Report No. 10. Monday, September 8 thru Wednesday, September 10. TOWARD THE CENTER OF OZ

 

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

Monday, September 8, 2003. Day 26 of 118. Westward Ho.

It's 614am, and there is a sign in the toilet block that says social bowls attire is required for the Charters Towers Bowls Club's next event.

Not having the appropriate social bowls attire, we decide to skip town.

We pull out about 7am, and our goal today is Mt. Isa, if we have a big driving day, or maybe a little short, if we don't make a big push. I fill up at the local BP on the way out of town.

A couple of birds fly up that may have been Pale-headed Rosellas. Other birds on the right. Sharon thinks maybe they are Apostlebirds, and I agree. We come upon some roadkill and there is a big Wedge-tailed Eagle in with the usual mix of Whistling Kites and Black Kites. We get great views of his blacks and browns with the sun coming from behind us.

I might have seen our first Cockatiels, but they were away too fast, and Sharon didn't see them anyway.

We come to Homestead, where Sharon drops off a letter to the post . We get some wonderful Zebra Finches, and I can recall hearing their nasal "annh annh annh" in our back yard a couple of years ago. Those California birds were escapees obviously. There are lots of Apostlebirds here in Homestead, a couple of Galahs (grey, pink and white parrot-type birds - beautiful). We get a flycatcher that looks a little like a Willie Wagtail, but we look a little closer and it's a RESTLESS FLYCATCHER*. A Black-faced Woodswallow works on a nest. We may have a pardalote, as a huge green truck goes by, pulling FOUR trailers in series. Maybe it's just me, but I want to see him get in a traffic jam and be forced to back up about 200 meters.

We come to White Mountains National Park (Driving Stop No. 36, but we don't overnight here), and stop for a minute or two at a lookout. We continue on and a sign says "Welcome to Flinders Shire," then "Welcome to Queensland's Outback." We come to one of those cool poles that has about 30 signs pointing to all directions of the compass, and showing the distance to faraway places.

I'm getting sleepy, so Sharon drives a bit - her first time behind the wheel. The trees have disappeared, as plains have replaced them. Although over to the right, all the trees have been hacked down and burned. The trees were obviously little scrubby ones. {Driving on the left is new but also driving this big rig. As people approach, I try to slow down so I can gauge the distance I should be away from them. I use the right hand rear view mirror to see the center white line and how close I am to it. All in all, I catch on to the tricks.}

We make a toilet stop, and getting back on the road, it says 48 km to Richmond, and 67 backwards to Hughendon. We pass a tree with about 20 kites in it. I slow down and stop for Sharon to take a picture, but the kites won't have any part of it and they fly.

By noon, we're getting close to Richmond. There are two flights of birds, about ten strong. Brown Songlarks? Apostlebirds?

We fill up with diesel in the early afternoon, and after we take off again, I noticed two birds standing on the ground, under a scrubby tree, obviously seeking shade. As we pass, I know what they are. I slow, check traffic, do a U-turn and Sharon asks, "What?" "It's a bird we've already got, but I just have to show you." She was reading a magazine, and says, "OK, it's either Bush Stone-curlew or Bustard." As we go back past, they stir a little, and it turns out to be three Bustards.

Another U-turn and we're back on course. Country music is big here, and cowboys are called jackaroos, cowgirls jillaroos.

We come into Cloncurry (Birding Spot 37, but the Night Parrot of this area is thought to probably be extinct, and we don't feel like trying to prove otherwise) about 5pm, and decide that driving into the sun is no fun. We'll stop here tonight, and get a good rest. We get out, and the driving-into-the-sun blues fade as we start birding. We may have Diamond Dove, but it flies before Sharon can get on it. Next we get a bird with a lemon-yellow wingpatch. Sharon sees a rusty throat, and it's a very nice RUFOUS-THROATED HONEYEATER*. In the camp, we get a huge bird in a nest, and though Sharon votes for Pheasant Coucal, the many Apostlebirds on the ground and in the tree point us to that bird. We get Little Corellas and Brown Honeyeaters. We hear the sort of baby-cry, sort of cat mew of the Torresian Crow.

Then we get our DIAMOND DOVE*, with his red eye and white speckles. A young couple warns us that a snake just crawled through their campsite, and we are headed in the same direction as the s-s-s-snake. Sharon does her alarm call, {not for the snake obviously} and in come several WHITE-PLUMED HONEYEATERS*, but no snakes. Several small parrot-type birds have large white eye-rings, and after reviewing all the possibilities, we are left with only the VARIED LORIKEET*. These seem a bit smaller than the Rainbow Lorikeets we've been seeing.

We get a couple of Pardalotes and are hoping for Red-browed, but after careful review, we make them out to be a race of Striated Pardalote.

