Report No. 11. Friday, September 12 thru Monday, September 15. THE RED CENTRE.

 

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

Friday, September 12, 2003. Day 30 of 118. North-South Stuart Highway. Tennant Creek.

We rig for travel and take off. In almost no time, a little after 8am, we stop at the border between Queensland and the Northern Territory. The surroundings are like Montana or South Dakota grassland prairie. It's perfectly flat all the way around. The only trees are on the horizon, far away. We take some photos of the Welcome to NT signs. While we are doing this, we can see birds flying up out of the 8-inch grass. No white wing bars, they respond strongly to the taped song of the bird I think they are. Seven separate individuals made their way over to near our location, and they are BROWN SONGLARKS*.

We Come to the Northern Territory from Queensland

"I love the smell of lifers in the morning. Smells like - victory." - Robert DuVall's character in Apocalypse Now.

We are driving down the road at 98 km/hr - about 60 mph - and I'm looking at the road about a quarter km ahead. There are a bunch of kites on the road disposing of some roadkill. I don't slow down because I know they'll vacate the premises. But...

SUDDENLY! From our left, on the road, flies up this great huge bird. Black and white. It flies diagonally across the front of our motorhome, and it's clear that we're going to hit him. It seems as big as an ostrich. I wait for the sound of the impact. He's not going to hit the windshield, but the cabover part of themotorhome, just above me. Here it comes...

But there's no sound whatsoever. He made it. No female would ever do such a daring, crazy thing. Wings, legs, head, body. I was SURE he was toast. But it was the lucky day for this Australian Bustard. And us too.

Whew.

A little after 9am and we zoom past a white bird on top of a snag. We are hoping for a longshot Letterwing Kite, but we get a Little Corella.

Almost instantaneously, we pass from grasslands to dry scrubland - low gnarly trees and shrubs. We make a breakfast rest stop at a huge windmill. A faucet points down to three or four plastic containers, each with a bit of water. I'd estimate thirty Zebra Finches are all over this water feature. We can hear their nasal calls as they fly in and out. Love the Zebras. In Aus-try-uh, zebra rhymes with Debra.

We have our breakfast and take off again. Most wells, in American parlance, are called bores here, as in the "Kunoth Bore," instead of the Kunoth Well. But some are called wells.

We stop for diesel, and the price is an astronimical 122 cents per liter. I think this is about $2.75 American. But who cares? We got our lifer for the day.

When you're in the U.S. and you are traveling westward and you cross a time zone, you set your clocks back by one hour. When you travel from Queensland to the NT, you set your clocks - get ready now. Are you ready? - back one-half hour! Ain't that the coolest? Sharon gets out the manual, and we change the time in the radio and the odometer cluster of the motorhome.

It's a quarter till two in the pm, and I swap places with Sharon. She drives while I nap, and this helps us to get quite a bit further each day. Ain't she the bomb! After my nap, I change the time in my watch, my digital voice recorder, my digital camera.

About a half-hour later, we swap back. It feels like an hour and a half, and Sharon, keeper of official apparent times, says it was ten minutes. In fact it was about 24 minutes.

As we're riding down the road, I notice a big bird soaring and, whoa nellie, I check for traffic and pull off quickly to the left, just off the highway. I tell Sharon, "There's a new bird up there. I don't know what it is, but it's definitely nothing we've seen before."

It reminds me of the American Turkey Vulture. He's huge and as he banks around, I can see a very short non-whistling-kite-or-black-kite tail. At first I guess eagle because he's so big, but it's not the Wedge-tailed. I quickly get out my book, and as the bird banks around to different angles from the sun,we see this beautiful subtle contrast of blacks and browns, and it's a gorgeous BLACK-BREASTED BUZZARD*. In the U.S., this would be called a hawk, not a buzzard.

