A pitstop for Ron and I

My night in Jabiru was quite nice! Even after being chased back into the confines of my van by mosquitos and the sound of a dingo pack nearby, I got to enjoy a clear night sky and some shooting stars!

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A [poor] photo of the night sky as seen from my moonroof/airvent
The next morning, I managed to find ~5 different species near Jabiru, and another 2 on the way back to Darwin. In the more tropical parts of NT one bee species seemed to be much more common than the others! Wherever I found bees, I found this one… And in greater numbers than other species found at the same site.

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The common white-faced bee
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Some wildflowers being visited by bees and other insects
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One of the other insects… Although I’m not sure that this stick insect was after the nectar…
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Although I have seen evidence of stick insects having a go at some pollen! (not from this trip – male titan stick insect)

On a less stick-insect related note, I had to leave Jabiru and drive through Kakadu National Park again to return to Wagait Beach to meet with my uncle and cousin who were coming back from work that night.

After a nice drive and even better shower (they are few and far between sometimes) I met with my uncle (Phillip) and cousin (Peter). My cousin was taking me around the bush the following day, which was a reason for some excitement! With an outline of a game plan I went to sleep with some anticipation!

The following morning we got ready and left for the bush and beach (after some small repairs on Peter’s car).

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Pete and his home-made 4×4, grins all ‘round!

Any thought of finding bees (which I did intend to do, I promise) were quickly dashed as I was too entranced by the awesome scenery and bounced about, grinning all the while in Peter’s car!

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One of many amazing wetlands that has sprung up after the rains

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Tracks of a[n estimated 4.5m] saltwater croc going up the beach
The next wetland was girt by magnetic termite mounds, many of which appeared to have been shot by some apparently very bored people… I’m sure the holes don’t mean a great deal to the colonies, but I can think of some better pastimes all the same 😉

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I think that with this mound, they were going for Bart Simpson… The resemblance is uncanny!
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While we were there, we also managed to find a geocache, albeit accidentally!
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Suggestions? Photo courtesy of Peter
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I cannot help but think that this tree is playing with fire, making its home in that of a wood-eating insect…

Wetlands are renowned homes for a plethora of animal life, particularly birds…

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These three were particularly enjoying the 4×4 tracks, so much so that they chose to fly ahead of us for a few minutes before deciding that they were better off getting off of the road
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They were also home to what I can only assume was the fin of a land-shark!

As the day got later, we headed back towards the beach, crossed a creek, saw a lighthouse and got settled in for a fish.

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No, this isn’t taken from the creeks edge, but in its middle
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The beach leading up to the hidden lighthouse
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We settled in, as did the sun before beginning our fishing

I was successful in catching my first ever Barramundi (with Pete’s help and guidance). Pete however was more successful with his fish, being about twice the length of mine! Regardless, I still had a fantastic day and night!

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Pete’s hook-up for the night

After quite a sleep in, I packed the van and got Pete and Phil’s help in fixing the front fan on the van so that I don’t cook anymore. Turns out the brushes on the motor weren’t so much worn out as they were gone… So being the resourceful people they are, they took brushes from another unrelated motor, cut them to shape and put them in mine! Hey presto I have a front air con again, which has been keeping me if not frosty at least cool for a couple of days now!

Upon leaving the morning after, it did not take long to find some signs of flood damage on the road to WA… I also found some signs of a changing landscape, from the flat plains and soft hills on tropical NT to a more arid, sharp cliff-ridden landscape. No bees though!

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A sign of flood damage 😉
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NT cliffs

After a sweaty night’s sleep I was ready to make the last leg of the journey towards WA. The road was often sided by quite a few very impressive bottle trees.

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A tall bottle tree standing stalwart near the highway

Just before the border I started passing some very impressive cliffs that were topped by plateaus! Needless to say I had to climb one (albeit a smaller one). The view from the top was impressive as was the top itself, covered in yellow wildflowers and red stones! But no bee to visit any of those flowers, most likely due to the mid-day heat. I did manage to collect two individuals on the way down, and see a few more, including one that from a distance seemed like a teddy bear bee the size of a carpenter bee (of course this was from a distance…)!

The top of my plateau

My crossing of state borders was not greeted with a picture of Ron, a sign, and myself but rather a sign and a quarantine check! Goodbye sweet onions and potatoes… After that it did not take me long to find myself some WA wildflowers in the bush on the side of the road! I also found some more rocks to climb…

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WA border and checkpoint

WA wildflowers

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The view from a peak
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The view of Ron from said peak

Having lost my 130 speed limits, I was limited to 110, which meant that now everyone else was going the same speed as me ;). This is probably for the best, as the road was often accompanied by wild horses, wild(?) cows and the bodies of kangaroos.

