Report No. 8. Tuesday, September 2 thru Thursday, September 4. NORTHERN TIP OF AUSTRALIA


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

Tuesday, September 2, 2003. Day 20 of 118. FLYING TO BAMAGA - NEAR THE CAPE YORK TIP. PAJINKA LODGE (Birding Spot 35).

{Special Note From Sharon to her Friends: First I want to say HI to you all. Our e-mail retrieval and sending hasn't been as sure as we would like, so I haven't had the chance to answer all of your e-mails. Hi, Anna, Helen, Sharon. I'm getting to meetings as often as I can and not as much as I would like. Queensland was pretty good in my having a meeting list, but now in the Northern Territories towns are few and far between and like now when we are in Alice Springs, the meeting is on Wed. when we will not be in town. I am more and more grateful to be living in San Jose where I can get to a meeting any day I want. Hi, Tara, Shandra, Pete, Matt and your respective spouses and children. I miss all the news from home. We'll keep trying to call each of you every so often. And Hi to all our neighbors, friends, nephews, aunts and uncles. We think of all of you as things remind us of home events. Love you all. -Sharon}

Regular Report Starts Here:

We take our rented motorhome to the Cairns Depot for its 8000 km interval servicing, and tell Rob of the things that aren't working quite right. Then he calls us a taxi, which arrives straight away and takes us to General Aviation - an area of the airport that is home to many small airlines of the region.

We have two checks-ins and two carry-ons, and as usual, I'm a little over the weight allowance of 10 kg for the check-ins (22 pounds) and 4 kg for the carry-ons (9 pounds). Elizabeth, who I've talked to before by telephone, says that there isn't enough space on the airplane, and which one would I like to check through? I pick my nicely-padded red backpack, which has critical items in it, including my precious laptop. I panicked, ok?

I started thinking about it, and couldn't take the chance, so I asked Elizabeth if I could just take the laptop out of the backpack and handcarry IT. She was sorry, but they were already loading it, and not to worry because they were really careful with the luggage.

I ask Sharon if she wants to go for a walk, and she reaches for her snaky New Zealand walking stick, but - oh *$&@, it's not here. Sharon left it at the motorhome place. {I can't believe I did this again - last year I left it in a room at a retreat. But it typically happens when we are rushing to go somewhere and I double checked for Bob but not for me. Oh Well.} We start loading onto the airplane in 20 minutes. "Do you think we have time to call a taxi, go get it and get back in time?" she asks me. It's a critical item for our walks. "I don't think so," I say. Maximum encouragement...

She tells Elizabeth and asks her the same question. "Yes," says Elizabeth, who calls us a taxi. We decide that Sharon should go, and she does. I try to find the slip of paper with the motorhome servicing facility phone number on it, but can't locate it. I want to tell Rob so that he can have the stick ready. We think it's still in the motorhome.

I finally find it, call, but Rob says Sharon's already been, got her stick, and is gone again. She's going to make it. Elizabeth would have held up the plane if it had come to that.

Sharon makes it back and feels incredibly guilty that she forgot it, like she made a big mistake. I tell her that it's nothing, it's here, it was just a product of circumstances - lots of brand new stuff flooding our input channels.

It's a little before 9am and we're on the plane. I have OJ, crackers, a yellow muffin, a brown muffin, a chocolate cracker and a mint in a clear plastic box, resting on the ledge beside my elbow. This is what "With Compliments" on our boarding pass means, we now know, regarding our 1 hour 45 minute flight from Cairns to Bamaga. It's about 800 kilometers - 500 miles. Like San Jose to San Diego. This is a prop jet like Bill Petrick and I used to fly from Seattle to the Tri-Cities area of Washington some years ago, when we were doing work for WPPSS, selling them autoscramtimers and other services. I think we called it The Tube Plane. There's an aisle down the center of the tube, and you have to bend over to walk down this aisle. There is one seat on the left and one on the right. It holds perhaps 30 passengers.

A few minutes later and we're in the air, making a big turn over the water, then heading north. I have brought my GPS and am following our progress as we move. Pretty cool. I watch us go to 550 km/hr and 15000 feet

11 am and we're at Injinoo Airport. Injinoo is the name of the local people who own this piece of land. I am watching them unload the passenger luggage. They have backed up a "ute", or utility vehicle - i.e. a pickup truck, and somebody, out of our sight, is putting most of the luggage into the back of the truck. But other packages he's dropping about 10 feet straight to the ground, to land on the other packages he's already dropped from that height.