We come to the end of the Barkly Highway. Katherine and Darwin are north, to the right. Tennant Creek and Alice Springs are south, to the left. This is a little settlement called Three Ways, and Sharon says she feels like she's in the middle of the country. We turn left and are now on the Stuart Highway.

A half hour later we refuel, then go to our camp for the night, the appealingly named Outback Caravan Park, in Tennant Creek (Stop No. 41). Sharon helps me back in and then starts the laundry. Then we bird the premises.

A big grey bird with a black face is a Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike. Sharon calls in a White-plumed Honeyeater or two. A bird I first misidentify as a female Rufous Whistler is correctly ID'd by Sharon as a Grey Shrike-thrush. My bad. But in general, it seems that White-plumed Honeyeaters and Galahs have reserved most of the spots in the park, and other birds are hard to find.

We have dinner, then decide to go to the caravan park's evening entertainment at the campfire - Jimmy Hooker will perform some of his bush poetry, and will also prepare some bush tucker. We are to bring a chair and $2 each. Sharon says for me to go ahead and she will finish the laundry. Well, I figure this is just her way of chickening out, because she figures they're going to try to get her to eat a Witchety Grub, a squirmy white worm that likes the Witchety tree.

When I get there, Jimmy Hooker is a very skinny fellow, wearing blue jeans, a long sleeved shirt and an old beat up jackeroo (remember? Cowboy) hat. He is missing most of his front teeth, and as soon as I hear him talking, I think of Gabby Hayes of the old Roy Rogers westerns.

During the evening, we learn that Jimmy's mother was aboriginal, and he spent his young years with her and aboriginal people. And he has for us to enjoy and taste bush tomatoes, bush bananas, bush pineapples, bush coconuts, conkaberries, mistletoe berries (the local variety isn't poisonous), and sultanas.

Most of these things are neutral tasting or bitter. The conkeberries and bush tomatoes are pretty good. The bush coconuts are pretty good when dipped in "eggs." After we'd eaten a bit, we learned that the "eggs" are the eggs of grubs. I thought they added a little spice to the coconut bits till I learned what they were. {I got there late and people were just trying the coconut, so I did too. I dipped it in the stuff that looked like corn meal and ate it. THEN they said these were eggs of grubs, and even some hatched because you could see them moving!}

Sharon mostly has that face on that just ate a sour lemon.

After what seems to be forever, Jimmy wraps up the bush tucker portion and proceeds to reciting his bush poetry. He pulls a small notebook out of his yellow bag, lays it down on the ground, and puts four rocks on the corners so it won't blow away.

Then we learn that Jimmy can't read or write. But somehow he has made marks on this notebook that remind him of the poem he wants to recite. When he finishes one poem, he'll go over to the notebook, learn over, peer down at the paper, then straighten up and start on the next one.

This amazes me, but appears to be true - that he can't read or write. He spends much of his evenings at a local bar, he says, meeting people he hopes are armed with fascinating stories. Then he'll make up a poem, based on that new story, and add it to his collection.

We get three or four of his poems, then leave. They are pretty good, but not to our taste, in general. We relax the rest of the evening, and think about tomorrow, when we should get to Alice Springs. {An example of outback humor he tells us is of his father who was a jackaroo. The jackaroos after riding all day in the cold would stand arond the campfire warming their backsides but his father had taken to sitting down on the lid of the dutch oven the cook was using as it was warmer than the campfire edge. The cook didn't like his doing this so the next time they came he had put the lid in the fire until it was red hot, set it on the pot ujntil it cooled to black again, but of course, was still very hot. Then he laughed as Jimmy's father sat down on the lid and burned his bottom. Well I guess you had to be there.}

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 2, (Brown Songlark, Black-breasted Buzzard).
For the Trip: 208.

Trip Birds Today: 2, (The 2 Lifers)
For the Trip: 251.

Snakes Seen Today: 0
For the Trip: 4.

Sleep in: Outback Caravan Park, Tennant Creek, Northern Territory (NT)

 

Saturday, September 13, 2003. Day 31 of 118. Into The Alice.

