Report No. 6. Thursday, August 28 thru Saturday, August 30. CASSIES, CRATERS AND CRAKES.

 

NOTES:

1. [Birding Stop Numbers] refer to blue numbers on an Australia map and an associated Excel spreadsheet that I have given to some people, and which is also on our website. The website is www.24birds.net From that page, look under "Birding Trips", then after '2003', click "Down Under". Then under "HOPES AND DREAMS...", click either "Map of Australia" or "Original Itinerary".

2. To see some of the birds I refer to, from the same location above ("HOPES AND DREAMS..."), click on "The Australian New Bird Pool." This will bring up the alphabetically-by-last name list of birds we hope to see. For example, to find the Yellow Chat, scroll down to "Chat" in the "Last Name" column, and "Yellow" in the "First Name" column. Then click on either of those names to bring up the picture.

3. A bird in upper case letters (e.g. PIED CORMORANT) indicates the first time we've seen this bird on this 4-month trip. An added asterisk (e.g. APOSTLEBIRD*) means it is a life bird for us, i.e. we've never seen it before. Other birds may be in initial caps (e.g. Red-capped Robin) or all lower case (e.g. sparrow).

4. Sharon proofreads [almost] everything.

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

 

Thu, August 28, 2003. Day 15 of 118. CONSIDER THE CASSOWARY

The alarm is off about 600am and it's great, lying in bed listening to the rain on the motorhome roof - very soft and soothing.

At about 645am we are headed for the dam [More of Birding Stop 12]. It's overcast with rain probable, but hey, it's a rainforest, and wouldn't you expect that forecast to be carved in stone and just set in front of the weatherman's office or something?

We are following the instructions to try and see a Golden Bowerbird today, plus his bower. This would be our third bowerbird and second bower, if we are successful. I'm trying to think of any bird thing in the US that's this cool, and what I'm coming up with is a) not much, and b) the hummingbird.

We drive the 6-plus k's as instructed looking for early morning cassowaries with no luck, then park at Birthday Creek trail and finding the path entry, in we plunge. It's raining now, and a little cool. The hood on my parka helps keep the rain off my glasses. That and my ever-present baseball cap, currently a dark blue one from Alaska given to me by Sharon's dad, Ed Caraway.

We head down the path until the first sharp left turn. We stop and look back up to the right, and at first I can't recognize any bower. But the unusual thing about the Golden Bowerbird is its bower. Whereas all the other bowerbirds of Australia make "avenue" bowers, with two sides and a walkway between them, the Golden is different. He makes what's called a "maypole" bower. It's much bigger, but involves building the bower material around a couple of small-diameter trees, a couple of feet apart. There is a path between the two trees, and the decorations are placed in this path. A cross member is his display headquarters.

The rain has made the bower appear very dark, but this is it! Our second bower. No bird tends the bower as we stand here, though, and we're not sure whether to stand and wait or what. We decide to wait ten or fifteen minutes, and settle down, standing and leaning against trees. It's fun to lean my head back just far enough to look up into the upper stories of the rainforest, but not too far that the raindrops hit my glasses.

Peaceful.

But it's a restless peace, as I begin to wonder about our bird. Then suddenly, we get a very loud call that we've been hoping for. We know it's the keeper of the bower, and he's approaching from in front of us, a few trees at a time, and higher than I imagined. Suddenly the GOLDEN BOWERBIRD* zooms around a tree, lights on a vine, and we can see this wonderful, yellow-golden bird with rich brown wings, face and crown. The long tail and golden appearance of the bird makes for a regal aura about him. He flies again, this time to land just beyond the bower from our position. We get a great view of him "peeking out the front door," as he sticks his head out, checks both ways, then retreats again.

Then we can see things being moved about, as he rearranges his objects d'art, never quite satisfied. One of the most prominent items is yellow lichen, which is ever present in this forest, anyway.

We leave the bowerbird, drive back to Paluma, and after a few last-minute checks around town, head out. We got some great birds here. Sharon is cleaning up her side of the cab. It almost makes me want to clean up my side. Almost.

We have to make a decision about Cape York. I'm concerned that we're taking more time than I had planned, and that's a factor. Anyway, there are three options:

1) Skip it entirely, and try to get back on schedule. 2) Keep to our original plan - fly up, stay in a resort, rent a vehicle, bird the tip, fly back. 3) Cancel our flight plans, rent a 4WD and drive 2/3rds of the way up the cape, to what's known as the Iron Range. This actually has more of the hard-to-find Cape York birds than does the tip.

So we weigh the pros and cons as we're traveling down the highway.

In the end, we decided that HEY we didn't come here to adhere to a rigid schedule, and maybe my SCHEDULE was too optimistic - something that Greg Anderson and wife Karen thought when they saw it. Actually, I think they had some chuckles about it over coffee.

