Facts and Figures – Westbound Circumnavigation

Shamelessly copied from Jack who deserves all the credit for putting these numbers together.

These data cover flight legs from November 25, 2018 until January 23, 2019.

Distance: 29,899 nautical miles (or 34,384 statue miles) per the flight plans.

Flight hours: 139.4.

Average ground speed: 215 knots (246 mph). Several long legs were conducted at long range cruise power which is slower than typical but provides maximum range.

Wind: Average headwind component of two knots (per the flight plans). We got lucky with the winds on several legs. Normally fighting headwinds is seen as a disadvantage of a westbound RTW, but we ended-up almost neutral.

Continents landed in5North America, South America, Asia, Africa, and Australia.

Countries over-flown30: United States, Mexico, Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Chile, Cook Islands [1], Niue [1], New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Maldives, Seychelles, France (French Polynesia, Mayotte, and French Guiana), Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Angola, United Kingdom (St.Helena), Brazil, Suriname, Guyana, Venezuela, Netherlands (Curaçao), and Jamaica.

Countries landed in18: United States, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Chile, Niue [1], New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Indonesia, Maldives, Seychelles, France (French Polynesia and Mayotte), Botswana, Angola, United Kingdom (St.Helena), Brazil, Guyana, and Jamaica.

[1] Cook Islands and Niue are self-governing states in free association with New Zealand.

Most southern point: 37.0 degrees south at Auckland, New Zealand.

Most northern point: 30.2 degrees north at Austin, Texas, USA.

Equatorial crossings: 4 at approximately 82 degrees west, 105 degrees east, 66 degrees east, and 50 degrees west.

Longest flight (distance)1,784 NM or 2,050 SM (St. Helena to Recife, Brazil)

Average flight (distance)1,068 NM or 1,228 SM

Longest flight (time)8+42 (St. Helena to Recife, Brazil)

Average flight (time)4+52

Flights cancelled due to maintenance issuesZero (the plane performed perfectly!)
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Modifications to the plane: None (the plane is totally stock from the factory).

Flights cancelled due to weatherZero. Other than three instances of paper work delays amounting to a few hours in total, we kept to the original pre-departure schedule almost exactly.

Time in icing conditions: Essentially zero. Maybe a few minutes of light rime ice.

Time in IMC (clouds): 5% approximately.

Time in light or greater turbulence: 4% as a rough estimate. Most of that was about two hours of light and occasional moderate turbulence (in perfectly clear air) flying from Georgetown, Guyana to Montego Bay, Jamaica. I’d say less than 1% of flight time was moderate and nothing worse than moderate.

Scary events in flight: None – just the way we like it.  We saw lots of unusual places, but the actual flying was pretty routine with a couple of exceptions (most notably three quick successive changes to the approach into a very busy Santiago at night, and the arrivals/landings at Singapore and St. Helena, which all worked out well).

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Paperwork and more paperwork
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Getting the Prist at a refueling stop. The Prist was kept in a sealed ammo box under all the luggage.
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Lots of security arriving and leaving most countries.

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Josh the sherpa. Wouldn’t want Becky to strain herself.
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Catching up on work and emails on a non-flying day.
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Laundry day.
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Got pretty good at washing clothes in the sink and drying in the hotel room.
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And exercising when we could.
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Coffee allocation on the tarmac before flight. Gotta have coffee.
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St Helena Island

By Becky

Wow!  I wish we could have stayed longer.  Three nights and two full days just wasn’t quite long enough.  Of course, we started out with a bang being the first ever single-prop plane to make the 1,100 mile journey from Africa to St Helena! Because of the government’s posting on Facebook, we became instant celebrities overnight (perhaps I’m exaggerating a bit, but we did have some notoriety around town).  They interviewed us and wrote up a little piece on our adventures. We were on the governor’s Facebook page and made the weekly paper.

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st helena newspaper article about us

We stayed at the historic Consulate Hotel (more on this later) in Jamestown, the main town on the island with government offices, harbor, hotels, restaurants, stores, etc.  And much to our delight (well, maybe just my delight) the famous Jacob’s Ladder, consisting of 699 steps, starts just a block from our hotel, ascending 600 ft straight up the cliff wall that almost surrounds the town.

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View of Jacob’s Ladder straight up the hillside from Jamestown (lit up all night long)
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View of Jamestown from the top of Jacob’s Ladder

Josh and I managed to hike the steps two mornings in a row.  It reminded me of the granite steps of Mansell Mountain, my favorite exercise in Acadia National Park back home.

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Made it to the top and still smiling

On our first full day, we hired Kevin, to give us a tour of the island.  Our first stop was the Briars Pavillion where Napoleon lived during part of his exile on St Helena (starting in 1815).  He was originally scheduled to stay at a house in Longwood, but when he saw the Briars house (just up the valley from Jamestown), he fell in love with it and asked the owner if he could stay there.  It was agreed by the owner and all those folks dictating his whereabouts to allow him this pleasure for a few months, but then he was ultimately moved to Longwood where he stayed until his death at age 51 on May 5, 1821.

Forgot to take a photo of Briars house, but got the views instead

Our next stop was Napoleon’s tomb, where he was buried for 20 years before being exhumed in 1841 and taken back to France.  Yet the “four times” tomb, as our guide called it (meaning it’s the size of four tombs) still rests (empty of course) in a lovely location in the mountains surrounded by beautiful flowers and trees, and the largest Bougainvillea I’ve ever seen.

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Napoleon’s Tomb

From the tomb, we drove to Napoleon’s Longwood house, surrounded by incredible gardens.  The house is now property of the French government and a museum, with a self-guided audio tour through all the small rooms, where we could view his bedroom with furniture and a small bed (he was only 5’ 2”), photos and paintings all over the walls, more furniture, another room with a bed (his sick bed), more photos and paintings, and so on and so forth…. Very informative audio, but you’ll have to go there yourself, since I’m on overload remembering it all, and we weren’t allowed to take photos inside the house.  But here is the view from outside…

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The next stop was for the endemic St Helena Plover, affectionately called the Wirebird by all the locals because of its wire thin legs.

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St. Helena Plover (Wirebird)

Everyone we talked to was so proud of this little bird!  Our taxi driver the day before pointed them out as we drove by, folks in town talked about this famous island bird, books in stores, postcards, staff at the airport…. They ALL knew about this endangered island bird.

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Lucky for us, we learned that Kevin had worked on the Wirebird conservation project for four years, trapping and removing feral cats that prey on the birds and their nests. The Wirebird team made such good progress that the plover was removed from the critically endangered list, BUT unfortunately, there is not much funding, nor many staff left to continue the work, and we all know how those cats reproduce.  Interestingly, during the eradication years, they didn’t ever try to remove all the cats, else the rat population would explode.  It’s always a balance.

Because Kevin had worked on the project, he knew just how to spot the Wirebird on a nest, and as we drove along, he found an adult only a few feet off our dirt road.

saint helena - saint helena plover (wirebird), 1-18-19, turks cap area (3)
Wirebird standing over a nest

Note that the adult didn’t sit on the nest as you’d expect, but instead stood over the nest to shade it on this too-hot-for-an-egg day.  After getting some good looks and photos from the car (which the bird is not scared of), he said let’s get out and take a closer look.  We all hated the thought of frightening the adult off the nest, but Kevin said it would be okay, so we slowly opened the car doors… and as expected, the bird flushed from the nest and performed its “broken wing” display to lure us away from the nest (just like its close kin, the Killdeer, does).  Kevin pointed straight at the nest which none of us could see anymore, brushed away some dirt, and there was an egg! How cool!

saint helena - saint helena plover (wirebird) nest and egg, 1-18-19, turks cap area (2)

Then he talked softly to the Wirebird and lured it back to the nest as we watched in awe only a few feet away.