We're up at 515am, and I'm excited to be heading for Alice Springs today. We are using the cool of the morning to do most of our traveling. We hit the road about 6am.

One of the poems last night was about Thirsty Thursday. Many of the aboriginals of Tennant Creek are alcoholics, apparently, and they get their welfare (or whatever the correct term is) checks on Thursday. By the end of the day, the money would be blown, and the women would have nothing left to buy groceries for the week.

So the solution to the problem was to make it illegal to sell alcohol in the bottle shops on Thursdays. Now private clubs could sell membership tickets, available to anyone who walked in and looked presentable, and then serve alcohol to their members. But many aboriginals don't even have shoes, and certainly don't have clothes that are presentable to the private clubs. So the result is that they can't drink alcohol on Thirsty Thursdays.

We are about 8 km out of Tennant Creek when we come upon two signs, one on each side of the road. They are typical of the sign that means "no", as in no smoking, no swimming, etc. There is a circle, with a diagonal bar through it. These signs have a circle, with a diagonal bar through it, but it isn't clear what it's prohibiting.

I ask Sharon if she knows what they mean, and she says no, but whatever it is, we're not supposed to do it.

We come around a corner and there are an estimaed 200 Galahs flying all over, but mostly sitting on power lines, all facing toward the rising sun. Many have their crests up, and many are bowing - that is, they are swinging upside down from the wire, as if they tried to bungee-jump, but their toes wouldn't let go. It's pretty cool. {I can imagine the aborginals thousands of years ago, watching the Galahs bow to the rising sun and believing they were worshipping it.}

Galah (parrot) enjoying early morning sun

Crested Pigeons are also on the wire a little later, and the males do an elaborate display for the females, who mostly seem to ignore them. This reminds me of the Tiger-a-Go-Go dance club at the San Francisco International Airport, in the late 1960s. Bill Petrick and I used to go there and smoke Rum-soaked Crook cigars. This seemed to bug most of the girls there (our apparent goal, I forget why) except for this one gorgeous blonde named Carol, who danced in a cage to the music. She had this great leopard-skin bikini on one night when she came over and told Bill that she really liked the smell of our cigars.

Twenty-five or thirty Zebra Finches go zooming past, climbing as they go. Bee-eaters are doing their thing, and the kilometers klick by. I slow down crossing McLaren Creek, in celebration of my friend and old Stanford roommate.

At 730am, we come to something Sharon's been reading about and I've been looking forward to. Devil's Marbles National Park. Piles of huge, round boulders of all sizes, scattered around the landscape. Some are balanced in unusual positions, others lean casually against each other. And there are hundreds of them in many different groups. We take a few good photos and some extras for Goofy Movie Day usage later, and move on. As we drive out we get the electric green back of a parrot as it flies - maybe a Red-winged Parrot female.

Devils Marbles National Park, NT

 

Hercales! Hercales!

The highway is generally a north-south straight line, but they have woven in some crooks here in order to leave the marbled area pretty much intact. A bit later we get a wonderful falcon perched on a branch. We look and look. It has grey legs, we think, and is therefore a Brown Falcon, not a Black. There are also about fifty Galahs perched on a wire, near the falcon. I think they're keeping tabs on him.

We come to Wauchope, a little dot on the road which includes a service station, store and caravan park. As we zoom in, we can see emus in cages, lots of Sulfur-crested Cockatoos in the trees, and I see a burro walking around between the gas pumps. Then suddenly we come to a camel, with his head buried completely in a trash barrel.

As we approach, he lifts his head up and we find ourselves in one of those cool video camera situations where the subject is moving along beside you at exactly the same speed. Except that he is ever so steadily working his way over toward our motorhome, where Sharon is shooting out her rolled down window. "Good," say Sharon, "He's coming over." I say, "No, no, no, he's going to come over here and spit on you." "Oh No," says Sharon, as I speed up a little to move ahead of him. "I wasn't worried about you," I say by way of explanation, "I was worried he'd spit on the camera." Sharon turns the camera on me, to see if I'll dig in any deeper, but I fake disinterest.