Birding has refreshed us, and we retire to a nice dinner, and relaxing evening.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 5, (Restless Flycatcher, Rufous-throated Honeyeater, Diamond Dove, White-plumed Honeyeater, Varied Lorikeet).
For the Trip: 190.

Trip Birds Today: 5, (The 5 Lifers)
For the Trip: 233.

Snakes Seen Today: 0
For the Trip: 4.

Sleep in: Gilbert Park Tourist Village, Cloncurry, Queensland

 

Tuesday, September 9, 2003. Day 27 of 118. Mt. Isa (Birding Spot 39). Jo Wieneke.

The alarm is off at 5am. I dress and go to the camp bathroom, look up and see Orion's Belt. The temperature is so comfortable, and like Uncle Peter and I used to say, it's good sleepin' weather.

We're off and before you can say Bamagashowday, we're in Mt. Isa, about an hour and a half later. The big bird we're after here is one of the species of Grasswren. We have some general instructions of places to search, but are a little doubtful about the specifics.

We turn onto a particular road, which passes under the railroad, then we come to a gate. There is a newly-watered-down dirt road crossing from left to right, then another gate. What's going on here is pretty interesting. The road we're on is a public road, the cross road is a private road used by big road trains, carrying ore to the smelter.

We drive up to this pull-rope carefully, and I pull the rope. Both gates open, and I drive through the first gate, across the private road, and through the far open gate. A sign says that we have 40 seconds from the time the gates open till they automatically close. In other words, don't dally.

We come to the beginning of a hill, and I park. We get out and listen. Sharon does her alarm call, and after a while I play the taped call of the local grasswren. We get a pair of Rufous Whistlers, and a flight of 30-40 Little Corellas. Then just before 8am, we get a nice SINGING HONEYEATER*. It's in the same tree as a pair of beautiful Red-backed Fairy-wrens. After the honeyeater flies out, and we celebrate, I look back and cute as can be, the male and female Fairy-wrens are sitting on a little horizontal piece of grass that is slightly bent in the middle by their weight, and they are almost touching heads, looking in the opposite direction from us.

Note to self. Corellas sound like cats. A flock of Weebills respond to Sharon's calls, and we get our best look ever. Their bills are, in Scottish parlance, indeed wee.

We come back through the double-gate and head out towards our caravan park, but come to a regular park first, by a large stream. We decide to bird, but first we watch two kangaroos bop across, then hide in the shade, trying to get cool. Hey, they are already cool.

A little before 9am, we get Yellow-throated Miner, whose old name is White-rumped Miner, and it's obvious why, when it flies. It is building a nest in a Euclyptus tree in the park. A Little Corella flies over to a busted off tree trunk, high in a ghost gum tree (brilliant white tree, with attractive green leaves. It's hollow, and the bird travels down the trunk, where Sharon watches it peek out of a hole.

We come to a rope hanging from a branch just over the edge of the enbankment, nearly over the water. It has a handle on it, and is obviously for kids to swing out and plunk into the stream. Maybe river is a better term, it's pretty wide and deep.

Then in one tree, we get Kookaburra, a Yellow-throated Miner flying in and perching about two inches away from the Kookaburra. The Miner looks up at the Kook, then down, then back up, as if to say, "How's it going, mate? Great little perch, eh?" A female darter is in the tree, and Sharon picks out a COCKATIEL*, our first confirmed bird of this species.

A Blue-winged Kookaburra flies away from us, and we can see that excruciatingly beautiful turquoise back, shining like crazy in the sun. Beautiful. A Rufous-throated Honeyeater is next, and a large flock of Little Corellas make a big noise.

We watch a spectacular Red-winged Parrot fly from left to right, with the sun behind us, banking so that we saw his back all the way in the bright sunlight. Electric green.

OK, OK. Let's say that you had a LITTLE cormorant out on a rock in the middle of a stream, and let's say he was all BLACK. What could you call such a bird? How about - LITTLE BLACK CORMORANT? A White-plumed Honeyeater is building a nest right next to the water.

We finally make it to the Lake Moondara Caravan Park, and Rosalyn checks us in. She gives us a birding sheet, compiled by one Bob Forsyth, who lives in the area and whose phone number is listed.

Without entering the caravan park, we head out to Lake Moondara for breakfast, after which we get 3 Brolgas, a pelican, several Black-necked Stilts and lots of ducks. We move up to the picnic area, and get SILVER-CROWNED FRIARBIRD*.

We finish up at the lake and slowly drive back into town. Sharon points to the left and yells, "SPINIFEX PIGEON*!" We have driven past them a little and look back. The chest bar confirms the ID.

We drive out to the sewage ponds, {almost every town has good birding at the sewage ponds. You can always tell a birder by their asking in town "where are the sewage ponds?" Of course, you have to put up with the strange looks from the people you ask such a question.} and meet Jo Weineke, a very knowledgeable and helpful birder from Townsville, and a great person. Together we look for Wood Sandpiper, which Jo's friend Bob Forsyth has told her is in the area.

