Report No. 17. Wednesday, October 1 thru Saturday, October 4. WHAT'S IN HALL'S CREEK? BIRDING BROOME.


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

Wednesday, October 1, 2003. Day 49 of 118. Destination: Hall's Creek.

We set the alarm for 530am, but I wake up at 5. The sun is already coming up. A dog is barking, but it turns out to be a Blue-winged Kookaburra, welcoming the sun. Four Grey-crowned Babblers bounce around in a tree.

We head out for the park in the center of town, where one of the local aboriginal men has constructed a billabong, and it is being slowly filled. An artist has made larger-than-life statues of aboriginal man, woman, little boy, kangaroo and snake, and placed them all in a red-dirt setting with a few palm trees and a crude hut.

Aboriginal Scene

Setting this off is a bit of green grass, watered every day. And this morning, we are here, to check the finches. There is a bare patch, and we can't quite see if it's bare dirt or a small pool, but we can see birds flying down to it and up out of it. We get Rufous-throated Honeyeater, Little Woodswallow, Long-tailed Finches, Double-barred Finches and in the background, some real-life aboriginals, yelling. Well, actually it's just one young man, walking near the park, occasionally turning back to the house we presume he came from. He yells, then turns and walks away some more, still yelling, turns, yells, resumes walking, yelling all the while.

He slowly yells himself away from us. White-winged Triller joins the mix, then Zebra Finches and an Olive-backed Oriole. A Yellow-throated Miner and Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike all want a share of the sprinkling. Then we get a group of four or five finches who come in. Several are plain looking, but this other one - oh yeah! Clearly a young bird, it is showing the beginnings of yellow underparts and red face. It's a Gouldian Finch, just beginning to get its good colors.

An aboriginal fellow comes up and wants to sell us a banksia nut he has carved. He asks $20 AUS, and I offer $15. He keeps repeating, "Please, sir, $20." We finally give in.

He Sold Us On This

We drive around the town, occasionally seeing birds enjoying sprinklers and resultant temporary water pools. We get lots of Zebra Finches who get wet under a sprinkler, then fly up to a fence, where they dry off in the morning sun. A great look.

Finally, about a quarter till nine, we head out after taking a couple of shots of the town's giant crocodile. Our goal today is Hall's Creek. Birders have told us to skip this place, but it's just a reasonable driving stop. In other words, if we drove further, to the next birding place, we wouldn't get there till 7 or 8pm. So forget that.

The Better to Eat You With, My Dear

Hall's Creek is more famous for the stuff around it than for the stuff IN it.

There is a famous and beautiful national park, whose aboriginal name is Purnululu National Park, but everybody we talked to calls it the Bungle Bungle. This is one of the great wonders of the Australian Outback, I heard that it was discovered in the 1980s. Can that be? It has spectacular beehive-shaped sandstone towers and gorges. Formed in the Devonian period (what's that?), about 360 million years ago, it is the effect of erosion. In the west and northern section is the hidden world of deep narrow gorges, lush palms and waterholes. In the southeast section lies the black and gold banded beehive formations. It has several camping sites, but our pansy motorhome is not designed to take the rough road to get there. There are also sandstone overhangs with rock art, hand stencils and engravings made by the Kija people.

About 100 miles south of Halls Creek is the second biggest meteorite crater in the world. The biggest is in that road we took to Waterfall Creek in Kakadu. Anyway, it is believed that a meteorite fractured and deformed the area about two million years ago.

The hot thing to do is to hire an airplane ride from somebody like Oasis Air or Heliwork, who will fly you or chopper you over the areas.

Now the town has its own highlights too: Chok's Coffee House and Bistro, Bailey's Auto Parts, Tony's Plumbing and Excavation, Halls Creek Motel and Restaurant, Halls Creek Telecentre, Taylor's General Store. And that's just the beginning.

About 10am, we pass the Doon Doon Roadhouse. Sharon asks if it's Lorna. An hour later, we have to pull over because a Black-breasted Buzzard is flying overhead - really long wings with those two big white spots near the tips, and a short tail. If I were Australian or British, I'd say, "Lovely." Don't tell Samantha.