I grab one of the pilots, at Sharon's "yes, go ahead and do it" encouragement, and tell him of my concern about my laptop computer. He gets a description of my backpack, goes out, and personally retrieves it before it's bombed to the pavement. He asks about our holiday, and is excited about what we're doing. I'm pretty excited too, since I didn't just see my laptop drop tested.

They bring the rest of our luggage up and we are met by Patrick, a local who works for Resort Bamaga. And picking up arriving guests is one of his duties. A girl from the flight joins us. She is going to stay there too, and is up for a period of sports training for the high school kids, the way I understand it. I guess they can't afford to have a full-time person, so they do it this way.

Anyway, she likes what we're doing too ("Good on ya!").

It's about 1130am now and we're in our two-room suite. Looking out of our room, there is a small lake, straight out is the pool, to the right is the restaurant. In our room there is a coffeemaker, biscuits, a fridge, a kitchen table, chairs, a place for luggage, tv, phone with dataport (at last), a/c in the main room and the bedroom. Out the front door is a veranda, and on the ceiling of the veranda are two geckos. You go, gecko!

Room with a View

Echo the Gecko

The nice vehicle that Patrick picked us up in is our rental! It's great, high clearance, manual 5-speed transmission, 4WD. The color is sulfur-crested cockatoo white. The gas is at 3/4 and I'm to bring it back like that. We go to the information center to get birding information, but they don't have any. What they do have though is essential, and that's a map of the local roads, tracks and trails. A track is generally a dirt road, but may be full of ruts and bigger holes.

Next door is the BP, where diesel is $1.02 per liter - about $2.25 per gallon US. We drive to the superrmarket, hoping to buy a cheap cooler. I look around and find a nice one for $80 AUS. I ask a lady who works there if they have styrofoam ones. "Oh you mean like the vegetables come in?" she says brightly. "OK," I say, in that generic use of the 'OK.' You know, sometimes it means, "I heard you, I have no idea what you meant, but keep on talking and maybe I'll synch up," or "I didn't even hear you, but keep going and I'll concentrate more and hope I can figure out what you're talking about," or "You are full of hot air, but keep on talking. I'm enjoying it." And like that.

She hustles to the back of the store, employees only, and returns with a giant, rectangular white styro box with a nice tight-fitting lid. It's got a few leafy green bits inside, and a little dirty water, but it looks perfect. Sharon claims it had brussel sprouts. The lady says, sort of apologetically, "We sell them for $2," and I say in my best Turkish bargaining voice, "I'll give you $1 cash." No I don't, I say that'll be great.

We buy some other things, including a couple of bags of ice, check out, rinse out the cooler, fill it with ice and some soft drinks and snacks, and FINALLY, we head out to the tip of Cape York - the topmost point of the continent of Australia.

The first thing I do is --- I turn the wrong way. And me with my GPS. My bad. I recover and we're off. The road is dirt the entire way. {Not just dirt but rutted dirt that bangs the heck out of us as we hit each rut. Oh my poor back !} A few kilometers later and we see smoke all over the place, reminding us of 1994 in Kakadu, when we learned that these little fires are intentionally set to keep the undergrowth down.

A big grey kangaroo hops across the road. A Brush-turkey shows himself, and just as Sharon had read, instead of a yellow color we have been seeing, he has a nice purple ring around the neck. There are Whistling Kites and Black Kites up over the smoke, and they are looking for lizards and the like, fleeing from the fire.

A Pheasant Coucal crosses the road. A large bird flies across, and we can see the marks of the Blue-winged Kookaburra. You can't get tired of this bird. I stand next to a huge termite mound, to reaffirm my size in the universe.

This Termite Has Houses

We come to something marked on our local map. It's a store, but it's really a big old dark green tent. It's called the Croc Tent, and is on every map in the area, as a reference. We go in, and it's full of souvenirs you can buy. Some are quite nice, and some are trashy - you know, the really good stuff. {They had coin purses made out of dead Cane Toads!} I pick up an ice cold orange Fanta, and we head out again.

An Orange-footed Scrubfowl wanders across the road.

I'm at a place right now that I've been several times before, and I decide to accept the challenge. The road is the hardest corrugations, or washboard, that you can imagine. When I go slow, as it feels like I should, we get shaken to death. I have been told that you have to go fast to minimize the jarring, but it's hard for me to believe. It seems when I go fast, the vehicle starts sort of slowly bouncing sideways, headed off the road, and I slow down immediately.

