Report No. 12. Tuesday, September 16 thru Thursday, September 18. BOWERBIRDS, COCKATOOS AND PARROTS.


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

Tuesday, September 16, 2003. Day 34 of 118. Sleeping In.

It's almost 9am and the alarm never went off because, as a normal rule, it won't alarm if you don't set it. But the mobile phone rang about ten minutes ago, and I scrambled out of bed, through the motorhome, into the cab just in time to miss the call. I punched the combination to call back that person, and got Trudy at Parks andWildlife. "Yes," she says, "we've got Western Bowerbirds in the property, with bowers." "If we drive over there, may we see them?" I ask. "Yip. Just ask for Trudy," she says cheerily. "But there's another girl here who will know a lot more about all the birds of the arear (rhymes with "barrier"). She asks if we've been to the Desert Park yet, and I say we may go tomorrow.

We end our conversation in the same way that Sharon ends her idea to have a relaxing day, after she hears what Trudy said. It's a cool, blustery, overcast day. Last night there weren't any visible stars because of the cloud cover. We get up and bird the premises of our camp a little. All we get is White-plumed Honeyeaters, but we hear some parrots and get a couple of Ringnecks in the bottlebrush.

Now it's a quarter till eleven, and we're looking at the remarkable view of two, yes TWO bowers, within fifteen feet of each other. There are multiple male WESTERN BOWERBIRDS* about, and she doesn't know if different birds built these two bowers, or if one bird built them both. But I am getting spectacular video of a male bowerbird hopping into its bower, strutting a little, hopping out, moving some bits around, back in, back out, around the bower, hissing at the other bird that's sort of following him around.

Male Western Bowerbird, in Bower, Facing Away

These bowers are within ten feet of the Parks and Wildlife building where Trudy works. {Trudy tells us she feeds the bower birds so they have become used to people. She even brings in "treasures" for the bird to use in his bower.} Thank you Trudy! She says when we finish to just come in the back door and she'll introduce us to Emily.

It's hard to leave this double-barreled bower, but we go inside, where Trudy introduces us to Emily, who is a very good birder, and Emily in turn introduces us to Steve, another birder. Now this Steve is an unreliable sort because Sharon asks him about the crows of the area, and he says, "All the crows you see around here will almost all be LITTLE CROWS* (dohp!). If you see an isolated crow here and there, they may be Torresian, but the groups of crows will be Littles.

Sharon has been arguing for Littles, and I've been, I WAS going to say be-littling her, but I can't quite say it. "OK," I say to Sharon, " You were right and I was uh, wrrrr-, I was wrrrrooon-, I was - that other thing." She laughs, but mostly because of the fantastic window onto Western Bowerbirds we've been looking through here.

As we leave, a little dark blue van with "Love's Pie Van" painted on the side pulls in to sell lunches to the rangers and the other workers. We head out for a botanical garden with the rather odd name of "Olive Pink," and almost immediately see a fellow wearing an orange jacket, riding a motorcycle, with two bright orange saddlebags. Only he is straddling the motorcycle, and its front tire is touching a wall around a housing development - a retirement community I think. "Look, it's the mailman," I tell Sharon as a joke. But as we get closer, holy cow, it IS the mailman. Sharon is impressed that I knew this. As granddaughter Samantha would whisper, "Don't tell Grandma (the truth)."

We arrive at the Olive Pink Botanical Garden, named after a woman whose name was -, well it wasn't Botanical Garden. We go to the visitors center and talk with a lady who tells us where to find a bower. She says there are three males who seem to travel around together. As we approach the bower, two male Western Bowerbirds fly over, hissing and scritching. The third one joins them.

Olive Pink Western Bowerbird Bower

They are brown and gold, each with a purple strip on the back of the head. They can fluff this up when they want to. The bower area has white and green things, the green things being berries that look like small limes. The white bits are bones, bleached shells, silver foil like Hersheys wrappers, and a snail shell. A bit of broken green glass, but to my surprise, nothing purple. Inside the bower itself are little yellow seeds, white bits of paper and rocks.

There are Grey-crowned Babblers on the ground nearby, and Yellow-throated Miners about the area. We head for the post office so Sharon can do some business there, and I can do the same at the internet cafe nearby.

Not too much later.

I'm here in the town carpark, looking at an Australian Ringneck feeding on the ground. There are lots of Magpie-larks, Ravens and Little Crows. I finish my preparations and go into the internet cafe. I can't figure out how to hook into their DSL network, so they give me a phone line so I can call Earthlink Australia in Alice Springs. I send off Reports 8 and 9 and pick up some incoming emails.

