Birds of Australia, Part 2 of 2

Nankeen Night Heron, Kakadu, Aus.

Nankeen Night Heron, Kakadu, Aus.

My previous post highlighted some of the many colorful and unusual birds of Australia, and today we’ll cover the little penguin and a few other special birds from Down Under.


Red-browed Finch, Australia

Red-browed Finch, Australia

One favorite sighting was the little penguin on Kangaroo Island, just off the southern coast.


Penguins are only found in the southern hemisphere, many reside in the colder climates of Antarctica. Flightless seabirds, penguins are warm-blooded, and have feathers and lay eggs like other birds.


Eudyptula minor Bruny 1.jpg

Little Penguin, Australia. Photo: J.J. Harrison, courtesy Wikipedia.

The little penguin, found in southern Australia and New Zealand, is the smallest penguin on earth.  More info here. 


A ranger had told us to go to this coastal corner at dark and look around the rocks. He warned not to turn on our “torch,” because that would startle them.


Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo, Aus.

Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo, Aus.

So there we were in the dark, tripping around between parked cars with steamy windows, looking for another bird.


Eventually, on the other side of the parked cars, a few quietly clambered toward us. I backed up, thinking it was three large rats. But then a few more appeared over the crest of some rocks, and we got a better look.


Wandering Whistling Ducks, Australia

Wandering Whistling Ducks, Australia

Only knee-high, they waddled among the rocks and in about ten minutes they had all disappeared into their burrows.


Another favorite was in Queensland on the mainland, in a rainforest. The rainforest is a cacophony of vibrant bird song; screeches, squawks, and screams burst forth from the tangle of palms and vines.


Magpie-lark, Granite Gorge, Aus.

Magpie-lark, Granite Gorge, Aus.

One bird song I found especially soothing was the onomatopoeic call of the Wompoo Fruit Dove.


This dove was especially difficult to see or photograph because they are well-hidden in the upper canopy, and have quiet ways.


Amid the loud whip sound of the Eastern Whipbird, and other shrieks, the wompoo dove has a gentle, almost human call: “wom-poo.”


Ptilinopus magnificus -North Queensland, Australia-8.jpg

Wompoo Fruit Dove, Australia. Photo: Jim Bendon, courtesy Wikipedia

Wompoo Dove sound, click here.


Other fun Australian bird anecdotes can be found on previously-written posts:

Spotted Catbird

Paradise Riflebird

Black Noddy


South Alligator River sunset, Kakadu, Aus.

South Alligator River sunset, Kakadu, Aus.

It’s impossible to share the hundreds of birds I experienced in Australia, but I trust the dozen or so I have highlighted in this series gave you a glimpse of the lively bird life in this country.


Emerald Dove, Australia

Emerald Dove, Australia

Photo credit: Athena Alexander unless otherwise specified.




Wicked WalkaboutMystery novel I wrote set in Australia: e-book for $4.99 available here.



Birds of Australia, Part 1 of 2

Rainbow Lorikeet, Australia

Rainbow Lorikeet, Australia

Some of the world’s most colorful birds live in Australia, a continent boasting over 800 bird species.


For anyone new to this curious land–whether they’re a birder or not–seeing brightly-colored parrots and birds as big as humans is a fun adventure.


This week I present a two-part series on the birds of Australia, highlighting photos and anecdotes of some of my favorite birds.


Sulphur-crested Cockatoo

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo

Here is a list of Australia’s birds, impressive with so many exotic species.


Do I have a favorite? Oh yes.


My favorite Australian bird siting:  the southern cassowary.


Southern Cassowary, male, Australia

Southern Cassowary, male, Australia

Listed as threatened and declining, this was a true thrill. The bird was taller and heavier than me, and took an aggressive approach when we unknowingly came close to what we suspected was his nest.


Never have I been so threatened by a bird.


Emu greets us at Mareeba Wetlands

Emu greets us at Mareeba Wetlands

You can read about it here: cassowary and  bowerbirds.


As an American where we have no native parrots, I can never get enough of the parrots, parakeets, and cockatoos in Australia.


It seemed the sky was an endless kaleisdoscope.

