Report No. 2. Sunday, August 17 thru Monday, August 18. LAMINGTON NATIONAL PARK.

 

Reminder: Sharon's added comments are in {brackets}. Comments inserted after returning to San Jose are in red.

Sun, August 17, 2003. Day 4 of 118. CLIMBING TO LAMINGTON.

632am and we're ready for the day here in Tyndale. It's beautiful, the sun's out, the sky's blue and there are puffy clouds ahead of us. Gorgeous, very similar to the San Francisco Bay Area in February. We pick up a GREY BUTCHERBIRD* in a morning birdwalk, who has one of the prettiest songs going, but he doesn't share it. We finish birding and take off.

Sharon spots our first dead kangaroo, hit by a vehicle. We know from previous experience that this is now a permanent problem, kangaroo vs. motor vehicle, particularly at dusk, when the roos come out to eat.

There are sugar cane fields all around us, and we saw a headline yesterday that said STRIKE STOPS SUGAR, or something like that.

800am. We come to a drawbridge, pass over and begin looking for the beautiful Mistletoebird, because we see lots of mistletoe. Sharon tells me that she read that the Blue-faced Honeyeaters go into the sugar cane fields to take sugar out of leftover plants that are lying around.

A few minutes later, we are driving down the highway at 100 km/hr when Sharon spots an owl sitting on a post, next to a cane field. We do a safe U-turn, come back slowly as we get near to the owl. We ID it as a BARN OWL, and it wakes up just long enough to blink once and go back to sleep.

Sleepy Barn Owl

We come to a restaurant with a giant prawn on top, next to a Caltex service station. We go into the station and I purchase some AA and AAA batteries. Sharon buys some things too. She's still got her binoculars on, with their extra wide straps. At the checkout counter, the clerk sees this binocular harness, and says to Sharon, "Is all that gear to hold up your binoc'lars?" Except Sharon thought he said knockers. So didn't have any response.

One Giant Prawn

We head off again, but get our first black and white PIED BUTCHERBIRD* before we get back to the motorhome. On the road, we also get WELCOME SWALLOWS, working on their nests. Continuing on, we see a neat, rectangular garden on the side of a hill, and the entire garden is coffee bushes with red beans on them.

We drive by a roadside attraction that is a restaurant, a miniature golf course, and a huge BIG Knight. Now we're coming down off a mountain perhaps 1000 feet high. We're working out way down, down, winding, now seeing the ocean, Byron Bay, curling around a huge green valley with green grass, pockets of little ponds, a windmill, cattle, small orchards, with isolated pieces of woods. Beautiful to see. It's become overcast and now is lightly sprinkling.

It's about 11am and we drive by the Humble Pie Company. A sign says "CHOOKS." What's that? I think it means chicken. As food. Comments or confirmation from Aussie readers?

Sharon sees an unusual bird standing in a golf course and thinks it might be a Bustard. I carefully make a U-turn, a dangerous proposition depending on the traffic and difficult blind spots in the motorhome, but the Mercedes has a really tight turning circle and you know me - Mr. Careful, so we head back. We get a nice WHITE-NECKED HERON*, just before it lifts off, having reached his tee time I suppose. A handsome contrast between the white neck and lower parts and the dark steel blue back and wings.

White-necked Heron

We stop for lunch about 130pm in front of a police station - closed Sundays. I'm concluding that there is apparently a law against crime on Sunday. There are nice birding trees all around, and we have sandwiches and chips ("crisps" in Oz). It's sprinkling when we park, but sunny, mild and beautiful when we finish. We police the area, but find no new birds.

243pm and we're on the twisty, climby part of the road up to Lamington National Park, one of the top birding areas in Australia. We pass a farm with a lot of Brahma cattle, but they are peaceful, unlike the ones I remember from the J-Bar-H rodeo in Camdenton, Missouri as a boy.

We continue climbing when a dark bird flies across our path and lands in a tree. It is a dark blue-black bird with what seems like tan wings. I remember this bird, but Sharon calls out the name before I do. The PHEASANT COUCAL* looks a little like a pheasant, and is famous for not being able to land very well, something that we notice as he sort of collides with the tree he wound up in. Nice bird.

We stop at an overlook, and far in the distance I see a mountain that reminds me of an island off Oahu, I think, called Chinaman's Hat. We continue up and pass an Alpaca stud farm, where you can stay, have breakfast, light lunches and afternoon teas. It also has "tucker" listed on the sign as something you can get. Way back in the recesses of what I call my mind I seem to recall that that means food, like you have packed in a picnic basket. Or in your tucker bag.