On the way back to the motorhome, I see another internet cafe, go in, and ask the guy if he can set my Mac up to hook to their DSL network. He is all confident but hasn't a clue, so I think him and leave. He is talking to another man, but says something to me as I'm walking out, but I can't understand a word he says. "That'll be $2?" "Giving up so soon?" "Don't go away mad?" "Get a proper PC?" I have no idea.

Sharon comes back from the post office and her shopping efforts. She told me where she was going, and so I make an estimate that she might spend $500 Australian, so I figure she'll come back and say something like "I spent $200 Australian. Is that all right?" Well of course it's all right, it's her money, and it's Christmas gifts. We play this game where she asks me if it's OK, and I say sure. Anyway, when she give the figure she spent, I'll say, "I prepared myself for you to spend $500 Australian," and she'll say, "You mean I could have spent MORE?"

So she comes back and says "I bought gifts for 23 people, and it only cost ...", and at this point I think she says $800, and I say, "You're kidding me, right?" And she says no, and I say well, that's only about $530 U.S. And she says, "No, it was $800 U.S. It was about $1200 Australian.

She feels bad not because of what she spent, because she got what she wanted, but at my reaction. She knows she fulfilled the Number One Rule of Vacation Gift-buying: "Never Pass Up What You Really Really Want To Buy, Expecting To Find It Again Later In The Vacation."

I tell her it's OK, I'll get over it, and I will. But she still feels bad. It's OK,Sharon! Just think how much all those people will love these gifts. We already planned to buy an extra suitcase to carry the gifts back home.

We have decided to spend the night at a caravan park near spectacular Ormiston Gorge, specifically the Helen Gorge Caravan Park. We head out and suddenly I realize I'm looking at a crow flying ahead of us with white patches on top of its wings. We check the ID books, but none of them mention this oddity. My best guess would be a currawong, but our field guides say they are not in this area.

The full name is The Ormiston Gorge and Pound Walk, and we're curious as to the meaning and usage of the word 'pound,' but we never ask anyone. We hit a small supermarket, and wouldn't you know it, it's the "friendliest in town." It says so right on the building. How lucky are WE? And it is friendly, and in fact it has the neatest shelves of any such markets we've been to in Australia. I tell them that, and the man working the cash register points to a woman standing nearby, and says, "It's all her." She says something, which translated to Ozark Missourian might be, "Twarn't Nuthin." But she is tickled we noticed.

Then we fill up with diesel and are now fully on our way.

If you look at a map of Alice Springs, you see this wonderful blue ribbon of water that is the Todd River. I've been looking forward to how this must feel, to be in the middle of all this red earth and heat, and to sit beside the flowing river. And the book says the river flows year round. To my amazement, Sharon reads that in the dry weather, like now, the top of the river is about two feet below the surface of the river "bottom." But in the wet season, and very few times during the year, one can see water actually flowing above the river bottom. The saying is that if you have seen the Todd River run three times, then you're a native.

We come to an actual creek about a half-hour out of Alice, and pull over because we can see and hear birds - big birds, black birds. A bird flies up off the water and it's a Nankeen Night Heron. I didn't remember them being this big. But its rusty plumage gives it away.

Sharon is practically jumping up and down because she and now I can see and hear Red-tailed Black-cockatoos - lots of them. Several fly close to us and the red is actually dark orange. Fantastic. I can see cockatoos in the trees, but a lot on the ground, feeding on something in the grass. I make a count of between 100 and 120 of them. They are nervous when I approach them, trying for some video.

We decide to walk the creek and are making our way back to the road, along the water when an AUSTRALIAN HOBBY* flies off its perch, above our heads, tailed by a crow. The crow and Hobby take turns buzzing each other, and then we see that it's actually a pair of Hobbies and the crow.

The crow peels off, and the Hobbies demonstrate their skills in an air show. They are SO fast and sleek. We continue towards the road and Sharon finds a beautiful cockatoo feather, with the thick red-orange color in the middle. This is the best feather I've ever seen her pick up, and I've seen her pick up a LOT of feathers.

Red-tailed Black-cockatoo Tail Feather and Non-tail Feather

Two of the Black-cockatoos come back to say goodbye to us, and one has striped yellow on it. We check the ID books and see that it is a female.

We continue our beautiful drive in, and check in. We hook up to electricity and walk down to the gorge, and it's, well, gorgeous. {What else could you call it?} Parked right next to us is a vehicle pulling a tent trailer, of a unique design we've seen here, unlike the ones in America. "I like your trailer," I said to a woman standing by it, watching us go for a walk. Probably looking at Sharon's walking stick. She got this interesting look on her face, and said, "I like your winnie-BAH-go!" Sharon thinks her look was of the get-me-out-of-this-trailer-camping-situation-I-want-to-be-in-a-regular-bed variety.