About 1130pm we cross into Hall's Creek Shire. It's open woodland country with rocky hills all around beyond flat plains, with spotty tall grass clumps. And it's totally, totally dry for miles and miles.

And with that dry background, we come to a place called Palm Well Creek. It has the first birds we've seen for a long time this morning. We stop to check, and get Zebra and Double-barred Finches, plus a baby Masked Finch that can't quite decide how to behave. A huge flock of about twenty Long-tailed Finches comes in, then a Yellow-tinted Honeyeater and a Diamond Dove, followed by a pair of nice Red-backed Fairy-wrens. A Spinafex Pigeon blows in. Something suddenly scares all the birds up and into nearby cover, except for the pigeon, who doesn't seem to be affected. A Bee-eater shows up, and checks out the situation, followed soon by a Magpie-lark.

We come to Hall's Creek about 130pm. It's early, but to get to the next stop would wipe us out, driving into the sun, so we stop for the night. I want to investigate the whereabouts of one Leanna Shoveller, who with her grandfather and others, make up the Shoveller Band. We saw a feature about this aboriginal group when we first got to Oz, and Hall's Creek is supposed to be their home. We liked her music and want some.

While Sharon rests, I run all over town. I learn that 1) Leanna Shoveller is touring in the United States right now, 2) her grandfather Frankie used to work in the school system here, but has moved to Broome, 3) nobody in town sells their CD, which is our true objective. I get advice to try Chinatown Music, a music store in Broome. They have a section of local artists, and they may have it.

I find an internet place, and check emails, but can't connect my laptop.

Back to the motorhome, I try to call George Swann, a world-famous bird guide who lives in Broome. He's out on a four-day guided trip in the Kimberly, but his wife Lindsay convinces me that we may want to hire him exclusively, rather than join three other clients in a fairly standard tour on Sunday. He is due back this evening, she says.

Sharon and I are excited about this conversation, because Lindsay said that "If you want to get the Yellow Chat, then blah blah blah..." What registered was, "George can get you the Yellow Chat, if you want." Holy Moly! And I had given that bird up in Kununurra, when the Argyle Boat Cruise people said it was too late in the season.

A little later, George arrives back home and calls us. In a short conversation, we agree to a dawn-to-dusk day Friday for $220 Australian per person. Morning tea, lunch, water, spotting scopes, his 4WD, air conditioning - all supplied. We need to bring ourselves, our binoculars, hats, sunscreen, some footwear for walking in a little mud, some deet, and whatever cameras we want.

Part of this decision stems from the fact that it's clear that George should get us almost all the birds we were going to shoot for in Derby on Friday. Instead, we will go all the way to Broome tomorrow, and skip Derby.

We go to sleep knowing that day after tomorrow, we're going to be working our butts off, in the best sense.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 0. It's getting more difficult now, especially when we do a big travel day, with little birding.
For the Trip: Still 262.

Trip Birds Today: 0
For the Trip: Still 307.

Snakes Seen Today: 0
For the Trip: 6.

Sleep in: Hall's Creek Caravan Park, Hall's Creek, WA


Thursday, October 2, 2003. Day 50 of 118. High-tailing it to Broome.

We hit the road a little after 6am, knowing we will drive further today than any day so far in our trip. Just over 700 kilometers. But we're ready for it.

Last night Sharon put a white plastic bowl under the outside water tap, and turned the water on in slow drip mode. When I was out chasing the Shovellers, she said she saw a Black-tailed Monitor in the camp, just disappearing around the corner. This morning a Yellow-tinted Honeyeater enjoyed the water dripper.

Also last night, when I was talking with George Swann, I said, "You must be wiped out from all that driving," and he said, "Not at all. I feel great. This morning, we watched about 80 Gouldian Finches come to water." Oh, just the thought...

A sign says turn left for Wolfe Creek Crater in 500 meters, and another sign, pointing the same direction says Alice Springs, Tanami Road. Holy cow! Sharon and I came up the faraway other end of this road. It's where we hoped for Bourke's Parrot, but got Mulga Parrot and Grey Honeyeater, among other nice birds.

This road, the Tanami Stock Route, is a dirt and gravel "short cut," taking only about 1100 kilometers and passing through the fine little establishment of Rabbit Flat.