We also recognized that all the plans are already in place, reservations made for the flight, the resort lodging and a 4WD vehicle to explore the upper tip area. There were a long list of uncertainties about the Iron Range.

So it's flying to Bamaga (BAM-uh-guh) that we'll do. We both feel very satisfied and confident now that we worked through all the pros and cons. It'll be a great adventure tacked onto our main great adventure.

We pass the Frosty Mango, and the 'Frosty' sounds good now that we've come down off the mountains and the temperature is up, but Sharon doesn't like the taste of mango, and I don't feel like checking it out, though I like mango.

We drive through Ingham, and as we leave, a sign says Home of the Australian Italian Festival. Arrividerci, Baby. We also skip Wallaman Falls, on the basis that it'll be too time-consuming.

I make a fuel stop, and leave Sharon in charge of paying for it while I go into the building to investigate the INTERNET sign I see over the door. I've had maximum trouble getting on. I think I have to rethink this and develop a better plan rather than to assume that the caravan parks will have a phone line I can use (None of them have yet).

While I'm checking out yet another place that won't let me log on through my laptop, Sharon is talking with JP - John Paul, he tells us. He's a handsome young man, with an ear-ring, and his hands are black from doing mechanics work and pumping fuel. Sharon introduces us and I hold out my hand. He holds his up, showing me his black palms, so I give him my forearm. He laughs and we do the former Bash Brothers forearm smack.

JP has told Sharon where we might see cassowaries in a town called Mission Beach, and we're delighted, plus he's told us how to get to the pier here in Cardwell. We have a shot at Beach Stone-Curlew there. We head out and very quickly find ourselves driving along a narrow beach. We follow JP's instructions and park behind a white sedan with lots of decals on the back window. One of them says "Up Your Kilt," and we can't quite figure out whether that's rude, like it appears, or something more subtle. We see the ragged guy who owns the car, and are pretty sure there's nothing subtle about the decal.

The guy says he's just been out on the pier [Birding Stop 15] and saw a dugong about 50 meters out on the pier. It takes me a second to translate his Aussie accent to American, then another to try and remember what the heck a dugong is. Which I do. Sharon says, "What's that?" and I go into my 59-year-old-can't-remember-stuff act, "You know, one of those things they have in uh, uh, Florida, you know, they're all gray, and in that famous clear river?" Like she's going to understand what I'm talking about from that. Finally my brain gives it up and I say, "Manatee." Now Sharon has this thing, which I have also sometimes, where I tell her a word, and somehow her mind takes the first part of the word, adds her own ending, and continues as if the pancake had not been flipped.

I step onto the pier, look left and right, and there are no Beach Stone-Curlews around at all. "There aren't any here, let's go." But Sharon, who has "I want to see a manta ray" stencilled into her brain, says "I want to go out on the pier. It's only 50 meters." I think this'll be a waste, but I've thought that many times in the past, and Sharon's bulldoggedness has gotten us new birds. OK, let's go, I say. We work our way out, and it's pretty windy. No dugongs, no manta rays. Sharon says OK, let's go.

We walk back out and past a sign which shows a picture of a dugong. "I thought you said manta ray," she says, but now she knows she did the word surgery/substitution thing.

And the world keeps on turning, more interesting all the time.

Sharon picks up a new bird, and we study it awhile, not quite sure what's going on. It has the appearance of a figbird, but the underparts are brilliant yellow rather than the olive green of the figbirds where we've just come from.

This brings me to relate something about the world of science and birds. You might ask, "What's the definition of a 'species?' " There are several, but one of the key ones is that if you take two similar groups of birds, and put them close together - let's say at a Saturday night country and western dance, they just don't have anything to do with each other, and specifically, they don't interbreed.

The two figbirds (yellow underparts vs. olive underparts) used to be considered two separate species, till the people who keep track of such things realized that in the areas of the country where the two species overlapped, they freely interbred, producing intermediate birds to the two originals, in appearance. So they decided that they were different subspecies (aka different races) of the same species. So what we are seeing is one of the races of figbirds which in this part of the country has a bright yellow belly.

We're back in the motorhome, headed for Mission Beach and hopefully an information station. A public service billboard says, "Is there a nut loose at your wheel?" I have a feeling of deja vu. Did I already tell you about that one? Oh never mind.

We find Mission Beach [Birding Stop 16], and an information center, so we stop and go in. A friendly and helpful lady named Jan tells us where we might have a good chance at cassowary. She said there's a stretch of road about a km or so in length, and there are 9 birds in this stretch. Adults, sub-adults and juveniles. Hopefully, they work in shifts, and one stands by the road at all times, for the tourists.