I am in awe of the beauty of the scene before me. The buildings of the Helen Gorge Tourist Park are built in a line, generally parallel to a spectacular rock wall behind it. There is a stream or standing bit of water, with reeds around, between the rock wall and the buildings. The wall is orange-red rock and stands about 100 feet high, I'd estimate. But it's not a solid wall. If it were a mirror or a painting, I'd say it was made of mosaic. It's face is a million million broken surfaces. Stunning is what it is.

But that's not even the good part.

There are a couple of guys who obviously work for the resort down the trail. One is watching and the other is trying to chop through a thick piece of heavy driftwood. Whack! Whack! But it's actually Whack! Pddddddddddddd! Whack! Pddddddddddd! There is an echo, but the echo is not off of one surface, it's off of all those mosaic-like surfaces. The echo is sort of like you took a deck of cards, held one end tightly with your fingers, and bent the other end slightly, then let it go one card at a time over your thumb, real fast, making the 'pddddddddddddddd' sound. I've never heard anything like it in my life, and I have to say, it's just made the Top 3 Sounds list. I have no idea what the other two would be. Well yes I do, it would be daughter Tara and Shandra's first cries of "Here I am." I don't think the echos would beat those. But it is remarkable.

They finish and go up to the resort, so I try whistling and then clicking rocks together, but nothing works quite like that big axe. Way cool! And I even had my video camera and recorded it, two different ways. First, I pointed it at the axeman, then I pointed it at the wall. We haven't played it back yet, and I hope it approximates what I remember.

And to top that off, Sharon fixes us Mexican for dinner. After that, we look at all the pictures we've taken since we came into the NT. What a great review.

Just before going to bed, I walk up to the amenities block and can see that some kind of lights on the other side of the resort cast a very low light on the cliff behind.

Double-U Oh Double-U.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 3, (Western Bowerbird, Little Crow, Australian Hobby).
For the Trip: 218.

Trip Birds Today: 3, (The 3 Lifers)
For the Trip: 260.

Snakes Seen Today: 0
For the Trip: 4.

Sleep in: Helen Gorge Resort and Caravan Park, Helen Gorge, NT


Wednesday, September 17, 2003. Day 35 of 118. Cockatoo to Two.

It's 615am and it's going to be another beautiful day. I'm walking to the amenities block, aka toilet, and looking across beyond the expanse, I can see the beautiful red cracked face of the mountain wall, behind the cabins. These is the multiple echo face.

Cracked Face of Mountain Wall at Helen Gorge

It's partly cloudy and cool, but not cold. When the wind blows, it's a little chillier. We take off about 630, and by 7am we are parked in the carpark of the Ormiston Gorge, part of the West MacDonnell Range National Park. Sharon saw two rock wallabies on the way into what must be geologist heaven.

Sunshine is hitting the upper slopes now, and man, it's gorgeous rusty red. We learn that the full walk is 3-4 hours, but the way we walk and bird, that's probably 6 hours. So we decide to go in about an hour and a half, then return the same way.

Immediately we get a Western Bowerbird and some Pied Butcherbirds. Sharon does her alarm call and as expected, the White-plumed Honeyeaters come to her rescue. We walk on the paved entrance road about a hundred meters or so, then the trail takes off and passes through a wide, extremely rocky riverbed. It's that ultimate kind of quiet where there is no sound whatsoever, and it sounds delicious.

We hear, then see a Grey Shrike-thrush, then a beautiful male black and white Mistletoebird, with striking red throat, and very light red undertail coverts (that's the portion of a bird's underparts that's the farthest back - hence, under the tail). Our path immediately begins to climb, and now we see that we are going to wind our way up this portion of the mountain.

Half Moon

As we are passing a section of trees, a number of birds fly in, and through a hole in the foliage, I can see a bit of pattern on the side of one bird's neck that I can't quite place. We move ever so slightly, and it's a tree full of about eight BUDGERIGARS* - Budgies, or what I've always called "parakeets" in the U.S. Those birds we could win at carnivals when I was a kid. They were multi-colored, but these wild Budgies are all the same color - yellow and green, with tight black and white barring on the wings and back of the head and side of the face.

A little further up, we get a flock of busy Weebills, and they never seem to stop calling or moving. Now quite a bit further up, we get a pair of fat Painted Finches, absolutely beautiful with the perfect sun angle for us. I love all the finches, and for the rest of my life, when I go into a pet store, I will make a trip to the bird section, and check out the finches. There is something about the way they stick together in a tight group, whether they are feeding, flying or drinking. These Painteds are rich brown on the back and wings, with white spots on black on the flanks, the brick red faces and rump in contrast. I like their old name a little bettah - Painted Firetails.