Blue-winged Kookaburra, Queensland, Australia

Blue-winged Kookaburra, Queensland, Australia


Crimson Rosella, Australia

Crimson Rosella, Australia

Previously posted stories on parrot-like species: the crimson rosella, rainbow lorikeet, and gang-gang cockatoo.


Look for more bird stories and photos this Friday. I hope you have a great week full of living color, my friends~~


Tawny Frogmouth, Granite Gorge

Tawny Frogmouth, Granite Gorge, Australia







All photos taken by Athena Alexander.

Wicked Walkabout by Jet Eliot

For more wildlife adventures in Australia, here’s a mystery novel I recommend–lively with bird and wildlife scenes.

Click here to buy e-book Wicked Walkabout – $4.99



Platypus, Australia

Platypus, Australia

Many people who live in Australia have never seen a platypus in the wild. They can be seen on the 20-cent coin, postage stamps of the past, and even as a mascot at national events.


But in the wild, the platypus eludes most people.




They are a unique egg-laying mammal with a large duck bill, fur and feet like otters, and a beaver-like paddle tail.


Only found in Australia, their unusual features baffled early naturalists, who didn’t know know how to characterize this “amphibious mole-like” animal (David Collins).


Other interesting features of the platypus include their ability to:

  • locate prey by detecting electric fields;
  • deliver venom powerful enough to kill smaller animals; and
  • use the front feet for propulsion, and the back feet and tail for steering.




Read more about the platypus here.


Our first trip Down Under, we spent an entire day at the Black Swamp searching for the platypus, to no avail.


Eleven years later, on our second trip, we made the playtpus a budgetary priority and hired a guide.


The guide drove us to a small river behind a housing development, where he had seen Ornithorhynchus anatinus before. It was 6 a.m., their hunting time.


Platypus print by John Gould, 1863. Courtesy Wikipedia.

When he told us what we had to do to see the “platy,” it was clear this wildlife adventure would be entirely without dignity.


Platypus are extremely shy and sensitive, so we could not utter a sound; and we could move only when the platypus was submerged.


If the platypus detected any movement, he would disappear into the riverbank mud.


Therefore, we had to freeze in place when the platypus lifted his head out of the water; and move only when he submerged.  “Just do as I do” said the guide.


Excellent swimmers, they paddle quickly along in the water hunting for crayfish and shrimp, their heads frenetically darting back and forth. After about a minute, they come up for air.


Within minutes we spotted one.  Below the water’s surface was the big bill and his 20-inch long (51 cm) body.


We tromped along the shore following him.


Then as soon as the animal lifted his head, came up for air…we stopped. Froze. When he’d go back under water, we’d run again.


Due to the rain, the grass was slippery and the trees limbs were hanging low.  So the three of us were ducking and sliding around, getting muddier by the moment. We each had on a backpack that was soaked and awkwardly swaying as we ran.


It would have helped to laugh at this silly escapade, but we couldn’t make a sound.


This stop-and-go game lasted for nearly one glorious hour, until it had become more light out. By then the platypus was done hunting, and people were heading for work and walking their dogs.


An elusive Australian mammal that lays eggs and looks like a duck, beaver, and otter…sure, I would make a fool of myself any day to see such a creature.

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

Wicked WalkaboutAuthor’s Note: Jet’s mystery novel Wicked Walkabout is set in Australia. Purchase the e-book here for more Australian wildlife fun.





Distribution of the Platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus).png

Platypus range, courtesy Wikipedia. Red=native, yellow=introduced.


Painted Reed Frog

Painted Reed Frog, Botswana, Africa

Painted Reed Frog, Botswana, Africa

This tiny frog, also called the marbled reed frog, can be found in African marshes, reed beds, and other water sources.


An abundant species in sub-Saharan Africa, Hyperolius marmoratus are insectivores; they eat crickets and a variety of other small insects.


Their colors and patterns are extremely variable.  And although their psychedelic backs look wild and dramatic, this tiny frog blends in to the surroundings.


Knowing what to look for, our guide hunted around in the marshy grass and found this frog in an instant.


