before power was restored. Oh well its up to the fire fighters and the wind now I thought as I opened a beer "happy New Year" at least the house and vehicles are insured!

The following day I received a short message form my neighbour saying they were safe and all the homes in our street were safe, that was a huge relief as I knew from the weather and wind the fire front was well away from the town now. A message the next day confirmed my freezer was still solid and holding up well with no power and emergency power was expected to be connected to town the following day.  The message also contained a couple of photos of the fire approaching and burning the mountain behind my house.

The following day I received a message from the power company to confirm that emergency power had been restored to town with truck mounted generators, then a message from my neighbour to confirm that power had been restored and everything was ok, however for some strange reason the ice cream in my freezer had " not survived the fire". 
The town was then evacuated of residents as there was no water or sewer services, residents would have to stay away until services were restored. Keeping in contact was a little easier as residents were accommodated in larger regional centres. Over the course of the next week utility crews worked to restore services and residents were allowed to return during daylight hours only, provided they had photo ID as proof of residence. 

Just under 2 weeks after the fire mains power was restored and residents were allowed to return to town to take stock of the damage and begin cleaning up. Cleaning up after this bush fire would not be a pleasant task, there were thousands of  head of dead livestock that would need to be removed, homes and buildings destroyed, the town next to us lost over 20 homes, fortunately no lives were lost when the fire tore through the town, but sadly 2 fire fighters lost their lives in a near by area. 

I will be heading over next month to clean up my house as no doubt it will be smoke affected but that's nothing a heavy clean wont fix. I will also be taking a look at all the area that burned as no doubt quite a few if not all of my cameras were destroyed, and sadly I fear the Deer I have been following for the past few years will most likely have perished, only time will tell there. That brings me to the question of where to from her what next.

Well I have decided to replace my cameras and set some new ones in an effort to record the  miraculous way the bush regenerates from such a devastating event, I want to record the regrowth of the plants and the return of the animals. It's going to be a long project, in excess of 2 years I suspect but it will be fun watching the charred remains of what I love return to it's former beauty.

Sunday, 22 December 2019

Christmas Greetings and another year rolls on.

Well it only seems like yesterday we were welcoming in the new year and yet here we are preparing to see the end of it already. As I look back on the year I find myself  referring to photographs to remember what exactly I did in any given month. This year has been a busy year for my wife and myself, we started the year off with a trip to our holiday house in Sambarland. Wed have been busy renovating this house for quite some time now and the end is finally in sight with only a few more jobs remaining. As usual we camped our way across the country stopping at a couple of places along the way.

Swag Camp in EasternWA  

Mundrabilla Bra Tree.

Eastern WA rock pool.

One of many small water catchments scattered through the Goldfields.
 Well that pretty much saw out January and February, March saw me back at work and on returning we once again made the trip East to work on the house. I took out the old bathroom and toilet wall combining the two rooms then built a new wall to split the bathroom in two and cut a doorway into the master bedroom creating a bathroom and ensuite.

Walls removed and doorway installed.

New wall and flooring.

Waterproofing and tiling was next on the agenda but that had to wait as we ran out of time and had to return to Perth, my job getting in the way of things as it does. I did however manage a couple of days out in the bush hunting to fill the freezer and managed to find a small cast antler as well.

Cast antler and a cupa.

Work saw us pretty busy for the next couple of months and it was late June before we made the trip across again. More work on the house was undertaken along with a couple of days out in the bush, we had a couple of good falls of snow and we took some time out to play with our dog Elly, she loves the snow.

The bathroom was waterproofed and the tiles laid out ready for tiling unfortunately time beat us and we were unable to get the tiling completed as we had wanted to. We returned to Perth and I returned to work. July And August were busy at work with a fair bit going on over the cooler months and lots of maintenence was carried out. 

September and October were interesting months for both of us as I had an Elk and Bear hunt in Colorado with friends, this was a first for me and something I would love to do again, even just for the scenery and sounds. I had arranged for my wife to meet me in LA after my hunt and took her on a short 10 day trip through the West of the US. We went to Sequoia and Yosamite National Parks in Califonia then off to Las Vegas Nevada  and finally to Williams and the Grand Canyon in Arizona. It was an amazing trip and something we plan on doing again and exploring more of the US together.

October saw me back at work and very busy for my whole swing commuting every day to a remote facility with a crew for maintenance work, very early mornings and late nights keeping things on track. But all up it was actually quite a rewarding swing with a lot achieved.

November saw us make the trip East again to Sambarland and more work on the house, this time I completed the Ensuite bathroom and got a few other jobs finished up. A little painting here and there some work in the garden and some time in the bush as well and I managed to secure a couple of nice Fallow deer for the freezer. I pulled out some of my cameras for the fire season and downloaded the contents of the cards( which i posted in an earlier entry).

We encountered all kinds of weather extremes in November, we had snow the first two weekends we were there and relatively mild weather for the remainder of the trip, however we encountered high winds, dust storms with limited visibility and 45c temperatures on the way home. It was worst in the town of Mildura but extended from Balranald to Renmark, the other side of the dust storm the temperature dropped to 19c in less than an hour, very crazy weather indeed.

I returned to work in late November for a very intense 3 weeks work that I am glad to see the back of with the weather being horribly hot and humid without a breath of wind and that was on nightshift, I felt sorry for the dayshift guys that were working in the sun. Well I am home now and its late December and only a few days out from Christmas, I am busy making preparations for the day, Lights out around the house lawns mowed and edged, all that kind of stuff. So I would like to widh you all a very Merry Christmas with loved one, and a happy and fruitful New Year. I will see you all again in the New Year and look forward to posting my adventures, yes I have a few planned.

Sunday, 24 November 2019

My latest card dump from my trail cameras.

Well here it is I finished going through all my photos from my 3rd camera and I hope you enjoy the pictures,There's some interesting sequences in there. In particular is a group of young deer playing around and chasing each other. Also of note it is rare to see a lone deer on the camera the exception being a couple of big Stag's.