She loans us an outstanding book (Finding Birds in Darwin, Kakadu and the Top End - Northern Territory, Australia, by Niven McCrie and James Watson) for our use in the Darwin and Kakadu area. When we finish, we will mail it back to her. She herself wrote a book called something like "Where to find Birds in Northeast Queensland." By chance, we have never run across this book before. Our loss, as it would have probably saved us time and gotten us many more birds. She says she should have brought some copies because she could have sold three copies on her trip. {Did we mention, she is a GREAT person?}

We invite her to sit in the shade inside our motorhome, with a nice cross-breeze, and share our lunches, since she has volunteered to give us more bird location tips. She marks up the "Top End" book with personal notes from her just-completed visit there. And she also shares with us her story of her encounter this morning with a couple of local grasswrens, including how to get to the area. {She said she had been waiting to find some birders so she could share her look at the Carpentarian Grass wren. As with most birders, the joy of describing your look at a rare bird is half the fun of finding it.}

She also suggests that we call Bob Forsyth, who she knows is away from home till this evening. And we will definitely do this.

She tells us about her round-the-world trip several years back, which included stops in the U.S. She has friends all around the globe. As near as I could tell, she may have never paid for a single night in a motel.

She is energetic, passionate about birds, and enthusiastic about life. She carries a mischievous twinkle in her eye, and we wish we could do a lot more birding with her, but she is headed out of here, and so we say goodbye.

Thanks, Jo. Have a safe trip, and we'll send your book back to you . We drive downtown, and I try to hook my laptop into the internet on a local network, but I don't have it configured for this arrangement, and I need to figure out how to do it. Later. We head back to the caravan park. We pass a fellow on the road who is wearing old filthy clothes, has on a hat and strange goggles, like pilots wore in World War I, and is pushing all his worldly possessions in a wheelbarrow.

We hit the Woolworths for groceries and supplies, Sharon puts them away, and we head off for Mica Creek, out Dajarro Road, looking for our first grasswren.

We climb the hill that we believe Jo climbed, but don't hear or see any sign of a grasswren, although we get an adult female and out-of-the-pouch joey kangaroos. Uncertain of whether we were on the right hill or not, and whether it matters (I hate these uncertainties, and I let it affect my ability to BELIEVE that the bird may be present at the location), we head back home, where we watch and listen to a whole group of Red-winged Parrots camp for the night in a tree in our caravan park.

Popcorn tops off the evening.

About 9pm, I call Bob Forsyth and he gives us directions to lots of birding sites for tomorrow - two at Moondara Lake, one right here near the caravan park, and one on Mica Road.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 4, (Singing Honeyeater, Cockatiel, Silver-crowned Friarbird, Spinifex Pigeon).
For the Trip: 194.

Trip Birds Today: 4, (The 4 Lifers)
For the Trip: 237.

Snakes Seen Today: 0
For the Trip: 4.

Sleep in: Lake Moondara Caravan Park, Mt. Isa, Queensland

 

Wednesday, September 10, 2003. Day 28 of 118. Following Bob Forsyth's Prescription for Finding Birds around Mt. Isa

It was really hot when we set up the motorhome last night, and we left the air conditioning on all night. We slept warm and cozy under the covers. When I go outside to go to the bathroom, I realize that it's colder outside than inside. Well, the A/C was operating with an admirable efficiency, I must say.

We go through the bow hunters' facility, as Bob Forsyth directed us, then down to a watering hole, looking for some Wood Sandpipers that Bob said were in the vicinity. He says they might be here, or they might be at the Mt. Isa sewage treatment settling ponds. Suddenly a huge bird flies up from the ground at a 45 degree angle from our right to our left, landing in a leaf-covered tree. I am trying to get on fast moving birds as fast as possible these days, trying to get all the features I can from that quick look. And what I saw was unbelievable, improbable, inconthievable! It looked like a four-foot long frogmouth! We bounce all around, trying to see the bird, while he seems to be trying to get higher in the tree, but jumping up one branch at a time, always staying partially hidden by the leavery.

I finally decide, from these looks, that it must be Pheasant Coucal, but he just seemed SO big. Sharon decides that it is likely a Koel, but I don't think they're supposed to have migrated in yet. Later we look in all our books, and finally find an off-season (non-breeding) version of the Pheasant Coucal that looked like the one we saw. About my quick-impression glance? Well, I may need more practice. As Sharon Petrick says, "So sue me!"

We head back to the motorhome. As the sun rises higher, and begins to hit the trees across a dry riverbed, birds are starting to move around. A number of the beautiful pink and gray and white Galahs lift off. Four Cockatiels land in a tree right next to us. And the Red-winged Parrots are working up to something. The ever-present Magpie-larks taught me something this morning. One version of their call is a beep BEEP beep BEEP, that has just the right amount of tonal quality in it to sound like a bus or a truck, when it backs up.

