Report No. 9. Friday, September 5 thru Sunday, September 7. THE TRIP BACK TO CAIRNS. TOWARD THE INTERIOR

 

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

Friday, September 5, 2003. Day 23 of 118. THE PALMIES. BACK TO CAIRNS.

This morning we go back to Seisia where we've heard that the Palm Cockatoos come to feed on the almond trees right in the car park by the waterfront loading dock. But unloaders have been busy all night loading containers on a boat, and all morning, and the cockatoos won't stand for such noise. Sharon spots an interesting marker, so she uses her binoculars to read that Saba Nawaki, Age 57, loving father, husband, etc. was "taken" on this spot by a crocodile in 1983, on his way to work at the Seisia docks..

We drive back to Resort Bamaga and have our only breakfast in the dining room. It feels like way too much food, but I indulge anyway, since it's a rare occasion. Eggs, bacon (we will call this ham, in the U.S.), orange juice, fruit, toast.

After breakfast, we decide to go to the sewage ponds again and maybe get a passer-through. We get Sacred Kingfisher, then Sharon spots a Great Bowerbird. There's a Figbird doing his number, then another Sacred Kingfisher. Lots of Yellow-spotted Honeyeaters.

When we were at breakfast, some of the locals told us that the Palm Cockatoos sometimes feed at Loyalty Beach, only 6k's or so from Seisia. So we go back to Seisia, then take the dirt road to Loyalty Beach. We get out and get Mistletoebird immediately, then a beautiful Sunbird in the same tree. It's 9am when we get Black-faced cuckoo-shrike and a Graceful or Yellow-spotted Honeyeater.

Then we watch a couple of Great Bowerbirds fly in and feed in a tree by the path. Other birds fly in, and there is one that Sharon thinks is different from the others. She is excited and as she is thinking about the bird, I see about the rear 70% of a bird that ISN'T a Great Bowerbird, but I don't think much about it at the time, except that it's an intriguing bird. I let it go to quickly scan the other birds. "I think that's a Fawn-breasted," she says, and I can't believe it because this is supposed to be a very difficult bird to find. But I didn't see anything to prove that it's NOT that exciting bird. I need desperately to find somebody here who knows birds. I can't believe that that bird is seen in this resort.

I walk over and ask at check-in if the lady knows of the birds around here. She says, "You want to talk to Peter, our chef," and points across the grounds. We start walking that way, when a fellow pulls out from in front of his house on a quadrunner. The same house with the bird food tree I hold up my hand, and he stops. "Are you Peter?" I ask. "No," he says, "I'm Dan. Peter is in that end house down there." And he points to the one.

I thank him, and Sharon and I walk down to the end, but a white pickup pulls out from one of the houses down there, aiming to leave the property. I run across the facility to cut him off just before he exits. I'm afraid this is Peter, the Chef. You can see I'm desperate.

He rolls down the window, and I ask, "Peter?" And to my relief, he says, "Yes?" So I ask him if he's a bird expert, and he laughs and says, "No, you want the other Peter," and tells us where that is. We go down there, and turn a corner, but nobody's around. I call his name a couple of times, then a man of 40 or so comes out. He is barefoot, with black trunks and tank top. He has black and silver hair, tied in a pony tail. "Yes?" he asks.

"Do you know the birds of the area?" I ask. "Yes, I know most," he says.

Now being a test engineer, and wanting to ask the question in a certain way, I say to Sharon," Now I don't want to ask him if there's a Fawn-breasted Bowerbird here. I just want to ask him if there are any bowerbirds, and if he says yes, to ask which ones. I don't want to put words into his mouth."

And like most husbands, I believe my wife is listening to me and understands.

So I ask him if he has bowerbirds here, and he says, yes, they have two. Then he says, "The Great Bowerbird and another one. What's the name of that other one? Let me think."

I get out my book, and turn to the bowerbird page. I hold it out for him to come up with the other one on his own. He says, "Let's see we have the Great Bowerbird and ... Hmmmm, let me see..." And then Sharon says, "Is it the Great Bowerbird and the Fawn-breasted?" and then she points to the two birds.

Sharon!

"Yes, that's it," he says. But then he starts describing the birds' activities and relative sizes, and it's clear to me that a) he knows what he's talking about, b) there are indeed both birds here, and the c) the Fawn-breasted is one of them. So that's it then. FAWN-BREASTED BOWERBIRD*. We wish we had discovered this sooner, so we could look for his bower. Oh well, not in a million years did I think we'd see THIS bird.