Less than two inches long (43 mm) and hidden on a reed, he was quietly resting in the sun.


Frogs are fascinating creatures for their calls.  This species spends the day basking, and then at night the male takes up his specific calling site.


He calls consistently from dusk to midnight.  This occurs for a few nights in a row, and eventually the female makes her selection.  The eggs are laid in the water, between 150 and 650 eggs.


More about the African painted reed frog here.


The frog has a relatively large vocal sac that amplifies his call.  During mating season when all the frogs are calling, the chorus is loud and constant.


Walking to my tent after dinner in the dark, the striking chorus emanating from the reeds (that are silent during the day) stopped me in my tracks. We visitors do not linger, however, outdoors in the dark in Africa.


Click on this BBC You Tube clip to hear and see this delightful frog.


A wildly-patterned thumb-sized frog that fills the African night with his earnest song…another reminder of the grandness of life on earth.


Photo credit:  Athena Alexander




Red’s Java House

Red's Java House, San Francisco, California

Red’s Java House, San Francisco, California

Red’s Java House is a San Francisco waterfront restaurant that opened in the 1930s, serving breakfast to the longshoremen and sailors.


In a city where the ruthless competition for Michelin star ratings and world-famous chefs never ends, there are plenty of eateries you can go to for the most delectable food.


Red’s is not one of them.


Inside Red's

Inside Red’s

Patrons go to Red’s for old San Francisco ambience, a bit of the bay, or a rowdy double cheeseburger and beer before the Giants game.  I don’t think there’s a big to-do about the java either.


Located on Pier 30, Red’s Java House started out as Franco’s in the 1930s.  In 1955 the namesake owner Red McGarvey bought it with his brother.  There have been many owners since, but the name has not changed.


SF mayor poster, inside Red's

SF mayor poster, inside Red’s

In fact there is very little about Red’s that has changed over the decades.  That is its charm.


The interior is loaded with San Francisco memorabilia and ornery posters.


There’s only one bathroom and the kitchen is tiny.


It survived the longshoreman waterfront strike of 1934, and a big waterfront fire in 1984.  It also survived the 6.9 earthquake of 1989, serving coffee the next day despite no electricity.


1906 EQ photo, inside Red's

1906 EQ photo of the Ferry Bldg, inside Red’s

After that, the nearby Embarcadero Freeway was torn down due to earthquake damage, and Red’s was suddenly valuable waterfront real estate.  The neighborhood began to change.


Red’s survived the gentrification too.


While the surrounding neighborhood turned into hipster restaurants and expensive condos, and working ships were replaced by cruise ships, the little shack on the bay continued attracting old regulars and famous San Franciscans too (like 49er greats Joe Montana and Jerry Rice).


More info: Red’s Java House


One morning I was near there at 5:00 a.m. for another San Francisco tradition–the 1906 earthquake anniversary. I was doing research for my new novel, Golden Gate Graveyard, due out next month.


Afterwards, there was no place more appropriate for a San Francisco breakfast than Red’s Java House.  The sun was rising and putting on a show outside the Java House window; the bay was calm, gulls were squawking.


San Franciscans of old and new visit Red’s with a smile on their face, happy to see this spirited restaurant still exists. We take in the briny sea air and bellowing fog horns, and enjoy this crusty old shack.


Photo credit:  Athena Alexander unless otherwise specified

Photo: Brandon Doran. Courtesy


Chinchero, Peru

Chinchero, Peru

Chinchero, Peru

On our way to Cusco, Peru, we passed through the beautiful town of Chinchero.  It is a small town in the Andes Mountains of southern Peru, about 40 minutes from Cusco.


Residents here are indigenous Quechua, members of a South American Indian people. Quechua was the language of the Inca Empire; and is still the major language.


Chinchero, Peru

Chinchero, Peru

Farming and textiles are prevalent, another trend that has not changed over the centuries.


More Quechua information here.


Due to the isolated mountain location, outsider inaccessibility and a history of proven success in sustainability have preserved their way of life.


Peru, maize and grains

Peru, maize and grains

Farming is terraced; and crops include potatoes, maize, quinoa and other grains.