It's 8am, and we have a group of Apostlebirds - I'd say 12 or 14. {Did we say that they got their name because people thought they travelled in groups of 12?} A nice Jabiru stands in a little billabong pretty close to us. Sharon is looking in the trees for an owl because there's a big pile of crap on the ground, an indication of a night roosting spot for some bird.

We drive out to the next place Bob Forsyth told us about - just a few hundred meters past a two-story pumping station, on the road to the dam on the lake. It's a little clear pool, about two feet across and maybe eight feet long - a perfect place for a thirsty bird to stop for a cool one.

We get birds coming in faster than we can identify them. "What's THAT?" says Sharon. We go back and forth between Grey-headed and Grey-fronted Honeyeater, finally settle on GREY-FRONTED HONEYEATER*, our first lifer for the day. A couple of nice Rufous-throated Honeyeaters, a few Weebills, doing their busy singing and calling.

Next we continue our drive out towards the lake, but stop where a road leads to a locked gate on the left. We drive in, park the motorhome away from the gate, get out and begin walking the fence to the left. The problem is that although Bob didn't specify which direction to go, we have chosen left, when we should have chosen right. But, hey, accidents often lead to lifers.

We finally see that a bit of water is coming out of the ground in a spring. And it is running down to what looks like a portion of the lake. We scare up a couple of snipes from this spring area - likely Latham's, the most common here.

There is a herd of Brahmas in this area - maybe 40-strong. What are they gonna do, charge us? They suddenly stampede and run away from us at breakneck speed. Then they stop and turn, watching us. We continue to a fence, then turn to come back. They see us walking back, and they turn around and run the other direction, as fast as you can imagine, making a nice cloud of dust. We keep walking, as they slow down, stop, turn and look at us again. We see some birds, put our binoculars on them, let the binocs down and the cattle are off running again. Now, they are a LONG way off. Sharon says, "I bet the farmer really appreciates us running their cattle around." I say, "We're giving them a good exercise, no extra charge."

We hear a bird make a new sound: "whistle WHISTLE WHISTLE." Then repeated every ten or twenty seconds, though not regularly. What's that? We don't know. I have figured out that to the right of the locked gate is the direction Bob intended, and we have started walking the fence in that direction.

What we're looking for is a place where the water from the lake extends under the fence, making a neat little watering hole for the birds and other animals. Two dark crakes or rails fly up, over the reeds, and drop down. We think maybe they're Moorhens, but we don't see the characteristic big white patches that are their tails. So what are these birds? Don't know. Continue down the fence.

We hear Clamorous Reed-warbler, doing a fantastic job with his fussy, attractive song. But then, I see a very unusual sight - one is up on a reed, in plain sight, for about 30 seconds. What a great view! I can see his bill opening with his singing. He's aiming at the sky. Fantastic. Sharon sees another one, in about the same fashion. We get Red-backed Fairy-wren at the waterhole, but not much else. A great, cool little spot.

We decide to follow Bob's directions to try again for grasswren. We drive down the Min Min Byway, and don't you wish you could drive on a road with such a cool name? We make it out to Mica Creek, pull off and set up our chairs. Now I'll make this short. We don't see or hear no stinkin' grasswrens. Maybe we're not being patient enough, but maybe there ain't no grasswrens here right now.

OK, I make an average of about 35 or 40 individual voice recorder entries each day, with a minimum of about 15 and a maximum of about 80. And what I notice is that I start almost every entry with "OK." OK? OK.

We decide to try the sewage ponds again for the Wood Sandpiper. We park the motorhome in the same place we put it the other day when we met Jo. We walk up to the first pond, and two shorebirds do their peeps and fly to the left, along the edge of the pond, then drop down to the little rocky shoreline of the settling pond. But they're too far away to ID. We start walking toward them, checking with the scope every few meters. Sharon is making the argument FOR Wood Sandpiper, and I'm trying like crazy to find something about them that is wrong. And I can't. Finally, we are so close that we can see everything, but I want one more confirmation. We have Sharon walk towards them, and just as we knew they would (get it? Would!), the pair of WOOD SANDPIPERS* fly across the pond, showing their white tails, and confirming their species status.

And as Sharon is following them across the pond, her binocs come to rest on some grebes. She says, as she has for about the last six times she saw ANY grebes on ANY water, "Look at these. I'm just sure some of they are Hoary-headed Grebes." Now I know by now that they probably AREN'T Hoary-headeds, but I look anyway, and you know what? We have here about four HOARY-HEADED GREBES*, with that special appearance of the head. Sort of gray heads with white streaking. Way to go Sharon! Way to hang in there.