I bite the bullet and speed up to about 50 km/hr and, unbelievably, the heavy vibrations ease to a sort of buzzing. We do the rest of the corrugated portion zooming. We come to a puddle that is the same diameter as the road. It's huge. I get a run at it, and we go bouncing through the water, smashing into the hidden boulders and deep holes, unseen because of the muddy water. It feels like we're going to disintegrate. Sharon says, "Why did you go through so fast?" And the only thing I can think of is my philosophy for getting across deep creeks in Missouri. If you think your car will flood out, you "get a run at it." Well, next time, I'll go through carefully and slowly.

We get to a place called the Roma Flats walking track, which ambles through the scrub. We have been told to walk this, and stay ready for the birds. In we go, and we get Graceful or Yellow Spotted Honeyeater right away. I smack a mosquito on my wrist, and blood splatters over my arm. Cool! We get back to the motorhome, spray on some deet, aka binocular rubber eating agent, wash our hands with a wetnap to remove the deet, and drive on towards the tip, another 7 km.

At the closed Pajinka grounds, we get another Brush-turkey climbing all over the trash container, eating bits of whatever is in there. Ah, nature at its finest. An Emerald Dove does his little amble walk nearby. We head off, down the raised boardwalk through the totally dried up mangrove area, towards the tip.

We get several Dusky Honeyeaters, then come to the final hurdle, a large, rocky hill to climb over to get to our final destination. A young couple comes along, barefoot, and pass us by. "Are you going for the sunset?" they ask. We aren't quite sure what we're going to do, so I just say, "Is that where YOU'RE going?" And they nod yes happily, and are gone.

Not Getting to the Point

We get part way out, but it's getting dark, and we decide to cut short our trek to the end and head back for dinner. As we re-enter the boardwalk, Sharon gets us on a RUFOUS FANTAIL*. We continue retracing our path to the venicle. An hour and 15 minutes later, we pull into the Resort Bamaga parking lot. We'll use that tomorrow to help us decide when the right time is to leave.

Walking to dinner, I keep stumbling over things. It's the poor light. Mars is receding from its nearest approach to earth in 60000 years or so, and I can hardly see. It was really bright a few nights ago, but NOW...

At dinner Marilyn is our server, and we tell her about our big adventure. She says they gets lots of birders, but some time recently, they had a group here to see what they claimed was the smallest dragonfly on earth, and it was on one of the streams up here somewhere.

Several big buses have unloaded a restaurant-full of tourists. As we are seated, a man comes in wearing an odd assortment of islander and local clothing. He has a guitar and smiles as he walks around. People at the big table are yelling out songs that reflect their age group. "A Boy Named Sue!" somebody yells. "The Wind Called Maria," another yells. The guitarist puts on his thinking cap, strums a little, then let's loose with Johnny Cash's "A Boy Named Sue." He's moderately good, but the fact that he remembers the words makes him a great success.

Name Him ANYTHING but SUE!

The food is superb, including the three ice cream scoop dessert drizzled with some red berry concoction. Scrumptuous. We go back to our suite. Sharon watches TV a while as I try to bring the reports up to date.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 1. (Rufous Fantail). We haven't been skunked yet!
For the Trip: 175.

Trip Birds Today: 1, (The 1 Lifer)
For the Trip: 217.

Snakes Seen Today: 0
For the Trip: 3.

Sleep In: Resort Bamaga - Bamaga, Cape York, Queensland


Wednesday, September 3, 2003. Day 21 of 118. THE NORTHERNMOST POINT OF AUSTRALIA.

Happy Birthday to brother George, in North Carolina. Who finds out today if Loretta will need him and if she will feed him, "now he's sixty-four." There was a time in my life when I thought 64 was old.

It's 605am and we're on the way out to the tip of Cape York, and this time we're going all the way. I discovered that there are two ways to get to the tip. The one we saw yesterday, over the top; but another one along the beach, then over some low rock formations. {Much more my speed}

We practice our new high speed attack technique on the corrugations, and are delighted, until suddenly a little wallaby comes out of nowhere from the left. To my chagrin, I watch him disappear near the front left wheel area, and we hear a "thump thump." I feel terrible, and so does Sharon. It's still dark.

I consider stopping, but can't bear to see what I know I will see, and I continue on, knowing that I am responsible for subtracting one wallaby from the Cape York membership, and adding one bit of food to the menu of the Whistling and Black Kites.


We're at Roma Flats in 50 minutes, and I can hear the steady gurgle of the Yellow Orioles. We immediately can hear the fantastic whistle of the MAGNIFICENT RIFLEBIRD*, and try to find one without success. I don't mean we try to find an unsuccessful Magnificent Riflebird, mind you. I mean... Oh you know.

We continue on the scrub walk, and come upon a couple of little birds chasing each other. After a bit one of them pops out, and it's a nice little FAIRY WARBLER*, newly named the FAIRY GERYGONE*.