It's a quarter after 8am, and we're "parked" under one of the rare trees up here on the mountain. It provides pretty good protection from the light-to-moderate rain that sprang up and is coming down, even as we can see patches of sunlight coming through holes in the partial cloud ceiling.

And the birds are coming in to check out Sharon's alarm call. One lands in a small tree to the left of us, another in our tree, above us. It's a Grey-headed Honeyeater, with its yellow chest and bit of streaking.

The rain stops and we resume our walk, still upward. Sharon spots two birds in a scrubby tree higher up. Where they are perched is above the horizon - meaning there is sky behind them. They could be anything, but we're hoping for a certain bird we know is around here. One shifts his perch a bit, and is now below the horizon, so we can now make out colors. We see black and white, and as he flies and lands, we can see the white wing stripe, and it's our bingo bird - a pair of PIED HONEYEATERS*. Love the black and white birds. There is no in-between in their world, unlike mine.

A Whistling Kite sailes overhead as three more Grey-headed Honeyeaters come to investigate Sharon's call. We get to our turn-around point timewise, and reluctantly head back. There are big thunderboomers overhead now, and there went a really long, big one.

We bump into a couple with a video camera on a tripod. They are a bit older, and are investigating the flowers and plants, recording them as they go. They ask if we've seen any wallabies, and we tell them yes and where it was. But they are doing the complete loop, and won't be coming back past the spot. They live in Tasmania, and have for 34 years, having come from England.

We continue working our way back. The rain picks up a little, then a lot, then it's pretty much pouring down. Our umbrellas sit nice and dry in their storage place in our motorhome. I pull my jacket up to my head, sort of pressing it against my baseball cap, all the way around, and that feels good.

What I don't realize till later is that I've exposed my fanny pack, my Simpson and Day field guide is in the unzipped fanny pack, page side up - as opposed to spine side up. Not only is the falling rain hitting the edges of the pages, but all the rain that is falling on my jacket above the book, runs neatly down and into the book.

But I don't find that out till later. I like to think about the couple of minutes when I'm walking along like that, water pouring into my book, and I'm totally oblivious, enjoying being in my semi-protected jacket-over-my-head position. Ain't life grand?

I see a Western Bowerbird up here, high on the mountain, and what is he doing here? Looking for building material? Having a holiday?

The sun is out now, and the ground is drying up so fast that in a couple of minutes it'll be almost like it didn't happen. Two dark birds fly in, the first one disappearing behond a dirt shoulder and the other short of that, staying visible to us. I point Sharon to them, and they're Spinifex Pigeons, with their cool Alfalfa-of-the-Little-Rascals point of hair, feathers in this case, sticking straight up from their head. And as Sharon points out, just like those on top of the Spinifex plant.

We come to the rock wallaby place, but they are gone from the spot. We work our way back down to the road, and get another Pied Honeyeater, this one a female. We walk back towards our motorhome, past the "Private. Ranger's Residence" sign. But we hear the commotion of a couple of Western Bowerbirds, and we can see them through the plants shielding the ranger's front yard. And I see a bower! There is incredible activity.

It's a male and female. They are facing each other, in the bower. He's bowing his head, showing her that pink-purple thing on the back of his head. Now he's chasing her around with a green fruit thing in his mouth. "Look what I've got," he must be saying, "just for you." And he keeps bowing and bowing. Hey, BOWerbird. I never thought of it that way. He's got a twig in his foot. Now the female has her back to us, and we can see the purple thing on the back of her head, not quite so prominent. The male is just incredibly animated. Now she's in the bower again, now back out. Now she's to the right of the bower. He bounces through the bower, around to the side, fruit still in his mouth. "Where did you go?"

And the skies thunder.

We get the Grey Shrike-thrush again in the same place. A Zebra Finch goes into a nest and comes back out as we walk past.

So now it's time for our well-earned breakfast. The exotic mix of corn flakes and blueberries, with Sharon finishing off her cinnamon goody from Olive Pink's yesterday. After that, we leave Ormiston Gorge and head for Serpentine Gorge, off the road back to Alice Springs.

I'm sleepy, so I turn the driving over to Sharon, and out like a light I go. When I wake up, Sharon is pulling into the Serpentine Gorge entrance road. A really cool thing happens after we get out of the vehicle. Two brown birds glide by overhead, sort of reddish-brown, like the color of the earth right here. What attracted them to us was their unusual sound - like cockatoos or cackling. And they sailed over with their wings in a vee-shape. Very unusual. I start checking birds in my now-the-pages-stick-together-because-somebody-let-them-get-rained-on Simpson and Day field guide, and between two pages I have to peel apart, I find that the Brown Falcon makes "raucous cackles."