Bob Forsyth has suggested that dusk is the time to be at the water-under-the-fence place, so we decide to go back for that. It's now a little after 4pm, and sunset will be about 610pm or so. This time we drive to the locked gate, and walk the fence again, listening for the whistle WHISTLE WHISTLE we heard this morning, because now we know what that is.

And there it is: whistle WHISTLE WHISTLE. We see movement, and get visuals. It's a very-difficult-to-see LITTLE GRASSBIRD*. Over the next half hour, we will get even better looks. We continue on to the water hole itself about 515pm, and settle down to see what will come. A mother kangaroo and her joey are over in the shade, watching us, trying to decide whether to leave or not. They finally decide. And leave.

About 5:30, when we're arguing about what some bird is, a fantastic BUFF-BANDED RAIL* just comes sauntering out of the reeds, under the fence, into the shallows of the water hole. I get some great pictures of him. We love getting the rails and crakes, which usually only show up at dusk and at dawn.

Buff-banded Rail

About 6pm, I see four birds fly in and get my binoculars on them. The sun hits them just right, and I think I know the bird, though Bob didn't mention this bird when he told us what birds we might see here. I get Sharon on them, and she looks them up. And sure enough, they are PICTORELLA MANNIKINS*, wonderful little finch-like birds. I begin to understand why people like to have finches as pets. They are SO beautiful.

About 620pm, a half-dozen or so COMMON BRONZEWINGS* fly in. The plump pigeon-like birds have fantastic color on the wings. They seem to be waiting for us to leave, and later Bob says they never drink before dark. We get some great Double-barred Finches, and these may be my favorites. But we don't get the Painted Finches, which Bob said would also come. Andwe don't get Long-tailed Finches.

It's dark and so we drive out and head for home. I knew I would like the finches, but there is something so special about them. Your world will be just bopping along, then suddenly you look up and a tight group of maybe 12 little birds will fly by, their wings making this incredible swish-swishing, electric buzzing sound - only incredibly fast. They dart about - up, then down, then up. Like a school of fish in the sea. How do they know which way to turn next? They all seem to turn together. The finches are like that.

Love the finches.

When we get home, I tell Bob what we saw, using our fabulous mobile phone, and he's full of questions about what and where and when. He's sincerely curious about the details. I ask him if he knows where to see a Spotted Bowerbird's bower (This is Sharon's question she wants me to ask him), and he says yes. I laugh and say, "Bob, that was the WRONG answer. I wanted to get up tomorrow morning at 5am and be on the road a half-hour later." He laughs too, then starts telling me about still more birds and without trying to, he lists so many reasons that we should stay - including the fact that he'll actually drive us to the Spotted Bowerbird's bower. He's already showing two other visitors some birds tomorrow morning, and will be free at 11am, so why don't we just drop over then? The birding world, and especially Mt. Isa is lucky to have Mr. Bob Forsyth's capable attention focused on the birds of the area. He's a buzzsaw of information.

I finally decide that even though I feel we should get moving, that an event like this phone call is what makes birding life the fun that it is. Incorporating unplanned surprises into your plans. You know, "Move over! Make room for me!" I just have to be aware enough to distinguish the good ones, like this, from the bad ones, like "You should stay tomorrow and come to our lake. We've got thousands of ducks." Not to cast aspersions on lakes full of ducks, but after I've seen a thousand lakes full of ten million ducks, all of which I've seen before, well my attention starts wandering. Like the Wandering Whistling-duck. And I think it's THIS sort of thing that tells me I'm a bird SPOTTER, and not a bird WATCHER.

Can't wait for tomorrow, when we get to meet Bob.

Good night, Maynard - "The Dobie Gillis Show", of the late 50's, about ten million years ago in the calendar of commonly accepted time spans.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 8, (Gray-fronted Honeyeater, Gray-headed Honeyeater, Wood Sandpiper, Hoary-headed Grebe, Little Grassbird, Buff-banded Rail, Pictorella Mannikin, Common Bronzewing).
For the Trip: 202.

Trip Birds Today: 8, (The 8 Lifers)
For the Trip: 245.

Snakes Seen Today: 0
For the Trip: 4.

Sleep in: Lake Moondara Caravan park, Mt. Isa, Queensland

 

Thursday, September 11, 2003. Day 29 of 118. Polishing Off Mt. Isa. Last of Queensland.

Happy Birthday to sister Shirley, in Overland Park, Kansas. She's one of the cooler people you'd be lucky enough to meet. And as cool as SHE is, Dad always liked me best. Love you, Shirley. Also Happy Birthday to Sharon's mom Gretchen Caraway in Gardnerville, Nevada, near Lake Tahoe. Sorry to have your special lifetime day get crossed with the new, other, terrible meaning of this date.