We watch the camel come up to a neatly stacked set of boxes. They appear to be full of trash. He takes his head, rummages around the top one, and knocks it off, onto the ground. A man nearby yells at the camel. Next the camel eyes the burro and starts walking slowly up behind him. The burro, having apparently played this game before, sets off at a pace just a little faster than the camel. The camel speeds up a little and is slowly gaining on the burro when we can't see them any more.

We come to Wycliffe Wells, the self-declared UFO Sighting Center of Australia. We have seen a brochure for this combination fuel station, store and caravan park. There are some little green men in a roped off area with a crudely-constructed space ship, with a twenty foot communications tower, looking suspiciously like a TV antenna.

We pass without stopping, but do stop for breakfast about 930am or so, down the road a bit. We come to about 150 Galahs flying into a tree near a cattle pen. Two thirds land in the tree and one third settle on the fence. It's fun watching them come in, working out where each wants to land.

We do a driver shift about 20 km north of Ti Tree, then stop for fuel at that spot. We swap drivers back and soon I note that we've knocked off 400 km so far today. About 100 more and we will be in Alice Springs, call "The Alice" or just "Alice" around here, usually.

We continue on and a little after 1pm, round a corner and see the new Ghan railroad pop up again, on our left. I want to find a place where I can go out, stand on the track, and take a photo looking up or down the length. The railway itself was made by clearing a swath, then building up the roadbed with red dirt - an ample supply of which is everywhere. Then comes another bed of grey rock gravel, and then the shiny rails on the railroad ties. New bridges mark every spot where the railroad crosses under the Stuart highway.

I can see the answer to the question I've been asking myself. The answer is: there is a fence just this side, and using logic, on the other side of the track bed. The question is: What do they do about stray cattle and horses?

The unanswered question is: What do they do about kangaroos?

We enjoyed crossing the Tropic of Capricorn going north on the Bruce Highway so much that we are crossing it again on the Stuart, going south. Sharon spots a couple of airplanes, then sees that it's an airplane pulling a glider up because they part and go different directions. I can see the glider, flashing silver in the blue sky. Pretty cool.

After a bit, we see the first sign of our destination today.

It's a little before 2pm and we're at the Red Centre Resort, looking for information. It turns out that they used a little trick and put the large 'i' beside the name of their resort on the advertising billboards coming into town. This 'i' has always meant "official area information for tourists," and never has any commercial intention.

When we stop in and ask for information about birds, the lady says, in a sort of embarrassed manner that they don't have any, and we should stop off at the information center closer in towards town.

...But it says that YOU'RE the information center!

After stopping at the real info center, we pull into the MacDonnel Range Caravan Park, south of Alice Springs (Birding Stop No. 44). We check out our site, then load up and head basically just across the highway, to the sewage treatment settling ponds. We spend an hour or more walking around these ponds and get a number of beautiful RED-NECKED AVOCETS*. I am surprised at the shape of the curve of their bills. It seems to me that the avocets of California have a smooth curve to the bills, but these are only slightly curved, starting at the head and going out, then have a severe upturn near the end. Maybe I'm remembering the California avocets wrong. Nah, that couldn't be it.

We add a load of diesel, then go back to the caravan park for the evening. There are lots of birds, and we walk around a bit, locating our first AUSTRALIAN RINGNECK*, a green parrot with a nice yellow neck ring.

A couple, recognizing us as birders, call us over to ask about some birds that foraged on the dirt of their campsite, then popped up into a nest, which they point out to us. By their description, and checking our books, we tag them as Grey-crowned Babblers, and they build communal roosting nests, where three or even more birds spend the night. A sort of bird hostel.