And that's how I learn what Brown Falcons sound like.

We head up the track towards the gorge, getting a beautiful Rufous Whistler, then three honeyeaters too fast for us to ID. We meet an attractive couple coming down, and Sharon asks how much further it is. "Oh it's just right up there," says he. I laugh and say I've heard that before. "No, really!" he says, "It's only a couple of hundred meters." We trade our "See ya latah's" and as we separate, I hear her say over her shoulder to us, "Maybe a bit further."

Six miles later... No, just kidding. Shortly we come to the gorge and the deep pool of water. A very attractive place to a bird, I must say. We get several nice Grey-crowned Babblers, doing you know what. Sharon asks, "Do you know why they call them Babblers?" And of course I know, but I say, "No, dear, why?" And she says to me, "Because of the Tower of Babel."

Serpentine Gorge View , NT

I have a picture of people trying to communicate at the Tower of Babel, and it must have been just like the lady trying to lay the information on me at the entrance to the Uluru National Park, or the man talking to me as I left that second internet cafe. "Gnxbxl flatterap couljjasf, adoulejhr ddasse, giuysa?"

"Why, yes."

We get a nice Singing Honeyeater on the trail, then Sharon is admiring a light-olive dragon (Remember? "lizard" in the U.S.) with two yellow stripes down the back, each bordered with extremely fine strips of black. We move on, and Sharon does her alarm call. A nice Variegated Fairy-wren couple pop up.

Now we're back in the Serpentine Gorge carpark. We've decided to try Simpson's Gap, hoping for grasswrens, and maybe try that bit of water where we found the black-cockatoos yesterday.

We come to the water, and now the black-cockatoos are on the other side of the road, way down, and campers are on both sides of the road, so we move on.

Back on the highway, headed for Simpson's Gap, I see cars pulled just off the highway on each side, ahead. I slow down till I know what's going on. As I pass between them, I see there are about 6-8 aboriginal people in each car. A fellow is on our side of the road, and as I pass, he has a giant smile on his face, and he is giving me the universal "thumbs up" sign. But as I pass, I don't know if he's saying, "I like your Winnebago," or "Could I get a ride?" Anyway, we are going to turn left after about 200 meters, and I'm guessing he doesn't want a ride to Simpson's Gap.

I wave as we pass, not being able to think of anything else. A few minutes later, we pull into the carpark at Simpson's Gap, and there are three or four busloads of teenagers, each full of that special unlimited energy that teenagers have when they're in the presence of the other sex. "Do you want this green fruit? Where'd you go?"

We look around a little for grasswrens, but don't know exactly where to look. So we look everywhere as best we can, wondering why a grasswren would put up with all this yelling. So we give up pretty quickly, and head back out.

As we're driving along, we get two birds flying over which look sort of like the one million Galahs we've seen since we got here, but I can tell immediately that they're not. There's no grey on them at all. And they land in a tree with some green fruit or nuts in it. I pull over and we get on them. They are a pair of SIMPLY FANTASTIC Major Mitchell's Cockatoos, now called PINK COCKATOOS* [We understand that they're going back to the much cooler "Major Mitchell's Cockatoos" again. Good on 'em.].

They fly almost immediately after we get them good enough to be sure, and are gone by the time I get the scope out. I take off again and Sharon says, "Keep your eye out for white dots in trees, because they flew off in that direction, and they'll probably land again." About 45 seconds later, we spot them again in a small green tree, feeding on something. Again I pull over and get out the scope. We get beautiful looks, and I take the video camera and run off a few seconds. Then I walk closer, running off a few more seconds. I repeat this till I'm only about thirty feet away before they fly.

I come back to the motorhome and we are so stoked at how quickly we recognized them as Major Mitchell's. I come to the final speed bump next to the first building you come to upon entering the road to the gorge, and Holy Moly! the Major Mitchell's Cockatoos are in a tree about 12 feet away, sitting calm as can be, with the wind fluffing up their crests and feathers. I pull out my digital still camera and get a couple of excellent pictures. Then we just sit and admire. They are classy birds, and I can see why a man I was talking with a couple of weeks ago keeps one as a pet, along with about six other kinds of parrots.

Pink and Beautiful Major Mitchell's Cockatoos

We make it to Alice Springs, still replaying the Major Mitchell's Cockatoos in our minds. I ask Sharon to proofread Report No. 10 as we are driving, so I can send it out. She gets this done, and I park in the main carpark near the middle of town. She rests while I go to the internet cafe and send it off, and pick up new mail. It takes longer than I think, but I finally get it all done.