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A family of wild horses, including a foal
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Possibly wild cow
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The states may change, but my camp rarely does

Bee count: 68

Kilometers traveled: 8222

Until next time,

 

James

A new year for the aquavan

Where we left off I was stuck in Elliott due to rising floodwaters…

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The truck queue in Elliott

Yet this morning, we were let past Elliott towards Katherine.

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Hard to see, but there is a bit of a line of road trains and cars along the highway
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Passing over some shallow water along the way….
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And some more…
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A bit of road works as well… Not sure why we had to go 5-10km/hr, road train…
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Until I got to this ½ meter of water flowing across the road!

I waited about 15km up the road chatting to the traffic control bloke who was very friendly. When his colleague came back from the where the floodwaters crossed and reported that some cars were getting through, the first bloke helped me find my air intake and recommended that I cover it with a sheet to keep the water out and follow a road train!

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Nice and dry!

So I did as he suggested and approached the waters with some confidence… Confidence up until I was knee deep in flood waters…

Thankfully the road train and car in front made way for me, bringing the water level down a bit!

But Ron the photomobile… or maybe Ron the aqua-van now… Never missed a beat and I got through no troubles!

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Only a little moist from the corssing
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But I am across and the van still runs, much more than can be said about the harley and red station wagon!

The floodwaters did put on quite a display though! In particular I was amazed by this temporary lake, which provided some amazing views. Views made better in my opinion by the short-lived nature of this body (on google earth this area appears to be all dry).

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Temporary lake
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Twisted trees reflecting in the shallows
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There’s something about termite mounds up to their ankles in water!

The floodwaters also stopped me from visiting some hot springs (Called Bitter Springs) that were recommended to me by my dad, but then you can’t win them all!

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The name “Bitter Springs” takes on a whole new meaning here!

Tomorrow though I will stay in Darwin… In a backpackers of all things for new years eve! Get back into my natural habitat of the hostel… I probably already have about the right personal hygiene (backpackers are actually cleanly creatures by and large in my experience).

On my drive to Darwin I was only able to find four bees, which really suited me just fine, as I had a few things to do that day and not much time to spend taking photos! On my way to meet with my aunt and cousin at the Darwin airport, where they work, I found a shady spot in the suburbs to take the photos. Of course, as soon as I am all set up and taking photos an old lady walks out of her house in her bikini and starts washing her car. All good and well except that I am parked directly out front of her house sitting in the back of my van with the flash going off every few seconds! Thankfully no police arrived at the scene…

Anyway, after my photos were taken and family met, I set off to the backpackers where I met some great people to spend new years with in Darwin. Featuring live music and a fair bit of beer, it was quite a good way to greet 2016! The first day of 2016 was then spent recovering, playing a bit of chess and a lot of cards with some more great people!

The only problem is that my itchy feet are started kicking in and I really need to find some bees! As such, the next day was spent with my aunt, Lorna sussing out some likely places in Darwin, before driving 1.5 hours to her awesome house in Waigat Beach! Tomorrow though, I really have to find some bees!

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1.5 hour drive or a 15 minute Ferry from Darwin!

It seems that the tropics isn’t so great for finding bees, I have only found 1 new species since getting to Darwin! However, I am now parked in Jabiru, a small town within Kakadu National Park and am hoping that come morning, the tiny wild flowers in the area may attract something for me to swoop a net at!

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The town lake – great crocodile realty perhaps?
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My campsite for tonight, just off the Kakadu highway

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One of the [bigger] tiny flowers in the area that I am hoping will attract some bees (not more flies)!
Welcome to 2016 everyone! The next post may well be coming from WA, or at the least on the way to WA!

 

James

New Territories

Christmas Eve at the billabong just south of Camooweal, QLD was really quite nice; I got to sit in my ‘office’ to edit photos and work on an excel spreadsheet for a bit. Everyone loves excel!

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Once the sun was down enough not to threaten my precious skin, I went for another walk along the water’s edge, which was especially nice given that no one else was there!

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Whistling kite in the shallows
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Moonrise over the billabong south of Camooweal (a nudist site actually)

So my last morning in QLD was very enjoyable, I cooked up a nice [Christmas] breakfast before packing up my things and getting ready for the short drive to the Northern Territories, where I managed to get a cliché photo to commemorate my border crossing….