We make it all the way up to world famous O'Reilly's. I drive past the campsite where we hope to stay tonight, but the entrance has low branches which would strike our vehicle well below the 3.5 meters of its height, including the a/c. So I don't enter, but continue on up to O'Reilly's parking lot, only about 50 meters further on.

We get out and are immediately overwhelmed with new birds. Holy Cowbird! We see an area where a fellow is feeding birds by hand. There are Crimson Rosellas perched on him. We see three AUSTRALIAN BRUSH-TURKEYS*, turkey-sized birds with dark blue body, red head, yellow ring around the neck and the males have a big yellow piece of skin hanging down at this point also. More about the Brush-Turkey in later reports.

Australian Brush-turkey

SPECTACULAR! We see one of our bingo (desirable target) birds, and it's the absolutely exquisite REGENT BOWERBIRD*. You're bowled over to see a photograph of this bird, but in person? Oh my. A black bird with a brilliant contrasting yellow top of the head curling down the back and onto the shoulders. And yellow across the back of the wings. He's perched in a tree high above the place where people purchase birdseed, hold it in their hands, and have their friends take their photo.

We walk around the grounds and get a beautiful WONGA PIGEON*, a steel blue and white bird that gives "pigeon" a good name. We get other birds we can't ID. We get quick flyby views of parrots. We make our way to the campsite registration area, and learn that we can camp for $8 a night - $5 US. I express my concern about the low branches, and get the suggestion, "Well, just go in the exit." A radical idea I never thought of. The ranger continues, "There's not many people. Just pop right up there."

We head out, but then we realize that the shiny black bird with the yellow bill we've been seeing is none other than the SATIN BOWERBIRD*. Sharon can't wait to locate one of their bowers. One of the mystery olive-colored birds we've been seeing is the female.

We climb back aboard our rig and I slide it right up the exit, just as smooth as you can imagine. The camp isn't very large and is a section of the sloping side of a piece of the mountain. Each site has a leveled place for you to set up your tent, and certain sites are designated for motorhomes. But they are all too small for us. We see a motorhome way at the top of the hill in a huge level gravel area, and I go talk to them. This is clearly the thing to do with a motorhome of this size, and I get us up there.

We set up and realize from our exposed position here in the rainforest that it still gets dark early. August in Australia is like February in the US. The good news is that although there is no electricity so I can recharge batteries, there is a shower and toilet block. Sharon takes a shower while I continue setting up.

At 530pm, we head out for a walk, looking for the beginning of Whispering Tree trail. Sharon sees a bird on the ground. It is brown, with bright yellow underneath, from our angle. It is the beautiful EASTERN YELLOW ROBIN*. The robins of Australia do not look at all like the robin of North America. These are curious, bouncy, attractive birds, like those of New Zealand, and the English Robin, if you've ever seen that bird.

We come back, and Sharon throws down some food to attract an animal we've heard is around, and have seen glimpses of them.

AND THE FLASHBACK IS COMPLETE (See the beginning of Report No. 1 if you've forgotten where it started). We're in present time now.

The Pademelons (I'd have called them kangaroos before reading about them) love the food Sharon threw down (birdseed, even!), and after my trip to the toilet, I re-enter the motorhome, watching them watching me as I turn in.

Bird Summary: Life Birds Today: 9 (Grey Butcherbird, Pied Butcherbird, White-necked Heron, Pheasant Coucal, Australian Brush-Turkey, Regent Bowerbird, Wonga Pigeon, Satin Bowerbird, Eastern Yellow Robin). For the Trip: 28.

Trip Birds Today: 11 (9 Lifers plus Barn Owl, Welcome Swallow) For the Trip: 54.

Snakes Seen Today: 0. For the Trip: 0.

Attractions that start with, contain, or are "Big": 2 (Big Prawn - a restaurant, Big Knight - at miniature golf course) For the Trip: 2, though there may have been one or two before we started counting

Sleep in: Lamington National Park (no electricity), Queensland

 

Mon, August 18, 2003. Day 5 of 118. MORE GREAT BIRDS, NO LYE.

Our alarm is off at 515am or so, and we're hoping for Albert's Lyrebird today. Hoping, hoping. This bird spends most of his waking hours imitating other birds, but also other sounds he's picked up along the way. We've got good directions and I'm feeling like we have maybe a 70% chance of success.

