Report No. 21. Wednesday, October 15 thru Friday, October 17, 2003. SPECIAL BIRDS OF THE SOUTHWEST

 

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

Special thoughts and prayers from Australia to cousin Kathy Nikkel and her family in Versailles, Missouri. Kathy was a great source of comfort to our family when Dad had a stroke back in 1988, when she worked as head nurse in the facility that cared for Dad. Love you, Kathy{, hang in there Abe.}

Wednesday, October 15, 2003. Day 63 of 118. Far Southwest Corner.

The alarm fires off at 515am but we're not in the mood, so we reset it for 6. That's better. By 7am, I've emptied the toilet cartridge and dumped the grey water.

I return the key for the toilet block, and you know what? It's almost COLD! What's up with that? This doesn't compute after all that heat of the Top End.

Sharon gets a great photo of the typical mail delivery person in Australia.

A Typical Australian Postman

We are looking for the Tonkin Highway, but we realize that this road, which would neatly deliver us to the Perth-Bunbury Freeway we're looking for, exists only in the planning stages. So we have to do some cutting across this road and that. Our Perth map purchase has been extremely worthwhile. You GOTTA have good maps.

So we finally make it there, passing a cool little sign that reads, "This area is reserved for the future Tonkin Highway."

Speaking of maps, our Perth map is fascinating. Instead of giving the distances between points on the map, like every other map I've ever seen, this one gives the distance of each important point on the map from the Perth Post Office. There is one road that doesn't go OUT from Perth, but rather goes perpendicular to such a line. The cool thing is that every point on the road says '35.' The first time I looked at it, I thought, "What a coincidence, four towns in a row that are exactly 35 km apart. You've done it again, Robin. Of course, Sharon picks it up immediately.

We go through Mandurah, and pass a nice complex on the right that says, "Mandurah Train Station, Opening 2007." But I notice a completed parking lot, and a few cars in it. Sharon laughs and says, "They've got the parking lot done already!" So we decide that the cars are there so they have a good spot, when the station DOES open in '07.

We do a driver change at 810am. I sleep till about 930am, and when I wake up, I see that instead of things being dry, like all across the Top End, everything is green here, and every pond and lake is full of water, as is every stream. Wow, even the rivulets! But not the trickles.

Going down the highway at 104 kph, we get three black-cockatoos flying over, with white spots on their cheek, white on their tails, and bills of unknown length.

At 10am, we are driving down a fabulous highway through a big stand of pine trees, and we might be in the Georgia pines, where like here, people have an accent that's fun to listen to. {I was going into an AA meeting and I asked a wo;man, "Are you going to the AA meeting?" She said, "Yes, and I like your accent". MY accent? I don;'t have an accent do I? Oh, I see, I'm the odd one out here.}

We make all the right turns to get to Cape Naturaliste (Birding Spot 93), where we're hoping for a finch called the Red-eared Firetail, plus Red-tailed Tropicbirds nesting on an island about a hundred meters offshore, called Sugarloaf Rock.

As our road gets closer and closer to the beach, we pass a stretch where every 200 meters or so, a gravel road goes towards the beach with a sign that says "Baptist" or "Anglican" or "Seventh Day Adventist", each one the turnoff to a church camp.

Then, about 1030am, we arrive at the Cape Naturaliste carpark. There is a lighthouse here, which is the big feature for most tourists - that and looking for humpback whales passing by. We get out and start walking the trails.

We get Red Wattlebird, several nice White-browed Scubwrens, with their streaky chests, many New Holland Honeyeaters, but no Firetails - not yet anyway. We break for a lunch of roast beef and ham sandwiches with some positively adequate cherry tomatoes.

After that, we drive back down the road, and take the turnoff to Sugarloaf Rock, where we park and make our way up the steps to a viewing platform. We hear lots of interesting calls on the way, and somehow, each one sounds like a Firetail to our hopeful ears. But when we turn our attention to the rock, we see that many gulls are resting in full view, on this side of the rock - in fact, only gulls. However, flying overhead, as if to show off their cool red streamers, are four or five RED-TAILED TROPICBIRDS, gleaming white. We figure their nests are on the far side of the rock, for privacy.

When we've had our fill, we let the gulls and tropicbirds go, and head out, by coincidence stopping at a Gull petrol station to fill up with diesel. Then it's south, past at least a hundred wineries, as it seems that every little plot of land is a vineyard.