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#NTAustralia. Yep the whole territory is hash-tagged!

 

Anyway, I was greeted with a 130km/hr speed limit which I fulfilled a couple of times just for the hell of it, but mostly stayed between 110 and 120km/hr! Unfortunately the fan in the front of the van has died (thankfully not the back) so the air-con isn’t going great…

Regardless, having no bees in the back to take photos of, I was on the hunt, and the flowering shrubs on the edge of the highway seemed like a good place to start!

However, I was only able to find a single species along a few hundred kilometers of highway [and later Alice Springs]! Although that little bee seemed to be buzz pollinating, which is quite cool! …Buzz pollinating is when a bee grabs onto a flower then vibrates (buzzes) at a certain frequency to get the pollen to come out of the flower. Not all bees are capable of it – European honeybees for example cannot do it, but bumblebees can!

What else struck me was how the landscape barely changed at all. Whereas when I was traveling through QLD it was always different; today’s drive has been through an almost homogenous landscape. Mostly what seems to change is the last time that it was burned!

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The left hand side has been burned much more recently than the right hand side of the road

 

While it looks like not much is happening in this burned landscape…

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Little bits of green start to show through the cracked, red earth

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I sometimes feel like there is so much straight road that our eyes cannot be bothered rendering it, and so just display it as part of the sky…. Damn brain setting the graphics too low 😉 An oncoming truck can look twice the size with its reflection in the mirage. Quite an awesome sight!

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Mirage and car on the horizon

Near the end of my days drive I still had only found the one damn species of bee! Though I did see a nice big flowering tree on the side of the road, and decided to turn around and go back to have a look! When I turned the car off, I could immediately hear a buzzing, which was promising. I could also see what looked like little specks moving outside… I wondered if it was dust, pollen, flies or maybe bees… the last I though very unlikely as I’d only seen natives swarm once before on the top of Mt. Warning. A few swipes of my net later and I knew the answer!

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Part of the swarm!
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A little closer…
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A little closer again… ~3mm long

Thousands and thousands of these little yellow native bees! The tree also had quite a few species on it! Of course I can only reach the lowest branches (the low hanging fruit perhaps), but there are only so many photos that I can take in a night while still getting some sleep! So I collected 7-8 species and headed to camp, which was only three hours drive north of Alice Springs!

After two days in Alice Springs I haven’t really done much… A couple of days off and some sight-seeing it is. First day I met a friendly Belgian who I hung out with and saw some sights with the first day and morning after. Next day I met with a friend from Byron, Justin. I had a great lunch, and then watched the new Star Wars with him and his partner in the evening. Such a good film! But now I feel the tug of my restless feet (and net)! Tomorrow I am back on the hunt… I also have more stacking to do, as always…

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Tree growing on the dry riverbed near Simpson’s Gap
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Dead tree [no longer] growing on a random bit of dry creek
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View from a rise just to the West of Alice Springs

So I left for Darwin after a brief search for bees in Alice. Along a dry riverbed I found one new species and another that I already had, and in a small gum tree I found another six, so I had plenty to photograph for that night!

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Small flowers on the dry riverbed where I found two bee species
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Now to Darwin!
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From the get go I was greeted with wet weather on my drive north
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Wet desert

This continued past Threeways and into the night and next morning

By morning, the creeks were running, which I imagine must be something of a rarity in these parts, but great to see as I pass through!

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An old road is submerged by the creek water
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Trees up to their trunks in floodwater

All was going well until now, in Eliot, NT. I’m stuck with 300km of closed highway north. Although an afternoon to catch up on some editing, writing and excelling is not so bad!

Until next time

James

 

Editor: Dana Miller

 

Whatever is West

 

So, after a lovely stay in Rollingstone, where I got to see my first Olive-backed sunbird! I decided to go West towards Alice Springs, with the threat of a cyclone and a rainy week. On the way out of ‘town’ I stopped by a nice big flowering tree in an empty house block. To my delight, this tree was covered in quite a few carpenter bees, as well as some other natives!! So, car abuzz I headed back to Townsville and West to a little place called Dotswood.

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Big yellow tree with lots of female carpenter bees

My trip west got dry pretty quickly! But I’d had three liters of water in as many hours of just setting up camp and sitting around! The bees didn’t seem to mind though… I noticed three little shrubs with yellow flowers next to where I was parked, so in between trying to satisfy my hunger (with a lunch/dinner) I went over and found a few more bees! But I really had to stop looking, as I’ll struggle to find the time to photograph, let alone edit the photos I take of them!