She knows this because the stretch is the one that goes to her house. We make our way to the area, and are excited about the watch-out-for-cassowaries sign, area, find the road, and slow to a crawl, hoping hoping hoping. We come upon a house with fencing all around, and a rope across the driveway, with a ditch between it and the road. But holy moly, just past the rope, and walking into their yard is this huge CASSOWARY*. Full grown, with all the right knobs and buttons and casque and colors. He's walking slowly, but turns left just past the row of privacy trees they have in front of their yard, showing us everything we wanted to see. Fantastic!

Watch It!

And that's it. That's our Cassowary! We are so chuffed. We follow Jan's further instructions and drive to a remote location, hoping for, but not finding, Beach Stone-Curlews. That's OK, man, we saw a Cassowary!

Driving with a great, satisfied feeling, we leave the area and head north for Innisfail, to be followed by a drive to the bird-world-famous Atherton Tablelands. A Pheasant Coucal walks across the road far ahead of us, but he's so slow that by the time he reaches the edge of the road, we get great looks.

It's 205pm and it seems like we just came around a corner, and suddenly the world changed from rain forest to agriculture and cattle. And I've got just one word to sum up what all the agriculture seems to be along the Bruce Highway in this area - Sugar Cane.

We reach Innisfail by 300pm and decide that we should stay here for the night. Sharon picks us up a handful of METALLIC STARLINGS* in a palm tree, with their dark green color and red eye. They look a little like devils. And later we learn that they're considered a big pest.

This is probably our favorite time of day to stop. Mid-afternoon leaves you time to locate your space for the night, get all set up, get laundry started if any is needed, put some chairs out if the weather's good, or lay down in bed if not, and pick up where you left off in that great novel or book. Or trip report. {Guess who will be reading the book and who will be onthe computer}

But tonight's not so relaxing, as I'm trying to find what's causing my laptop to crash immediately upon starting. I try all the tricks I know, and finally set up a work around. It had to do with file sharing, but since I've lifted my laptop out of my home local area network - oh never mind. It's fixed. I think.

I locate an internet cybercafe, less the cafe, and a couple of people willing to help. I am able to send off my first reports, at last. {While Bob is in the internet cafe FOREVER it seems, I stay in the motorhome, read my book and listen to a great guitar-playing singer in a bar just outside the window.} We return to River Drive Van Park, where a couple of hours ago, a falling palm frond, with all its sharp edges, fell at random from its former docking station in the tree, and passed in front of my nose by about 1/2 an inch. So we got a good photo of me holding the piece of nature that tried to scrape my nose off. And another with me lying on the ground, with the piece of botany lying on top of me. This is for my Goofy Movie library. You never know when you might need such a shot.

It missed the front of my cap bill by 0.7 centimeters, Celcius.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 3. (Golden Bowerbird, Southern Cassowary, Metallic, aka Shining Starling).
For the Trip: 128.

Trip Birds Today: 3 (The 3 Lifers)
For the Trip: 166.

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

Note: Decided to discontinue tracking attractions with "Big" in them, but add the campsite where we slept that evening.

Campsite: River Drive Van Park (private), Innisfail, east coast, Queensland

 

Fri, August 29, 2003. Day 16 of 118. ATHERTON TABLELANDS

We set the alarm for 515am last night, but I shut it off and laid back down for "just a second," and you know what that means. I was up till 245am last night trying to figure out what's wrong with my backup firewire hard drive, but came up empty. So I don't have anything to back up the stuff on the laptop, and it feels like I just jumped out of an airplane without an emergency chute.

Sharon says that I seemed so tired, she let me sleep. I'm grateful, I needed it. We're off for the Palmerston Highway.

Sharon got off her third set of postcards this morning. She's our pmail champion. Last night the camp hostess who checked us in said that the local small, individual sugarcane farmers can't compete with the big Belgian landowner, and that many of them have switched to growing bananas.

It's 820am, and we are on the Palmerston, driving through a narrow corridor of huge trees which have grown over the highway, making a huge bower. It's really foggy and spooky, but in a good way. We are climbing steadily, the GPS says 2000 feet, and we're definitely in fog. It is raining moderately light, and it's exciting. I've always loved driving in the rain.

We go past a fantastic lookout called Millaa Millaa, 400 meters ahead. Now you can see the same exact view that we are having, from your home. Get a paper bag, put it over your head. Close your eyes. Doesn't it just feel like you're here with us now, sharing the view?

It's a little after 900am and a Crimson Rosella flies up. We're on the Kennedy Highway, which is Highway 1. Farther to the east is another Highway 1, called the Bruce Highway. Sharon says, "In MY country, we give each road its own number. There's no need for sharing."