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Here is a video of the Wirebird, leaving the nest, then returning:

On down the dirt road we came to sheer cliffs dropping straight into the ocean with spectacular views of the rocky coastline.

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Looking the other way, we had amazing views of the airport runway below us.

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By the way, when the airport was built, it displaced a prime nesting area of the Wirebird, so more habitat in a different location is now managed for Wirebird nesting. The Saints – as the locals call themselves – certainly do focus on the flora and fauna of their precious island, which is heartening to see!  And that thought brings us to our next stop….the Millennium Forest.

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Millenium Forest of gumwood trees

Adjacent to the Wirebird nesting area is a newly planted “Millenium Forest” of gumwood trees, a rare endemic of the island.  Through the years, since the Millennium Forest Project started, many locals have planted a tree to add to the forest.  Wish we had time to do the same!

Continuing our tour, we drove narrow winding roads around the southern part of the island.  Here’s a map of St. Helena to give you an idea of our route (in blue).  Overall the island is about 9 miles NE to SW, and approximately 6 miles NW to SE, and we covered much of it a day’s drive.

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Map of St Helena (blue was our tour route)

We passed small communities of houses, many acres of farmland (cows and sheep), and extraordinary views across the lush highland mountains with a backdrop of lower desert-like mountains with their jagged rocky cliffs at the edge of the ocean.

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Dry, brown mountains along the coast

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Lush highland mountains inland

As we worked our way around the southern parts, we saw breeding colonies of Masked Boobies on the distant ridges and mountain tops – their white guano giving away their nesting locations.

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Can you see the white ridges where the Masked Boobies are nesting?

Here are a few more stops along the way, before completing our circuit around of the island.

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View of islands named Speery, Camel, and Flat
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Plantation House where the governor lives

High Knoll Fort high above Jamestown

On the next day (and sadly our last), we all went up Jacob’s Ladder, then had another exceptional breakfast in our hotel.  Josh and Jack headed back to the airport for much of the day, meeting with the meteorologist, getting a tower tour, and watching the scheduled flight come in (Josh talked much more about this in his blog).  Carolyn and I, meanwhile, roamed around Jamestown, exploring the harbor, cruising through lots of stores – mostly in search of a shot glass for our worldly collection (it was hard to find touristy things!).  Carolyn visited the museum while I walked back up the 699 steps trying to get better photos of the Red-billed Tropicbirds.  I had some success, and even lucked upon a nest with a somewhat uncoordinated juvenile practicing some wing flaps.

Some other birds I spotted around town….

saint helena - white tern, 1-19-19, jamestown (6)
White Tern (locals call them Fairy Terns)
saint helena - white tern with fish, 1-19-19, jacob's ladder (2)
White Tern (Fairy Tern)
saint helena - red fody, 1-19-19, jamestown (4)
Red Fody (also seen in the Seychelles – you might remember)
saint helena - java sparrow, 1-18-19, jacob's hill (3)
Java Sparrows
saint helena - common waxbill, 1-19-19, jamestown (6)
Common Waxbills
saint helena - common myna, 1-19-19, jamestown
Common Myna (everywhere, and really noisy roosting in town!)

So, back to the Consulate Hotel, owned and run by Hazel Wilmot. When we first arrived, it was tea time for many locals, and Hazel was sitting among the guests.

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She greeted us with warmth, as if we were old friends, and showed us up to our third floor bedrooms. There are no elevators in this historic building – actually there are THREE historic buildings connected together with a lovely bar courtyard and garden in the back and LOTS of Hazel’s furniture and collections consuming every room (she is originally from Botswana and spent time in South Africa before moving to St Helena 10 years ago when she bought the historic Consulate Hotel).

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Hazel on the steps with her helper Peter

We found our bedrooms to be blasted hot with no air conditioning.  Uh oh!  She opened the windows, turned on the table fan, and by bedtime many hours later, it was perfectly fine for sleeping with the cool night air.  It’s so safe in the hotel that we often left our bedroom door open, at Hazel’s suggestion, for the breeze to flow through while we were off eating or exploring.  Gotta love island life!

I can’t say enough about how wonderful a hostess Hazel was, from making us a spectacular picnic lunch of way-too-much food for our tour with Kevin, to providing a lunch buffet for us to pick and choose from before our departing flight in the wee hours of Monday morning, and a splendid breakfast too, of course.

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Carolyn and Hazel planning our breakfast and lunch for departure day

She ordered taxis for us, set up the tour with Kevin, made dinner reservations for us, but most fun of all, chatted with us for hours on end telling us about island life….Which, of course, led to discussions about the controversial airport and how it and the new government-subsidized Mantis Hotel down the street has taken business away from her.  Even with government subsidies, the Mantis Hotel is losing lots of money every month because there just aren’t enough tourists.  She claims this is because the RMS boat, which once carried passengers back and forth to the island from Cape Town, stopped running when the airport was built.  It was thought that the planes would bring more tourists, but according to Hazel, the bi-weekly planes (with expensive tickets!) only bring about six tourists per flight and most stay at the new Mantis Hotel.  She recently had to move back to town from the countryside to run her hotel to keep it going.

We spent our last evening with Dr. Tim and Bromwell from the airport.  Tim is the meteorologist, and Bromwell the ATC controller. It was fun getting to know them better and hearing their stories.

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Dinner at Mantis Restaurant with Tim (left) and Bromwell (right)

If you ever want to learn more about life on St Helena, I highly recommend reading “Remote: A Story of St Helena” by Lindsay Gratton Cooper.  I’m still working my way through it, and enjoying every bit, especially now that I can picture so many of the places she talks about.  We all became so enchanted the island, the people, and their stories, that we might have to go back someday and see how it has fared.  Hopefully well!

Flying St. Helena to Austin

The final days of the circumnavigation were a sprint home. After St. Helena we had planned to get across the Atlantic, South America, and Caribbean with four long flying days to end the trip. St. Helena to Brazil to Guyana to Jamaica to Austin. A bit tedious and tiring, but we had a nice rhythm – up early for breakfast, transport to the airport, clear departure customs, immigration, and security, pre-flight, get ATC clearance, start up permission, taxing instructions, depart, fly, land, re-fuel, clear customs, immigration, and security, transport to the hotel, eat dinner, get food for the next day (mainly leftovers), sleep, repeat.

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The weather was generally good and the flying uneventful – just the way we like it. By far the biggest pain in the @$$ were the paperwork hassles in Brazil and Guyana. Just imagine the most dysfunctional bureaucratic processes with 10 people standing around asking questions, requiring signatures, stamps, shaking their heads, etc… In Guyana they even asked if we had permission from Brazil to land in Guyana. Huh? We asked them how one country could give permission to land in another country and whether they could give us permission to land in Jamaica next. They dropped that line of questioning, asked to see our pilot licenses (as if we were faking it) and the Pilot’s Operating Handbook for the Pilatus , took photos of everything, and had us fill out a bunch of other forms. Anyway, we made it back to Austin with some good laughs about it all. Are you really a pilot Captain Long? Do you know how to fly this plane?

We left St. Helena early on January 19th for Recife, Brazil – the longest flight of the trip – about 1,800nm and 8.5 hours.

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The takeoff and departure from St. Helena were spectacular and the tower controller was kind enough to relay estimates and altitudes to Luanda Oceanic Control so we didn’t have to deal with HF radio communication for the first hour. When we crossed the FIR boundary we established HF contact with Atlantico Control and checked in with them every hour for the rest of the flight.