We go through Margaret River, famous for its wines. As we're driving, Sharon says, "I've got three corellas." She points them out, and I want to see them closeup, if they'll light somewhere. The little two-lane highway's no good for stopping, so I hang a left at the first opportunity - a cheese-tasting farm. But signs all over say "keep out," except for the carpark and the building itself. And the corellas get away.

Now the reason for this sudden burst of excitement over three corellas is that, by geography of bird locations, these have to be WESTERN CORELLAS*, here in Margaret River. The local variety of Little Corellas don't get this far south, and neither do the Yellow-crested Cockatoos, an outside possibility.

Later, we remove the Western Corella from our list because we learn that they may have been Little Corellas, from a band those birds that are in the general area, though a little north of there.

We try Hamelin Bay (Birding Spot 94), but get nothing special there.

We come to Augusta, but drive right through, to the Cape Leeuwin lighthouse (recommended by Frank O'Connor), and the carpark. As I'm gathering birding gear, Sharon is outside checking things. When I come to join her, she says for me to look at these large black and white gulls, and because I'm already primed, I'm excited at what they might be.

Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse

We get the scope on them, and from the size, the plumage and the bill size and markings, it has to be two extremely intelligent PACIFIC GULLS*, since the wind is blowing like crazy, and they are hunkered down on a rock out in the bay. We continue on to the lighthouse ticket station, and get a pair of Silvereyes. Then we go into the ticket station and souvenir shop. I don't mean we shop for souvenirs, I mean it is a shop that sells souvenirs, in addition to being the ticket station. We NEVER souvenir shop when there are life birds to be seen. That time I DID mean to say souvenir shop for shopping for souvenirs. But not that first time. {Bob doesnn't remember but I bought a cute koala refrigerator magnet at this shop, I guess when he wasn't looking.}

We learn that 1) since we're not actually going inside the lighthouse, we don't have to pay anything, and 2) he has seen our target bird at this location almost every day, right outside the door. But not today, not yet. I am so excited, I can't stand it. He further says that the birds nest and sleep on several small islands we can see maybe 1 km or so offshore, and they come in to eat grass seed.

We go outside and decide how to attack the problem. This fellow told us about the area he knows, but Frank O'Connor said that he saw the birds down on the rocks beyond the lighthouse itself. We decide to go with Frank's location, because to stay here and wait gives the birds the POWER. But we want to have the POWER. So we'll go hunting for them.

The lighthouse gates close at 5pm and it's about 4pm now, so we have an hour to find our birds. Or not find them...

We walk around the lighthouse, and make our way down on the rocks. Nothing yet. We begin working our way left, in the direction of the islands. I have told Sharon that if I were one of these birds, I'd be in the sun for warmth, but further around to the left, away from most of the trails, to minimize disturbance.

Now the REALLY exciting thing, for Sharon, is that the ticket salesman warned us to look out for the "joogite" snake. Anyway, that's what we thought he said. We'll look it up when we get back to the motorhome and our reptile book. He says these snakes are very, very poisonous. Now you know what I mean by the extra EXCITEMENT for Sharon.

FLASHFORWARD: When we look this snake up, we finally find it under "dugite." You know how you can pronouce "du" as "doo", "dyoo", or if you hold your mouth a certain way, the "dyoo" comes out "djoo"? Well you know it now, djoo see? OK, back to real time. And here's what it says under "dugite", which is on page 50, by the way, of "A Photographic Guide to Snakes & Other Reptiles of Australia," by Gerry Swan and the Australian Museum:

"This much-feared snake...shows a preference for sandy areas... and shrublands. It preys upon lizards [safe so far] and mammals [uh-oh].. VENOMOUS AND DANGEROUS. CAPABLE OF INFLICTING A POTENTIALLY FATAL BITE."

For this snake, I'd say its bite is worse than its bark, wouldn't you?

We continue around to the left, when suddenly I see something small dart behind a rock. It must be a small mammal of some kind, and I am beginning to 1) really enjoy the small mammals of Australia, and 2) wish I had felt this way when we first got here, so that 3) we would have gone on lots of night, spotlighting walks. The mammals of Australia are fascinating and many.