Now this "in MY country" stuff started when I was on a 1-year work assignment as a startup test engineer for General Electric at the Tsuruga Nuclear Power Station in Tsuruga, Japan, on the west coast, near Osaka, in 1969 and 1970. There was a cute and bubbly Japanese secretary working for General Electric, and she liked my sense of humor. In the Japanese tradition, when a girl smiles or laughs, she puts her hand over her mouth, I guess so you don't see her teeth - I was never quite sure of that.

Anyway, every time the opportunity arose, and often when it didn't, I'd get very serious and start off with something like "In MY country, we don't have to bow. Everybody already understands that we have respect for one another." And her hand'd fly up to her mouth. Then she started saying it ("In MY country...", to provoke me into saying it some more. She married one of the international General Electric engineers there, and I understand they moved back to the US, but I lost track of them, and have forgotten her name. I remember Yuki and I remember Baba, but I can't remember that secretary's name.

Now we're at 3700 feet, still in fog. It seems to lighten up, then fog up again. Headlights are on for safety. We just met a car with no headlights on, then a car with both headlights on, then a car with only one headlight on. This is a man who can't make up his mind.

We go by a sign that says - are you ready for this? - SLOW -- Tree kangaroo crossing. Pretty cool, and Sharon says that they are nocturnal. She further reads that it's the only kangaroo that climbs trees. I'm guessing that he just makes one big jump and lands in the tree. In MY country, we don't call that climbing.

It's a little before 10am and we're sitting here [Crater National Park, Birdin gStop 17] having breakfast, in the car. A Lewin's Honeyeater lands on the left side rear view mirror and looks through the rolled-up window at Sharon expectantly. He is an excellent trainer, because Sharon immediately goes to the refrigerator, gets out the rosello jam, puts some in the overturned lid, and puts it outside. Before the lid touches the earth, the Lewin's is on the ground waiting for it. He eats a little of it, but it appears that it's not his cup of tea. This I can understand. It's funny-tasting stuff.

We start to head down the trail in the rain but realize that a man is sitting in the car next to us, studying the same birding field guide I have. This is what you hope for. I knock on his window, and he rolls it down. "Have you been birding the Crater?" I ask him. "Yep," and he tells me what he's seen. We're excited about the Atherton Scrubwren he's seen because if you look at the location map of this bird, it's a tiny dot on the map of Australia, in this locale only.

We get on our rain gear, and start down the path. The birds are active and we quickly get a number of birds we've seen elsewhere: White-throated Treecreeper, Golden Whistler, Large-billed Scrub-wren, Grey Fantail, but then get a nice MOUNTAIN THORNBILL*. I love the thornbills' long, slender bills.

Then we get two birds that seem to be traveling companions and this is the first time we've seen either: BOWER'S SHRIKE-THRUSH* and PALE YELLOW ROBIN*. Sharon gets a beautiful Eastern Spinebill, continuing on down the path. We begin to hear the noise of the waterfalls below, but it sounds more like applause because Sharon gets on and then I get on the beautiful SPECTACLED MONARCH*. Rich black and white and rust. A beautiful, beautiful bird. And there are two or three more Monarchs that have the same color scheme but displayed differently. Can't wait to see them too.

We go all the way to the stream, then head back up. Sharon hears a chip and says, "Oh, Bob, I think this might be our bird." I get on him and I see brown above, grey or medium-dark below. The book shows his underparts a redder grey than we are seeing, but with the poor light, that's forgivable. The important feature is that he is working on the ground like a small mouse. That is the described behavior we were looking for. It's an ATHERTON SCRUBWREN*, and we are really stoked. You can only see this bird in Australia, and only in this little bit of land around Atherton, in Queensland.

Rain Birding

Our bird was maybe 20 meters uphill from the point where Dinner Falls trail takes off to the right, and the trail to the crater goes straight ahead. We return to the motorhome from the walk and oops, Sharon left the jam lid on a log nearby. The make-things-disappear bird has been here and we don't know where the lid is. We see a Lewin's Honeyeater under a picnic bench eating some orange stuff. Maybe a tree kangaroo made off with the lid.

Sharon is in her seat ("shotgun"), with her door open, and I am behind her in the kitchen area. I turn and see this bird perched right smack on the left rear view mirror. I say Sharon, look to your left. She looks our the door, and I say, "No, at the mirror," and she sees the bird patiently waiting. "Another Lew... - wait a minute, that's a BRIDLED HONEYEATER*. Look at the orange line going over the top of his bill."

Bridled Honeater, Unbridled Moxie

Sharon gives it some jam, then we rig for travel and do some jammin' our own selves.

One definition of the world "hopeful" would be a cattle egret standing next to a cow in the pouring rain, following the cow as it walks uphill, hoping for a grasshopper or other morsel to be frightened into jumping. In the pouring rain. I like that egret.