We took the long way, about 4100 km, counting our side trip to Kakadu, but all on bitumen.

We're out on the plains now. To the right is almost no hills at all, to the left a small string of hills, tall golden grass, a few trees. We pass a dead wallaby, attended to by two Wedge-tailed Eagles, who fly up out of the way as we cruise through.

The temperature is 23.5 deg C, an unbelievably balmy 74 degrees or so. It's a perfect blue sky, no clouds, and we're headed west with the sun behind us. A fine, fine thang.

The termite mounds have changed character. They look like they were formed by clumping gobs of clay onto a central core, building outward. The early ones of our trip were tall and stately by comparison. {I read in a book that those tall termite mounds are called "magnetic" mounds because they are oriented north and south, probably for heat management. I don't know, they all looked random to me.} And now we've moved from golden grassland into open scrub country.

And only fifteen minutes later the landscape has changed again, to open cattle range country. We pass a big windmill now, with cattle on both sides of the road. It's 7am. The country is pretty flat, with low grass, bushes and rocks, like parts of Arizona.

At 730 or so, we come to Mary Pool, a billabong left when the Mary River dries up enough to stop flowing here. There are lots of trees around, and in fact there is a roadside park here. We pull off for breakfast and birding.

We get lots of Little Corellas, Galahs flying over, Yellow-tinted Honeyeaters, and down on the water, Pacific Black Ducks. Other common birds are Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike and Willie Wagtail. There must be a couple of hundred corellas down on the riverbed sand, by the water.

Sharon gets on a Great Bowerbird doing the funniest thing. It flies down to the ground, where it bounces 3-4 times, flies back up into the tree, then back to the ground again for the repeated bouncing. What IS it thinking?

We can see Common Sandpipers, but there is a taller, greyer bird there too. I think the bill has a slight upturn. The legs are greenish-yellow, and we mistakenly make it out to be a Marsh Sandpiper, and a lifer. Later we change our mind to Greenshank.

A Whistling Kite joins us for breakfast by dropping to the ground near the causeway across the riverbed, snatching up a snake in one claw, then taking off again. I don't even ask Sharon - yes, that's 7 snakes now. And I would make it 6 wussy ones and 1 real good snake - one that could have bitten us if it felt like it, and if it were faster than I. Something I doubt. I can really jump when I hear someone yell, "Snake! Snake! Snake!" Especially when I see the snake two feet from my two feet. {Everybody here that we tell that story to tells us "don't move when you see a snake, it will interpret your movement as agression and be more dangerous. Just stand still and let him go by you. RIGHT, like I'm going to be able to stand still while a snake, p;ossibly a poisonous snake, is coming at me. I don't think so. I might want to but my instincts will make me move out of the way.}

900am and we're out of Mary's Pool. We hit the highway and immediately cross the Mary River Bridge. A couple of hours later, the temperature has climbed to 32.5 degrees C, or about 90 or so.

We stop to refuel in Fitzroy's Crossing, and I ask Bella 1) if she's Italian, and 2) if she's heard of the Shoveller Band. She says that her grandfather was Italian ("bella" means beautiful in Italiano), and "No, Luv," she's not heard of the Shoveller Band.

We hit the road again, and in the distance I count about seven dust devils, each of which, by the way, is called a Willy Willy in Oz.

By 130pm we come to the junction of Derby to the north, or Broome to the west. We sweep westward.

A half-hour later we come to a big bridge crossing Cockatoo Creek. The creek appears to have dried up into a huge billabong, and on the left we see about a hundred Brahmas. As usual, they are extremely interested, and I'd estimate that about a hundred are looking right at us. Fairy Martins are working under the bridge, the martins with reddish heads.

At about quarter till four, we come into Broome, refuel, and choose the Big 4 Cable Beach Caravan Park, adjacent to Cable Beach, which got its name for the underwater cable that was stretched from here to Indonesia, I believe. It's a famous beach around these parts, and people drive their cars out onto it.

We decide to leave Sharon at the camp laundromat, to shepherd our laundry through the cleaning process while I go downtown and do the internet thing.

At 4:40pm I'm online with my laptop, and they close at 5, so I'm hustling. I get off both Reports 14 and 15. Fantastic! Practically real time now. I collect all the new emails and fire some off. I finish up and go back to the park, to keep Sharon company while the last of the laundry finishes.