Then we zip over to where Sharon's meeting is going to be, and I get her there about ten minutes after the starting time. I transcribe today's audio while waiting, and update some other stuff. Sharon's back a little after 9, and we go to Wintersun Caravan Park, where we spend the night.

Not too many new birds today, but excellent ones, especially the Major Mitchell's.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 3, (Budgerigar aka Budgie aka (in the U.S.) Parakeet; Pied Honeyeater; Pink Cockatoo aka Major Mitchell's Cockatoo).
For the Trip: 221.

Trip Birds Today: 3, (The 3 Lifers)
For the Trip: 263.

Snakes Seen Today: 0
For the Trip: 4.

Sleep in: WinterSun Caravan Park, Alice Springs, NT


Thursday, September 18, 2003. Day 36 of 118. Love That Mulga.

It's 515am and Magpies are trying to sing Happy Birthday, but are messing it all up. To Birthday Happy You... They need lessons from the Mt. Isa Magpies.

In honor of civilization, I shave today, using my rechargeable, triple-floating-head Norelco electric shaver, Model 4865XL. In honor of my father, Sharon adds water to dilute a too-thick remaining bottle of orange juice. Dad used to drink a bottle of pop halfway down, then top it off with water, drink that half down, then top it off again. Not everybody would think to do such a thing.

As we take off, Sharon says to me, "Remind me about refried beans for the Mexican dinner tonight," and I say, trying to make her life easier, especially because of all the un-Weight Watcher characteristics of refried beans, "That's ok, I probably wouldn't eat any anyway," to which she says, "Well Mr. Think Only Of Yourself, you're supposed to remind me for ME."

"Uh, OK." Ten seconds later. "Sharon?" "Yes." "Don't forget the refried beans."

We say goodbye to Alison who checked us in yesterday, or more accurately we say goodbye to the closed office where she works. I won the prize for being the 10,000th person to say, "Alison? Is your last name Springs?" And like the other 9,999 before me, I thought it was pretty clever.

We think of our friend Nancy Burlingame as we pass a hotel named Mt. Nancy. We aren't quite sure how to take this. Sharon asks what the guys who work there are called. I say Nancy Mounties? But she says no, Nancy Boys. We go a long way with this, but it just gets goofy.

When we checked into Alison's caravan park last night, there were some really cool color photographs, each of which was either really tall or really wide. One long one was a road train. The definition of a road train, in the dictionary of commonly regarded facts, is a truck pulling three trailers or more. This photo showed a truck pulling three trailers, then a short trailer, then three more trailers. The short trailer in the middle, explained Alison's husband, is actually a second engine. And he says this long rig doesn't travel on the normal highway. There is a one-lane highway built especially just for this road train. It carries gold ore from the mine straight to the smelter.

I asked if the middle engine was synchronized to the front one, and he reckons it is.

We have decided to try Kunoth Bore again, because I've reread the book and it seems that we should have been checking the mulga forest as well as the water hole. We will go to the water first, then into the mulga.

It's 620am, and still dark. You need to be especially wary and drive more slowly at dawn and dusk because kangaroos are active then, and we've seen three sets of kangaroos leave the roadway by jumping across the road or by being ON the road, and jumping off. Given a thousand years of evolution or so, all kangaroos will automatically jump AWAY from the road. But that will be a story for my descendents to tell.

It's open cattle range country, and we come upon this dark shape in the road. It looks very skinny and tall, but looks like it has four white feet. As we get closer, we realize we're looking at the rear end of a young Hereford. We don't see many of these here.

Now more kangaroos sitting on the road, hopping off as we approach, the little one going last. Sharon says mama kangaroo tells baby, "Don't you go sitting out on the road to play chicken," and I add, "just because your friend Joey does."

We come upon a group of eight Herefords, and two remain on the road staring us down while the others cross. Then they let us pass. Later, still more kangaroos - that's the ninth group of the day.

We're driving with the sun behind us. It's just starting to hit the clouds up high on our left and ahead of us. Beautiful greys, pinks and blue.

It's quarter till 7am and we're at Kunoth Bore. We're going to sit here for ten minutes or so, hoping for the Bourke's Parrot to come in. Hoping, hoping, hoping. Fifteen minutes later, it's quite light now. We're parked with our back to the sun, and now I have the scope out. I can see two brown cows staring at us. One says, "Look, isn't that two Californians? Do we have Californians yet?"

There are three parrots chasing each other around, sometimes on the ground, sometimes up in the small trees. We check the marks carefully, easily seen in our scope, and it's a trio of MULGA PARROTS* feeding on the ground by the cows. One male, one female, and another that's temporarily disappeared. The male is brilliant green with a yellow spot just above its beak, yellow on the wings, and blue on the front of the wings. We love the unexpected.