We ask him about Palm Cockatoos, and he says the coolest thing. He says, "The Palmies?" Then he goes on, "I haven't heard them today yet, but in the mornings and evenings, some come to that grove right over there." Then he looks around for them, like he's apologizing for them not being there.

We decide to walk the grounds a little, and get Orange-footed Scrubfowl, a Brush-turkey, but not much else. We get a nice OSPREY just offshore, and wrap it up.

We decide to take one more drive, to a big water crossing we also tried yesterday. This is our last shot for our "Palmies." Will we get lucky?

Not today, not this time, but we can't complain, because we get a great view of a Blue-winged Kookaburra.

And then we stop birding. We put away our gear, and Sharon takes some photos of me crossing this big waterhole, after which we head for town. We're hungry and decide to get a sandwich at the bakery, then fill the fuel tank to the same three-quarters we started with.

We stop at the bakery, but "What Ho, Cried Daniel!" Locked up, no signs.

So we head to the BP to buy the diesel. Sharon goes inside and asks a little boy, who Sharon is surprised to see, "Aren't you in school today?" And the boy says, in one extremely fast word, "BamagaSHOWday." Sharon says, "What?" And the boy says, "It's BamagaSHOWday." Sharon asks a woman in the service station, but she's a tourist too, and doesn't know either.

Then a fellow who works there overhears Sharon's conversation and explains that once a year, it's a big holiday, and everybody goes to the show grounds, right across the street from Resort Bamaga for the food, games and parade. All the stores close down.

It's BAMAGA SHOW DAY!

I don't know about you, but when we go on a trip like this, somehow, early in the trip, something happens, and that becomes the theme for the rest of the trip. You try to run it as far into the ground as possible at first. Then you save it up for some time, when it's the right time to bring it out again. And this one will be Bamaga Show Day. We visit it for a few minutes, get some free frisbees and mouse pads courtesy of the Australian Army, we buy some stuff, eat some stuff, then drive over to the petrol stop.

Having accidentally filled to 7/8ths, we drive back to the resort, and check the vehicle back in, then go to our room to pack for the flight. This time, I select only the most essential, most breakable items and pack them in one backpack. I take my Powerbook and it just fits into a big inside pocket of my vest. While I'm doing this, Sharon opens the refrigerator and finds that for the second or third time on our vacation, one of my diet cokes got too cold and exploded. Sharon cleans up my mess, we finish packing, then check out.

They take us to the airport, and we check three bags. I take the "critical items" backpack and we board and take off about 320pm. An uneventful flight, punctuated by our snack packs, and we're back in Cairns. They have called us a taxi, and we are driven to the service center where our motorhome is ready for us.

The only minor problems are a) the water pump is still screwy, b) the hot water heater is still screwy, and c) Rob forgot to run the engine to recharge the auxiliary batteries and all the stuff in the fridge is warm. We will toss out the milk and egg products, etc., but it's no great loss.

Rob is funny trying to explain how to make the water heater work. [It turns out that we had the propane (gas) turned off sometimes, and that was perhaps one of the top reasons this feature didn't work all the time," he said, only slightly embarrassed. Unbelievably, when we turned the gas on, it worked every time. Fascinating the things you discover.] It's like he's doing double talk, but we can tell he doesn't understand it either. At any rate we can't understand HIS explanation. We take off, and head for the Big 4 Caravan Park (A chain, like KOA, but unlike most KOAs we've stayed at lately, this one is still first rate) south of Cairns a bit. It's a really nice one, and Rob has marked on our map how to get there.

We make it to the Big 4, check in, and are told there is a free sausage sizzle. All right! Free food! We get a couple of chairs, our mustard, soft drinks and head on over. The outdoor, covered picnic area is packed with Friday night campers, who all seem to know each other. There are so many that it's hot and muggy inside, so we set our chairs outside.

The sausages are ready, and I'm first in line. We enjoy our dinner, but are tired and skip the entertainment portion. But we can hear uproarious laughter from our rig throughout the evening.

We get Sharon an AA meeting, and I wait for her in the motorhome in a light rain, typing out the stories that we will re-read someday, when we stop traveling. The meeting finishes, Sharon comes out, and we go back to the camp, connect with electricity again, and are in for the evening.{Heard at the meeting "Stop making everything so stressful. Stop worrying about everything so much" Good advice}

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 1. (Fawn-breasted Bowerbird).
For the Trip: 183.

Trip Birds Today: 2, (The Lifer plus Osprey)
For the Trip: 226.

Snakes Seen Today: 0
For the Trip: 4.