I call George Swann, who is out walking their dog, and his wife Lindsay takes down the name of our caravan park and says that George will pick us up here at 5am.

We have dinner and turn in early. Will we have the energy to make it through tomorrow? It will be about four days worth of our kind of birding in one huge day. We're totally confident.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 0
For the Trip: 262.

Trip Birds Today: 0
For the Trip: 307.

Snakes Seen Today: 1 (unidentified, being carried in the talons of a raptor)
For the Trip: 7.

Sleep in: Cable Beach Caravan Park, Broome, WA


Friday, October 3, 2003. Day 51 of 118. Sunup to Sundown with George Swann, Ace Birder.

The alarm goes off at 415am, we get ready and meet George at the entrance right at 5am. He takes us to mangroves first, and at 530am we are into it.

George does an alarm remarkably like Sharon's version, by holding a finger up to his lips and sort of sucking. We get good looks at a YELLOW WHITE-EYE*, then a MANGROVE GREY FANTAIL* fans his tail to our benefit. A female MANGROVE GOLDEN WHISTLER* shows up and takes a bath in the moisture on the mangrove leaves around it, then George decides it's probably a young male, but in either case, it doesn't have that gorgeous color yet. The fantail takes a regular bath in a pool of water nearby.

More calls pulls in a smashing Red-headed Honeyeater, then a female WHITE-BREASTED WHISTLER* and a Brown Honeyeater. George fires up his bird call CD system, to try and get the good male whistlers. A male White-breasted Whistler pops up and is stunning. Sharon gets a female Mistletoebird, then a BROWN GOSHAWK* flies over. A male Mangrove Golden Whistler is next. Sharon and I get him for about two seconds each. What beautiful contrasting colors - black, yellow and white.

The male Mangrove Golden and White Breasted Whistlers seem to be dueling each other. A DUSKY GERYGONE* pops up about five feet from us, then moves to about three feet. A cute little bird at arm's length.

A Broad-billed Flycatcher calls and George, who says he birds mostly by ear initially, picks him up right away. He switches his audio to that bird's call, and I get a nice look at the flying bird, while Sharon just gets a glimpse. "Yes," George says, "that was the BROAD-BILLED FLYCATCHER*."

We get a descending 'tee tee tee tee tee tee', and in answer to my question, George says it's a Little Bronze-cuckoo.

George leads us all the way through the mangroves to the mudflats. We try for a better look at the Broad-billed Flycatcher, but can't get any cooperation. We come back to the first location and get a Kimberly Flycatcher perched at the top of a bit of greenery, singing away. This is a local subspecies of the Lemon-bellied Flycatcher, though this makes no sense to me. I mean it doesn't have any yellow on it all, that I can see. Maybe they'll split it off to species status someday.

At 800am we leave the mangroves and head for deep grass habitat. {The "little bit" of mud walking we were to do has turned into slogging through the mangroves which sit in a continuous pool of muddy water. As you walk along, stepping on small roots the mangroves put up for air, mud flicks up from the person in front of you so that by the end of the walk, we are covered from about chest down with mud flecks, plus our boots are totally covered with mud. Thank goodness that I bought good, water-proof boots before we left San Jose and Bob is wearing his "neos" that keep his shoes water free. What fun!} We keep coming to locked gates, and I'm the Gatekeeper for the day. I get out, unchain, open, wait for George to drive through, then I close, rechain and get back in.

George parks and we get out. He forms us into a line about 5-10 meters apart and we begin moving through some tall grass. I ask how the bird will behave if it flushes, and he says it will fly up and away from us, then circle back, and land again. We are walking into the sun, so that when it is coming back in behind us, we can turn and get it at the perfect sun angle.

We keep tramping.

After maybe 2-300 meters, suddenly a GRASS OWL* flushes up, then immediately a second, smaller one. I pick the second one and follow it with my binoculars. Fantastic view, with the long legs dangling as it flies. But it's flying straight away and isn't circling back. I keep watching, then lower my binocs to check where George and Sharon's binocs are pointed. They're both on the same bird, the other one, which has circled around and is coming back now, behind us.