We come over a hill, around a corner, and suddenly we can see the sun shining through up ahead. We have popped down out of the fog, and what was fog a minute ago is now low clouds. We can see all around us, and we are at 2700 feet by my GPS. The remarkable thing is that you could easily be in the middle of Missouri or Texas. Mostly flat, with some hills and low mountains around. Thus the "table" portion of "Tablelands." There are farms, ranches, crops, cattle, a few sheep.

About 1pm and we are on the Wongabel State Forest Walk. We are hoping for a Dragon Lizard, but see an Eastern Whipbird in the meantime. The weather is now reasonable. A tiny bit warmer than neutral, a little muggy, cloudy but not raining.

I get out my digital voice recorder as we walk in the utter stillness. Quietly, I say, "We are walking now in total quiet, you can't hear a sound and..." Then from Sharon,"Except Bob talking over the silence." "...I've gotta go now (whispering). See you later."

We get another beautiful Spectacled Monarch. It really has a "chh chh chh" sound - like an insect.

We stop a little before 2pm and are in the motorhome having lunch. I'm having turkey on wheat and Sharon's having ham on wheat. Delicious cherry tomatoes, Jarlsburg cheese, potato chips. A loud crashing sound suddenly comes from the forest. I'm pretty sure it's a lowland gorilla.

We are seeing swift-type birds with their thin, sickle-shaped wings, and we carefully review all the possibilities for this area. At this time of year, there's only one possibility - the WHITE-RUMPED SWIFTLET*. Pizzey calls it the Gray Swiftlet and Wheatley calls it the Australian Swiftlet.

We're talking about spotlighting tonight. There's a good chance for some owls, and if we go earlier, we might get Chowchilla and Catbird. But what we're really hoping for is Tree Kangaroo. Can you believe such a combination exists? Me neither.

Lunch is over and we're back on the main road. Sharon yells "Snake in the road." And so it is - our third dead snake. Three to nothing. Sharon has figured out why the snake looked so big, there in the road. It's been run over so many times, he's squooshed paper thin. "Squooshed" is my word. Sharon would never use such a term.

We're coming into the famous Hasties Swamp [Birding Stop 18] now. This is a famous place for the gathering of Plumed Whistling-Ducks. They whistle when they take off, and it's a distinct pleasure to see and hear a huge flock of them lift into the air. But we're not there yet, and don't know about these details.

As we're slowly approaching the swamp, we begin to see water now, and water plants, reeds and the like. But over the dirt road, on the left, in the lower branches of a huge, huge tree sits a grey-white bird. We get on it immediately, and it's a raptor. Beautiful. I think I know what it is and say, "Stay on him. I'll look him up." I turn to GREY GOSHAWK*, and that's our bird. As we get closer, it seems to be uneasy about our approach and sort of hop/flies to higher branches, behind thick ones so we can't see it.

We get a Grey Shrike-thrush, and then a strange Magpie-like bird, but the white on the tail and the patch on the back look almost buffy, or dirty white. We don't know what that's all about, but decide on maybe an immature Australian Magpie.

We arrive at the two-story bird hide, and as we walk up the handicap ramp, we begin to hear a sort of rustle, then see several hundred birds - all Plumed Whistling-ducks. I'm looking at them, by sort of peeking around the corner of the building when Sharon comes back out the door she went in. She's signaling frantically for my attention, and we go in.

An overwhelming sight greets me. Scattered on the muddy banks and floating on the water are, I'd estimate several thousand of these birds. Some are lifting off or landing all the time. A raptor flies over, and about a third of the birds rise together, in a great whistling whirling mass. The raptor just flies through, and the Whistling-Ducks drift back to earth or water. We scan carefully, but can find not ONE Wandering Whistling-duck. Come on - just one. Please. But there are none. We leave, and don't see the Grey Goshawk on the way out, but get a great close-up view of a Black-shouldered Kite, perched on a snag next to the road. It flies just as we reach it, and what a marvelous sight.

It's about 430pm now and we're in Atherton, at the Woodlands Tourist Park. Shelly checks us in and her husband Wayne shows us to our site. He tells us to just pull through. We explain that we will put a chair down to save our spot and take off. He says he'll save it for us, no need to put a chair down. He further asks if we have heard about the mize festival. I asked if it was "maize" like corn, and he says "Yip, that's what we have around the Tablelands." Anyway, there's gonna be wood choppin', and a procession, with floats. And we can come if we want.

It's 430pm and here's the plan, mate. We are headed for what we hope is a Sarus Crane fly-in at the Bromfield Swamplands [More of Birding Stop 19]. Then we'll zip down to Crater National Park again, hoping for Lesser Sooty Owl and Tree Kangaroos in a night spotlighting session.