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Leaving St Helena
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Arriving Recife, Brazil

We left Recife the next day for Guyana with a scheduled fuel stop on the way in São Luís, Brazil.

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Never missing a chance to bird while waiting before leaving Recife

We expected to be on the ground for about an hour in São Luís, but it turned into three hours, including a one-hour round trip into town for Jack to get exit stamps and signatures from the Policia Federal. Apparently, the police recently decided they won’t go to the airport anymore to stamp the exit papers so any travelers wanting to leave Brazil from the São Luís airport need to drive into town.

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Leaving Sao Luis, Brazil. Finally.

We had some weather to deal with along the way and were in the clouds a lot, but we did catch a glimpse of the Amazon River as we crossed into the Northern Hemisphere.

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Amazon River. A BIG muddy river.

We arrived late in Guyana to another group of officials waiting for us to fill out their forms, sign papers, scan luggage, sign more forms, etc..…

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Sunset arrival to Guyana
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Waiting and waiting to get permission to come into the country

We dropped Becky and Carolyn off at the international terminal, fueled the plane, and then moved it to an overnight parking area. It took about and hour to drive into town so we got to our hotel late, went to our rooms, got cleaned up, ordered room service, and slept.

The drive back to the airport the next morning was an hour and a half because of traffic, but at least we got to see the city of Georgetown and some of the country. Once at the airport and through security and customs, they would not let the passengers go to the parking ramp so Jack and I were escorted to the plane, pre-flighted, started up, taxied back to the international terminal, picked them up, and departed.

The flight to Jamaica was generally smooth though we also had deviations for weather. We flew over the Orinoco River and Caracas, and had nice views of Bonaire, Curacao, and Aruba (no photos of the islands though – the passengers forgot to look out).

The ceiling in Montego Bay was broken overcast and the winds were strong and gusty, but down the runway. The controllers spoke good English and efficiently vectored us onto the approach for runway 07.

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Landing Montego Bay, Jamaica

There was a nice little FBO and the folks were friendly and efficient. The young immigration officer misplaced his stamp so he was freaking out (don’t know what the consequences are for that, but probably not good) so we had to wait around for awhile until another officer showed up to stamp us through. Short ride to the hotel. Eat. Sleep.

On the final day (January 23) we woke up to overcast skies and rain. We shuttled back to the FBO and were greeted by this stunning and fitting image of N575PC framed by a rainbow before the last leg of our adventure (the photo is not fake).

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Wow!

After all the heat and humidity, I enjoyed the pre-flight in the cool, light drizzle. It was all easy VHF communications across the Caribbean – including Havana Control – and we flew the WLEEE 5 arrival into the windy and chilly Austin airport.

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Get it? As in Willy Nelson. Austin. Look at the names of some of the intermediate fixes.

What a great adventure. Interesting and expansive. The success of the trip is a testament to meticulous planning and excellent execution by Jack; the good cheer, care, and feeding, by Carolyn and Becky; and the quality of the Pilatus PC-12 aircraft.

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Mission accomplished! Back in Austin. Brrrrr.
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Champagne celebration at Jack and Carolyn’s house in Austin

Becky and I got home on January 24.  As much as we will miss the flying, adventure, and camaraderie, we are glad to be home for a while.

I’ll have all the final statistics to post in a few days….

In the meantime…..

Coolest aiports/landings – tie between Robinson Crusoe Island and St. Helena. Tureia is a close second.

Favorite place – New Zealand. Definitely going back to see more.

Favorite hotel and gym – Singapore.

Least favorite hotel – Maldives. Uggh.

Best breakfasts – Sofitel in Auckland and Consulate Hotel in St. Helena

Dinner – Lots of memorable dinners, but the Indian restaurant and the very friendly chef in Auckland stand out.

Low point – none. Really. There were long, hot, sweaty days, but that’s all part of the adventure. All good.

Biggest thrill – free guest laundry at the Ayers Rock hotel.

 

Birds of Botswana

As luck would have it, our lodging in Botswana for two nights (January 15 & 16) landed us right next to several safari camps, including a crocodile camp!  And to boot, the hotel grounds bordered a river, where crocodiles swam and birds foraged along the edges.  We even saw one crocodile apparently try to eat a nearby freaked-out Jacana!  It’s a rough life of survival out there.  Josh forbid me to go too close to the river, and Carolyn monitored my every movement.

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Our hotel from the front

 

Our view behind the hotel

Carolyn and I, in our usual attire of binoculars, camera, and iPhones for eBird entry and bird identification (using the BirdsEye App, instead of a bird book to lug around), set off around the grounds of the hotel where we recorded over 25 colorful species.  Later, we got braver, and exited the fenced in hotel area, strolled down the road to Crocodile Camp, and found a dirt road to take us right down to the river behind our hotel.  Josh tagged along to keep us out of trouble until the birding got boring and too hot (6 minutes).  This is the point at which Carolyn stood in and kept an eye on my proximity to the river as I sometimes inched nearer to get that perfect photo.

Though nothing is perfect, and some photos quite distant and blurry, here is the best of what I was able to capture….

botswana -green-backed camaroptera, 1-16-19, cresta hotel (3)
Green-backed Camaroptera
botswana - woodland kingfisher, 1-16-19, cresta hotel
Woodland Kingfisher
botswana - willow warbler, 1-16-19, cresta hotel
Willow Warbler
botswana - white-faced whistling-duck, 1-16-19, cresta hotel (3)
White-faced Whistling-Duck
botswana - white-browed robin-chat, 1-16-19, cresta hotel (3)
White-browed Robin-Chat
botswana - water thick-knee, 1-16-19, cresta hotel
Water Thick-Knee (sorry you can’t see the knees!)
botswana - squacco heron, 1-16-19, cresta hotel (3)
Squacco Heron greeting a curious donkey
botswana - speckled pigeon, 1-16-19, cresta hotel (2)
Speckled Pigeon
botswana - southern red-billed hornbill, 1-16-19, cresta hotel
Southern Red-billed Hornbill
botswana - red-eyed dove, 1-16-19, cresta hotel (4)
Red-eyed Dove (all poofed up for a female down below)
botswana - red-billed buffalo-weaver, 1-16-19, cresta hotel
Red-billed Buffalo-Weaver
botswana - pallid harrier, 1-16-19, cresta hotel
Pallid Harrier
botswana - pied kingfisher, 1-16-19, cresta hotel (7)
Pied Kingfisher
botswana - pied kingfisher, 1-16-19, cresta hotel (3)
Pied Kingfisher
botswana - magpie shrike, 1-16-19, cresta hotel (2)
Magpie Shrike
botswana - little egret, 1-16-19, cresta hotel (6)
Little Egret
botswana - laughing dove, 1-16-19, cresta hotel (3)
Laughing Dove
botswana - knob-billed duck, 1-16-19, cresta hotel
Knob-billed Duck (pretty strange looking)
botswana - hamerkop, 1-16-19, cresta hotel (2)
Hamerkop
botswana - fork-tailed drongo, 1-16-19, cresta hotel
Fork-tailed Drongo
botswana - common bulbul, 1-16-19, cresta hotel (3)
Common Bulbul
botswana - burchell's starling, 1-16-19, cresta hotel (3)
Burchell’s Starling
botswana - blacksmith lapwing, 1-16-19, cresta hotel (3)
Blacksmith Lapwing
botswana - black-faced waxbill, 1-16-19, cresta hotel (6)
Black-faced Waxbill
botswana - black-backed puffback, 1-16-19, cresta hotel
Black-backed Puffback
botswana - arrow-marked babbler, 1-16-19, cresta hotel (8)
Arrow-marked Babbler
botswana - african pygmy-goose, 1-16-19, cresta hotel (4)
African Pygmy-Goose
botswana - african paradise-flycatcher (female), 1-16-19, cresta hotel
African Paradise-Flycatcher (female)
botswana - african openbill, 1-16-19, cresta hotel (12)
African Openbill (note the gap in the bill, and thus the name)
botswana - african jacana, 1-16-19, cresta hotel (11)
African Jacana
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Two African Openbills checking out an African Jacana
botswana - african gray hornbill (male), 1-16-19, cresta hotel
African Gray Hornbill (male)

What a fabulous fun day from start to finish:  breakfast, birding, relaxing, lunch, birding, relaxing, birding, dinner and drinks, AND a birthday cake!  What better way to spend my special day.