We leave the motorhome in place and walk the quarter mile or so the entrance to the Python Rock Trail. The problem is that we arrive too early, and it's still pitch dark at 600am. Who ever heard of a birder getting started too early? It takes me a few days to accept the facts of winter life in the rainforest. The sun hitting the forest floor actives the insects. The insects activate the birds. But we don't realize this yet.

There goes a bat flyby. Sharon claims that we're gonna see a python, but I claim we're gonna see rocks. In Australia, "return" is the same as "round trip" at home, so you now know what "3.5 km return" means.

As we stand here, we hear fabulous Eastern Whipbirds. The whipCRACK of the male followed immediately by the sharply whistled "chew, chew" of his mate.

It finally gets light enough to start the trail and we head in. There's a Satin Bowerbird, sounding like a cat. I give my squeaker a twist or two and we bring in a couple of Fairy-wrens and later an Eastern Yellow Robin, plus the usual White-browed Scrubwrens.

We have been walking just about ten minutes when we hear our target bird! We pick up our pace to get in the vicinity, then slow down for stealth. Remarkable sounds come from the dense forest, straight off from the trail, but we can't entice him over, and can't get a view of him. But there's no doubt who the speaker of the forest is.

We hear another further on and we reluctantly leave this one, hoping for a visual later. We finally come to the end - to Python Rock lookout, with perhaps three lyrebirds heard, but none seen. That's ok. We still have the return trip, and if we don't see him today, we are going to try again tomorrow morning. Lots of chances.

Meanwhile, at the tremendous lookout, a Pied Currawong calls, in addition to a few Lewin's Honeyeaters. Then several little birds dart around, landing near the Currawong. I get my binoculars on them, and I excitedly tell Sharon what they are. She gets on them and sees the telltail sign of the SPOTTED PARDALOTES*. There are wonderful spots on this tiny stubby-looking bird. All over the dark blue crown and wings. They won't hold still for a great look, but we get them for sure, and then they're gone. A Silvereye was with them - a little olive-green bird with a white ring around each eye.

We start back and after a while, we come to a huge tree and Sharon suddenly points upward based on some sounds coming from high above. She starts scanning with that world-class spotting eye she has. She quickly gets me onto her discovery, and we see a medium-large brownish bird with a long curved bill peeling away bark, which then falls to the ground. It's a bird that's only in this relatively tiny area of Australia, a female PARADISE RIFLEBIRD*. And don't you just love that name?

A little later we get on a little bird with a short tail, white on the rump. It seems kind of chunky, with a gray cap. Its lack of distinctive features and comparison with our field guide pictures tells us that it's a LONG-BILLED SCRUBWREN*. Then we get a bird on the trail kicking up leaves. It's a RUSSET-TAILED THRUSH, and is scratching, scratching in the leaves on the trail, uncovering his goodies.

We hear another Albert's and make our way along the trail to where the sound is directly down the hill. We can't get it any closer and continue on, hearing another one on the way back. I twist my whistler again and an Eastern Yellow Robin pops onto its nest, pressing its belly way down into the bottom of the deep cup that's its nest.

After a bit, I do the squeaker again, and we get the now familiar White-browed Scrubwren, but this time we also get the YELLOW-THROATED SCRUBWREN*. We keep hearing a long call that reminds Sharon of a cicada, and since there is a bird here called the Cicadabird, we decide that it might be that. Later, we spot a bird making that exact sound, and it's a Lewin's Honeyeater. So much for the Cicadabird.

Another squeak calls in Brown Thornbills, plus a GREY FANTAIL, as we've made it all the way back to our camper.

We go up to the road, and back to park central, then continue on, finding the beginning of the Booyang Walk, Booyang being the name of this tree with huge buttressed roots. We take off on this trail, and get our first view of the Whipbird. Dark bird with white throat and a nice crest. Very wary, scratching leaves for what's under them. He sees us and scampers off, cracking his whip about ten seconds later. Fantastic!

This trail puts you onto the Treetop Walk, a suspended path 110 meters high at some points - higher than a football field. Let me tell you, it's a long way down. Sharon has never liked heights and accuses me of intentionally shaking the thing. While it's something I would like to do if I were up here alone, I plead not guilty. {They suggest no more than six people on any one section of this bridge, but when families come with their kids, the thing really gets to moving!}

Treetop Walk in Lamington National Park

Suddenly we see a spectacular bird, brilliant yellow below, white throat, black head, and a great singer, with loud clear notes. He's a GOLDEN WHISTLER*, and we can hear why. We exit the Treetop Walk and read about the Strangler Fig, which sends up vines, surrounds a tree, steals the life from the tree, which dies, leaving the fig vine shell.