Sleep in: Crystal Cascades Holiday Park, Cairns, Queensland

 

Saturday, September 6, 2003. Day 24 of 118. Kuranda (Birding Spot 26). Cassowary House.

We bird the immediate area around the camp, but don't get anything very interesting. Then we set off for the day. As we leave the camp, a little before 8am, the sun is just hitting the palm trees, and the Metallic Starlings red eye is Devil Red. It makes me feel creepy - those eyes. Oooh, spooky. The entire eye is red, not just the outside ring.

Our big target bird today is the Red-necked Crake, which we understand to be pretty much a "slam dunk" at the Cassowary House, up in the rainforest near Kuranda. In 1994, we took the wonderful little train from north of Cairns up to Kuranda, and it was a great train trip. But we will drive our motorhome up this time, and bird the area. This will connect the ends of some imagined circle in my mind - birding the area where we shopped the aboriginal booths nine years ago. Very similar to the time we went back to Versailles, and I birded the town and the country around my aunt's and cousin's farms.

But first, we are going to hit some other places. By 820am, we are at the Mangrove Walk near the Cairns Airport. We are hoping for Mangrove Robin, and in we go, in a light rain.

Sharon reads about some of the critters in the muddy ground, and we hear these incredible pops and snaps. There are things called Snapping Shrimp, and we try like crazy to see one making his noise, but never do. {Evidently, they snap to warn other shrimp away from their burrow.}

Then Sharon spots an unusual sight. It appears to be a kind of fish. It's got big bubble eyes on the top of its head. She starts the way she usually starts, puts binoculars on it, gets me on it, says, "What is THAT? I think it's a Mudskipper." He is making a half circle of mud up against the muddy bank. He dives into the center of the half circle corral, comes up, and "bloop," spits out a mouthful of mud onto his surrounding wall. What the? Then another one comes out of a watery hole in the mud nearby and puts up his brownish dorsal fin. Sharon has read that this is a sign that says, "This is MY territory. Keep out."

We do the rest of the boardwalk, then realize there's another boardwalk at the other end of the carpark. We don't get our Mangrove Robin at either one. We hear and see Brown Honeyeater near the carpark.

We start talking about our trip to the tip of Cape York, and Sharon decides that the Riflebirds and Manucodes sit around in the trees and call people in, whereas we think we're calling THEM in. "Watch this," says a Riflebird to a Manucode, and gives his snappy whistle. We birders come quickly. "Good one," says the Manucode.

We give up on the robin, and head to the Esplanade - an area of lawn filled with nice shade trees, adjacent to the sand and beach. The tide is out, it's sprinkling and swiftlets are flying over. We set up the scope under a thick-leaf tree that keeps the rain from reaching us. We scope, and see familiar birds we already have, but others are a long, long way off, and we give up on this. We need an expert, but don't have one, so we move on to our next part of the day.

We stop in a shopping center to fill up with groceries. There is a sign in a Chemist's shop that says "If you intend stealing something, smile for the cameras." I frown so they won't be suspicious. Sharon gets what she was looking for, we put the groceries away, and head for the Kuranda turnoff.

About 130pm, we are up in the city council carpark, heading out for some serious shopping. We buy all sorts of cool stuff for us and for others, then on the way out, two aboriginal fellows have started a performance in one corner of the mall, under an overhang. They have a piece of cloth on the sidewalk, and there are some coins on it.

Aboriginal Street Performers in Kuranda

We enjoy their performance - one fellow plays the didgeridoo, also striking it with a stick, and the other dances and claps his hands. I toss a $2 coin on there, and say thank you as we leave. We hear them say, "Jama. Jama stick," and they are looking at us. Or more specifically they are looking at Sharon's cool walking stick. We turn back, and they examine it, with some admiration. An older aboriginal woman, dressed in modern clothes who appears to be shopping also, comes over and nods her head. "Jama," she says.

"Snake," she says. And the two fellows nod their heads, "We say Jama. Jama." So the next time we see a snake, I will be very impressed if Sharon yells "JAMA JAMA JAMA!" Sharon tells them she got it in New Zealand, and they nod their heads some more, and again say, "Jama."

We go back to the motorhome, and put our goodies away, then head out for Cassowary House. I called them earlier to ask if it was ok for us to come, and they said to come about 6pm to see the crake. We arrive their about 4pm, and introduce ourselves. Phil Gregory tells us a place to go birding in the rainforest edge, so we do that, then have lunch there. We come back, arriving right at 6pm. Phil's wife Sue comes out and actually calls, "Cheese. Cheese. Cheese," she says in a falsetto voice. Sharon claims she is saying, "Cheers," but I think she's saying "Cheese."