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Once totaled, we had 40 species (and 21 lifers), and we never walked more than 100 yards from our hotel.  Africa is pretty avian spectacular!

Flying Seychelles to St. Helena

Pronounced Saint Heleeenah!

We departed the Seychelles on January 15 and flew to Maun, Botswana with a fuel stop in the Comoros Islands (Mayotte) about 275 nautical miles east of Africa.

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Leaving the Seychelles

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All routine and uneventful – just the way we like it. The fuel stop was very efficient so we were there only about 40 minutes and glad to get off before a rain squall hit the airport. The only event was that we aborted the first takeoff because all the Central Advisory Warning System (CAWS) lights came on during the roll. We think jack inadvertently hit the “Lamp” test switch that cycled through a test and lit up all the lights. No problem. Reset the CAWS and we were good to go.

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We then crossed Mozambique into a sliver of Malawi and back into Mozambique, then Zimbabwe before crossing into Botswana. Lots of frequency changes made a little more complicated by several deviations we took for weather. It was a difficult to explain to some of the controllers that we were “three zero miles left of track.” One controller even queried who we were and where we came from.

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While we were busy in the cockpit, our passengers were finishing off an open bottle of wine.

We descended through the clouds towards Maun and asked for a visual approach as soon as we had the runway in sight. Landed, taxied, parked, fueled, and buttoned up the plane for a couple nights. We had scheduled at least two nights in Botswana for rest and preparation before flying to St. Helena. We were also anticipating that we might need to wait a couple days for good weather at St. Helena (more on that later). Botswana was very warm, but comfortable and we had a nice day there. We took advantage of the hot, dry weather to hand wash some clothes and hang them in the room to dry. I made it to the gym for quick work out, and then Jack and I did some flight planning and made a pre-arranged call to the meteorological office at the St. Helena airport. Becky and Carolyn went for a stroll around the hotel grounds and along the river behind the hotel and saw lots of new birds while avoiding getting eaten by crocodiles. That evening we celebrated Becky’s birthday with a cake made by the chef, and the entire kitchen crew sang for her.

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Becky’s birthday celebration

We departed from Maun on January 17 for a fuel stop in Luanda, Angola on our way to St. Helena.

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No problems getting in and out of Luanda. They had an efficient ground crew and a comfortable lounge we were able to relax in for a few minutes before our scheduled departure for St. Helena. Becky and Carolyn wore their crew uniforms (heretofore never unpacked) because Angola allows crew to stay for up to 72 hours without visas. Visas for Angola are ridiculously difficult to obtain so last fall they got legitimate student pilot licenses, crew cards, and crew shirts just for this stop. We didn’t need to stay in Angola because St. Helena weather still looked good, but we wanted to have the option.

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View coming into Luanda
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Ground crew
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The crew all dressed up to avoid visa requirements in Angola

Stopping in St. Helena allows us to cross the Atlantic without going north to the Cape Verde Islands (done that) or across Iceland (done that too). We are able to fly to St. Helena because there is a new airport there that was just built two years ago. Before the airport, the only way to get to St. Helena was a five-day boat ride from the “mainland” that ferried supplies and people back and forth. I won’t get into the politics of the whole thing, but suffice it to say there seems to be a great deal of controversy about the tremendous expense of the airport and its effect on the local economy – depending on who you talk to. Some like the flexibility and ease of leaving the island on a flight (at least once a week) and getting to Johannesburg in five hours. Others complain that flights are expensive, sometimes cancelled, tourists get “stranded” on the island, the airport is oriented wrong for prevailing winds, too dangerous, etc.. No doubt the airport fundamentally changes the way the island is “connected” to the rest of the world so, good or bad, it will take some getting used to.

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St Helena airport

The main challenges of landing at the airport can be strong winds, turbulence, wind shear, low clouds over, and the approach end of Runway 20, generally the preferred runway, sits above a 1,000-foot cliff with hills on either side. The weather is more challenging in their winter months (June through August), but can be challenging any time of year.

We launched from Luanda for the 1,200 nautical mile, 5.5 –hour flight. We flew a little slower for the economy of long-range cruise so we would have enough fuel to make it to our alternate of Ascension Island (700 miles away) if necessary.

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Using the satellite phone when HF doesn’t work

As it turns out, the weather was relatively benign compared to what it could be. We flew the RNAV LOC DME Rwy 20 approach from UTAPA and had briefed a descent profile that would be a little steeper than the standard three-degree glide slope and landing a little long (“landing deep” as they say). We wanted to stay high above any turbulence or wind shear and the Pilatus can descend and slow down quickly so no concerns about not enough runway. There were some clouds, but we had good visual contact with the airport by the final approach fix and flew our descent profile with a stabilized approach and smooth landing. Very little turbulence and some wind shear, but not too bad.

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View of St Helena on arrival.jpg
View from the left seat as we approached the runway

Here’s a video that Becky spliced together of us landing on St Helena (including some footage from a couple we met in the hotel who happened to be videotaping from the highest peak seen in the photo above!).

The governor of St. Helena greeted us at the airport along with her public relations entourage. It turns out we were the first single-engine propellor plane (or small plane of any kind) to land at the airport and they need all the good press they can get to justify the airport and encourage tourism.

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Even the governor of St Helena came out to meet us!

St. Helena has an interesting history (Google it) that spans more than 500 years. It is Britain’s second oldest colony, one of the most isolated islands in the world, and was for centuries of vital strategic importance for ships sailing to Europe to and from the Far East. In the nineteenth century it played a big and largely unrecognized role as a refuge for liberated African slaves. And since 1815 the British have used the island as a place of exile – most notably for Napoleon Bonaparte, Chief Dinzulu, and over 6,000 Boer prisoners of war.

We spent two days on St. Helena. On the first day we all took a tour around the island with an excellent driver and guide to see the sights and learn more about the history. It is rugged and beautiful. The second day Jack and I went back to the airport to fuel the plane, and tour the meteorological office and tower.

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We watched the bi-weekly flight come in from the tower. There was some excitement, as they had to go around twice before making a successful third attempt. On the first try we saw them break out of the clouds around 800 AGL to the left of the localizer and heading for a couple hills. We’re not sure why they deviated from the localizer, but maybe it was to chase some blue sky. It seems like a bad decision by the pilots. On the second attempt they tried a visual approach that was not entirely “visual” as they were in and out of the clouds. They made a stable approach, but were perhaps a little fast and high and floated down the runway. The midfield winds that gust up to 50 knots probably didn’t help and just before they were going to touch down they went around knowing they were too far down the runway. Good decision. The third time was a charm. A stabilized instrument approach and good landing.