We come upon another Eastern Whipbird, which doesn't see us. He's standing on a rotting log like a lumberjack in a chopping contest, where he swings down into the wood between his legs. Only the Whipbird is digging out chunks of rotten wood to get at what's underneath.

We make our way back to the feeding area and there are an unbelievable 100-120 Crimson Rosellas, maybe a dozen King-Parrots, a few Wonga Pigeons, and Sharon claims a partridge in a pair of trees.

We decide to do one more trail, and near the bottom as we cross a bridge over a big chasm, we hear a call coming from way above us. Sharon gets on it, then I quickly get the CRESTED SHRIKE-TIT*. It's another black and white and yellow bird. Very spiffy with his black crest.

We hear the distinctive sound of the GREEN CATBIRD*, but can't get a look at it. We count heard-only birds, though we didn't used to. When I learned that the Bay Area's more experienced birders did, then hey, we started to. I mean, it's hard to actually SEE a Whipoorwill.

We come upon a Brush-turkey tending his nest. Now this bird scratches leaves and sticks until he has a mound maybe 4 feet high. The female lays the eggs deep in this decaying mound, and the male then tends it, as I recall. He has a very accurate heat sensor in his bill, and he can tell by sticking his nose in the top of the heap whether he has to scratch some leaves away or add more leaves on.

They are apparently very good at this, because there are lots of Brush-turkeys around and everyone of them started in such a heap, working their own way out upon hatching. Very cool.

Anyway, Sharon says, "Get a picture." It's getting very dark, so I have to get very close. Mr. Brush-Turkey doesn't seem to appreciate me approaching his mound, and he starts walking towards me. I turn my back to him and walk back onto the trail. Meantime a female Brush-Turkey comes in from behind us, walking towards the mound. That male BT goes screaming (figuratively speaking) after her and chases her full running speed up the trail maybe 20 meters before he comes back.

This bird is one of a set that are called moundbuilders. They will eat from your hand, we have noticed back up at the feeder place, and Sharon decides to feed the local bird. She takes a handful of birdseed she has been carrying in a small paper bag, and holds out her hand. The bird starts pecking at the seed, and Sharon is pleased. The bird gets a little rambunctious and pecks her hand fiercely, apparently not having perfect aim. "It BIT me! It BIT me!" she yells, holding her hand. The bird walks off, in a manner which I would term as unconcerned. {At least it wasn't a snake!}

We get back to O'Reilly's and are bushed. We have two options. Wait for 30 minutes and eat an elegant dinner in O'Reilly's famous dining room, or go back to the motorhome now and Sharon will make us dinner, tired as she is. {Left-over spaghetti} We go back and forth in a familiar pattern for us - me trying to do what I think she wants, and her trying to do what she thinks I want.

This time, she makes the breakthrough and says, "OK. I realize I'm really going to resent it if we come all the way to this place, and I don't get to eat a good dinner here." So I win, having tried to persuade her to have dinner here. We go inside the multi-level, multi-room lodge and make our way to the fireplace room. You have to realize that right now, up here, at this time of day, it's downright cool, and the fire feels good. We find a picture book of Cape York Peninsula - the analogy in the US would be the tip of Maine - and enjoy looking at scenes and birds from the place we intend to fly to, spend three nights, then fly back (from Cairns). {Two or three couples entertain us by singing songs from the 40's.}

Six o'clock comes and we make our way to the dining room, after paying for our meals - $45 each, $30 US. A world class bargain, and triple value on an evening when we are both so pooped. The hostess seats us with another couple that we really enjoy. Stan and Dorothy Cross, from Adelaide. He's a retired physician - I'd estimate 80-85 years old, and she's a retired nurse - I'd estimate 70-75 years old. They are both very intelligent and witty and they take a liking to us too.

Another, younger woman is soon added to our table, then a little later, still another woman. All these people are bright, intelligent and witty except for Rosa, who is sitting across from me. When I don't quite get her name and ask again, she says, "Rosa, or Rose, or you can call me anything." During the ensuing conversation I learn the following things:

Eating in Style at O'Reilly's Rainforest Lodge

1. The girl whose name I didn't get saw two Albert's Lyrebirds today, hardly trying at all. Some days are like this, you see, and no, it's not going to make me sleep later in the morning. She also saw a Green Catbird, which we only heard. Dang.

2. Rosa thinks I'm too intense, that I should learn to relax, and that I should get a life.

3. I think Rosa talks a little too much, and I try to think of some names she has given me carte blanche to call her. Hmmm.