They have an internet kiosk at the caravan park office, but they don't let me link my laptop. In other words, I can check incoming messages, and send out individual replies and emails, but can't send out any reports. The internet connection is incredibly slow, and it reminds me that my home connection was this speed at one time.

Shudder.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 2, (Red-necked Avocet, Australian Ringneck).
For the Trip: 210.

Trip Birds Today: 2, (The 2 Lifers)
For the Trip: 253.

Snakes Seen Today: 0
For the Trip: 4.

Sleep in: MacDonnell Range Caravan Park, Alice Springs, NT

NOTE: In the day-to-day excitement, I've forgotten to log two birds into our life list. I mistakenly thought we already had INTERMEDIATE EGRET* on our life list when we saw it and noted it on Saturday August 23rd at Inskip Point. And I simply forgot to log RED-WINGED PARROT*, when they roosted at our caravan park in Mt. Isa on September 9th. So the statistics are adjusted below:

Life Birds in Review: 2, (Intermediate Egret, Red-winged Parrot)
For the Trip: 212

Trip Birds in Review: 1 (The Red-winged Parrot. Intermediate Egret was already listed as a trip bird in the statistics)
For the Trip: 254

 

Sunday, September 14, 2003. Day 32 of 118. The Olgas. Sunset at Ayers Rock, aboriginal name Uluru.

It's 615am and we're off for Uluru. It's a clear day, quite cool, to my surprise, as I'm shivering in my shorts. We can see a hot air balloon, indication that there is no wind this early. A beautiful sunrise is beginning on our left.

About an hour later we come to a sign that says "Camel Farm. 3 km." I pull in, and there are camels all over the place. If you picture a cattle yard, with maybe twenty pens of cattle, then substitute camels for cattle, you have a pretty good idea of this place. In one big paddock next to a red barn, there are about a half-dozen camels that are outfitted to carry riders. There are llamas here too. There's a baby, sticking close to its mama llama.

What are YOU looking at?

We take some photos and hit the road again. We stop in at rest stops every once in a while just to check for water drips and birds, and we hit one about a half-hour after the camels, but its no birds. Unless you want to count that miner with the white rump. We change drivers so I can have a rest, and we're off again.

A few minutes later, Sharon encounters a pace car warning that an oversized load is coming. We see this loaded-down vehicle, and it's a huge cylindrical tank, sticking way out on either side of the trailer. The vehicle is driving right down the center of the highway, taking up about 80% of both lanes. Sharon pulls all the way off the bitumen, onto the dirt, and we watch the monster tank go by, and in fact, it's two vehicles, each with such a tank.

We stop for fuel at Erldunda, which is the little dot where you leave Stuart Highway for the Lasseter Highway and Uluru. A small bus drives up, and its full load of aboriginal riders disembark. They are wearing modern clothes, in the style of tee shirts, tennis shoes with no socks, baseball caps, old and young people. Several get out holding branches with leaves on them. They get in a line and begin walking around the property, and some of them begin a kind of moaning and dragging the branches in the dirt. Sharon thinks it might be a funeral, but I think it's some kind of a protest or blessing on the property.

Now what the property is, where they're walking, is a sheltered, fenced-in giant statue of an Echidna and a Frilled Lizard. Also in the fenced-in area are several emus, in pens. And you know what? We don't have any idea what's going on, so we leave the quandry, continuing our trek to Ayers Rock.

We stop at Mt. Ebenezer Roadhouse for breakfast, but it's our breakfast in the motorhome. Just what we want, how much we want, and when we want. We can't ask for more. Unless it would be a new lifer for the day...

Back on the road, at about 1030am, we stop to check out a falcon. White on the back of its neck, a medium brown color overall, lighter on the chest. It flies to another perch, and we can't get it ID'd. There were crows and White-plumed Honeyeaters back at the fuel stop.