From St. Helena we will sprint home. Four more days of flying via Brazil, Guyana, and Jamaica before we complete the circumnavigation back in Austin, TX – almost exactly two months after we departed. [Edited to add we are already in Jamaica. We finally had a few minutes and some good Internet to get this posted. We will finish up the trip blogging when we get home].

Memories from Singapore to the Seychelles

By Becky

Sometimes time passes way too quickly.  For instance, here I am writing from Brazil, and the subject of this blog takes us back to Singapore, halfway back around the world.  That’s how far behind I am!  So, let me try to catch up….

map of singapore to seychelles

Singapore:

One and a half days was all we had, and it rained much of the time.  Carolyn and I, of course, walked over to the famous Singapore Botanic Garden, only a mile or so from our hotel.  It took us much longer to get there, though, as heavy downpours ensued and we sought shelter at roadside bus stops along the way.  We even elected to walk to the nearby hospital and hail a taxi, scrap the garden walk, and go to a museum.  But alas, the line of patients waiting at the taxi stand was too long, so we trudged on to the garden.  We were delighted to find this plaque at the entrance marking the exact day we visited the garden on our round the world trip (East bound) in 2015.

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In between rain showers, and hiding under covered areas much of the time (we know where they all are now!), we managed to see a few birds, and admire all the amazing varieties of plants.  But we didn’t last long.

singapore - yellow-vented bulbul, 1-9-19, botanic garden (4)
Yellow-vented Bulbul
singapore - pink-necked pigeon, 1-9-18, botanic garden
Pink-necked Pigeon (can you see the pink neck…? barely)
singapore - oriental magpie-robin, 1-9-18, botanic garden
Oriental Magpie-Robin
singapore - blue-throated bee-eater, 1-9-19, botanic garden
Blue-throated bee-eater

The next day, we ventured back to the garden (you just can’t keep two nature girls inside). No rain, but blasted hot.  Are we turning into fair-weather birders?  Disappointing number of birds compared to July 2015 – is it a seasonal thing?  We did peruse the medicinal garden which was huge and amazing, and walked through the slightly cooler rain forest for some relief.

After melting in the heat, we taxied downtown to the Peranakan museum, only to find that the taxi driver couldn’t “get there from here” due to construction, so we hoofed it for several blocks…. “several” because we went the long way when our google maps had a hard time locating the museum.  Off the beaten path, in a beautiful old house, it was a pretty neat museum, telling us about Peranakan people who are descendants of Chinese immigrants who came to the Malay Archipelago back in the 15th century and married Malay/Indonsian women.

Banda Aceh, Indonesia:

From Singapore, we flew to Banda Aceh for a fuel stop.  This was special for me since my brother Jon, working for Catholic Relief Services, had gone there right after the tsunami hit on December 26, 2004.  He remembers well being on Christmas leave back in the States (from his home in Jakarta) and having to leave family festivities to rush back to Indonesia.  I enjoyed taking lots of photos and sending them to Jon so he could see what it looks like 14 years later.  Lots of rice fields!

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Banda Aceh, Indonesia

Of course, in the 40 minutes we waited to refuel, Carolyn and I, binoculars around our necks, spotted a few birds, but the only ones we could id were Spotted Doves.  I later looked at a distant photo of some birds on the runway, thinking… “maybe I can figure this out.”  Here, you try:

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I had an “ah ha” moment realizing it is a myna bird.  Very common in many places we’ve traveled. BUT wait….. eBird tells me there are FOUR myna birds in the area.  Ugh…. sometimes you just gotta let it go and never pin it down to the exact species.  Oh, and there were white egret type birds flying in the distance too.  Time to move on where we have a bit more time to linger and study the local birds….

Maldives:

We only spent one full day here, but it was enough for me and Carolyn to stroll through town to a park and across the skinny island from the east coast to the west.  And here’s what we found:

maldives - common sandpiper, 1-10-19, hulhumale (5)
Common Sandpiper
maldives - lizard, 1-10-19, hulhumale (3)
Cool lizard
maldives - house crow, 1-10-19, hulhumale
House Crow

Not just birds, but bats too!  These fruit bats are extremely vital in the Atoll islands of the Maldives for pollination and seed dispersal, especially with the limited number of bird species on the islands.

 

maldives - fruit bat, 1-10-19, hulhumale (2)
Maldives Fruit Bat
maldives - asian koel (male), 1-10-19, hulhumale
Asian Koel (male)
maldives - asian koel (female), 1-10-19, hulhumale (12)
Asian Koel (female)
maldives - asian koel (female), 1-10-19, hulhumale (6)
Asian Koel (female)

Of note, our beach at the hotel did not allow any bathing suits, but it didn’t stop this family having fun….

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Seychelles:

This was a really fun island to visit!  We had four nights and three full days to explore.  Josh and I stayed up the hill from the beachfront Four Seasons where Jack and Carolyn were.  We had a private little room and kitchenette at Maison Soleil.

Each day, we walked down the hill to a lovely beach, then back up most of the way, then down to the Four Seasons beach (all beaches are open to the public in the Seychelles, even at a private resort).  The walking was excellent exercise because it was super steep down and back to both beaches – about 400 ft vertical.  Sometimes I weaved back and forth up the narrow steep road so as not to hurt my Achilles tendons.

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Josh taking a dip before walking back up the hill

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Walking up from the Four Seasons beach

One day we rented a car.  Most of the countries we have visited thus far (New Zealand, Australia, Maldives, Seychelles, Botswana, and Saint Helena) all have the steering wheel on the right and they drive on the left. British connections. Josh is afraid when he gets back home, he’ll drive on the wrong side of the road!  With the car, we connected with Jack and Carolyn and off we went to the Le Jardin du Roi, HIGH up the hillside on a windy narrow road.

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Are we going the right way?  No way to turn around, so we kept going up, up, up the narrow windy road, and finally, at the end of the road we reached the garden.  Other than being scorchingly hot, we enjoyed an incredible suite of tree varieties, bushes, flowers, etc, etc. Carolyn was in heaven, being our plant lover.  I tried to go from shade to shade to stay cool.  Saw a few birds, but most were too far away to photograph.

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Carolyn under the coco de mer palm (I think this one is 180 years old)

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Seychelles Bulbul

Acrobatics of the Seychelles Sunbird

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Then we sat down for an incredible brunch, which we had not expected.  No a la carte menu on Sundays, but instead a pre-set menu of delectable, local foods that they just kept bringing out until we were stuffed.  What a treat!

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On our last full day, I awoke with an eye infection, so we scrapped our plans to return our rental car and instead drove 45 minutes into Victoria to see a doctor.  Of course, along the way we stopped briefly to overlook the bay situated south of the airport in hopes of seeing shorebirds we have driven past upon arrival to the island.  But unfortunately the tide was too high.  However I did see two new species, and got bad photos of each, but good enough for the local eBird reviewer, Adrian, to help me id.

Lesser Created Tern and Lesser Noddy

In Victoria, we ended up visiting a doctor’s office in close proximity to the Botanical Garden, so of course, we took a quick stroll through it, dodging groups of tourists, but enjoying the wonderful plant life and Aldabra tortoises.

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Seychelles Botanical Garden
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Aldabra Tortoise

Next stop was the pharmacy to pick up my antibiotic eye ointment where I learned that I didn’t even need a prescription (which I didn’t have, but instead just a letter saying if it got worse, I had permission to go to the hospital to see a doctor).  Doxycycline was also recommended by our ophthalmologist friend, Jon, back home, so I asked the pharmacist about that.  He ended up letting me buy some, despite not having a prescription (even though it is required).  Bit looser regulations than in the States!