The meal is one of the best I've had in my life. It is roast pork in a zesty apricot and currant sauce, with candied apricots tossed in. Mashed potatoes and vegetables - all very tasty. No, I mean VERY tasty. Then the desserts, oh my. Sharon, bless her heart, only tries two, but I have about five. Now I don't eat all of the five. I take a taste and finish off what's really good. Like the orange ice cream. {We also get to see brush-tail possums that come to feeding trays the restaurant puts out for them.}

Anyway, a most excellent meal. Stan and Dorothy give us their address in Adelaide, and insist that we stop by and have a meal at their house when we are in the southern part of our circle. They are really fun people.

They tell us over and over that we HAVE TO, JUST HAVE TO see O'Reilly's theater presentation tonight. It's a birder famous in these parts named Glenn Threlfo. He has done some excellent videos of the birds here at Lamington and other photos from earlier in his life up at Kakadu National Park. We finally relent and agree to go with them.

When it's time for the show to start, in comes this lanky, good-looking, energetic fellow with early-graying, curly hair, carrying a bag of we don't know what. He proceeds to give us a history and demonstration of the harmonica. It's outstanding, he's very lively and funny, and accurate. He claims that in America, people like Bob Dylan stuck the harmonica in a holder that is slung around the neck, and which holds the harmonica about a half-inch in front of your mouth. So you tilt your neck forward a little to play it, or back to sing.

I can attest to the accurateness of this because I have that exact setup, but I also stick a kazoo in the holder, next to the harmonica. This is especially for San Francisco Bay Blues. I brought the house down one night in 1968 in a Joliet, Illinois country and western bar. If you saw the Blues Brothers, think of the time they got the band back together and played at the Country Bumpkin. It was like that. Only I was the star, and it never got any better than that night.

If you want to read that story, I'll leave it as an exercise to find it on our website, www.24birds.net, under Bob's Stories.

But I digress. {We keep asking ourselves, "when is the guy going to get here who is going to talk about birds? Maybe we're in the wrong place." We also notice that our friends are looking at us with puzzled looks on their faces.}

After the harmonica demo, he finally plays his video entitled "Albert's Lyrebird." It is fantstic, and we buy it the next day, so if you want to see it, come on over. But not till after December 9th, 2003. Then he shows a series of slides from Kakadu National Park which he took on a special setup he designed. It's three cameras mounted in such a way that they take a panorama, at exactly the same instant. That is, it's three pictures. Then you show these three slides at the same time in three carefully aligned projectors. It looks like a triple-wide screen and is truly beautiful. The billabongs at sunrise, sunset, birds flying into a huge red sun, water droplets on ferns with smoky fog in the background. I loved it.

When the show is over, we talk to Glenn and he gives us his opinion of where we should go tomorrow to see the Albert's. He also gives us a tip on seeing a Tawny Frogmouth. We are delighted, and when we tell him where we're from, he asks if we know Doug and Gail Cheeseman, a couple who live in Saratoga, California, and lead tours all over the world. And I mean ALL OVER. We laugh, because we have gone on a whale/birdwatching trip with them, so I say, "Yes, I threw up all over their boat once." Which I did. Man, I was sick.

It turns out that the Cheesemans are bringing a tour to Kakadu next month and Glenn and his wife are being flown up to Darwin to meet them, and he will be the "local" bird guide. The birders who go on this trip are some lucky birders. They will get a life experience.

But I digress some more. Sorry.

Sharon gets Glenn to autograph a postcard, featuring a picture Glenn took, and we're off. Refreshed, we head back to the motorhome, and we hear the familiar "more pork" sound made by the owl that goes by that exact name in New Zealand, but is called the SOUTHERN BOOBOOK here. We have never seen this little owl, but have heard him before, in NZ.

It's bedtime for two tired babies, and off we go, me dreaming of a bird belonging to Albert.

Bird Summary: Life Birds Today: 8 (Spotted Pardalote, Paradise Riflebird, Large-billed Scrubwren, Russet-tailed Thrush, Yellow-throated Scrubwren, Golden Whistler, Crested Shrike-tit, Green Catbird - heard only). For the Trip: 36.

Trip Birds Today: 10 (8 Lifers plus Grey Fantail, Southern Boobook owl - heard only) For the Trip: 64.

Snakes Seen Today: 0. For the Trip: 0.

Attractions seen that start with, contain, or are "Big" Today: 0 For the Trip: 2

Sleep in: Lamington National Park (no electricity), Queensland

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