At any rate, the crake apparently isn't sure either, because although the RED-NECKED CRAKE calls several times, it never shows us its red neck.

But...

Jean Paul and Jo, from our walk at the Kingfisher Caravan park in Julatten, walk through the door. They are staying here and it's time for dinner. Sharon and I start talking with Jean Paul first, and I say, "How was the wedding?" And he says, like almost any guy on the earth, I guess, "It was a wedding," and laughs. Sharon says, "I'll ask Jo. She'll know." We swap stories of what we've each been doing, and the birds we've been seeing.

More futile attempts to get the crake out. Maybe it's Bamaga Show Day. But what DOES come out is a furry fellow called a Giant White-tailed Rat. There is also a Dusky Kangaroo-rat, much smaller. And some other little rat-mouse-thing, but we don't know what it is.

Then just before they sit down for dinner, Jean Paul asks us to come to his restaurant when we're in Melbourne. It's the "France-sois", which means French Evening, as I recall, and is famous there. He says he'll see that we get a really good French meal.

Dang. I don't have anything to wear to a good French restaurant. I'll just bring Sharon and maybe nobody'll notice.

We walk back to the motorhome in the dark, and neither one of us thought to bring a flashlight. The moon is shining through the canopy of the rainforest, and in other circumstances, I might be a little spooked, but this has a special magic about it. We make it out to the main road, then up the hill to our motorhome, then back down the mountain, enjoying the city lights as we descend the winding road.

We get back to our camp, and it's too late for the laundry, Sharon says. Good. We don' need no stinkin' laundry.

Sharon puts on her pa-snakes and hits the sack, and I'm not far behind. Did you get the "pa-snakes" reference? Think hard now. Use all the clues in today's report. Extra credit.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 1, (Red-necked Crake - heard only). Nearly skunked today, but NOT.
For the Trip: 184.

Trip Birds Today: 1, (The Lifer)
For the Trip: 227.

Snakes Seen Today: 0
For the Trip: 4.

Sleep in: Crystal Cascades Holiday Park, Cairns, Queensland

 

Sunday, September 7, 2003. Day 25 of 118. HEADING INLAND - THE NEXT PHASE OF OUR ADVENTURE.

We wake up to a tremendous galloping sound. I open the door and see the beautiful white stallion in the horse paddock beyond the edge of the caravan park running at full speed from the far end of the paddock, at our left, to the other end, to our right. He reverses direction, and sprints back again. The other horses are excited, but are mostly staying in place, stamping. Pretty cool.

We take off first seeing about 20-30 masked lapwings on the tennis courts, and during our exit from the area, get a view of downtown Cairns, with its skyscrapers, and sun shining strongly on the bay and the Esplanade. It's already a beautiful day.

View from our Caravan Park

We drive south, through Edmunton, past a Big W shopping center, but things are closed on Sunday. Next door is a huge marlin, with his sword sticking up in the air. It's the BIG MARLIN.

By 8am, we are at the Cairns Crocodile Farm, off the main road. They open at 9am, but from the quiet appearance of the area, we are wondering if they will open at all today. We decide to bird the roadside nearby, and wait for 9. It's Fathers' Day in Australia. I guess every country gets to set the date of their own Fathers' Day.

We can look through the fences and see huge crocs sunning themselves beside pools, on the grass. They are some serious looking dudes.

But on to birding. We are here to see White-browed Crake, supposedly easy on the levee, or dam, around a small pond outside the main area. It appears to be totally dry, but we can't stand on anything tall enough to see for sure. Anyway, there ain't no stinkin' crake anywherre around. We will ask them if, and hope, he's moved to the water inside the main facility.

Meantime, Sharon is scouting around and makes an incredible find - a couple of absolutely stunning CRIMSON FINCHES*. We get great looks at these birds. I see a kingfisher out here on the dam, but 9am comes and goes, and this place ain't opening today, and maybe is closed because of the drought, who knows? We get a beautiful female Sunbird over some grass, when Sharon yells, "Paratroopers!" We look closer, and it's several recreational skydivers, who've jumped from an airplane that I can hear, but never see.

A Golden-headed Cisticola pops up on one of the tall grasses of his home and checks us out, sings a couple of lines, then slides back down. Nice.

On the drive out, we get a flock of Chestnut-breasted Manakins in a tree, who then pop down to a fence.