A large bird flies over, and we both see the yellow underparts. It's our best look so far of the Yellow Oriole. We get a 100% verified TAWNY-BREASTED HONEYEATER*. It has white under the eye and behind the eye, with brown below. It has a very curious response to Sharon's alarm call. I mean IT'S curious about Sharon, not that its response itself is curious. You see? After it makes its call, I play the tape of this bird, and it's exactly the same sound as the bird. QED.

We get a squadron of flyover pigeons. They have really white underparts, with black markings, and they are TORRES STRAIT PIGEONS*. Torres Strait is the name of the water between Australia and New Guinea. A Yellow-spotted Honeyeater calls, and we are beginning to recognize this call.

Beautiful black and white Torres Strait Pigeon

We came out of the scrub and onto the road several minutes ago. We come to the big "mudpuddle" and reverse our direction, heading back towards our vehicle. A tourist bus comes along, and a young guide/driver asks what are we looking for. We tell him, and ask if he's a birder. He says no, but he recommends that we talk with Sue, out at Punsand Bay. Time Out - There's a Yellow-breasted Boatbill and a Spectacled Monarch! Time in - We say to the friendly Australian "See ya later," even if we know we won't.

I'm excited - A line on a local birder! Sue, at Punsand Bay. We have seen the turnoff to that place, on our way out here. We finish up at Roma Flats and drive the remaining 7 km or so to the parking area just before the boardwalk. We get a surprising LEMON-BELLIED FLYCATCHER*, and another Fairy Gerygone, with the double white spot on either side of his face.

The tide is WAY out and we will try for the alternate, beachside route to the tip. The first bit, via the beach is a little wet. Sharon's boots are fine, but my Body Shoes by Hush Puppy get a litte mucky. No worries. Then the trail moves up onto the rocks. We work our way up, then down a little stretch, come around a rock and we can see the sign that says "YOU ARE STANDING AT THE NORTHERNMOST POINT OF THE AUSTRALIAN CONTINENT." Now the deal is, there's about six more feet from the sign to the end of the last bit of rock. So isn't THAT the northernmost point? Engineers! Picky picky picky. I sneak out to the real tip and touch it with my toe. {Of course, the fact that the tide was out made it possible for us to approach this tip by the beach route, and is the reason for the extra six feet.}

The Trail Moves Up Onto the Rocks

The Northernmost Point of Mainland Australia

We get some photos of the area, and have fun looking at a bit of pool in the rocks that looks like it's always been there. There are half a dozen small fish trapped in there, and is that their whole world? Does the middle son say, "Mom, I want to go out and see the world"?

Sharon does her rock collecting - one for Carrie Ross's rockhound dad Bill Mercer, one for grandson Sieren Smith, and one for her. We see several plovers on the way back, but we feel overwhelmed, and don't try to ID them. They are a long way off. And usually, when we try to identify them, we're a long way off too.

We have a snack lunch in the Pajinka carpark. I go over and ask one of three guys if any of the toilets are functioning. The reason I do this is that although I know Pajinka has closed down, there are three trash barrels here that appear to be emptied from time to time, and I think maybe there is still a toilet that is usable. "No, they closed down," one of the guys says. "I thought so too," I say, and I go off looking for some privacy, which I find beyond a couple of falling-apart buildings.

As I'm, uh, standing there, I can hear an up and down "tee tee tee tee tee tee tee," and I think I recognize this as a Mistletoebird. And sure enough I see a beautiful male. Then a Yellow-spotted Honeyeater stops by. As I come back, I see Sharon talking with a couple of extremely dirty-looking men. One is wearing only shorts, looks about 70, is very tan, extremely fit and has a beard like Gabby Hayes. If you don't know who that is, then he has a beard like Abraham Lincoln, with no sideburns. The other is younger, maybe 35 or so.

We say we're on a four month birding vacation, and we'll see the whole country. They say that it's taken them 2 years to get from Melbourne to here. And they plan to take 3-5 years to complete their trip. Holy cow.

The old guy says to Sharon, "I was watchin' you. I was 'up top' ", he says, "and I thought you looked like one of those samari's (pronounced suh-MARR-ees)." Now I just love the way the guy used the term 'up top,' sort of like 'over yonder,' or something. And I love the way he said samurai. He saw Sharon walking with her cool New Zealand walking stick on the beach while they were climbing the rock route.

"See you later," we say as we disengage and start heading back to the motorhome. "We're gonna heat up some billy if you want to stay for a drink." My head swims with how deep this sentence is - 1) what is 'billy'? Did we hear that word right? 2) how and why do you heat it up? Wonderful stuff.