Anyway I get Sharon to be near me, so when we go around the rock, it won't go hopping away before she can see it. Only just as I start my stealth-walk, Sharon says, "Look out, there's a bird right there. What is that?" I freeze, look down, and immediately recognize our target bird, neatly camouflaged in the grass and about ten feet away. "It's a ROCK PARROT*," I say. It's beautiful. " I can't believe that it's right here." It is taking a dandelion-like flower, behding it down, then biting off the good bits. It is so unconcerned with our presence, that I am able to take out my digital camera and click off four photos, till I get all I want from this distance.

Rock Parrot

"I'm going to go closer," I tell Sharon. And I do. And it doesn't mind. I take another couple of photos. I try once more, but it runs around the rock. We make our way up and over so we can see it, and Holy Moly! There's six of them! We just stand there in awe of this fantastic sight. These parrots are small, like what we'd call parakeets in the U.S., but slightly bigger. Olive green, chartreuse yellow and blue are the unusual colors of this little parrot. Thanks, Frank!

Now what's cool about the Cape Leeuwin lighthouse is that a sign points to the left and says "Southern Ocean," and to the right and says, "Indian Ocean." Sharon stands behind the sign pointing a hand each way, and I take a great picture of that.

That-a-way

We go find a nice-looking place to stay, back towards Augusta, using our tourist guide book for caravan parks, and wind up at the Flinders Bay Caravan Park. We talk to the owners a little, and they tell us that sometimes, black-cockatoos come in to eat the red banksia. We set up our camper, and since there's some daylight, we decide to follow a path starting at a sign that says, "To Beach." We reject the imaginary one that says, "Not to Beach."

There are New Holland Honeyeaters everywhere, as well as Red Wattlebirds. The path finally runs along a stream that empties into the surf at the beach. And it goes right beside a big patch of flowering heath. We begin to see lots of interesting birds. I twist my squeaker and Sharon does her alarm call. We get an absolutely spectacular Splendid Fairy-wren, which I can't help calling blue-on-blue for the obvious reason that it's a smashing combination of blues, then we get another fairy-wren that has to be either Blue-breasted (which we've seen) or Red-winged (which we've not). The ID book shows that one difference is the color of the patch just behind the back of the neck. The Blue-breasted's is dark, but the Red-winged one is beautiful light turquoise. So we go back to the bird, who has momentarily vacated the premises, of course.

We crank up our "calling" tools again, and up he pops. At first we can't see, but then he jumps up and does a 180, landing with his back to us. We still can't quite see, and as if to read our minds, he bows his head foreward and shows us the beautiful turquoise patch of a RED-WINGED FAIRY-WREN*.

More than any other birds here, these little fairy-wrens remind me of the hummingbirds of the Americas. Not because they do similar things, but because they are so unique, in what they do and how they look. We love the way they seem to always have their long tails cocked up, like a wren in America, only even more so, such that they're actually tilted forward lots of times. And they come in to Sharon's alarm call almost always.

We go back to our site and get a pair of Western Rosellas, the male with that wonderful red head, chest and belly. I'm getting cold, so we get my wonderful red head, chest and belly into the motorhome to get them warmed up.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 4 (Western Corella, Pacific Gull, Rock Parrot, Red-winged Fairy-wren)
For the Trip: 325.

Trip Birds Today: 5 (The 4 lifers plus Red-tailed Tropicbird)
For the Trip: 387.

Snakes Seen Today: 0
For the Trip: 7.

Sleep in: Flinders Bay Caravan Park, Augusta, southwest corner of WA

 

Thursday, October 16, 2003. Day 64 of 118. Turning Eastward.

I'm up about 630am, and sensing that Sharon would like to sleep in (clue: she's not moving), I tell her to stay in bed while I go back to the beach to check for Hooded Plovers, one of our target birds of the area. She agrees.

I step outside for my morning trip to the rest room, and see two Black-cockatoos, perched atop the banksia, eating some part of that red flower. They are a little wary of me, but because I don't approach them, they stay where they are.

I come back, and they are gone, but wait - they only moved to another area. I go in and tell Sharon, who says, "Good! As soon as you left, I was sorry I didn't get up and go with you. I said to myself, 'Bob's gonna go down there and see Hooded Plovers, come back and get me, and when I get down there they'll be gone."

She gets up and dressed in short order. We step outside, and study these birds a bit, concluding fairly quickly that they are the short-billed variety, based on the observations that 1) they are eating flowers rather than hard nuts or something similar, which the long-billed birds would go for, 2) their bills are short, which is to say that to us, the tips of their upper bill seems to close in normal geometry rather than having the tip extend further down. We've seen the Short-billed Black-cockatoos before, but never this close. And it's sort of enchanting, if a weedwhackin' dude such as me can use a word such as that.