From Victoria, we headed back to our accommodations at the southern end of the island, taking a different route on a windy, narrow road up over the mountains.

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View back toward Victoria
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Sometimes barely room for trucks and buses to pass. And this truck that we followed had to dodge low-hanging power lines too!

Cresting the top, we wound our way down to the western shore, then south along the lovely beaches dotting each cove, stopping at a local farm stand to buy papayas, pineapple, bok choy, spinach, green beans, and corn on the cob.  I love having our own kitchenette to cook!

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Great local veggie and fruit stand

We mostly cooked breakfasts and lunches in and went out for dinners – one night going to the local Maria’s Rock Cafe where the food was cooked on a “rock” at our table. Little did we know that WE were supposed to cook it! When we didn’t jump into action, our waiter kindly asked if we wanted his help.  YES!  Salt, then butter (lots), then the fish grilled to perfection.

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Maria’s Rock Cafe – fish cooked at our table (anything with that much butter is good!)

On our last night, Jack and Carolyn invited us for a tour of the Four Seasons (the resort has more than 100 villas!) followed by a lovely beach-front outdoor dinner with a local musician crooning Willie Nelson, Beatles, and island songs on his acoustic guitar (and some other songs we requested).  He even told us about some guy joining him to sing a song many years ago, and it ended up being George Harrison, unbeknownst to him!

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Great entertainment on our last night

Here are a few more birds I enjoyed seeing near where we were staying.

seychelles - zebra dove, 1-13-18, anse soleil beach (3)
Zebra Dove
seychelles - seychelles sunbird, 1-13-18, kempinski lodge (2)
Seychelles Sunbird
seychelles - seychelles kestrel, 1-13-18, anse soleil beach area (2)
Seychelles Kestrel
seychelles - red fody, 1-12-18, maison soleil (2)
Red Fody
seychelles - red fody, 1-13-18, anse soleil beach area (2)
Red Fody
seychelles - gray heron, 1-13-18, kempinski lodge (2)
Gray Heron

And of course the fruit bats constantly flying overhead (bigger than many of the birds!)….

seychelles - giant fruit bat, 1-14-18, four seasons (4)
Seychelles fruit bat (also called flying fox) – with a wing span over 5 feet!

And sometimes found hanging in the trees…

seychelles - giant fruit bat, 1-14-18, four seasons
Seychelles fruit bat

On January 15, we woke early, drove to the airport in the dark, and waited and waited  for the plane to be refueled (which is only allowed a couple hours before departure), then finally off we flew to Botswana…. which requires a full bird report of its own!

Birds of Australia (Cont.)

On the previous Australia birds post, I neglected to post a few from Oxley Creek Common (in the Brisbane area), so here they are:

australia - pheasant coucal, 1-3-19, oxley creek commons (4)
Pheasant Coucal
australia - variegated fairywren (male), 1-3-19, oxley creek commons (18)
Variegated Fairywren
australia - red-backed fairywren (male), 1-3-19, oxley creek commons (8)
Red-backed Fairywren
australia - superb fairywren (male), 1-3-19, oxley creek commons
Superb Fairywren
australia - sulfur-crested cockatoo, 1-3-19, oxley creek commons (2)
Sulfur-crested Cockatoo

So that wraps up the east coast birding.  Next we flew inland to Ayers Rock (Uluru), which has a completely different habitat – dry desert, blasted hot during the day, and lots of red dirt and few trees.

Here are some birds we saw in the area.

australia - black-faced cuckooshrike, 1-5-19, yulara sails in the desert resort
Black-faced Cuckooshrike (thanks to Carolyn for figuring out what this bird was)
australia - white-plumed honeyeater, 1-6-19, yulara sails in the desert resort (3)
White-plumed Honeyeater (can you see the tiny white plume near the ear?)
australia - magpie-lark, 1-6-19, yulara sails in the desert resort
Magpie-lark
australia - rainbow bee-eater, 1-6-19, yulara sails in the desert resort (4)
Rainbow Bee-eater (caught a bee!)
australia - rainbow bee-eater, 1-6-19, yulara sails in the desert resort (15)
Rainbow Bee-eater
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Ayers Rock (Uluru)

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Mala walk along Ayers Rock

australia - spiny-cheeked honeyeater, 1-6-19, mala walk (uluru) (8)
Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater (but he was eating berries… hmmm)
australia - yellow-throated miner, 1-6-19, uluru-kata tjuta cultural centre (5)
Yellow-throated Miner
australia - little woodswallow, 1-6-19, mala walk (uluru)
Little Woodswallow

From Ayers Rock, we flew to Broome on the northwest coast, where it was very hot and humid, and a bit more vegetated than the central outback.

Not really a whole lot birdwise to write about, but Carolyn and I managed to find a few new birds on the hotel grounds in the couple hours we could stand the heat.

Little Friarbird (immature on left, adult on right – looking a bit ratty)

australia - white-gaped honeyeater, 1-7-19, oaks cable beach resort (broome)
White-gaped Honeyeater
australia - singing honeyeater, 1-7-19, oaks cable beach resort (broome)
Singing Honeyeater
australia - peaceful dove, 1-7-19, oaks cable beach resort (broome) (5)
Peaceful Dove (aren’t they beauties!)

Have you been counting how many honeyeaters we had in Australia?  Me neither.  But there are a lot!  I did end up seeing 103 bird species in all of Australia, with 76 lifers!

Just for fun, I put together a little video of some of the birds of Australia:

And I also did a video of the birds of New Zealand:

More Flying (Australia to Seychelles)

Repeat three times…. She sells seashells by the seashore in the Seychelles.

Guess where we are.

We flew from Broome, Australia to Singapore, spent two nights there, then the Maldives for one night, and the Seychelles the next day. A lot of flying in a few days and now taking three days to see the Seychelles and recover.

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The flight to Singapore was mostly good weather, but we had some deviations for storms. The communication (HF and VHF) is getting more challenging because we have trouble understanding the controllers. Me: “Jakarta control, november five seven five papa charlie, flight level three zero zero.” Them: “November papa charlie, radar identified, maintain flight level three hundred and gobbledygook… report at gobbledygook and at position gobbledygook call Singapore approach on gobbledygook decimal niner.” Me: “Please say again for five seven five papa charlie.” Them: completely unintelligible. Jack and I look at each other and shrug. Fortunately, we figure it out eventually and to their credit, they are very patient. They must be used to it.

The flight to Singapore was notable for crossing the 110 degrees east meridian or exactly 180 degrees opposite Maine. The other side of the world. Singapore was also interesting (and challenging) because the only general aviation airport, Seletar, has an altitude restriction over residential areas to the south, is wedged in between restricted military areas to the west and north, and is only a few miles from Changi (east), a very busy international airport. Seletar itself is very busy with business jets and flight schools and there are also no instrument approaches so every approach is visual. To top it off, because of some diplomatic dispute with Singapore, Malaysia restricted the airspace just north of Seletar up to 6,000 feet, which is about 4,500 feet higher than you want to be to enter the downwind pattern.

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Complicated Singapore airspace

We were talking to approach controllers, in and out of the clouds deviating for weather, and finally vectored into the downwind “joining procedure” for runway 03 at Seletar and cleared down to 3,000 feet. Still too high. We were turned over to the tower and instructed to fly the “overhead approach,” wherein we turned over the runway and began our descent by turning into the downwind pattern again to join other traffic. A steep, tight turn, flown with expert precision by Jack with a stabilized approach and smooth landing. We were prepared for all of this because we had briefed the arrival and approach extensively. But it was still busy and unusual and difficult to understand the controllers. It was good to have two pilots for this one.