We do another driver change, with Sharon in the driver seat. Hey! Just like real life! During my nap, Sharon sees a first - a dead roadkill camel. After Sharon drives an hour, we swap back. We're about 20 km from Yulara, where our caravan park is, and in no time, Sharon spots the Rock first. She says, "It looks a little like a loaf of bread," but I'd put it more like a meat loaf. It gets more impressive as the km's click off.

I spot the Olgas first, and they remind me of giant Devil's Marbles.

We make it to Yulara, find the resort, and check in. It's a huge caravan park, and is a nice desert-like setting, but with scattered trees to offer a little shade. It's $30 a night, and this is the most we've paid. About $20 U.S. Very reasonable. I expected it to be hot hot hot, but it's about 70 degrees F, and feels wonderful.

Alice Springs is around 2000 feet, whereas Tennant Creek was around 800-1000 as I recall. Maybe that altitude makes the difference in temperatures.

We come to the National Park entrance, and I have that encounter I have sometimes here in Oz, where I can't understand a SINGLE word spoken to me. Or maybe one or two words. And this time I didn't understand a thing she said except 32.50, then some stuff including "sign here," then more stuff about coming again. I re-ask what she said about coming again, and she said "show these tickets to me," then blaa blaa blaa, and mixed in were Ayers Rock and the Olgas.

I leave and giggle my way back to the motorhome. I can't stop when I get in, and Sharon, who figures the check-in person said something funny to me, says, "What did she say?" And that's even funnier, so I can't quit giggling. I let her in on it, but what's funny to one isn't always funny to another.

When we first saw Uluru in straight sunlight, it looked kind of bland, but the closer we get, the more character it gets. We can see layers and holes, depressions and shadows, rifts and rocks. We come to the cultural center, go in, and pick up some bird lists and info from the ranger person. Then it's back out.

Looking at Ayers Rock

We head for Uluru (Birding Stop 43), but before you get there, you come to the junction of the road to the Olgas. We pull off to listen for birds. Sharon says, "There's some birds flying away." I check the angle of her binocs to see where to look, and I lean over the dash, and point my binocs that way. I only see a single bird, but oooh, it gets me going. I have to watch it bank left and right several times, and I shout, "See that single bird?" And she's already on it. "The swallow?" she asks. "Yes, check him front and back when he turns." "If you know what it is, just tell me," she says, afraid the bird will fly away before she has a chance to relax and watch the bird, knowing what it is. "WHITE-BACKED SWALLOW*," I say. It's a distant view, and I'm looking through my glasses, the binocs, and then the windshield, but it's very clear what this bird is.

We continue on, getting batches of Little Woodswallows. About 338pm we come to a good Olga viewing area, and pull over to admire it a bit before continuing in.

Now it's about 415pm and we are walking up one of the Olgas trails. There are lots of mulga trees to our right, between us and the huge Olgas themselves. And it's these plain looking, pale green-leaved mulga trees that are the staple for many birds of Australia.

Sharon does her alarm call, and we get three little grey birds. They are dark above and lighter below. One has a white band across the tip of the tail, another just on the corners. Sharon sees one bird with streaking on the chest, and another with a clear chest. It's all happening so fast, we can't coordinate our birds. Then they are gone, and we are left to sort out what we saw.

We are sure of SLATY-BACKED THORNBILL*, and less sure of Inland Thornbill, so we don't count it. Although I think we probably could, we let it go. We hear a beautiful whistle, track the bird, and locate an always-gorgeous Rufous Whistler.

We turn around now and head back down, getting a nice Singing Honeyeater.

We make our way back to the junction but instead of turning left to the camp, we turn right, towards Uluru and the large sunset-viewing carpark. We are early enough that we get a great spot, have time for dinner, and then wait for the beginning of the sunset. I run off about 15 minutes of video and take about 100 photos of the awesome sunset. Later I will ask myself, "What on earth did I take so many pictures for?" But then I'll do what I planned, which is to throw away all but the really good ones. Then people will look at them and say, "Man, every picture you took is great!" And I'll say, "Yea, I know."