By 7am we are ready to pull out. Our goal today is something wonderful that we've heard about within today's driving window. It's in the Valley of the Giants, and it's called the Treetop Walk. We can't wait to see this.

But first we make several stops in town and at several beaches, hoping for Hooded Plovers. But if there are any present, they are wearing the Cloak of Invisibility. We get a Common Bronzewing, carrying some nest material.

We pass a motel, and in the same manner that our kids invented the slightly redundant but clever "Yes Way" to be the opposite of "No Way", a sign on the motel says, "Yes Vacancy."

We begin to see some emus - maybe forty or so, in view. They are in a paddock, in the front portion of which is a house with a front porch and rocking chairs. There is no road up to this house, and we see no people. But the emus are plentiful. Maybe they use the rockers.

About 9am we arrive at an intermediate destination for the day - the famous Gloucester Tree, which is in Gloucester. This has to be one of the wealthiest trees in the world because it cost $9 each to see it, which is about $6300 dollars per week. The ticket taker has a wood fire going in a stove in his building, and it smells great.

We walk around and get Common Bronzewing, Western Rosella (great photo), a White-backed magpie and other common birds. This national park reminds us of Big Basin, between San Jose and Santa Cruz. Except that here, they have hammered gigantic nails into the tree, each nail sticking out from the tree about two feet. They are in so tightly that a person can actually stand on the nail.

So they stuck these nails in, all the way up this huge tree. Only instead of running straight up, they spiral around the tree, like a spiral staircase. At the very top, a long long way up there, is a little observation tower. And people are climbing up and down constantly. I get some nice shots of Sharon climbing partway up.

This would never be done in California because 1) there would be outrage at the damage it might cause to the tree, but that is nothing compared to 2) the liability for injuries to people who climb, fall, and sue everybody associated with the tree climb.

A sign board describes the risks you are taking when you climb the tree, and I applaud Australia, where common sense still lives. Everybody understands that it's their own neck they're risking. Or so it seems to us.

Back on the road now, we drive through Karri forests now, on our way to Northcliffe, Walpole and the Valley of the Giants.

We take a breakfast break in Northcliffe, then we're on the road again. There are a number of tree farms now, on our left, and a sign says, "Great Southern Tree Plantation." We do a driver change. I'm Sharon and she's me now.

This reminds me of an old Pogo cartoon about these three little bats, each of which wore a different pattern shirt. They came to a swimming hole, took off their shirts and had a dip. Then they climbed back out, and put their shirts back on, only they didn't get them on the right bat. The first bat says to the second one, "Are you me, or am I you?" And the second bat says, "No, I'm him."

We unchange a little later, getting the right bat shirts back on. A sign on the road says, "Bridgework ahead," and we both wonder independently why the dentist needs to work in the road. I mention it, and Sharon says, "No, no, no, I thought of it first." Yeah, right.

We drive through Walpole, take on fuel, and I finish this process off as Sharon goes into the grocery store. The road sort of slopes up slightly under the overhang, and I pulled in with no problem. But as I'm pulling out, I hear an unfamiliar, spooky scratching sound as I'm pulling out, and as soon as the possibilities dawn on me, I hit the brakes, turn the engine off, scramble out, and walk around the motorhome. What I see is that the vehicle is not touching any part of the overhang (good news), but I also see that the rooftop air conditioner is about three inches higher than the lowest point of the overhang. I scraped the A/C against the overhang, and I don't know if I have done any damage or not.

Mild depression sets in.

I drive across the road and park, then go into the grocery to help with the shopping (translation: buy the snacks I want to eat). As we're checking out, I tell Sharon about the scratching. She's concerned, and I say, "I may have 1) simply broken it, or 2) displaced it so it will leak water into the motorhome during the next rain, or 3) maybe, oh yes, maybe, it scraped so lightly that it only made a bad noise, but did no damage".

Let's see, uh, I vote for Number 3.

We won't really know till tonight when we have electricity, and until it rains again.

Resigned to not being able to know till later, I take off and we begin to see what the Tingle trees of the area look like. They are white with green leaves, very tall, and well-proportioned - beautiful, especially in a large group on a hill. The leaves look sort of feathery when you "stand back" and see them as a forest.