A half hour later we are sitting in our motorhome, looking over a vast expanse below us. It looks like a crater, and in fact is is a crater, so why do they call it swamplands? From where we are, it's perhaps 1/4 mile to the base of the crater. From here to the other side of the crater is maybe 3/4 - 1 mile or so. Someone told us there are lots of Black Snakes down in the crater floor, but we're safely up here on the crater rim, plus on an elevated viewing platform. No snake worries, thank you, says Sharon. We have the scope set up, and there are perhaps 100 cranes already here. We expect 98 or 99 Brolgas, which we have already seen, and 1 or 2 Sarus Cranes, so we expect to play Where's Waldo.

These two birds look very similar, except that the Sarus Crane has red on the head, extending down the neck. The Brolga red stops about where the head stops and the neck begins, or a little higher. I somehow expect there to be all sorts of fine intermediate examples to confuse the issue, but when we get the cranes in view, two things are clear. There are many SARUS CRANES*, and they are easy to tell from the Brolgas, if you have a spotting scope.

We meet Malcolm and Beth, an older couple who recommend lots of places for us to bird. We let them look through our scope, then we all get in out of the sprinkles.

We head back out and I see the sign again that says "HORSE POO." The sign on the other side says "HORSE POO $2." What they don't tell you is that if you give them $2, then you have bought all the horse poo on the farm and have to take it away. Nass trah. {Remember the cow manure that was $2.50? Wonder why this poo is cheaper?}

And now, NOW, Sharon chooses to tell me AFTER we went into the information center and talked with three people, and AFTER we talked with Malcolm and Beth, that I have orange juice stuck on the whiskers around my mouth. Giggling as she does. This comes from two things: 1) taking the lid off the orange juice container and taking a swig, and 2) not shaving for three days. OK, OK, and 3) not washing my face all day. Hey I'm on vacation.

We go back to the Crater National Park carpark and are hoping to hear Tooth-billed Catbird sounds. But the sounds we hear are Green Catbirds, not Toothbilled Catbirds. You can't fool me. We hear maybe four or five Grey-headed Robins. As soon as we parked, they came around expecting free food. They must know Sharon.

We check the perimeter of the carpark - the interface of the open grassy car park and the rainforest, using our powerful 12-volt spotlight. Nothing. Except a frog, or more specifically, a frenchman on five-week holiday who's extremely interested in biology. He has a headband with a light attached, to leave his hands free to do other things. This is a good idea.

He tells us about the possums he's seen, and we tell him we haven't seen any tree kangaroos or owls. Being what I would consider an expert on picking out country of origin from accents, I ask him if he's from Scandanavia, thinking I've got him covered, whether he is Swedish, Norwegian or Finnish. "No, French," he says with a wonderful french accent. "Omelet du Formage?" I ask, but he's never seen the famous Steve Martin movie, I guess.

He asks if we've been birding here long, and we say yes. He says he saw a Golden Bowerbird, and we tell him about the one we saw a couple of days ago. He asks where and we tell him Paluma. He laughs and says isn't that a fabulous place. We say yes, and he says Ivy Cottage? And I say Oui. I just can't help it.

We give up and head back to camp, but skip the festival. We DO see people dressed up in costumes on the town streets, as we pass through, and it seems a little like Halloween. We make it back to our site, and pull in, happy to be home, but disappointed not to get either the owl or the tree kangaroo.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 9. (Bower's Shrike-thrush, Pale Yellow Robin, Mountain Thornbill, Spectacled Monarch, Atherton Scrubwren, Bridled Honeyeater, White-rumped Swiftlet, Grey Goshawk, Sarus Crane).
For the Trip: 137.

Trip Birds Today: 9 (The 9 Lifers)
For the Trip: 175.

Correction Note: I reviewed my log, and have found that I somehow neglected to enter eight life birds in the summaries and totals. I discussed them in the narrative, but didn't put them into the summaries. These eight birds are:

Australian Raven (8/14/03), Black-shouldered Kite (8/15/03), Albert's Lyrebird - heard only (8/18/03), Yellow-billed Spoonbill (8/21/03), Little Corella (8/21/03), Pale-headed Rosella (8/21/03), Victoria's Riflebird (8/27/03), Grey-headed Robin (8/27/03)

And so the Life Bird Total increases from 137 to 145, And the Trip Bird Total increases from 175 to 183.

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

Campsite: Woodlands Tourist Park (private), south of Atherton, the Tablelands, Queensland

 

Sat, August 30, 2003. Day 17 of 118. JULATTEN. KINGFISHER CARAVAN PARK.

Sharon's opinion of the Spangled Drongo is about to take a sharp nosedive. As we are getting ready to leave, we see a four-bird commotion. A baby House Sparrow has just fledged (developed the ability to fly and left the nest), and its parents are following it around, to protect it. A Spangled Drongo is after the fledgling. The parents physically smash into the Drongo over and over, driving it off. But it keeps coming back. The parents have to keep themselves between the Drongo and the baby. This is made much more difficult by the fact that the fledgling flies off in random directions and is hard to protect. Finally and inevitably, the Drongo grabs the little sparrow in its beak and takes it away, the parents continually bashing into the fleeing Drongo but now helpless.