Ayers Rock (Uluru) at Sunset

We head back to camp and fill up with diesel at the Mobil in Yulara on the way.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 2, (White-backed Swallow, Slaty-backed Thornbill).
For the Trip: 214.

Trip Birds Today: 2, (The 2 Lifers)
For the Trip: 256.

Snakes Seen Today: 0
For the Trip: 4.

Sleep in: Yulara Resort, Yulara, NT

 

Monday, September 15, 2003. Day 33 of 118. Ayers Rock Sunrise. Walking around the Rock (Not all the WAY!)

We're up at 530am or so. It's a clear sky, the moon is up and it looks like it will be another comfortable, gorgeous day. We're up early because we want to go get set up at the sunrise-watching spot before too many other people get there.

Sharon has read that you go to the sunset watching place to watch the sun rise on the other side of the big rock. This sounds a little fishy to me. It seems that if there's a place called sunset viewing carpark that there probably is a sunrise viewing carpark. But we go to the sunset viewing carpark.

We are the first ones there. And the only ones there. We take a few photos, and it is really cool watching the light coming from behind Uluru as the sun makes its appearance above the horizon, but completely shielded by Uluru. But there are tons of cars streaming past on the main highway and this is not where they're headed. I finally say I want to go follow them, and Sharon says hey, ok, it's my pictures, let's go.

Early Sunrise from dark side of Uluru

I get out in the stream of cars and sure enough, we wind up at the sunrise viewing carpark on the other side of Uluru. At this one, in a similar manner of yesterday evening, we are positioned between the rock and the rising sun, so the sun is behind us and we are facing Ayers Rock, soon to be lit up by the rising sun.

Late Sunrise from sunlit side of Uluru

I reel off another 10 minutes of video and 75 more photos. It feels a little weird zooming around with the herd, but at Ayers Rock, this is what you do, unless you're going to be here several nights and mornings.

We finish up the impressive sunrise show and take off, heading for a walking path carpark. But on the way we get a falcon flying high over Ayers Rock itself. I pull over and get on the fast bird. The three-dimensional effect is really cool. We are watching the bird gliding from right to left. And below, we see another, darker bird flying nearly the same path, but rising, rising on the rock, seeming to be on a collision course with the first bird. And if you haven't guessed by now, the second bird is the shadow of the first. To watch the two images approach each other, on the big rock itself, is just awesome.

And that's not counting the birding ID portion of it. When the bird banked in the sun, we could see what appeared to be totally white underparts. And the upper parts were dark grey, with no browns and no heavy bars anywhere. So we conclude it is the impressive GREY FALCON*, a crackin' good bird.

We find the carpark, and five buses have beaten us to this point. Its couple of hundred passengers are all over the walking trails, so we decide to pick a trail we think won't be very much used right now. Sharon does her alarm call, and we get a couple off inquisitive Grey-headed Honeyeaters, with their yellow underparts.

We finish up our walk, then drive more around to the left. Although the picture you always see of Uluru is the entire rock, it is more impressive to me in shots of its many different close-in angles. Lots of light and shadow, red rock and blue sky, and surrounding trees.

We find an area with a hundred small round holes, seemingly uncovered by a huge section of surface rock falling away. There is bird crap, pardon the expression, painted below many of the holes, indicating nightly roosts and nests. I spot a bird in one of the holes, and pull over for closer examination. I get the scope out and think it's very possibly the Grey Falcon until it does a 180, and shows its back to the world. Kestrel. We load up and drive on around, more beautiful angles of the rock.

A little before 9am, we are watching climbers pulling themselves along by a chain or rope attached to the rock itself. They look like a line of ants as I take some video and photos. There are tons of buses here, so we decide to skip the walk we were going to do here. {The aborginals who now have the title to Uluru ask you to not climb the rock out of respect for their sacred places, but people have climbed the rock for years and they do not stop you or actually prohibit it.}

Climbing Ayers Rock

So we head out, past the rock, turn right on the exit road, soon past the turnoff to the resort, on out till a little before ten, we see a promising bit of mulga. I park and we walk the area, and hear birds but never see any. We stop for diesel on our way out again in Erldunda, just as we did on the way in.