We bypass the Tingle All Over B&B and don't stay at the Tingle Inn, or any of the other inviting such places.

We arrive at Treetop Walk a little before 1pm, and we are both excited to be here. We learn that there are Red Tingles, Yellow Tingles and Yates Tingles, then go into the souvenir shop to buy some goodies plus entry tickets. And finally we go through the entry doors.

Treetop Walk is an elevated walkway made from something that looks like aluminum, that wanders through a grove of tingle trees. It begins on what seems like flat forest land, but that flatness gives way to a deepening valley. So the walkway doesn't just climb up to the top of the trees, but the trees drop away as well. You do, however, steadily climb in altitude to a good extent.

We take lots of photos, stopping often to check out bird calls, and at one point we get New Holland Honeyeaters, two-thirds of the way up a huge tingle tree, and we're looking DOWN on them. Hot stuff.

Now we've come down from the highest part of the walk, to the next to last station. I'd estimate that we're about, oh, a MILLION feet up. Sharon does her alarm call and we can see two Grey Fantails responding on the ground.

We start talking with a man from Scotland who is interested in our birdwatching. It turns out that his son backpacked around Australia three years ago, and marked the birds he saw in his birdbook. And now he has his son's book, and is marking the birds HE sees during his trip. He has just driven across the Nullarbor (say NULL-uh-bore), then further west to this point. He asks us what birds we're seeing and whether we keep a tally (Can you imagine me not keeping a tally? That's a good one.), then he looks at them through his binoculars, and finally writes down their names in a notebook.

He laments how hard it is traveling alone, when it comes to birdwatching. He gets glimpses of birds as he drives by, but no one is there to watch the bird as he turns around to go back and get it. So when he DOES turn around and go back, usually the bird's disappeared. No eyes working for him.

As we are talking to him, a bird gets our attention, and we abandon the conversation to get a bird's-eye-view, if you'll pardon that particular expression, of a White-naped Honeyeater. Then we get him on the bird, and in the meantime, we start talking with another couple of people. The woman asks us, in American (I just love her accent), to name the bird we're seeing. I tell her that's a problem (we're after a different bird now), because we're just now trying to ID the new bird.

Then one of her companions tells someone else that the woman is from Missouri. "Missouri? I'm from Missouri too." She's fairly delighted and asks what part. I tell her, and she says yes she knows where that is, and that she's from Newark, in the northeast. I tell her that Mom was born in Donnelson, Iowa, and yes, she knows where that it, just across the border. She says, "My name is Milder, rhymes with 'builder,' but most people mispronounce it." I said, "I know what you mean. I'm from 'Versailles,' and my name is 'Lutman,' and people mispronounce both of them all the time.

We talk a little more, but separate as they head on down, and we continue chasing more birds, none of which are new to us, as it turns out.

So we take off, and quickly pass a paddock on the left that has from 500 to 1000 tiny deer. Also unusual is that we are getting a radio station and some music. After the song, the announcer lady says that it's time for a 'queeze,' and we are curious to learn what this is. People call in and the station asks them three questions. If they get them right, they pass on to a higher level. The eventual winner gets free passes to a concert or something. When the queeze is over, she says there will be another one in 20 minutes.

We make the turnoff towards Ocean Beach, where we will look for another target bird. It's a nice day, partly cloudy, with lots of blue sky. It's not too cold, not too hot, a little breezy - just right.

We get a bobtail crossing the road. The car in front of us darts around him and we do too. He's going right to left, and is about 90 percent across. "Come on, Bobtail!"

OK, we're in the Ocean Beach carpark, and with our binoculars, we can see three Sooty Oystercatchers and a Pied Cormorant, but not the birds we're after.

Back on the road, we come to a marker that says speed limit 40 kph, only instead of saying "when children are present," it says the exact morning and afternoon time periods that they apply. We pass under a telephone cable overhead, and a restless rosella (parrot) is doing the first half of "lean to the left, lean to the right, stand up, sit down, fight, fight, fight." That is, he's leaning first left, then right. I figure he's got a little internal mp3 and he's listening to some ZZ Top.

Sharon's reading an interesting book that poses this puzzle: A barber in town shaves every man who doesn't shave himself. So who shaves the barber. You see? If the barber shaves himself, then the barber doesn't shave "every man who doesn't shave himself". But if he doesn't shave himself, then who shaves him. Huh? It's a Mobius Strip syndrome.