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One of three little shrubs with many bees visiting them. another is visible on the right hand side, while the other is behind this one.

One of these bees was particularly interesting because of its behaviour… It was carrying two seeds with its legs!! I really don’t know why. At first I thought that it just had a really pointy abdomen, but when I netted it and got it into a petri dish I was astonished to find otherwise!

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Bee with one (of two) seeds clutched in its legs

What an amazing place though, Australia! I just hope that the bees will be around on my whole way around and that it’s not too late into the season!

Also, it is a very strange feeling being in a big rest stop alone on a windy night. Creepy and cool 🙂

The roads west seem to be as red as the soil around them, must be locally sourced gravel! It certainly adds to the feel of this being a red, hot, arid place… I’m not even that far West yet! I’m having to pull over on the side of the road every once in awhile to give some input to my stacking program to get the photos that I took the day before ready for editing, and that’s before I get onto the ones I took this morning, and am taking now (on the edge of the road). And I still hope to do 600km’s before I stop…. We’ll see about that!

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Red roads, with red soil 

I also got to cross the so-called Great Dividing Range (elevation c.a. 400m)

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Part of the Great Dividing Range in White Mountains National Park, QLD

Someone’s honey bee sign was my token of good luck, as I found some a couple more species not far from here!

 

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Not the most informative sign, but it was advertisement for honey in the next town

It’s an amazing landscape as you go west. As the landscape gets flatter, the roads do the opposite! Everything seems to hot and dry to support too much life, but the locusts seem to thrive, and I did see one very hot little gecko in the middle of the day… He would only run as far as he thought necessary away from me then look back to see if it was worth running a bit more with his mouth open, trying to lose some heat.

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the best I could do with a wide-angle without chasing the poor bugger down!
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A leaning fence, dead tree and miles of dry, flat landscape
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You know that it’s hot when even the trees are ready for a beer and a lie down…

I only made it a bit 500km’s with my late start and all of my stopping and starting, but that’s okay because I stacked quite a few photos! I then put my other SD card in to find an additional 1000 photos waiting to be stacked! I had best not look for too many bees tomorrow 😉

I’m camping next to a ‘billabong’ in a big gravel pit site, which initially looked quite good with hundreds of birds of prey perched and circling nearby, but then the flies forced me into the heat of the van! It’s too far to the next stop before dusk, and I can’t afford to risk a [literal] run-in with a kangaroo without bull bars! Ahh well 🙂

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Some of the hundreds of black kites that were either sitting and cooling off, or circling above in search of prey

The further west I went the less dead Kangaroos and wallabies I saw. But I did see a whole bunch more dead cows, I imagine that they were hit by road trains, otherwise there would have likely been a smashed up car next to the carcasses… But with so many miles of fenced and unfenced roads and so many cows, I’m not surprised!

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Some cattle at the side of the road. These at least were behind a fence…

It’s bloody hard to imagine how anything grows in this dry soil though, especially little shrubs like this

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A little plant somehow growing in the dry, hot soil…  looking quite healthy even!

But I have been noticing along the road an almost constant supply of green shrubs, which die off not far from the bitumen, I guess that the road must hold and slowly release enough water to sustain them! Oh ecology, what have you done to my road trip?

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I can’t help but notice these things now

I am always looking for a shady spot come lunch time, so I was happy to pull over at this vehicle inspection site and grab a bite to eat, while also looking at some of the termite mounds, which dominate the ground’s surface! For a few hundred kilometers after this people had even dressed them up in all sorts of clothes… Not what I chose to do with my free time, but who am I to judge?

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The car doesn’t stay cool for long though…
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These ones were actually quite spread out compared to others!

Tonight’s camp though is much better than last night far fewer flies (emphasis on the fewer), much cooler, a better view and more diverse wildlife!

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The Billabong
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A pair of Brolgas!
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One of many whistling kites

Enjoy your Christmas everyone!

 

James

And We’re Off!!

I left Brisbane on Thursday with two of my good friends, Jeremy and Amelia! We stopped in a lovely free camping site a few hours south of Carnarvon Gorge and were immediately greeted by a lovely couple of grey nomads, Lyn and Alex, as well as their dog, Sammy! We stayed up chatting and drinking their wine until the middle of the night (thanks again!). We leap-frogged each other the next day, and maybe we will run into each other again, but I’m sure that there are plenty more lovely people to meet on the road yet!