I get on it immediately, and watch it drop back into the tall grass. Fantastic, a lot like a barn owl but rustier in color and of course, roosts in the grass. George leads us straight over to shorter grass, so we don't flush it again. "Where did the other one go?" George asks me. "I didn't follow him, except to notice that he was flying a straight line that way," indicating by pointing.

Then we start walking back to the Toyota, George, then me, then Sharon. As we're walking, suddenly I stop, not quite sure what I'm looking at. "What?" asks Sharon, behind me. "George? George? What's this?" I ask him, pointing down. "Is this a skink?" I ask. He comes back and says, "This is a Northern Blue-tongue Lizard." And he picks it up! And it sticks its' tongue out! And it's bright blue! {It's about 12-14 inches in length and really "chunky" in shape, beautifully colored in tans and b lack pattern.}

Sharon takes it from George, and I can't help noticing that it bends its neck back with its mouth open, trying to bite. I'm the only one who seems to notice this. {I asked George before I took it "will it bite?" and he said "no" so I wasn't being foolish.} Sharon gets it around the neck and the tail. George says, "It's lost its tail," and we don't know how to judge this because we don't know what it's supposed to look like. I mean I believe it's lost its tail, but how big is the tail SUPPOSED to be?

Blue-tongued Lizard

Sharon says, "Take my picture! Josh and Sieren (second son Peter's two boys) will be blown away!" So I take a picture of a Northern Blue-tongue Lizard and Sharon Lorene Lutman, with the biggest smile on her face I've EVER seen. Blue cool.

Sharon reluctantly lets the lizard go, and I get a picture of it as we found it, more or less.

We make it back to the vehicle, and we move to a large salt-pan area, through a gate or two, and are moving along next to a fence. We see a bird perched about 20 fence posts down. George comes to a stop. "Australian Hobby," he says. I get my camera out, and the next five minutes is a series of us pulling within photo distance, me almost getting the photo, and the Hobby flying away about six more fenceposts. But I finally get the Hobby as good as I think we can, and we let it go.

George starts talking about the Yellow Chat, and several months or weeks ago, this field was just thick with them. But now most have dispersed because everything is so dry. But he hopes there are one or two still around. He loops around all over the place, concentrating on a kind of purple plant called Samphire.

I'm enjoying the fact that 1) George is driving, 2) we're on private property which George has permission to be on, 3) we're looking for Yellow Chats, and 4) we're having a ball. I suddenly pick up three birds flying just over the top of the plants to our left, and I call them out. "Yellow Chats! Well done, Bob," George says, and he turns to head for them.

Three minutes later we are stopped, looking at three or four YELLOW CHATS*, one of which is an outstanding male with the black chest mark and sparkling yellow head, chest and underparts.

This is amazing. In fact, we've done so well that George says, in the custom of the England he originally came from, "That calls for tea!" And we break into a tailgate party with tea and fruitcake. Awesome.

We finish that up and continue around. George is looking for some other birds he thinks may be here. He picks up, then drives over to one of the birds he has had in mind. He stops and with binocs estimates that there are about 70 Oriental Plovers in this short grass. This is exciting for me, because now we get to see if this is the same bird that we saw at the Timber Creek airport. And it IS! The exact same kind of bird.

Occasionally a group of maybe ten or twelve birds will fly up, loop around, back down and land again. It's outstanding because we get to see them from all angles when they do that. We finally let them go, and head back the direction we came from.

But George stops, and gets us on another bird in the short grass, a nice RED-CAPPED PLOVER*.

At last we change locations, and move to Taylor Lagoon. It's about 1230pm, and George says it will be hot, so we all drink some water, put on sunscreen, pull our hats down a little, get both scopes, and head out to try and pick up some fresh water waders, if they will cooperate and BE HERE.

There are lots of Grey Teal, a Black Swan, both Hoary-headed and Australasian Grebes. There are Wood Sandpipers and Black-fronted Dotterels. And then George shows us several MARSH SANDPIPERS*, near to some Common Greenshanks. It's at this point that I realize that we didn't see a Marsh Sandpiper, but a Common Greenshank at Mary Pool the other day. Was that yesterday already?