"No thanks," we say. We figure that alcohol is gonna be involved, so we just Asta la Vista Baby. We drive back out, stopping at the big mud puddle, which we have learned is called "Big Creek." Because of the long drought and the fact that this is the dry season, it doesn't run.

We make it to the Croc Tent, where I'm bushed (sorry, I couldn't think of another word), and we park while I take a nap for about a half-hour. Sharon reads a book. I wake up and we decide to take the track northwest from here, and go to Pundsand Bay, hoping to meet Sue. We're off, and in new territory. One of my favorite things in the world.

We make it out there, and a little before reaching the end, a sign says, "Deep sand for the next 1.2 kilometers. Engage four wheel drive NOW." I follow directions and in we plunge. It feels a little like we're skiing in snow. If you steer left, you go straight and ever so gradually inch left. The tracks are deep, so mostly, you just follow the existing tire tracks in the deep, white sand. It's about 315pm.

I ask a pretty girl working there if she's Sue, and she says no, Sue went into town and will be back at 430 or 500pm. Dangit. It will take us an hour and a half to get back for dinner. If we wait till 5, then talk to her till 530, we won't get back till 7. A shower and cleanup, and it'll be 730. Plus we'll be wiped out. These are the things we're thinking. In the middle of all this, Sharon is tired, hungry, exhausted, thirsty, and frustrated at the choices. I say I want to bird the property, and she reluctantly agrees, but isn't in much of a mood to enjoy it. We see a few familiar birds, but it's still hot. A raptor flies into a tree, and calls, but we can't get it. Some kind of falcon, I think.

We decide to wait for Sue, go in, pick a nice table in the shade, and order a couple of cool drinks from the girl we talked to first. She brings them, and Sharon's coke begins to revive her. A man does some work around the grounds, then sits a couple of tables away, and has a cigarette. He starts asking questions, learns of our trip and that we're birders, and I say we came with a whole boatload of questions for Sue, and we're waiting for her to get back.

We find out that he's Gary, and is Sue's partner, and that he knows a little about the birds too. He says why don't I try him on some of the questions. As we're talking we see Bar-shouldered Doves and Graceful Honeyeaters. I start down the list, prioritizing my random list on the fly. "Where can se see Palm Cockatoos?" He knows of a place, and volunteers to lead us there. He'll be on his quadrunner, and we'll follow him to a patch of rainforest on the property where they draw their water.. Fantastic. He tells us to come back in an hour or so and Sue'll be there.

We load up and off we go. We go halfway back out the sandy bit, then turn onto a bit of dirt road that wanders through the bush a little ways. He stops and we stop. "Park here, then walk over there, and follow the pink ribbons we've tied as trailmarkers." He laughs, and says, "Sometimes the tourists get lost." We laugh with him, and we love the pink ribbons.

We get our gear and set out, hopeful of Palm Cockatoos. They are sort of the symbol for the northern tip of Cape York, and are the largest of the cockatoos. The white Sulfur-crested Cockatoos are all over the place, and are extremely raucous. Gary says that the difference is that the Palm Cockatoos also have a whistle in between squawks.

We walk up a trail, sharing it with a long stretch of 6-inch diameter hose, whose job it is to deliver water to their camp. We find the center of the rainforest patch, which even has a little bench on it, but we're too excited to sit. We get a flock of lorikeets, which come in and leave, noisily.

Three ants crawl up inside my pant legs. I feel nibbles and squash them as I feel them, one at a time, then I feel a sharp pain on my inner arm. I look down to see an Australian Green Ant there. Interestingly, they are half pink and half green, and man that sucker can bite. Well, COULD bite. Dangit! That hurts.

We don't get any of the huge black cockatoos, and we drive back. Sue is back and we meet her, sitting at the table with Gary and two other people. Sharon orders a coke and I order a gin and tonic. The other two people finish up their conversation with Gary and Sue and leave, then Gary and Sue invite us over. Sue says to me, "Gary tells me you've got 4 million questions for me," and I see a twinkle in her eye. I tell her there's great news, I've found the answers to almost all of them, and there's only a couple of hundred left. She says, "Let's have 'em!"

I ask if outside people, not staying here, can eat dinner here. And they say absolutely, tell us the choices, and go and tell the chef to cook for two more. Now we're starting to feel really great. We like driving the road home in the dark better than in the light - you can see the potholes and corrugations better. And we're getting excellent tips from Sue. They get off track about every question or two, and tell us some great stories of things that have happened since they bought the business seven years ago. Sue gets out photos she's taken, and shows us some great Buff-breasted Paradise-kingfisher shots. She says, "Come back in the wet season, and you'll see all of these you care to."