A Willie Wagtail lands on the edge of one of the water tanks and starts singing away - very nice. But no Bourke's, so we decided to move on, seeing a tree with Australian Ringnecks in it. We drive over to the road to the Boys Ranch, then go in a couple of kilometers, park, and head into the mulga. Sharon puts her foot next to an unusual anthill, for size comparison. If you saw these trees, you wouldn't believe that any bird would find this place appealing. Well, we'll see.

Object in Photograph is Larger than it Appears

Two or three Grey-crowned Babblers right away, a few Willie Wagtails and a small bird with yellow underparts, but its gone before we can get it. A quick trill, then a bzzzt of a call. Western Gerygone? Too fast.

A flurry of activity and based on the chestnut rump, melodius song and habitat, plus some other marks, we call the CHESTNUT-RUMPED THORNBILL*. The Slaty-backs have dark lines on the breast, and this bird had none.

We get SPLENDID FAIRY-WREN*, a male and female, both with pale blue tails, and the male with incredible blue wings, but they are not the really spectacular breeding plumage we were expecting yet.

We take a break back at the motor home, then drive in another kilometer. We take the GPS with us this time so we don't get lost. Now we can wander in this directionless woodland confidently. The trees are short enough that I get an uninterrupted link to the satellites.

We hear an unusual call we haven't heard before, and I get a sudden glimpse of a pair of medium-size birds in a tree. The sound rings a faraway bell with me, but I can't quite place it. As I watch the birds, one turns his head so I can see an apparent vertical black stripe on the back of his head, and now I know what this bird is. "CRESTED BELLBIRD*," I say to Sharon. "Where?" she asks, and I get her on the pair. They continue their attractive song and we really enjoy them. Time to move on.

We get a female fairy-wren with a blue tail, and there's another bird with it. Sharon says this other bird's not a fairy-wren. The female Splendid Fairy-wrens have red around the eye, and this bird has none, plus it's clearly not a fairy-wren. I say this might be a Western Gerygone. We tick off all the characteristics, and finally get down to what it has to be, a GREY HONEYEATER*. This is one of the bingo birds for this patch of mulga. Ka-ching. It has a dark bill, ever so slightly downturned. White spot on the back of the tail towards the bottom, and a neck that is ever so slightly darker than the chest - almost imperceptible.

We get a group of five or six female Splendid Fairy-wrens and one male, feeding on the ground. Just a second, I have to avoid a pile of Shinola, as cattle obliviously come through here.

A mixed flock is coming through and we keep not being on the same bird at the same time. Finally we synch up and get a YELLOW-RUMPED THORNBILL*, with an obvious yellow rump, and a similar type of bird with a streaked chest - a cool INLAND THORNBILL*.

We finally back out of the mulga, drive back to the bore, but there is a big yellow truck there, like a water or fuel tanker. He will be bothering any parrots who are thinking of coming in, so we are outta here.

We come upon a particular graphic scene involving a kangaroo road kill. A Wedge-tailed Eagle and a Whistling Kite scare away temporarily as we pass, then return, according to my rear-view mirror. There is one thing I can say with 100% certainty - that roo had guts.

We are now two or three kilometers from Stuart Highway, and we trade drivers. Sharon will take over while I have a nap. I stay awake long enough to see us hit the Stuart and turn north, towards Tennant Creek again.

We check our reptile book during our lunch stop later, and learn that the dragon we saw earlier is a Two-stripe Cane Grass Dragon. There's something that makes me feel complete when I learn the name of something like this. I take the driver seat again, as Sharon rides shotgun.

Driving north, with Ti Tree about an hour ahead of us, I see an incredible thing. Coming at us, in the other lane is a driverless red Ford Mustang. There IS somebody in the passenger seat, and then I realize that it is an American car, with the steering wheel on the left side. Weird

When I was a small boy, Dad's Uncle Bill Lutman told me that whenever I saw a car, two things would always be true. One, it will always have a driver, and two, it will always have a license plate. A pretty strange thing, and I probably remember it out of context. But I remember for the next few days actively checking EVERY oncoming car to make sure that the driver part of this two-part rule was true.

I can remember hoping to come across one without a driver so I could tell Uncle Bill what I saw by checking carefully.

Sharon is reading, as usual and runs across a 1.75 million dollar judgement in favor of the plaintiff, who sued the maker of a motorhome because it was not CLEARLY explained to the man that putting the vehicle in cruise control does not automatically keep the motorhome on the road when the road has a turn in it. It seems he set it in cruise control, rolling down the highway, got up and went back to the refrigerator to get himself a coke or something.