George is in his element, scanning around the lake. "LITTLE CURLEW*" he says, and we get the bird. George says this bird is usually on short grass, like that we saw Oriental Curlews on earlier, and not salt seashores. Sharon picks up a new bird for the lagoon, and it's an Australian Pratincole. George picks up an adult, then a juvenile SHARP-TAILED SANDPIPER* for us. Then, amazingly, a Yellow Chat shows up, but does not have the spectacular yellow color of the best birds we saw earlier.

A Royal Spoonbill works the shallows by sweeping his "spoon" left and right, left and right. There are Hardheads and Wood Ducks here too. George gets us a nice LONG-TOED STINT*, which gives us a nice comparison by being right next to a Black-fronted Dotterel. Then we get the Long-toed Stint and Wood Sandpiper standing side by side. At first George thought the Wood Sandpiper was a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, but changed his mind. We are amazed, but not surprised, at how good George is with these waders.

We finish up here and move to Lake Campion, where George parks us in the shade of a tree and announces, "Lunch!" He breaks out a table, three stools, and sets out a nice salad, with chicken, avocado, orange juice, and tops it off with a ripe and delicious cantelope. Did we call that a musk melon when I was growing up in Missouri? I think so. {George is amazed, almost appalled when he sees Bob put salt on his melon. Right on, George. I can never understand putting salt on something sweet like melon and watermelon, but my folks do it too.}

We finish up, George rigs for travel and we're off, almost immediately flushing a PALLID CUCKOO* and some other birds out of a nearby tree, but we can't re-find it. We have to do with the short view we were lucky to get. And we DID both get it.

We drive by a Jacky Winter, then George decides it's time to head for the saltwater bay shore next. We make our way out of the Roebuck Plains we've been in and go back to Roebuck Bay, near the Broome Bird Observatory, or BBO. He finds a good place near a large group of birds down by the water.

He breaks out the scopes and we start working, though there is a bit of a wind. We get RUDDY TURNSTONE, and the bird we've been looking for since we got to Australia - SOOTY OYSTERCATCHERS*. All dark, like California's Black Oystercatcher, but a different species.

"Here," says George, as he has a bird lined up in the number one scope. "Here is a bird you need." We have been reviewing our list with him periodically, as we change habitats, and he has a good idea what we need. It's a nice GREY-TAILED TATTLER*, in with Red-capped Plovers and GREATER SAND PLOVERS.

This is at Quarry Beach on Roebuck Bay.

George moves us to another location with a huge group of waders, and we wade in here too. More Grey-tailed Tattlers, some BAR-TAILED GODWITS start us off, going from left to right, scanning through the shorebirds. Then bing, bang, boom, we get three lifers - GREAT KNOT*, CURLEW SANDPIPER*, with a little downward dip in the bill, and TEREK SANDPIPER*, with the upswept bill. Then next to a Great Knot is a RED KNOT, just for our comparison.

A white phase EASTERN REEF EGRET is in the center of the big, loose group of waders. A RED-NECKED STINT and nearby LESSER SAND PLOVER* put their two cents in. Hold on, Australia doesn't have any cents any more. The Lesser Sand Plover is the complement to the Greater Sand Plover that turned up in the northern San Francisco Bay Area a couple of years ago, which we went to see.

"We've got this lot now, let's move on to the next lot," says George, and on we move, to yet another beach area with metric tons of waders. A lone woman sits on a rock, watching the flock, recording statistics of some kind on her pad of paper. Small rivulets of water run down from the mainland, through red mud, into the bay. We become waders and cross the stream ribbons.

There are terns around, and George gets us on LESSER CRESTED TERNS*, with their straighter, orange bill, compared to the Greater Cresteds. Some of the Lessers are still in breeding plumage, with the front of the black cap coming all the way down to the bill. They look like they have gel in their hair. We've cleared off almost all of our wader target birds, except one, and George picks it out of a group of perhaps 200 birds. What an eye! It's a BROAD-BILLED SANDPIPER*, with the double supercilium. A WHISKERED TERN hovers in the wind near us, and we get great looks in the lowering sun. PIED OYSTERCATCHERS add to the mix in the wind.