It's 615am, and I'm up, walking to the bathroom block. And I know you're not going to believe this, but it's dark and I near a bird across the ravine, in a tree, whistling the first part of Happy Birthday - the part that goes, "Happy Birthday To You." Told you you wouldn't believe me. I even record it on my digital voice recorder to play for Bob and see if he knows what this is. A parrot? No, it's wild. An escapee? Don't know. But I can't talk right now. I really have to go to the bathroom. {Bob comes back and I ask him "did you hear that bird that sings Happy Birthday? He cracks up because he had just heard it and I confirmed it for him}

That's better.

I try to talk myself and then Sharon into trying for the Dusky Grasswren again, but I can't talk either one of us into it. We're trying to kill the time till 11am. The day is going to be beautiful. It's that wonderful light blue sky or early morning. We decide to blow 1.5 hours roundtrip, and the fuel that goes with it to try another place for grasswrens, recommended by Bob. We were going to just stop there on the way out of the area, but we're excited about this maximumized chance at the grasswren.

Seven AM, and we're on the road. Sharon bought this neat coffee cup yesterday. There is a place in the ashtray unit that pulls out, where you can place your can of coke or diet pepsi, or this special coffee mug. She is excited because she has made herself a cup of coffee, and on a cool morning, she says, it feels good to hold it in your hand. I've never been a coffee drinker, but I imagine this would be one of the good bits - holding the cup in your hands on a cold morning. That and talking about everything and nothing with a boatload of friends and family, while you all hold warm coffee cups.

And me with my tomato juice.

Anyway, she takes a sip and says, "This is the worst cup of coffee I've ever made." That tickles me, and is sort of a nice summary for all those times you make the best plans, then events just shoot your plans all to smithereens.

We drive by the Mt. Isa airport, heading towards our destination.

As I was filling the water tank this morning, a friendly black, aboriginal woman comes by. She's a bit older, and I sort of think she's the matriarch of the semi-permanent trailer across the road from us. There must be at least ten people living there, or staying there anyway. I like her. She asks, "Where you off to today?" and I say, "We're going to Tennant Creek, then down to Alice Springs." She says, "Good ON ya. You'll find the roads when you get to the Territ'ries wonderful. They're three times wide as this (pointing to the road we're standing next to). And it's clean, very clean. None of this rubbish about." I say, "Oh wonderful," and she continues on to the bathroom, calling over her shoulder, "Good ON ya!"

We are driving down the road, hopefully heading for a grasswren tick (the term for making a pencil mark beside that bird, on your birdlist). I say to Sharon, "We have to think of a name to call the dead kangaroos on the road. I hate saying "dead kangaroo" over and over. How about roadaroo?? Then she says, "How about roo kill?" And I say that sounds terrible, it sounds intentional. Then she says, "How about skinny?"

Sharon!

It's 730am, and we're driving down the road at 110 km/hr - about 70 mph. We're in a little raised road area, with ditches on both sides, though the slope down to the ditches is not very steep. A kangaroo jumps off to the right. We see a silver pickup truck on the right, down in the ditch, sitting as you would expect, on all four wheels. But something is sitting on top of his hood. We need to get closer to see, and as we do so, then we can see that it's not something ON his hood. It IS his hood. Smashed and bent back. On the left side of the road, down in the ditch on that side, lies a bloated cow, on its side. It looks like a balloon that has been blown up and isn't quite ready to pop, but is approaching that point. The feet just stick up into the air. It's bizarre. Actually it looks a little like a hippo, who's fallen and can't get up.

Anyway, I think I know what happened to the silver truck's hood.

We make it the sixty km from town, find the turnoff (McNamara Road), drive about 7.7km on the red dirt road, and find the small rock cairn on the right that we figure Bob has built for reference. We park the motorhome, get out and start lookin' and walking', bookin' and talkin'. We discuss the various directions and areas we might walk to. We make our choice, straight away from the road about a hundred feet, then back and parallel to the road maybe 300 meters, then back to the road.

The red dirt was almost like paint.

We walk our plan, but get no assistance from any grasswrens. We bite off another little walk, but the grasswrens apparently aren't open for business yet. We return to the motorhome, drive deeper away from the highway, then turn around, and slowly come back, listening and looking.

No grasswrens. However, I see what looks like a swift, with its stiff wingbeats followed by a glide. Then it lands in a dead tree, takes off again, lands again. I get Sharon on it. Three parrots shift around in a tree, but we've got no time for them right now. We can see his bill is grey. It's that dark woodswallow, the masked - no, it's the LITTLE WOODSWALLOW*.

We return to the gate which we had to open (I didn't tell you about it before), drive through, and close, on the way in. This time Sharon does the honors, and I take a couple of 'pitchers.' A Pied Butcherbird pretends not to notice us.