Gary starts off a story about Sue that went sort of like this: "Sue loves all animals. If she sees a spider in the house or on the trail, she'll lift it up and put it outside or off the track. She won't kill anything. We had two nests here a couple of years ago. A Yellow-spotted Honeyeater and a Great Bowerbird. The parents raised those babies, and we loved them. Then one day a Butcherbird flew through and took all the honeyeaters, then all the bowerbirds. The parents were distraught. I wasn't here when it happened. When I got back, Sue said, 'You know that Butcherbird?' And I said, 'yes.' Then she said, 'Shoot the bastard.' "

Which I understood that he did. Figuratively if not literally, but functionally for sure. They tell us stories about how they met, what they did before then, all kinds of stuff. Then they tell us that they will seat us with a couple from Adelaide, Ed and Pauline.

We move over to another table, and have a very nice evening, talking with them. It's their second marriage too. She had 3 kids, and he had 4 when they married, and then they had one together. Their "baby" is now 22 years old and lives in Cairns, so they were up to see her. They were pulling a caravan (trailer) and drove it all the way up from Cairns. I was impressed. When Ed first shook my hand, I "felt" that the first finger of his right hand wasn't all there. They have done lots of traveling with their caravan, and we had lots of common things to talk about. They live in Victoria Bay, I think it is, south of Adelaide.

I had barramundi, with prawn sauce, Sharon had steak, and we split our dinners. Some of the best cheesy potatoes I've ever had, plus a seafood salad. It was very very good, and the cheesecake was even pretty good. And I don't like cheesecake.

We finish up, pay our bill, say goodbye to Gary, who says, "Sue is luxuriating in the hot tub." We said to tell her thank you and goodbye. We have great leads on birds for tomorrow.

We drive home in the dark, and it's a special feeling to be out in the bush, driving down an Australian-red dirt road, with your headlights illuminating the road and immediately surrounding foliage. I love this. Plus we don't see a little dead wallaby. Maybe he made it. Maybe...

Earlier Sue told us to drive slowly, and especially to watch for, and don't hit any nightjars, and although we really want to see some, we don't. We get home about 1030pm, clean up and Sharon hits the sack. I transcribe the day's stuff and turn in too.

But it's a GOOD kind of tired.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 5. (Magnificent Riflebird - heard only, Fairy Gerygone, Tawny-breasted Honeyeater, Torres Strait Pigeon, Lemon-bellied Flycatcher).
For the Trip: 180.

Trip Birds Today: 5, (The 5 Lifers)
For the Trip: 222.

Snakes Seen Today: 0
For the Trip: 3.

Sleep In: Resort Bamaga - Bamaga, Queensland


Thursday, September 4, 2003. Day 22 of 118. SUE'S CLUES.

It's 606am and we're on the road again, headed for Roma Flats. Later, although we're not there yet, we begin to hear Magnificent Riflebirds. I am good at his whistle now, and following Gary's advice, we're not using the miniCD of his call, but using our own whistles. Gary says they will definitely come to where they can see you, but they are so quiet, that usually you never see them.

We arrive at Roma Flats, and while whistling to the riflebird, we get a Mistletoebird nest. We find the turnoff Sue has told us about, drive in till it starts getting overgrown, park and walk in. We walk and walk, whistling for the riflebirds, but we begin to see another black bird responding. It seems to stay pretty high in the canopy, but is definitely reacting to our whistle of the riflebird. We get a red eye, long tail, and an all-black bird. First Sharon and then I see the little bit of feathers hanging down the back of his head, like a Tufted Duck has. It's a TRUMPET MANUCODE*, and it says "KOWP!"

Can you imagine Sharon and me having a baby when we were younger, but after we became birders? You'll recognize this game. "Come on, baby. What does a Trumpet Manucode say?" "Kowp, Kowp." "And what does a Buff-breasted Paradise-kingfisher say?" "Chup Chup."

I can call them in, because I can mimic their call almost exactly. Either that or they can't hear too well, and think I'm them.

We continue on, looking for a "soak," which we figure is a spring bubbling out of the ground or something similar. We hear a VERY close riflebird, and begin calling. We both watch the bird fly out of a tree close to us, and land high, and I mean HIGH in an enormously tall gum tree. We get pretty good looks. It's not colored like an adult male, but looks like a female, rather brown. So it's either a female or immature male. The book says that the females call too.