Dangit. {It reminds me of the stupid scrubjay that ate our baby hummingbirds, I know it's nature but I sure don't like to see it in action}

It's 715am and we go past The Big Peanut, which looks like Mr. Potatohead, except for the potato part. We knew they grew peanuts here, and we've had some. I did NOT know they were this big.

A little before 8am, we are looking for Tinaroo Creek Road birds and we get a kookaburra on a wire. Blue wings and tail. It's our first BLUE-WINGED KOOKABURRA*. What an electrifying bird. A flight of White-rumped Swiftlets passes overhead. We get a Pale-headed Rosella and another Blue-winged Kookaburra.

I'm not saying my eyes play tricks. I'm not saying I jump to conclusions. But as we are driving down Tinaroo Creek Road, I see a big black pig in the front yard of a house, coming down the front steps. The pig is a long way off, and I'm aware of how unreliable first-hand reports are. But hey, folks, it is a pig.

Until it turns into a big black dog. "Did you see that pig?" I ask Sharon. "What pig?" she says. "Exactly!" I say.

There are still swifts over an orchard nearby. I stop to get a look at them, hoping to see a white rump patch, and they're flying low. If the sky's in the background, you can't tell, but when they're lower, with green trees behind them, and they bank, you can see their tops, which reveal their white rump patch.

I don't think I finished the Pale-headed Rosella situation. The earlier Pale-headed Rosellas, from further south, had a clear cheek, but the subspecies of this area have a neat blue cheek patch.

I'm not saying the Sulfur-crested Cockatoo's 'scriiiitch' isn't attractive to the opposite sex, but its aboriginal name means "scratching fingernails across blackboard." We're birding on Tinn Creek Road when a pickup comes by pulling a trailer with a huge hot air balloon set on it. Earlier we saw three hot air balloons already up.

We pull into the information center at Mareeba [More of Birding Stop 18], I think, and we get a number of RED-TAILED BLACK-COCKATOOS* overhead. Fantastic. A market day is happening, and lunch-type food is already available at 830am. I have an ice cream cone for breakfast. There is a huge Brahma Bull statue on the grounds, and I have to take a picture. We buy some vegetables and take off for the Mareeba Wetlands.

These were created within the last ten years, by pumping water into what used to be bone dry, unwanted, unused, unproductive land.

We drive by a fenced paddock and I'd estimate that there's one termite mound in every square yard. We continue along, and Sharon says what's that bird? Bee-eater, I say, as I watch a little bird fly away, ahead of us. Sharon said what are those others, Stop, Stop! I stop and we get on a handful of beautiful DOUBLE-BARRED FINCHES*. Then Sharon also points out birds in the same flock that are different, and specifically they are Chestnut-breasted Mannikins.

We arrive at the entrance to the Mareeba Reserve, and it's closed. A sign says they open at 10am, so we need to kill about a half-hour. I try to do some stuff on the computer while Sharon noses around outside, seeing if there's some good bird out there. It's pretty hot and I'd just as soon sit in the shade.

We are waiting in the Mareeba drylands - you can't possibly believe there could be any significant piece of water in here. Sharon picks up a new bird just as Ranger Peter drives up from inside, and opens the main gate. He says on the way in, we might see Black-throated Finch. But before we go in, Sharon gets me on the bird and it's a SQUATTER PIGEON*, with a big orange eye. Being the smart bird that it is, it's already under the shade of a shady bush, at 1005am.

As we make our way up the 4km drive to the visitor center, we pick up more Double-barred Finches, and a Willie Wagtail under some manuka stuff. An immature Pied Butcherbird shows us his brownish color. I'm a little slow on the uptake here. I just ran over our fourth bump in the road and have finally put two and two together, to realize they're dirt speed bumps, on a dirt road.

We make it to the carpark of the visitor center, and get BROWN TREECREEPER* and a Rufous Whistler. We get our second Yellow Honeyeater in the grounds around the visitor center building.

Rufous Whistler

Sharon gets on the scope and it doesn't take her very long to pick out GREEN PYGMY-GOOSE* - about six or eight pairs. {Bob was nice enough to let me use the scope first since HE had seen the cotton pygmy goose first the last time} It's a bit windy, and it feels good on this warm day. There are Welcome Swallows nesting inside the visitor center, which is open on two sides. I spot a small island full of WANDERING WHISTLING-DUCKS*. There are Little Pied and Little Black Cormorants here, Green and White Cotton Pygmy Geese, Welcome Swallows, Jacanas, Wandering Whistlers, and big termite mounds which almost all look like a big Rhino's butt. A Caspian Tern flies over the water.