Sharon opening the gate for our grasswren try

We're back on the highway now, headed for Mt. Isa and our 11am appointment with Bob. Last night Sharon watched this show on the platypus. It was one of those shows that makes you want to take out a loan for a big donation to PBS. What a crackin' good show. They used a laparoscope to thread through the dirt and mud, to get into the burrow, and watch the platypus give birth, nurse, and all the stuff that nobody had everybody seen before. Fantastic

Then another show was on Usama Bin Laden and his partner in crime, whose name I still can't remember. Anyway, these two guys had their own terrorist groups until the Russians invaded Afghanistan. Then they decided they had to unite for the common purpose of kicking the Russians out. Which they did. Then they had a sit-down, and decided they needed some new purpose, some new enemy. And they decided that that enemy would be the United States.

And that's where OUR trouble started.

I don't see that this is ever going to get "fixed." I think it's like the first airplane hijacking. Once somebody thought of it and did it, well, it couldn't be "un-thought-of." Airplane hijacking will always be a problem that we need to address 100% of the time. There won't come a time when we say, "Hey, great. Nobody's ever going to hijack an airplane again. So we can dismantle all these metal detectors and stuff." That's never going to happen.

And I think terrorism is here to stay. We will live with it because there isn't any alternative. And because we're who we are. I mean, it's not like we're going to leave. Or give up. Or ignore them. The problem is, and we're still in the beginning phase, what's the best way to fight this thing? I don't know.

I hate the problem. But that doesn't change the facts. Personally, I'll live my life pretty much how I want to, especially BECAUSE one of the purposes of terrorism is to get people to be afraid to live their normal lives.

And unfortunately, mathematically, this is one of the branches of infinity. Namely, sooner or later, everything that can possibly happen will happen.

Whew. How did I get on that? Sorry.

We come to the silver pickup ditch again, and the cow is still there, unexploded, but the pickup is gone. Sharon says, "They took him to the smash repair." We love that instead of wreck or crash, they use the word smash.

We arrive at Bob's place, and he's our age or a little more. I've got my birder's vest and binoculars on, and he says, "I see you're dressed for birding." He tells us to park our motorhome, and he'll drive us to the bower. Fantastic. We get all our stuff - digital camera, video camera, binocs, digital voice recorder, etc. He has this old beatup ute full of handy things that a person might need in an emergency. He moves some of them around, and I get in the front and Sharon in the back. We like Bob and his ute and his dog right away.

"Is he a Blue Heeler?" Sharon asks Bob, of his dog Blue. "Partly," he says. It's a cattle dog, Sharon tells me. Bob tells Blue to jump up on the back bed of the ute, and up he goes. Blue clearly loves Bob, but probably not as much as Bob loves Blue. Or maybe they're exactly the same. Anyway, Blue has some scratches on him that appear to go right down to the skin. Sharon asks about them, and Bob says, "That's from accidentally dragging him a couple of blocks." Blue doesn't seem to hold it against Bob, and we're not actually sure that it was Bob that did it. Maybe Blue was chasing passing cars and bit onto a bumper and wouldn't let go. Or something.

We head out for the Spotted Bowerbird place as we trade stories and bird sightings during the trip. He said he's been a birder for about eight years. He's a fascinating, intense conversationalist, and is passionate about the birds. I love this. We've been birding nine years, so we share the starting-late-in-life thing.

We make all the roads, leave the bitumen and when we get a mile or so from our destination, Bob stops, unclips Blue from the truck and tells Blue to run. As Bob gets back in, Blue takes a dump right in front of the truck. "He always does that," says Bob, who steers around him and drives fairly slowly down the road. Blue immediately stops and runs alongside. Bob says, "Often he has to stop and take another one," just as Blue stops and takes another one. Bob drives on, and Blue will catch up with us soon.

Bob drives onto this big dirt patch, and Sharon and I see a bigger bird than I was expecting fly up off the ground and into a large tree, further back. We all get out, and Bob walks us over. "This is a conkeberry bush. The bowerbirds like to make their bower inside them because it gives them some protection." The bush isn't tight, but is fairly open, and we can see the SPOTTED BOWERBIRD*'s fantastic bower, of the classic shape. The bird never comes down, but I take some video and photos of the bower.

Bob Forsyth

 

Bowerbirds just get me right here.

Spotted Bowerbird's Conkeberry Bush Bower

I ask about the size comparison between Great Bowerbird and Spotted Bowerbird. I thought there was a large difference, but he says there isn't much. And the Spotted Bowerbird of this region, anyway, is lighter and is kind of similar to the Great. You have to be careful, he says.

So now I have to admit to Sharon that the bird I saw yesterday may not have been Great Bowerbird. May have been Spotted Bowerbird. Bob says the one we saw yesterday was almost certainly not the Great, as the closest ones are about 5 km away from here. So it looks like Sharon was right and I was wrrr... I was wrrrro... I was that other thing.