George asks with this wonderful grin of his, "Do you want to try for the Asian Dowitcher, Bob?" I look at Sharon, we ask what we have to do. "We'll drive around to near those mangroves (pointing to our left a bit, around the bay), then wade through some mud, and come out on the beach, where we can wander all up and down." Sharon says she's up for it and we agree. "I don't know how much light we'll have left, but let's go for it," he says, and off we go, for it. Well, after I slow us down by having to pause for a roadside pit stop. George even supplies a shovel. Dig it.

He drives us around on a red dirt road, he gets one scope and I get another, and in we go again, into the muddy mangroves. We did this this morning, too - wade into the mangroves. There are small roots just growing up out of the mud, sticking up like stubble, about three or four inches, straight up. They are about three quarters as thick as your little finger. There are millions, and when you step on them, they keep you from sinking into the mud, so you DO step on them. But every step you take, each one you step on is like a little finger, that flicks mud straight up. Onto your socks, legs, shorts or pants, fanny pack, binoculars, scope and shirt.

It's a marvelous, muddy, mess, getting in there, and George is in heaven in these mangroves. By the time we get through the mangroves, the sun is near setting. We get PIED CORMORANT, BLACK-TAILED GODWIT and GULL-BILLED TERN. I think we've had Pied Cormorant and Gull-billed Tern on the trip, but I didn't register them.

The white mud appears to be snow on the ground in the setting sun. It's a unique scene I've never seen before, and we take several setting sun shots. "Look through this scope," George says. He's got it lined up with the edge of the mud, and I'd estimate there are a hundred thousand birds of all types, though all but a few are too far away to identify because of the low, low tide. It's a real spectacle.

We watch the sun go totally down, then wade our way back through the mucky mangroves to solid sand. A Brown Goshawk flies over as we make our way back to the vehicle.

In the darkening light, about a dozen Great Egrets hover in the evening breeze, facing the sun, then slowly go down to roost, just like George said they would do. We take a few photos to commemorate the great day, including a dark sunset.

George Swann and Bob

Sunset over the Bay

Then - that's it, George drives us home, where we say goodbye, pay him his well-earned fee plus an extra bit more - sort of for the opposite of pain and suffering. It's 645pm.

Sharon showers, then I shower, and we have leftover Mexican. It is SO good. We top this off with a late night movie - "Air Force One." We will take tomorrow off, so that adds to the feeling of luxury we are basking in.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 23 (Yellow White-eye, Mangrove Grey Fantail, Mangrove Golden Whistler, White-breasted Whistler, Brown Goshawk, Dusky Gerygone, Broad-billed Flycatcher, Grass owl, Yellow Chat, Red-capped Plover, marsh Sandpiper, Litle Curlew,Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Long-toed Stint, Pallid Cuckoo, Sooty Oystercatcher, Grey-tailed Tattler, Great Knot, Curlew Sandpiper, Terek Sandpiper, Lesser Sand-plover, Lesser Crested Tern, Broad-billed Sandpiper - whew!)
For the Trip: 285.

Trip Birds Today: 36 (The 23 lifers plus Little Black Cormorant, Ruddy turnstone, Greater Sand-plover, Bar-tailed Godwit, Red Knot, Eastern Reef Egret, Red-necked Stint, Grey Plover, Pacific Golden Plover, Little Tern, Whiskered Tern, Pied Oystercatcher, Black-tailed Godwit, Gull-billed Tern)
For the Trip: 343.

Snakes Seen Today: 0
For the Trip: 7.

Sleep in: Cable Beach Caravan Park, Broome, WA


Saturday, October 4, 2003. Day 52 of 118. And on the Sixth Day They Rested.

Ahhhh. We will do whatever we feel like today. Sharon is chipping the ice out of the fridge. That's what she feels like. We slept in till 815am and it was great, after the "work" we did yesterday with George Swann.

The reason she's in the fridge is that when you open it, this powerful odor shocks you, and she's determined to get to the bottom of it, so to speak. I go use the camp rest room, and when I come back, she says, "It was the roast beef." That roast beef was the worst I had in my life. It was rimmed in fat and was stringy all the way through it, and that was Day One. Plus it didn't taste very good. {I should have thrown it away after the first day when it was clear that neither of us liked it. But I waited until it stunk up the refrigerator--way to go, Sharon.}

We have heard from Uncle Peter about the gypsy thing. Before about 1600, the backward book of common knowledge said that gypsies came from Egypt. But like all other things in said book, it's not true. It was learned that they came from the north and lived in Persia, Hittite areas and India. I presume they learned this by finally getting around to asking them, while at the same time having someone around who could translate their answers.