With the severe sloping pitch of the mountains, terracing makes use of the slope by decreasing erosion and increasing irrigation.


Peru, Quechua woman and farm

Peru, Quechua woman and farm

It was common to see Quechua women on the steep hillsides dressed in traditional clothing as they turned hay and tended crops.


They wore flared skirts and festively-colored tops, sandals made from recycled tires, sometimes a bowler hat.


Andes woman (photo: B. Page)

Andes woman (photo: B. Page)

Weavers (women) were often seated on the ground using a nearby post to weave.  Their skilled hands moved quickly and deftly, while their children cheerfully played.


A traditional handicraft, the wool is weaved from llamas and alpacas; and other South American camelids:  guanacos and vicunas.


Peru weaver

Peru weaver

Natural dyes and elaborate patterns highlight this craft.


The Chinchero town square was a popular gathering place and market; set on a flat, grassy terrace surrounded by the towering mountains, and flanked by an old adobe church built by the Spanish in 1607.


Chinchero plaza

Chinchero plaza

In the Andes we walk slowly because the high altitude  (12,343 ft. or 3,762m) makes it difficult to catch your breath. Natives don’t struggle with breathing…visitors do.


So we ambled around the plaza, admiring the wares and the mountain setting too.


Jet with the woman who crafted her just-purchased alpaca cape

Jet with the woman who crafted her just-purchased alpaca cape

Merchants spoke Quechuan and even our Spanish words were ineffective. But it was easy for them to display and express their weaving skills and earnest kindness.


Thanks for sharing this stroll through Chinchero.


Weavers in nearby Cusco

Weavers in nearby Cusco

Photo credit: Athena Alexander unless otherwise specified.


Willow Ptarmigan

Willow ptarmigan, Alaska in August

Willow ptarmigan, Alaska in August

The willow ptarmigan is a short, stocky game bird in the grouse family.  They reside in open tundra and arctic conditions in both the eastern and western hemispheres.


See maps below.


Each year they molt twice. In summer they are mottled brown or gray, in winter they are white.  This gives them camouflage in all seasons.


Denali Alaska, ptarmigan

Denali NP, Alaska. Site where we found the ptarmigan.

Ground birds are vulnerable, so their camouflage is a handy natural defense. They can also fly to escape predators (fox, eagles).


The state bird of Alaska, willow ptarmigan are not found elsewhere in the United States; but are found in many of the Canadian provinces, and other parts of the world.


There are only three species of ptarmigan in the world, and Denali is home to all of them:  willow, rock, and white-tailed.


In Great Britain, Lagopus lagopus are referred to as the Red Grouse; there they do not change seasonal coats.


Willow Ptarmigan, Alaska

Willow Ptarmigan, Alaska

Primarily vegetarian, willow ptarmigan feed on willow, alder, birch, berries, and some insects.  Wikipedia overview here.


A successful species, the willow ptarmigan (pronounced with a silent “p”) is widespread with an estimated global population of 50 million.


You will only see them, however, in the northern hemisphere.



Willow Ptarmigan, Alaska

The heavily feathered feet act as snowshoes, allowing the birds to walk over fresh snow drifts. The plumage is thick and holds in warmth.


We came across these willow ptarmigan in Denali National Park where they blended in perfectly.


There was no one around and the birds were barely visible; but we were on the lookout for them, and had a heyday here.  I was very happy because they were a “lifer” for me.


Willow Ptarmigan

Willow Ptarmigan in winter. Photo: Robert McDonald. Courtesy

They lay their eggs in shallow ground depressions, and in winter will burrow into snow drifts to sleep.


A furry-footed bird that effortlessly changes colors with the seasons, sleeps in snow drifts, and has built-in snowshoes.  Pretty incredible.


Photo credit:  Athena Alexander unless otherwise specified.

Willow Ptarmigan Lagopus lagopus distribution in North America map.png

Lagopus lagopus distribution, North America. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Willow Ptarmigan Lagopus lagopus distribution in Europe map.png

Lagopus lagopus distribution Europe and east. Courtesy Wikipedia.