We're about 35k from Albany, and we turn off to Lake Powell, formerly called Lake Grasmere (Birding Spot 96). We wind up in a farmer's field by an old barn, where Lake Powell Road turns into a patch of weeds. What's up with this? We back out, retrace our steps, then decide that maybe it's dried up. But it turns out that we have traveled a set of road combinations that doesn't take you past the huge lake, which we finally find. But we are wiped out, and decide to skip it. And during all this, we get Common Bronzewing and Grey Currawongs.

We pick a caravan park that's near the entrance to Two People's Bay NR (Birding Spot 99), so we can get an early start tomorrow, for the extremely difficult birds we will be after. Annette checks us in, and upon learning that we are birders, says that they get Red-eared Firetails on the lawn in the evening and morning. We can't believe it, after all the places we've gone trying to see this feisty bird.

We go in, set up the motorhome (The A/C and integrated heater work! Whew!), then walk the premises the rest of the afternoon, till it's too dark to see.

No firetails. No liar tales.

Now we have a problem because the time that they should be coming to the lawn is long after we'll be out of here tomorrow morning. We review our objectives, and decide that the firetails will be easier to get (at other locations) than the birds we're after down by Two Peoples Bay.

Annette also lets me hook up my laptop to her phone line and dial Perth, saying that she doesn't believe it's a toll charge now. I pay her $5 for the online time.

I go to sleep with a grateful smile on my face, thankful that I didn't take out the roof air conditioner. That would have set us back several days behind.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 0
For the Trip: Still 325.

Trip Birds Today: 0
For the Trip: Still 387.

Snakes Seen Today: 0
For the Trip: 7.

Sleep in: Albany Happy Days Caravan Park, Albany, West Australia

 

Friday, October 17, 2003. Day 65 of 118. After the Tough Ones.

It's 504am and we're headed for Two Peoples Bay Nature Reserve (Birding Spot 99). We have two independent recommendations of a particular spot at a particular time, to try for today's very difficult target bird. I have us on the road, planning for slow gravel travel, but to my surprise, the road is paved almost all the way. This makes it much easier.

We come over a rise, and our view is the bay spread out before us. It is mostly overcast, but there is a thin strip of sky below the clouds. And the sun is turning that strip all kinds of pinks and oranges, between the water and the clouds. A big kangaroo sees us and goes bounding away, a really big fella, right into the scrub.

We get to our spot in the Little Beach carpark, and turn around, facing back uphill, into the scrub, and get an immediate well-dressed Western Spinebill.

Frank O'Connor told us that our bird calls about every ten minutes or so.

About five after six, we get a bird doing the call very close to the one we're listening for. And ten minutes and 34 seconds later, he does it again. The advantage of our spot is that we are positioned to see this bird run across the road to the patch of scrub ahead of us. The song happens again, a little over ten minutes later, and we decide to get out of the motorhome, and under cover of scrub, go over to where we think the bird is.

As we start over there, Sharon notices a bird run across the gravel road and into the center scrub. She thinks it's the bird, but we'll know in about ten minutes - does the sound stay or does the sound go with the bird?

We reposition ourselves to see more of the center scrub, and I see a bird moving through a hole in the scrub, but it's gone before I can get Sharon on it. Dangit. We walk cautiously to the last spot I saw him, and then Bang, here comes the song again.

Sharon is good at telling if there is a clear line of sight (and sound!) between the bird and us. In other words, a bird behind any cover will sound a little muted, but a bird in the open will sound sharp and clear. And this bird is 1) sharp, and 2) clear as a bell. We scan frantically, hoping to get him for the twenty seconds or so he'll sing. And BANG, there he is. He's made it clear across the center scrub and is up on a low treetop, singing away. We get great binocular views of this WESTERN BRISTLEBIRD*, and even better, while he's actually singing.

Michael Morcombe's great new field guide says, "Rare with very restricted range; shy, difficult to sight; song often the only sign of its presence." And under STATUS, he says, "Rare, reduced to scattered remnant populations; vulnerable."

How lucky are we? Thanks for another one, Frank.

700am and it's sprinkling here, even harder over on the mainland. We begin driving out, and Sharon picks up a nice Swamp Harrier, showing the white rump patch as he quarters the area. A juvenile Red-capped Parrot is huddled in the rain, taking flight as we pass.