We drive downtown and go to the internet cafe, but instead of coffee, you ask for an ADSL connection. And it hits the spot. After I come back out, we read everybody's good emails, have some laughs and some smiles, then I must decide whether to turn the computer completely off or just put it to sleep. "Hmm, I'll go to sleep," I say, with a yawn. "What? Sharon asks, to my double entendre. "No, no, I was just deciding that the computer will go to sleep instead of being turned completely off."

Next Sharon wants to go to this point in the bay where, if the tide is low enough, you can see dinosaur footprints in the rock. But she reads that 1) the tide has to be below 1.5, 2) she reads that today's tide is 3.4, not low enough even at its lowest, and 3) we have hit low tide and now the tide is starting to come back in. We decide to go to Information and confirm this, which we do, and they do. So Sharon doesn't get to see the tracks.

So we go to Coles and restock groceries, then head for Chinatown Music, the music store I heard about, who might have a CD of the Shoveller Band. They don't, but they've got great local music, and will let you listen before you buy! What a concept.

I ask her about a CD we heard about as far back as Sydney, something called National Anthems or similar. She says, "Oh yes, we have that," and proceeds to the international section, retrieving a CD case that says this CD has the national anthems of about 40 countries. "Hey, wait, this ain't it!" So I describe to her the circumstances, and she says, "Oh! Oh! I know the one you mean," and laughs. She locates this CD entitled Alternative National Anthems or something like that, and it has a photo of a piece of vegemite-covered toast, with one corner bitten off. "Yeah, that's the one!" I offer. It has the best song of about twenty different Aussie bands, including the famous one by Men At Work, "The Land Down Under."

But she volunteers that there are several good local bands, including an excellent one - The Pigrim Brothers. She puts it on the listener, and I put on the headphones, and right away, it's dynamite. So we'll take it. Sharon finds one that is aboriginal music, with all aboriginal words. I can't understand why she would want this, but it has a nice beat, and you can dance to it, and it would probably get rated a 95. So we get it too. Three CDs for about a hundred bucks, Australian. That's about the same price they are in the U.S. But another cool thing is that they have resin for violin strings, the same resin I need for reactivating my squeaker bird call. I buy a 200-year supply, all in one block about the size of a small can of Shinola.

We buy some lunch at a restaurant, a quiche for Sharon and a lasagne for me, neither one of which is all that great. But the drinks are good, coke for her and cream soda for me.

We head back, stopping in at Malcolm Douglas's Crocodile Farm. Miracle of miracles, the three o'clock show is just starting and Malcolm himself is doing it, a very rare thing indeed, we're told. So we pay our $12 each, pensioner rates, and catch up with the show. It's a moving show, with Malcolm starting at a huge stuffed croc. He uses it to demonstrate a number of croc things, then moves around to about six or eight different pens, each with a croc, and each with a name. Names like Spinner and Basher and Trouble. One, whose name I forget - maybe "Killer", tries to jump over the inside fence and make a snack out of Malcolm.

Malcolm Douglas, the First Crocodile Hunter

It's a fairly primitive croc farm, relative to Steve Irwin's Australia Zoo, but the show is right in front of you and very personal and you might get yucky green algae splashed on you when Malcolm throws the chook (chicken, remember?) heads in to the crocs. All things considered, I liked this one better. Even then, we get tired after Spinner, and go to the gift shop, pick up some croc things and go back to camp to relax away the rest of the day and evening.

Did you know that if you incubate crocodile eggs at 32 degrees for 94 days or so, a male croc will hatch? But if you do it at 31 or 33 degrees, a female will hatch? Me neither. Store that away for a future game of Trivial Pursuit.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 0
For the Trip: 285.

Trip Birds Today: 0
For the Trip: 343.

Snakes Seen Today: 0
For the Trip: 7.

Sleep in: Cable Beach Caravan Park, Broome, WA

And there you have Report 17. Can you imagine another 20? BIRD ON!

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