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Joining procedure to Seletar prior to overhead approach

We taxied to our parking spot among the big business jets and shut down. I was expecting applause and accolades from our passengers in recognition of our skill and proficiency, but they just exited the plane and were whisked off to the VIP lounge while Jack and I fueled and buttoned up the trusty bird.  Becky later commented that when she looked out the window and saw the airport, she knew we were way too high and thought we had messed up.

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Becky’s view of Seletar airport while vectoring over Malaysia

From Singapore we flew to Banda Aceh, Indonesia for fuel stop before continuing to the Maldives.

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Early morning departure from Seletar
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Singapore to Banda Aceh to the Maldives

The Banda Aceh approach was also interesting.

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It was cloudy and rainy and the approach controller just said “proceed to Darus, cleared for ILS runway 17 approach, advise when established on the localizer.” We were approaching from the south and there is no procedure turn at Darus, so we essentially just vectored ourselves onto the approach. They don’t have any radar control so periodically they ask for position and altitude in order to maintain some separation between aircraft.

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View of Banda Aceh

This was the area devastated in the December 2004 by the tsunami resulting from the Indian Ocean earthquake. From what we saw, everything looked normal. The people were friendly and efficient, and also very curious as I don’t think they see many small, non-commercial aircraft there.

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Pretty airport
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Friendly and curious ground crew at Banda Aceh

We continued from Banda Aceh to the Maldives for an overnight on our way to the Seychelles. The Maldives consists of numerous atolls and coral islands, known for luxury resorts with nice beaches and reefs.

 

However, the capital of Malé, where we landed, was not idyllic Maldives. Very hot, crowded, and busy. The airport fueling was very inefficient, but we finally got topped off after going back to the airport and waiting around for a couple hours. I wish I had a nickel for every time the handler said, “the fuel truck is on the way now.” The ramp was crowded with private jets – apparently a lot of Russian billionaires who fly in and are whisked off to the exclusive island resorts – and we had a nice chat with a couple pilots who were getting ready to fly some kids to Moscow in a Global 5000 and return the next day to pick up the parents. The airport hotel was, well….. possibly one of the worst hotels I have ever stayed in, but all of the people were friendly and hospitable, and the beach out front was nice.

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Hot and tired after a long day

Interesting note: The Republic of Maldives is the world’s lowest country with an average elevation of five feet above sea level (the highest natural point is 7 ft 10 in). Due to the risks of rising sea levels, the government pledged in 2009 to make the Maldives a carbon-neutral country by 2019. From what we saw, they do not appear close to a net zero carbon footprint – especially as they are busy dredging, “reclaiming” land, and using diesel-belching heavy equipment to build dikes and seawalls. Carbon neutrality was a symbolic pledge as much as anything in order to draw attention to the plight of this threatened country.

We departed for the Seychelles the next day.

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It was generally a smooth flight with some weather dodging and the usual communication challenges. A lot of the communication was via HF with Mumbai Oceanic Control who are notorious for being difficult to reach and understand. In fact, for about two hours we could not even contact them. By the time we were nearing the Seychelles flight information region (FIR), we lucked onto the proper HF frequency for the Seychelles, and just contacted them. They were loud and clear. We received arrival and approach instructions, and here we are.

The Seychelles are very different from the Maldives. The Seychelles are an archipelago of 115 islands, some very mountainous (big granite hills and cliffs), and densely vegetated with numerous rainforests and national parks.

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Landing in the Seychelles

Narrow and curvy roads. Unfinished houses. Stray dogs. It’s the wet season now so we’ve had some good rains. The majority of the islands are uninhabited, with many dedicated as nature reserves for birds and animals such as the rare Aldabra giant tortoise.

We landed  at the international airport on the main island of Mahé, near the capital city of Victoria and are staying near the southwest corner of the island at a quaint “self-catering” guesthouse that consists of a small room, bathroom, and kitchenette. And… yay… we have a washing machine!

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Our cute little “self-catering” guesthouse (the blue car is our rental)
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Becky fixing breakfast in the small kitchen
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And eating papaya under the laundry

It is a 15 minute walk down a steep (!) hill to a nice little beach and heart-pounding walk back up the hill. At least for me. Becky just motors up and talks the whole way while I gasp for air.

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This is totally staged – no way I could run up that hill

On to Botswana on Tuesday where we will wait for a good weather window to fly to St. Helena Island in the Atlantic Ocean via Luanda, Angola for fuel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Birds of Australia (Part 1 – Brisbane area)

We started on the east coast of Australia in Brisbane, first birding the local city botanic garden which was across the road from our hotel. Carolyn and I enjoyed not only seeing some new birds, but viewed huge Flying Fox Bats hanging from the trees.

australia - black flying fox bat, 1-2-19, brisbane botanic gardens (3)
Black Flying Fox Bat
australia - white-faced heron, 1-2-19, brisbane botanic gardens
White-faced Heron
australia - noisy miner, 1-2-19, brisbane botanic gardens (6)
Noisy Miner (seen everywhere!)
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We saw big lizards too!
australia - little corella, 1-2-19, brisbane botanic gardens
Little Corella
australia - crab, 1-2-19, brisbane botanic gardens
Not a bird… but a pretty neat looking crab

The next day, we were lucky to spend the day with Hugh Possingham (Chief Scientist for The Nature Conservancy) who lives in Brisbane (thanks to Carolyn for setting this up!).  We birded Oxley Creek Common west of the city where Hugh is involved with restoration of the once farmland.  He was able to identify EVERY single bird there.  We really had quite an expert! And we saw many species:

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Birding with Hugh Possingham
australia - wille-wagtail, 1-3-19, oxley creek commons (2)
Willie-Wagtail
australia - tawny grassbird, 1-3-19, oxley creek commons (3)
Tawny Grassbird
australia - variegated fairywren (male), 1-3-19, oxley creek commons
Variegated Fairywrens (Hugh was a bit puzzled that two males would cuddle together)
australia - sacred kingfisher, 1-3-19, oxley creek commons (4)
Sacred Kingfisher
australia - olive-backed oriole, 1-3-19, oxley creek commons (2)
Olive-backed Oriole
australia - magpie-lark, 1-3-19, oxley creek commons (2)
Magpie-lark
australia - australian pelican, 1-3-19, oxley creek commons
Australian Pelican
australia - bar-shouldered dove, 1-3-19, oxley creek commons
Bar-shouldered Dove
australia - laughing kookaburra, 1-3-19, oxley creek commons (3)
Laughing Kookaburra (doesn’t this just make you start humming the song….?)
australia - golden-headed cisticola, 1-3-19, oxley creek commons
Golden-headed Cisticola
australia - dollarbird, 1-3-19, oxley creek commons (8)
Dollarbird
australia - double-barred finch, 1-3-19, oxley creek commons (5)
Double-barred Finch
australia - australasian figbird (male), 1-3-19, oxley creek commons
Australasian Figbird

After walking around Oxley for 4.5 hours, Hugh took us to his house for a snack of bananas, toast, vegemite, and coffee.  We then walked to his neighborhood park (Sherwood Arboretum) on the shores of the Brisbane River, and found some more birds.