We go back to Bob's place, and he shows us his garage, converted to a library and computer room. He has a fantastic set of bird books of the world. He says most he bought over the internet. When you first look at Bob, you would not assume that he is as computer-savvy as he is. But you would be wrong.

We talk a little more about where we're going in the next few days. We express our disappointment at not seeing the Painted Finch at the waterhole last evening, and he says he saw them yesterday in the heat of the day, about noon. Sharon and I decide to go there one more time, and Bob says he has some stuff to check out there, and so we load up and our two vehicles caravan out to the site.

It's a little before 1pm, and after spotting a nice Chestnut-breasted Mannakin, we show him where we saw the Buff-banded Rail and the Pictorella Mannikins yesterday. We are on one side of the waterhole, and Bob is on the other. "Long-tails!" he says, and points. We get on them, and they are absolutely stunning. LONG-TAILED FINCHES*. Such crisp lines. That black bib and that long pointed tail.

Chestnut-breasted Mannikin

Then he yells, "Painteds!" I mean he YELLS. I love the contrast between Bob, and Sharon and me, when we were alone yesterday, walking on our tiptoes and whispering. And here's Bob yelling. His experience says that the finches obviously don't scare away easily.

We get on one single first, then we see three more. They move around, and the impression is of a mostly dark brown bird, but as it shifts around in the sun, you occasionally are practially blinded by this red rump patch. And then you get a hint of the red face. Fantastic PAINTED FINCH*. Formerly called Painted Firetails.

We move around to watch from a different angle, and get the Painteds again. Very very nice. We then decide to hit the road and say goodbye to Bob Forsyth, ace birder and communicator, and THE bird man of Mt.Isa. Thanks for all the help, Bob. Give Blue a run for us.

We go back into Mt. Isa, fill up with diesel, get Sharon to a post to mail her postcards, then head for Camoweal. On the road, I see the ultimate road train. We have been seeing an occasional two-story trailer, with cattle in the top and bottom. I just saw a triple trailer - the definition of a road trail, but all three trailers were double-deckers and full of cattle. Unbelievable.

I stop at one point, about 3pm, and get a nice photo of one of the huge windmills that dot the countryside. And let me tell you, the dots are far apart here in central Australia.

Huge Windmill in the NT

I suddenly remember that Bob has told us about another place to try for Dusky Grasswren. Could it be that we'd see the bird on the way out of here today? Let me summarize our attempt.

No.

Oh by the way, I played the "Happy Birthday to You" bird song, and Bob said, "Isn't that a magpie?" I don't know, but the way he said it tells me that it was. So Shirley and Gretchen, an Australian Magpie sang you Happy Birthday this morning.

About 5pm the two-lane highway narrows down to one lane, with very wide dirt lanes on either side of the bitumen. The idea is that you drive down the bitumen at 100 km/hr. If you see a vehicle coming at you, you both move over so you each have one wheel on the pavement and one on the dirt. That's what I thought at first.

But the practical situation is that the biggest vehicle stays completely on the pavement, the little guy moves off. I believe the reason is that when you're completely on the pavement, you don't spray gravel and loose rocks up, possibly breaking the windshield (called windscreen over here, as in the UK). So as the small vehicle, you move to the dirt and slow way way down. That way nobody breaks their glass.

In the real world however, the small vehicle doesn't slow down, and does spray rocks and gravel, and I figure it's only a matter of time till some lucky (and I mean this in the worst sense) rock finds our windscreen to his liking and trys to attach itself. [We were lucky enough that our windshield stayed essentially unmarked for the entire trip.]

But you can't go worrying yourself about stuff like this in a country where there are enough poisonous snakes to occupy all your worrying capacity. Well, Sharon's anyway.

We make it to Camoweal, population 360 about a quarter till 6, and it's such a relief because we have been driving into the sun. You know how tiring it is to do that. Linda checks us in and says if we're into bird watching, we should go down to the river. The Black Swan may still be there...

Sharon does a laundry, and it's so hot here, as a rule, that they don't have clothes dryers. Clothes pins are the hot commodity here, and after the washing machine, you just hang your clothes up to dry.

We have a wonderful rest, excited to know that tomorrow, we will enter the Northern Territory, called the NT around here, and leave Queensland behind. We have had a fantastic time in Queensland (pronounced QUEENS-l'nd, by the way), and we are eager and full of anticipation to see what the NT will show us.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 4, (Little Woodswallow, Spotted Bowerbird, Long-tailed Finch, Painted Finch).
For the Trip: 206.

Trip Birds Today: 4, (The 4 Lifers)
For the Trip: 249.

Snakes Seen Today: 0
For the Trip: 4.

Sleep in: Camooweal Roadhouse Caravan Park, Camooweal, Queensland

That's it for Trip Report No. 10. Thanks for sticking with us. See you on the other side of the border.


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