About 1pm, we stop for lunch at a place where one of our books said we might find one of the species of Whiteface, but this turns out not to be the case. Our last action is for me to play the recorded call of the suspected species, but there is no answer. But that IS the answer - time to go. So we hit the road again. It feels good to know that we have reached the southern terminus of this section of our trip, and are headed back north.

Sharon spots a number of birds in the sky, mostly crows but one Whistling Kite. At first we thought the crows were chasing the kite, but it turns out that all the birds are chasing one crow - the one with the snake dangling from one of its talons. Do crows have talons? I don't think so. One of its feet, then, let's say.

It's 3pm and we're zooming north on the Stuart Highway. The didgeridoo music is playing on the CD player, we got our lifer today and Sharon is taking over the driving so I can rest. Ah, what a world.

After my nap, we change again, and this time we breeze past the camel farm, past the llama mama and baby, and drive straight through Alice Springs to the Old Telegraph Station parking area.

We walk towards reception and see a Black-flanked Rock Wallaby. Now if you thought that was impressive, here's the rest of the story. Two men were watching the little kangaroo when we walked by. As I always seem to do, their confident attitude led me to believe they were experts. "Rock Wallaby?" I ask. "Euro," one of them says.

We walk on to reception and ask the ranger about the Euro. "Those are Black-footed Rock Wallabies," he says. Aha!

We then ask if she knows of any Western Bowerbird bowers in the area. She says there used to be one, but it was dismantled by the builder or a rival, and she doesn't know where an active one is at the moment.

Next I decide to call Parks and Wildlife, whose office we saw driving north, before we got to Alice Springs. But it is quarter till five, and I get only an answering machine. I leave a message asking about bowers, and leave our cell phone number.

Which, by the way, is 04 3964 8095. So give us a call if you can figure out the time difference. It won't cost us anything, and if you call using the famous 10 10 220 prefix, you are only charged $3 U.S. for the first twenty minutes and 7 cents a minute after that. An unbelievably good deal.

Let's see, the chances that you can figure out to call us during our waking hours is about 50%. The chances that we have the cell phone with us is about 30%. The chances that it's with us AND turned on is about another 50%. The chances that we will be in an area covered by Telstra at that moment are about 10%. The chances that Telstra has this type of mobile phone set up to accept overseas calls is probably about 30%. That's not counting the chances that you successfully negotiate the digits to get to Australia (country code 61). So combining all these in the correct manner gives an overall chance of success of reaching us on the first try at about .5 x .3 x .5 x .1 x .3 or about 1 in 450 or so Hey, way better than the lottery.

We decide that since we're on the north side of town, that we should drive the 20km north to the Tanami turnoff, drive the 30km west to Kunoth Bore (Well), getting there before sunset, and wait and hope for the pink and blue Bourke's Parrot to come in for water.

It is incredibly windy when we get there. Cattle have come over to the bore - to that portion that fills a water tank for them. But some of them butt heads in a contest to see who's low heifer on the totem pole.

No parrot, no nothing. We drive back to the camp, and arrive after 8pm. The office is closed, but there is a bell to ring, and someone comes from the back of the office, checks us in, and we are in for the night, two pooped parrot people.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 1, (Grey Falcon).
For the Trip: 215.

Trip Birds Today: 1, (The Lifer)
For the Trip: 257.

Snakes Seen Today: 0
For the Trip: 4.

Sleep in: MacDonnell Range Caravan Park, Alice Springs, NT

This is the end of Report No. 11. Thanks for reading. When I get my network configurations set up, I will start putting some of the photos on our website for you to see. I'll let you know when that happens. The website is www.24birds.net.

Ta.


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