I have all my life been trying to come up with the coolest thing anybody who ever lived on earth has ever said. Kind of like the Monty Python bit where some Englishman thought up a joke so funny that anybody who heard it or read it would laugh themselves to death. So they yelled it across foxholes with earplugs inserted, translating it to German first, of course, wiping out a platoon.

I'll keep trying. It's my life's desire.

So far, my best effort, by coincidence, is in modified German. It goes like this: "Ich mushta Deutsch lernen oomp su reisin." Pretty cool, don't you think? I've been afraid to translate it because it might be so cool, that like the Monty Python joke-hearers, I might just fall down dead at how cool it is.

There is a mystery as we drive down the highways around here. There are little diagonal branches off the highway, always dirt or gravel and obviously created by a highway road grader. We have tried various theories. Sharon had one in which they are escape routes for road trains. But this can't be because a runaway road train would never be able to make the turn, plus the short road pieces aren't long enough to hold a road train, and double plus they are all over the place. A second theory is that they have something to do with the heavy rainy season - diverting water from beside the roadway. And my most recent one is that it's a place for the road graders to deposit their grading results.

Maybe somebody who knows will tell me.

We come into Ti Tree and there are a hundred birds in the air. Little Corellas? Galahs? As we get closer, Sharon tags them as crows.

In Wycliffe Wells, I just have to stop at the UFO capital of Australia, so we take some photos for future Goofy Movie Day productions, and buy a little tin cup with appropriate decorations on it. There are two log books of confirmed UFO sightings. We can sign in if we want to, but since we have no one to corroborate our sightings, we don't really feel that we can add anything, in all good conscience. I mean this IS a scientific endeavor, isn't it?

Only Four Fingers! Impossible.

An odd thing in Australia is that people like to stick two things in bushes or small trees. The first is plastic two-liter bottles. They just take the cap off and stick the bottle onto the end of a small branch with no leaves. Sharon says that once she saw six of them in one tree. The other thing is car or truck tires. They just stick them on a tree, like a big life saver. It is my considered opinion, however, that you don't do this with new shiny tires, but rather just with old worn out ones.

I pull over to a paved rest area, and to our surprise, it must have rained recently because there are small puddles, perhaps an eighth to a quarter-inch in depth in a few places. And a bird is standing by one of them, on tall legs, and looking at us. Sharon gets on the bird first, then I do. We make it out to be some kind of a shorebird at first, but then we finally nail it as a non-breeding AUSTRALIAN PRATINCOLE*, and this is our first pratincole of any kind, ever. A very confident looking bird. It finally flies off, and I celebrate by doing what I originally intended to do, and that is to have a toilet break.

We come to Tennant Creek and refuel at the same Mobil Station we used the last time we came through. We then check in at the same caravan park we used last time. It's 94 degrees Fahrenheit, 35 degrees Celsius. Sharon does the laundry, and we have Mexican leftover. My lucky day. Leftovers are the recycles of the food world.

After dinner, Sharon reads me about a fellow protesting Telstra's slow internet service. They constructed a test message, put it on a piece of paper, tied it to a carrier pigeon and let it go. At the same time, they sent the message by Telstra internet email. Twenty-three minutes later, the pigeon delivered the message. Another two hours and thirty-seven minutes later, Telstra checked in.


An interesting contrast between the U.S. and Australia is in the area of giving the price of things in TV advertising. In the U.S., to give a price of $8,990 they would say "It's just eight thousand, nine hundred ninety dollars," but in Oz, they say "It's just eight nine ninety dollars."

One thing I like about calling Australia telephone information, is that it's ok to say "oh" instead of "zero" for "zero." In the U.S., these days, I have noticed that more and more, I hear "three seven zero," while in Australia, I almost always hear, "three seven oh."

I mean what's easieer to say, "zero" or "oh."


Sharon's watching TV, and there's this weekly comedy show called CNNNN. They gave the lotto numbers drawn for the nerds lottery, and they were: Pi, Avagadro's number, cosine of 15 degrees, the square roof of 129, and the bonus number - 4.

We press the fade out button on the evening, and it's off to sleep.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 8, (Mulga Parrot, Chestnut-rumped Thornbill, Splendid Fairy-wren, Crested Bellbird, Grey Honeyeater, Yellow-rumped Thornbill, Inland Thornbill, Australian Pratincole).
For the Trip: 229.

Trip Birds Today: 8, (The 8 Lifers)
For the Trip: 271.

Snakes Seen Today: 0
For the Trip: 4.

Sleep in: Outback Caravan Park, Tennant Creek, NT. Our second time here.

That's it for Report 12. An even dozen. The square root of 144. Unlike tall building floor-numbering schemes in the U.S., we fully intend to send out a Report #13.


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