Built for the birds – Welcome Swallows and the Mungo Woolshed.

Built for the birds – Welcome Swallows and the Mungo Woolshed.

Mungo in late November is hot. By 11.30am walking outside is unattractive, no matter how captivating the big mob of Emus look in the heat shimmer. The historic rough-sawn bulk of the Mungo Woolshed promises relief, so I duck inside.

Emus at Mungo National Park

Just above my head, a Welcome Swallow dismisses me with a glance. Elegant and haughty, swallows are creatures of the air, not of the land. Humans, it seems, are nothing more to them than builders of convenient eaves for swallow nest sites.


I scan the large room. No wonder the swallow seemed calm. The woolshed is full of swallows. I see thirty on the ceiling braces of one alcove. Each rafter holds a swallow, and every few minutes a soft blue blur reveals another swallow entering.


Welcome Swallows are high speed aerial acrobats. They fly endlessly without tiring, sometimes completing figures-of-eight around your legs as you walk across a park. Mostly when you see them flying they are hunting – the small insects they prey on are invisible to our eyes, but the swallow’s acrobatic manoevres are the hunter in pursuit.

But the middle of the day in The Outback is hot. Even the insects seek shade (have you ever walked into an Outback dunny* on a hot day to find it full of flies? They get hot too!) Perhaps the swallows find it hard to hunt in very high temperatures and take a siesta in the woolshed.

The Mungo Woolshed may have been built for humans to make money from wool, but it has another purpose now. Its the Mungo Swallow-shed.

Visit the wildlife and heritage of Mungo National Park with us on our 3 day Mungo Outback Journey


*dunny: an outhouse toilet.

A great day on Halicat Sydney Pelagic

The oceans of the world are vast, mostly dark and unknown, especially to land-lubbers like me.  I know they are full of life, but I know that in the same way I know the earth spins – it’s a cerebral thing, not something I can feel, touch and sense.  Well, if you’re like me, you should try this.

Halicat picks you up early on a beautiful Sydney morning. For the first half hour you enjoy the sights of Sydney Harbour – truly one of the most beautiful city views in the world.  Then a Little Penguin pops up, bobbing on the surface. They are so cute on the water!  The boat stops, and one of the great highlights of this trip happens – there is a rush of photographers, nature lovers and birdwatchers to the back of the boat to ooh and aah at the penguins.  The enthusiasm is exhilarating!

Passing through the heads and into the Pacific Ocean you watch as Sydney falls away behind you.


Seabirds start to follow the boat at this point.  At first, Silver Gulls and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters. Then more shearwaters – Flesh-footed and a few Short-tailed – and some Great-winged Petrels.  The shearwaters are true creatures of the ocean – long-winged, buoyant – they float on the air so easily that at times they outrun the boat and have to double back.  More and more join us until there are hundreds flying with us.  Where do they come from? How do they know?


A scan of the horizon with binoculars shows many more seabirds, singly and in small groups, out there in every direction.  Suddenly, the enormity of this ocean fills your senses.  We are a tiny speck of a boat in this vastness, and already we have attracted hundreds of creatures – at any point on this ocean the same would happen.  There must be millions of seabirds on the Pacific at any one time, but all out of view of our land eyes.

Image < Flesh-footed Shearwater. Pic by Hal Epstein, Halicat

Dolphins join us for a while, then leave.  An Albatross comes by.  The size and power of this creature has to be seen to be believed.  I have watched documentaries about albatrosses, and seen a few off in the distance, but to witness this enormous bird flying over the boat left me speechless.

Image <Shy Albatross. Pic by Hal Epstein, Halicat

We saw many more creatures this day, and shared a warm camaraderie with the many nature lovers on board.  But something about the trip changed me forever.  You know that feeling when something dramatic happens in your life, and from that time onwards you remember things as happening before or after that event.  There was life before Halicat, and now there’s a new and better life after Halicat.

Try it.  The oceans of the world need us to love them.


Tips: Halicat runs on the second Saturday of each month. It is weather dependent, but runs most of the scheduled dates.  Take a seasickness medication like Kwells if you get seasick, or if you’re unsure – being sick would ruin your day, and the Pacific is a powerful ocean.  My partner almost didn’t go because he was worried about seasickness, but with meds he was talked into it, and now he is so pleased he did.  Take lunch and some nut/granola bars with you.  The boat provides morning tea, but that disappears quickly.

The trip costs $120AUD per person.