We get a tiny bird, all jittery and flittery, and it's a Fairy Gerygone. We try some of the other locations Sue has told us about, but we don't have any more successes. We decide to go back to the room, take a nap in the heat of the day, then go back out to Punsand Bay and try for the Palm Cockattos again.

I check emails, and realize that I can phone in and take part in our annual football draft, for our fantasy football league. I finished third from the bottom last year - not too hot, so I get the third pick. I call in about 1215pm, and it's 715pm there. The draft hasn't started because the person who's going to draft first is trying to work a last-minute trade. He offers me the St. Louis Rams' backup quarterback in exchange for my first round pick. I decline.

There is really only one guy I want, and that's the quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks - Matt Hasselback. He finished the season red hot last year, and my quarterback situation is a little questionable.

Anyway, Jon finally is ready to draft: "I take Matt Hasselback," he says.

So here I sit, incredibly stoked to be talking to the guys at the draft all the way from Oz, and disappointed because Jon took the guy I wanted. It comes to my turn and I take the 49ers backup running back. I think he's going to be good, but not right away. I drop one of my guys that isn't a starter, and then drop off the line.

I go into the bedroom to take a nap. Sharon is already under.

When we wake up, we go to the post so Sharon can get some stamps and mail some things. While she's in there, I go to the supermarket and buy a thing sort of like 7-11's Slurpees. I get a tropical one and go outside to wait for Sharon. I take a couple of gulps, and I get one of those things that I've always called a headache behind my eyeball. Sharon's boys Matt and Pete always called it brain freeze. Anyway, it's exquisite.

We drive to the sewage treatment ponds but there isn't much here. A couple of crows, Bar-shouldered Dove, Straw-necked Ibises. A pair of Brown Falcons come up out of the trees and dance with each other up in the air.

We drive out to Seisia, which to our great surprise and delight, happens entirely on pavement. It's only about 15 km. I see a couple of pink circles on the pavement, and I think, "What an interesting way to mark the manhole covers." But as I almost drive over one, Sharon points wildly to the right. Just in time, I notice that they are not manhole covers, but holes in the pavement, about five inches deep. I jerk the motorhome to the right and miss them. That could have put a crimp in our plans.

In Seisia, we get a flock of Bee-eaters as we walk around on the wharf. Sharon picks up a dark bird far out and low over the water. Really slow wingbeats. Some kind of skua? We have to let it go.

We decide to go back out to Punsand Bay and try for Palm Cockatoo at Gary and Sue's private bit of rainforest. We pass a sign that says "No Cutting Turtle Along Beach Area." What does that mean? I'm thinking it means we don't know much about what goes on at the beach. {I think later that they don't want you cutting up the turtles you catch on the beach, because it attracts the salt water crocodile, the really dangerous one.}

We make it to the deep sand patch, switch to 4WD, take the turnoff to the right, go to the rainforest carpark, as I call it, and start our stroll. We follow along the now familiar water pipe/hose. I'm a little in front of Sharon - maybe six feet. I'm looking up for birds, and she's looking down to make sure she doesn't stumble on something. This is a typical situation for us.

There is a parallel between computers and the human brain. Normally, when you're running a computer program, it just keeps executing the next instruction in line. However, if it gets an interrupt, it jumps to another location directly and immediately does the pre-arranged function associated with that particular interrupt, without having to go through the next-instruction circuitry.

Likewise, you can be thinking something, and if "EMERGENCY! CRISIS! NEEDS IMMEDIATE ATTENTION!" pops up, instead of taking the normal process time, it jumps to the {amygdala nerve network}, where your body responds without thinking.

And this is what happens when Sharon yells...


And points to a five foot snake on my immediate left, about a foot from MY foot. I jump directly away from his head, which is raised about four inches off the ground, and is more or less pointed directly at my left leg. I take three jumps without bothering to wonder if he's dangerous or not.

Bite Me

The snake turns back to Sharon and starts slithering towards her. She does her version of getting out of its way, and it finally decides to cross the water pipe, and goes out of our lives, but only physically. Let me tell you, that he's still here with us. I managed to take a couple of photos, and they are pretty impressive. {I was so full of adrenaline that my heart was racing minutes later.}


And in my mind, this is the first REAL snake we've encountered in our Australia Adventure. The others were a safe distance away or a result of our taking a boat trip through a mangrove-lined river.

And now we're sitting mid-rainforest section, waiting and hoping for Palm Cockatoos. We get Yellow-spotted Honeyeaters, Helmeted Friarbirds, and a couple of others, all of which we already have. Some Rainbow Lorikeets fly in and out. We select 6:15pm as our "drop dead" time. We're starting the walk back to the car when this time comes, no matter what.