australia - maned duck (female), 1-3-19, sherwood arboretum
Maned Duck (female)
australia - masked lapwing, 1-3-19, sherwood arboretum
Masked Lapwing
australia - crested pigeon, 1-3-19, sherwood arboretum (5)
Crested Pigeon
australia - little black cormorant, 1-3-19, sherwood arboretum (2)
Little Black Cormorant
australia - hardhead, 1-3-19, sherwood arboretum
Hardhead (not sure how it got this name…?)
australia - eurasian coot, 1-3-19, sherwood arboretum
Eurasian Coot
australia - australasian grebe, 1-3-19, sherwood arboretum
Australasian Grebe (somehow I think he might look different in a cleaner pond)
australia - australasian swamphen, 1-3-19, sherwood arboretum
Australasian Swamphen
australia - royal spoonbill, 1-3-19, sherwood arboretum (5)
Royal Spoonbill
australia - australian ibis, 1-3-19, sherwood arboretum
Australasian Ibis (these birds are in steep decline in their native habitat, but are in ever increasing numbers in parks and human inhabited areas, becoming a pest)

On the following day, Hugh took us all on a trip up into the mountains to D’Aguilar National Park (about an hour west of Brisbane).
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We all tucked in our pants after Hugh warned us about all the leeches in the forest
australia - lewin's honeyeater, 1-4-19, d'aguilar np-maiala loop walk (2)
Lewin’s Honeyeater
australia - eastern yellow robin, 1-4-19, d'aguilar np-maiala loop walk
Eastern Yellow Robin (not related to our American Robin, nor the European Robin)
australia - gray fantail, 1-4-19, d'aguilar np-maiala loop walk (4)
Gray Fantail

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australia - satin bowerbird (female), 1-4-19, d'aguilar np-maiala loop walk
Satin Bowerbird (female)
australia - australian logrunner, 1-4-19, d'aguilar np-maiala loop walk
Australian Logrunner (ok, this is a bad photo, but it was VERY special to see this bird deep in the forest where the lighting was terrible)

Rufous Fantail nest with eggs

Here is a blurry photo of the Rufous Fantail on the nest:

australia - rufous fantail, 1-4-19, d'aguilar np-maiala loop walk
Rufous Fantail on nest
australia - australasian figbird (female) , 1-4-19, d'aguilar np-walkabout creek
Australian Figbird (female)

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australia - bell miner, 1-4-19, d'aguilar np-walkabout creek
Bell Miner

And we saw a small kangaroo, but learned it had a different name….

australia - Pademelon, 1-4-19, d'aguilar np-maiala loop walk (5)
Pademelon

And a huge lizard….

australia - monitor lizard, 1-4-19, d'aguilar np-walkabout creek
Monitor Lizard (about three feet long!)

The rest of my birds in Australia (from Ayers Rock and Broome) will be in a different post…. this one got too long!

 

Flying Australia

We were wheels up early January 2nd for a 5+ hour (1,250 NM) flight from Auckland across the Tasman Sea to Brisbane, Australia.

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Line up and wait Runway 23L, Auckland

It was nice weather and a smooth flight. Communications were easy – some HF, but mostly VHF as Australia has a remote transmitter on Lord Howe Island about 400 miles east of the mainland. Whenever we fly over the ocean we take the time to plot the position of ships close to our route in case of an emergency. Something we hope we never need, but just another example of Jack’s attention to detail. We also look at wave height and direction in case we need to ditch.

ships

We flew the SAVER2A arrival and landed on Runway 01R in Brisbane. The landing marked the seventh continent for me and Jack in N575PC. A proud accomplishment.

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Runway 01R at Brisbane
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Our seventh continent!

We spent two days in Brisbane. On the first day, Jack and I went back out to the FBO to “supervise” some maintenance on the plane. He had arranged in advance for a nearby Pilatus service center to do an engine desalinization wash and do some maintenance checks.

n575pc service

An engine desalination wash is recommended periodically when operating in salt water environments to rinse any salt that may have accumulated in the engine that could eventually cause corrosion. They basically run fresh water through the turbine section of the engine while turning the turbine with the starter (but not allowing the engine to start – no fuel added).  After the wash, they put everything back together and we ran the engine at high power for eight minutes to dry out any residual water and just generally check that the parts they removed to inject the fresh water all performed properly after re-installation. The maintenance crew were thorough and conscientious and were very complimentary about the excellent condition of N575PC.

While on the ramp I took this photo of a Twin Otter with floats. Cool plane.

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We were told this plane is used, on demand, to fly supplies to a mega-yacht in the South Pacific. They call and ask for a case of wine and some caviar, it is loaded into the Otter, and flown to the yacht.

On January 5th we flew from Brisbane to Ayers Rock, Central Australia, Northern Territory.

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Leaving Brisbane

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This was an interesting flight over the “Red Centre” of the continent — a vast, dry, inhospitable, and starkly beautiful region in the Northern Territory and Western Australia that includes the dusty red desert, mountains, and gorges. Talk about desolate! And what a contrast to the greenery of the New Zealand and the coastal rainforests and hills just west of Brisbane. An hour west of Brisbane (as the Pilatus flies) all the way to the west coast is arid and sandy. For perspective, that’s like flying from Philadelphia to Denver over a dry red desert the whole way.

 

Red Centre sands as far as we could see

Ayers Rock airport is a VFR only airport in Class G airspace (completely uncontrolled). Above 24,500 feet is Class A airspace for high-level IFR en route only. 18,000 to 24,500 is Class E that is mid-level en route controlled for VFR and IFR. 0 to 18,000 is Class G.

Even though it is in Class G airspace, the airport has been designated a CTAF-R airport which signifies that it has been assigned a Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF) – and all aircraft operating there have to be equipped with a radio. The airport also operates a Certified Air/Ground Radio Service (CA/GRS) on the CTAF during certain hours of the day to provide pilots with operational information so we did have some traffic awareness prior to landing. We essentially got permission from Melbourne Center to descend and a few minutes later to change frequencies. After that it was normal VFR communications on the CTAF in the Class G airspace with the expectation that we would close our flight plan once on the ground (which I forgot to do – oops – but the GRS kindly did for us). It was a cool 92 degrees on the ground. Cool compared to 116 degrees (!) the day before. The time-zone change is an unusual 1/2 hour from Brisbane.

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Ayers Rock airport with Ayers Rock in the background
ayers rock rwy
Ayers Rock landing

Ayers Rock (or Uluru) is a massive sandstone (arkose) monolith and sacred Aboriginal site in the middle of all this vastness. Jack and Carolyn had been here many years ago and suggested it was worth a stop for me and Becky. We got up early the next day to watch the sunrise at Ayers Rock and do a short walkabout.

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Sun behind us reflecting off Ayers Rock

becky and josh - ayers rock

On December 7th we flew from Ayers Rock to Broome in Western Australia. This was a relatively quick flight, about 2.5 hours  – the shortest of our trip.

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All of it over more desolate terrain (aptly called the Great Sandy Desert) until we reached the beautiful west coast. As an bonus upon arrival, a senior pilot for the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS)  agreed to meet us, give us a tour of their Broome facility, and hangar N575PC overnight.

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N575PC with a little hangar TLC

The RFDS flies a large fleet on PC-12 aircraft and Jack has gotten to know them through the Pilatus Owners and Pilots Association (POPA). The RFDS provides 24/7 emergency and primary health care services for those living in rural Australia, generally attempting to provide a response within a few hours. A very worthwhile and valuable service to remote places with few, if any, options for healthcare.

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Interior set-up
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Neo-natal unit configured for PC-12

Broome is an international airport providing exit customs clearance for our next flight to Singapore. We will spend one day in Singapore and then head across the Indian Ocean.


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Seen in a cafe near Brisbane…