Welcome Swallows

We talk with Emma and Peter, and they are very proud of the Wetlands and the Gouldian Finch repopulation project, which is trying to introduce these remarkable finches back into the area.

We reluctantly leave this oasis, and on the way out get 3-4 Grey Crowned Babblers, plus a Pale-headed Rosella, with its blue cheek patch. Next stop is a cemetery, for birds that are supposed to be around there. We get no new birds, but we are attracted to the nature of the graves. They are like nothing you've ever seen before.

Now one of the finer things of life, in my opinion, is the unexpected discovery. We are out here in the Mareeba Wetlands, and have discovered the secret testing track of all new shock absorber designs, here on Washboard Avenue.

At about 1pm, we arrive at Big Mitchell Creek, a spot I have come to really look forward to. But alas, the drought has completely the dried up the creek, and long ago. There is no sign of birds or life anywhere. We give up the site and move on.

We pass a Brown Falcon on a post, with white cheek patch and rounded tail. We are at the far end of our run, looking for Australian Bustard. In about ten minutes, we're going to give up and stop for lunch.

We turn around on the Orchid Farms road and are almost back out to the main highway when Sharon says, "Back up. You've gotta see this bat." I do and there is a large dead fruit bat hung on the fence. It is suitably large, agreeing with the views I've had of them. So I take off again.

But I slow down again and quickly and quietly say to Sharon, "Sharon look out your window, on our left." She looks through the window, but across the field. "No, no, right in the area beside the front tire and across the ditch." An AUSTRALIAN BUSTARD* isn't panicking, but is trying to find a way back INTO a fenced pasture. I give Sharon the camera and she clicks and clicks. It seems like if he's going left, just as she clicks, the Bustard reverses direction and starts going right. This happens about three times, and Sharon says, "I feel like I'm in one of those shooting galleries when you hit the bullseye, the target changes direction." But she finally gets a couple of nice "shots."

Australian Bustard

We admire our life Bustard, and slowly take off so as not to frighten him. Then, just before reaching the highway, we see a pair. We admire them a bit, then pull onto the highway and turn left. And then we get a TRIO of Bustards in the fields. Radical. We're trying to figure out which one killed Kenny ("South Park").

Sharon reads that Bustards have been shot over the years because it was believed that they ate large helpings of the farmers' crops. We don't know if this is justified or not.

We take off again, and the creeks are all dry. We cross Luster Creek, but I'd say it's lost its, uh, water. We are getting close now to a world famous lodge. By 4pm, we are parked and rigged for relaxing at the Kingfisher Caravan Lodge [Birding Stop 28] near Julatten [Birding Stop 29]. In fact, we immediately see an EMERALD DOVE*, a bird we were pretty sure of in Eungella, but couldn't quite bring ourselves to count. The emerald green on the wing is not to be believed.

We check in and meet Andrew Iles, the guide. He gives us some birding information, including the recommendation to go out to a specific spot by dusk, to wait for the Red-necked Crake, one of our target birds for the park. {Suddenly I see a strange bird walking along and mouth to Bob "What is that?} An ORANGE-FOOTED SCRUBFOWL* is crossing the yard. Like the Brush-turkey, this bird is a mound-builder. A strange-looking bird, but one that you can't help liking.

We take a walk and get Pale Yellow Robin - the nana subspecies, with yellow lores instead of the white we've seen up till now. Sharon gets us another Spectacled Monarch. As we get back to the motorhome, a Macleay's Honeyeater is just outside.

I fill the water tank, dump the grey water, and it's starting to get dark. We get the flashlight and go back out, getting Red-browed Firetails and Silvereyes taking baths in the stream we think has Platypuses. We then sit down to wait at the "crake pool," and wait till 615pm, when we figure it's too dark for the crake to come in, so we call it a bird night.

Back in the motorhome, we have a Claud and Winnie Lutman Sunday night dinner - popcorn and ice cream. Ahhh. I've heard this kind of story from many people, who have a strange dish they like, and it's what they remember having as children. Macaroni and tomato juice; fried potatoes and cottage cheese.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 10. (Blue-winged Kookaburra, Red-tailed Black-cockatoo, Double-barred Finch, Squatter Pigeon, Brown Treecreeper, Green Pygmy-goose, Wandering Whistling-duck, Australian Bustard, Emerald Dove, Orange-footed Scrubfowl).
For the Trip: 155.

Trip Birds Today: 11 (The 10 Lifers plus Swamp Harrier)
For the Trip: 194.

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

Campsite: Kingfisher Caravan Park, Jullaten, The Tablelands, Queensland

[That's it for Report 6. Thank you for reading.]


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