Looking Up in the Rainforest

And since time flies when you're having fun, 615 rolls around, and we start moving out. Suddenly we hear a bunch of birds all hissing and scritching and fussing. Now we know that this almost always means that some bird has been discovered or has just flown in that is a threat to the existing birds. Then they harass the new bird till it leaves.

We think and hope that it's an owl. Sharon gets on it and says, "But it's got a crest in the back of the head." I'm already looking at the barring on the front, and with the crest comment, I know what this bird is, and this is a great, fun way to get him. It's a PACIFIC BAZA*, formerly named Crested Hawk. It's a great consolation prize for missing the Palm Cockatoos again.

Sharon says, as we continue to the car, "This is our bird at the end of the day to make the drive go faster." And I have to agree with that. We get back to the vehicle, and Sharon immediately grabs our reptile book to see what snake we surprised.

She decides it's probably a Brown Snake (deadly poisonous) or a Whipsnake (mildly poisonous, if that phrase makes any sense at all). There are no photos exactly like the snake we saw. As I'm driving out, we go through a narrow "window" with branches close on both sides. I aim the vehicle to do equal scraping on each side, but the scratching on Sharon's side is quick and loud. She jumps, "Never drive by a screeching branch right after I've seen a snake," she says.

We get a flyover of two bats, as it gets darker, and we can hear them sort of creaking as they're flying over. I'm pretty sure they're snake bats...

Now we're zinging along at 35-45 km/hr on this dirt road, and it feels like 70 mph, so we're keeping an eye out for owls. If we see something, we'll stop, and get out Big Bertha - our powerful 12 volt flashlight and do some spotlighting.

This reminds me of a great story my mom's brother, Uncle Peter Hilty told me about my dad. Dad apparently had just bought a powerful six-cell flashlight, and was trying it out one night. He "inadvertently" shined it into one of their neighbor's windows on a certain Saturday night, and more than once. It so happened, that an elderly, sickly person passed away in that house that night. And the next week, all the relatives could talk about was how there were heavenly lights that came during the passing, convinced that the lights were of an unearthly origin.

OK. Back to our current adventure. A big bird flies over, just above the lights. We review what we saw. I saw a grey bird, and Sharon saw a tan color. We both thought "owl." But then, independently we each saw a long tail, eliminating owls. What other bird could it have been? Papuan Frogmouth is our guess. But it's gone and so we continue on.

We come over this hill, and I see something big with an eye reflecting our lights somehow. What the heck? As we get closer, it begins to look like a chalky white ghost thing. I say, "Horse, or cow?" to Sharon. Hoping. Then we get even closer, and see that it's a cow. It's one of those almost-white Brahmas - no, it's a dozen or so. Man, do they look spooky, all white and everything.

I start singing the Ghostriders in the Sky. Shudder. Hey, it's only a bunch of cows, for crying out loud.

We make it back for dinner and we both have beef fillet, greek salad, carrots and tomatoes, potato mash (see, I can talk "Aus-try-un"). I have a couple of gin and tonics and Sharon has a coke. We get the triple ice cream with red drizzle again for dessert.

The center of things around these parts is actually on an island called Thursday Island. Now the funny thing, for me anyway, is that there are islands in the area named Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday Island. But there are no Saturday, Sunday or Monday Islands, which are apparently off on a three day vacation.

We bump into Kurt Shephard, with whom I made the arrangements to stay at Resort Bamaga. He says he's been filling in for the new manager for a few weeks, and in fact, is leaving tomorrow on the morning plane. We say we've got the afternoon one.

When he learns that we are going to Alice Springs, he says that we should stay in Kings Canyon. We should ask for Sasha, his buddy, who will "take good care of you." He runs the check-in there. And if we go to the bar, look for Skinny. He's a lunatic, and has spiked hair, but when we get to know him, we'll appreciate him.

We go back to our room, but talk with the other night's guitar player and a couple of other guys about where to see birds. They all give advice about the Palm Cockatoos. For example, "There were six of them a couple of mornings ago, just there over the lake, in those trees." And more. But I'm having such a great time, they can't get to me.

We say good night and head back to the room. We'll get a good night's rest, and still have half a day to bird tomorrow.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 2. (Trumpet Manucode, Pacific Baza).
For the Trip: 182.

Trip Birds Today: 2, (The 2 Lifers)
For the Trip: 224.

Snakes Seen Today: 1 (our analysis: Brown Snake or Whip Snake)
For the Trip: 4.

Sleep In: Resort Bamaga - Bamaga, Queensland

That's it for Report No. 8. Thanks for reading. Hope you're enjoying.

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