We pass a drive-in pie shop. You just drive up to a window, tell them you want a mince-and-onion, and they pass you out your meat pie. If you wanted a pie here, you'd ask for a tart. I don't know what you'd ask for if you wanted a tart.

We pass a fellow getting a speeding ticket on Fathers' Day. That's a surprise for him. We pass a billboard showing a couple in swim suits, sitting on a beach under a couple of palm trees. The water is beautiful turquoise, and there are green islands in the distance. It's advertising a vacation spot. It says, "40 DIFFERENT ACTIVITIES TO IGNORE."

We stop in Tully for diesel, then continue on, passing the BIG CRAB in Cardwell, where we looked for Dugong. We go out again, and it's no dugong and no stone-curlew. Sharon has been reading again (will she NEVER stop?), and reports that the dugong travel around in groups of 5 to 100.

We pass a huge watermelon, and it's the BIG MELON. I missed this the first time, somehow. And there goes the Frosty Mango.

We're to Townsville now, going around it. There's a strong crosswind, looking for Highway 78, aka the Flinders Highway, aka the road to Charters Towers. We pass a big thoroughbred horse race track, and hey, they go clockwise.

We make the major turnoff now from Townsville on the A6, towards Charters Towers. This first leg goes south before it turns west, but we have broken away from the coast road for the first time. Hey Sharon, WE'RE IN NEW TERRITORY.

We pass some roadkill, and there are eight Whistling Kites, sharing. Everything has immediately gotten dry, and it feels like Nevada. There is lots of fenced pastures, but in the pastures there are lots of little scrubby trees, and many termite mounds - maybe one every ten square yards or so. There is a railroad on our right, mountains on our left, therer's bright sunlight with a few puffy white clouds. We pass a turnoff to Giru, and I pull over to check a report of Zitting Cisticola there, but I'm surprised to learn that it's over on the coast. We must have gone right past it on our way north from Sydney. Oh well, you can't have everything.

There are transmission lines on our left now, at 345pm. There are big nests in about 80 percent of them, and about 80% of the way up in the towers. Sharon spots a triple decker - 3 nests in one tower.

We are slowly rising, and my GPS says we're at 1050 feet.

A little before 430pm, we pull into Charters Towers Caravan Park. Mary checks us in and says they have Olive-backed Honeyeater here, as well as Peewee, when we tell her we're birders.

It turns out that Olive-backed Honeyeater is her name for Brown Honeyeater, and Peewee is her name for Magpie-lark. I was a little doubtful when the second time, she called it the Honey-backed Olive-eater. Ah but she likes her birds.

As we walk around the park, we see a beautiful black butterfly, but whose wings are clear - is that called gossamer? Fantastic. We finish up birding, and have a nice rest of the evening. Tomorrow will be a big travel day.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 1, (Crimson Finch - fantastic RED color).
For the Trip: 185.

Trip Birds Today: 1, (The Lifer)
For the Trip: 228.

Snakes Seen Today: 0
For the Trip: 4.

Sleep in: Charters Towers Caravan park, Charters Towers, Queensland

New Section: "Parallel World": If you take a see-thru map of Australia, blow it up on a xerox machine by about 15%, and lay it down over a map of the continental US, they would pretty much overlay. I'm a communications addict, so I want to tell you (without a US map in front of me), what the similar trip would have been so far, accomplished in the US, geographically speaking.

Now remember, this is "Parallel World" talk:

We flew into Savannah, Georgia, then drove up the coast to about Boston. We took a small 16-passenger airliner to a spot in Maine that is 30 miles short of the tip. We rented a 4WD and drove up to the tip, took our photo, drove back to the 30-mile-from-the-tip point, flew the small plane back to Boston. Then we drove back down to Philadelphia on the same road we drove up on. From there, we turned west and set out, sleeping this first night in Pennsylvania.

The next portion of the trip will take us to Nebraska and the Missouri River. We will turn south there and go down through St. Joseph and Kansas City to the place where Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas come together, where we will turn west and about a hundred miles into the state of Oklahoma (This is Ayers Rock back in the Australia world). Then we will exactly double back across Oklahoma, go north to Nebraska, and then continue on up to the Minnesota-Canada border (This will be Darwin, in Australia).

Hope you enjoyed this Report No. 9. It marks the end of the eastern rainforest and coastal birding, and the beginning of the next phase - the Outback. The portion of Australia that is unbearably hot (in Parallel Temperature World, it would probably be called Phoenix), and generally in the center of the country.

We are really looking forward to the change in habitat, though we're a little "juberous" as Dad used to say, about the heat that will come down on us. That's ok. We'll take what we get.


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