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The next day we made it to Carnarvon Gorge, where we did an amazing walk with some stunning sites!

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“The Art Gallery”

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“Ward’s Canyon”

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“The amphitheater”

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And “The Moss Garden”

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After this we stayed together one more night, before Jeremy and Amelia had to go back to the real world (work) for Monday morning. It was sad to see them shrinking in my rear vision mirror, but I suppose that it signifies the real start to my trip.

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In these first few days I had only managed to find one bee species that I had not already photographed (below). So, this is my first bee photo of the trip!

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The road between Carnarvon Gorge and Mackay is really quite amazing! I passed between dozens of different landscapes, from grasslands to woodlands, agriculture to mining country! In a day I saw quite a few amazing natural and man-made landscapes. As well as quite a few cows!

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On the drive to Mackay I managed to find quite a few more bees on two trees on the outskirts of a small town, Springsure, QLD! So, finally I have some bees to photograph, but how will my little studio treat me?

As it turns out, it’s not the easiest thing to use, ‘little’ might be better replace with cramped and difficult, but it’s what I’ve got and I’ll make do! I guess now I’ll need to figure out the hours of computer time that I need to edit these photos on the trip!

Going from Mackay to Townsville also held some amazing landscape changes, from the coastal, green, hilly agriculture similar to that I am used to south of Ballina, to arid landscapes with bone-dry creeks. Sometimes this change was gradual, sometimes it felt like someone had drawn a line on a map to split vegetation types and nature had conformed to that line! I also managed a peak at some mangroves and got to smell the familiar coastal air before moving on!

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Tonight I am staying at Rollingstone (yes, that is a place), just north of Townsville, in a lovely little free camping area!

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Rock on, everyone!

 

James

Almost gone!  

So I am almost off! I have returned big bee in exchange for Ron the photomobile, a similar van that my uncle has given me. It’s been a busy week of preparations, and a busier weekend of building and designing!

First I had to get rid of those old seats to make room for everything….

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The bed has come together, after a bit of cutting, drilling and head scratching…

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I have a new radio to keep me entertained on the long drives…

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Thank you to Jem for the help with assembly and company!!

 

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And my first-class studio is ready for installation (LED lighting to come)!

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Now just another coat of varnish, if only I had time for more than two coats!

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Things are coming along well now, I have air con, and my dual battery system installed and my awning is on, and ready to protect me from the weather, rain or shine

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Now just a bit of wiring to light my studio!

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It’s off to Brisbane tomorrow to collect the rest of my stuff, pack before heading north with some of my ecology friends for the first leg of the journey!

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Hopefully my next post will come from somewhere further north.

James

Hello!

Hi everyone! First of all welcome to my blog for the next few months. I thought that I would make this first post about where I am currently at with the project and where I would like to go with it!

 

I am currently waiting to get my car (Big Bee) back from the dealer that I bought it from. There were several un-roadworthy items with it when I purchased it, and so he has to have them fixed, even if it is taking a long time. A good friend of mine came up to Brisbane over the weekend and helped me get a start on making my bed/studio in a drawer in preparation for receiving the car. It certainly feels good to be able to get a start on things! But there is a lot more work to do when I get the vehicle back, work that I wont to have done by mid next week, yikes!

 

As for where I want to go with the project… Besides everywhere in Australia, I really want to be able to share with everyone the beauty of our bees. We have a pretty amazing bee Fauna in Australia! Like most people, I always just assumed that there were European honeybees (“normal bees”), bumblebees and maybe a few other species. But with an estimated 2,000 different species in Australia alone and over 25,000 species worldwide, I was quite far from the truth!

 

These bees can be anywhere from a few millimeters to two and a half centimeters long! They can be black, green, blue, red, yellow, purple and who knows what else! They can be fat and furry or skinny and smooth… Essentially, there is a lot more to our bees than many people give them credit for.

 

They also provide us with an extremely important service: pollination. They pollinate many of our crops and much of the wild vegetation that we enjoy all around Australia and the world!

 

So why don’t we appreciate them as much as we do many other animals? This is where I come in. I don’t expect that I will be able to have you cuddling bees like you might a cat or a dog. In fact I wouldn’t even recommend it, for you or the bee! But I do want to share with you some examples of our beautiful and diverse native bee fauna and why you should care about them. Even if they don’t know it, they care for you!

 

James

 

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Green and Gold Nomia Bee