We drive back towards Albany for some errands, and to check the harbor for skuas, which we understand winter here. They may already be gone by now though. A group of White Ibises are across the estuary, but no Hooded Plovers or Banded Stilts. A Willie Wagtail lands smack on the back of a Kookaburra, trying to drive him off. The Kook flies and the wagtail lands right beside him, continuing to harass.

We go to Woolie's in Albany for groceries, and checking the mobile phone, see that we've got four bars on the reception-o-meter. We make some phone calls, write some emails, and now I need an internet place, a post office, and a place to buy a "refill" on the mobile phone minutes.

By quarter after 1pm, we have finished on the internet (Albany Dive Shop and Internet Center), and I say let's go down to the docks to see what's there. Frank called the bird that may be here a Southern Skua, but our books say Great Skua or South Polar Skua are the possibilities. Checking further in Sharon's Pizzey, she finds that another name for the Great Skua is Southern Skua.

The wind is stiff, and I am standing outside with the scope, scanning for birds. We can see rain coming across the harbor, and I hustle to get inside when Sharon says, "Skua! Flying right over us." I look up, and a large, dark brown bird has overflown our position, and is heading into the harbor and the rain. It finally decides to sit out the rain, and lands on a post sticking up from the water, the post armed to the teeth with spikes to prevent birds from landing on it. They don't seem to bother the GREAT SKUA*, though.

After the rain lets up (No leaks in the motorhome! Whew!), the Skua takes off and we lose him. Sharon reads that birds like these winter in only two harbors - Hobart, Tasmania and Albany, where we are standing. Fantastic. Two lifers, and a chance for more this afternoon and evening.

We take off for Cheyne Beach, an hour east of Albany, hitting a BP for fuel on the way. Sharon takes over the driving, and I sleep clear to the caravan park.

During check-in, the lady says that they get Red-eared Firetails in the camp, and shows us the three likely spots on a map. She also tells us where we might get two more very difficult birds, both of which we want. Her directions are the same as those from Frank O'Connor. We feel that he is birding right along with us.

We set up and go for a walk right away. We get White-breasted Robin,White-browed Scrub-wren, down by the cabins, then walk past the gas pumps. We get Silvereye, then begin working our way down to the patch of heath between the paved road and the beach itself. It's a much, much bigger patch than I was expecting, but the check-in lady says that there are eight pairs of the birds we're after here. So our expectation is high.

It starts raining, and we pop open our umbrellas. You know, it's really hard to hold an umbrella, play a bird call tape and look through your binoculars at the same time. We do get a response from the NOISY SCRUB-BIRD* however, and we try like crazy to locate him. At one point, we just KNOW that the bird is looking right at us, and singing, because his voice is so clear, but even with the expert Sharon in the booth with me, we cannot get on this bird. And after a while, it no longer calls.

We'll try again tomorrow to see it. I'm guessing that of the people who come to experience the presence of this bird, more than half only hear its call. Here's what Michael Morcombe's field guide says about the Scrub-bird: "One of australia's rarest birds, long thought extinct, rediscovered in 1961. Its powerful calls attract attention, but birds are elusive, difficult to sight even when close; they scuttle mouselike under very dense, low groundcover. And under STATUS, he says, "Rare, restricted habitat..."

We walk back to camp and get BRUSH BRONZEWING*, just walking around the camp. We enjoy noting the differences between this bird and the Common Bronzewing. It's still raining when we get a Red-capped Parrot.

At 635pm, with just a little light left, we walk the grounds once more for red-eared firetails. What we get is two red-eared people, from the cold air. It feels like it's about 40 degrees F, or 5 degrees C.

We just make it back to the motorhome before frostbite sets in. Brrrrrrrrr. And it's still sprinkling. Tomorrow we'll try again for the scrub-bird and make a first attempt at Western Whipbird, this part of the country's counterpart to that great whipcracker, the Eastern Whipbird.

PARALLEL WORLD:

During this report, in Parallel World (the corresponding path in the U.S.), we have driven from Los Angeles, down the coast to San Diego, then turned east and driven east across California to the Arizona border.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 4 (Western Bristlebird, Great Skua, Noisy Scrub-bird - heard only, Brush Bronzewing)
For the Trip: 329.

Trip Birds Today: 4 (The 4 lifers)
For the Trip: Still 391.

Snakes Seen Today: 0
For the Trip: 7.

Sleep in: Cheyne Beach Caravan Park, east of Albany, West Australia

That's the end of Report 21 for you.


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