Report No. 23. Tuesday, October 21 thru Thursday, October 23, 2003. The Great Nullarbor

 

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

Tuesday, October 21, 2003. Day 69 of 118. Esperance to Balladonia - Preparing for the Nullarbor

We're headed for Lake Warden at 730am. A few minutes ago, it was perfect blue sky, and now it's totally overcast and windy.

We make our way around the roads, trying to find one that will take us to the lake, when we find a sure candidate. We park out of the way, then start walking up this deep sand track, as it begins to rain. I walk ahead, hoping to get to the top of the crest, so that if it's no good, Sharon won't have to climb up this tough, sandy road. But she suddenly calls me back, and I make my way back down to where she is looking off into the bush.

She says "Look at this bird. I think it's a cuckoo." I look and see this big, chocolate brown unknown cuckoo, being fed by a little White-browed Scrubwren. The cuckoo must be twice as big as the scrubwren, and occasionally calls. We review all the cuckoos and the closest one is the juvenile Fan-tailed Cuckoo, in Morcombe's field guide. Sharon checks her Pizzey details and learns that Fan-tailed Cuckoo parasitizes two birds, one of which is White-browed Scrubwren. Bingo. The brown bird we saw is a Fan-tailed Cuckoo.

This is an incredible example - our first, I think - of a tiny adult bird raising a much larger cuckoo from the egg. {When I first saw the bird, and the tiny bird joined him, I thought, "Oh, that big parent is going to feed that little baby", and then watched as the tiny bird fed the big baby cuckoo. What a surprise!}

We go back to the internet place, and Sharon proofs Report 21 while I fill out addresses and zip codes of post cards Sharon has written. Also, while I'm waiting, I review bird lists, and realize that there is an easy bird to get in the lakes around here. I tell Sharon about it, and we agree to go for it after I do the internet thing.

I send off Report 21, download and upload emails, then we head out to Le Grand National Park, where we get a band of CHESTNUT TEALS*, hauled out and just sitting on the bank. They have no white neck bands and no white eye patches (females), as similar but larger Australian Shelducks do.

Then we hit the road before noon. Fifteen minutes later, I ask Sharon to drive. Man, that didn't take long. At this rate, on the last day of our trip, Sharon will drive all day, and I'll sleep all day.

We get to the village of Norseman about 245pm, refuel, and the lady there refers us over to the tourist bureau, where they will give us a brochure to track our way across the Nullarbor. This has places to stop, things to see and do. We go over there, and learn that Norseman was the name a man gave to his horse, he (the man) being from that land. Now why would anybody name a town after some random horse? Because one day when that man was standing beside his horse, out in the countryside, that horse kicked a rock which caught the man's attention. And the rock turned out to be almost solid gold, marking the beginning of the particular gold rush around these parts. I believe I would have renamed the horse 'Lucky.'

We make our way almost out of town, when I stop at the BP to clean my windshield, which I forgot to clean at the Shell. Then, we hit the road.

We're heading out for a 1200 km stretch - about 750 miles, with only a sprinkling of roadhouses every 100 miles or so. After a bit, there is a stretch without any trees, and THAT is the part that's the actual Nullarbor (literally "no trees"). Sharon reads about a huge chunk of limestone that is considered to be the Nullarbor, from a totally different point of view, and it is huge. She also reads that this region is so big that it covers 12 degrees of longitude.

I do what I love to do, make a short mental calculation to see if that makes sense. Let's see, 12 degrees out of 360 is 1 part out of 30. The earth's circumference is 25,000 miles, and 1 part out of 30 of that is about 800 miles, agreeing pretty well with the 750 mile figure.

We drive a couple of hours, and decide to stop in Balladonia, where Skylab crashed nearby in July of 1979. There is a huge piece of skylab mounted on top of the building and inside the museum is another piece. I inspect the museum one closely and am highly juberous about this piece of metal's authenticity. Sharon asks, "Do you think that's real?" To which I say, "Not a chance." To which she asks, "Who would do such a thing - put a fake piece of Skylab on the roof of their store?" To which I say, "Ninety-nine people out of a hundred, who are in the tourist attraction business."

We consider whether to have dinner in the restaurant, and do just that. For drinks, I have a great cream soda and Sharon has a huge chocolate milkshake, which the waiter fella divides into two glasses, for us to share. Delicioso. And Sharon has a little of my cream soda.

After dinner, I get on the internet kiosk and read, but of course cannot download recent emails, since I don't have my laptop hooked up.

Then it's back to the motorhome to ponder the Nullarbor.

The what? It is a combination of words that mean 'no trees' or 'treeless,' but there are several different uses of the word 'Nullarbor,' just as there are different definitions of the word 'outback.'

The "Nullabor Plain" drive stretches 1200 km or so from Norseman, Western Australia to Ceduna, South Australia on the brochure and map we got in Norseman. I thought there would be no trees on this entire distance, but that's not true. There is a 186 km stretch, which is the Nullarbor National Park, that has no trees.

Once part of the ocean floor, this particular portion was once part of the ocean floor, and is a part of "the world's biggest slab of limestone, covering an area of 250,000 square kilometres, in places up to 300 metres thick."

In my dictionary of common Australian usage, the Nullarbor seems to be used as a synonym for total emptiness, and was used by one of the harsh judges, to critique a contestant's musical ability in the TV show, "Australian Idol." Also, I think, many Australians who have never been there consider it to be a total wasteland.

But it reminds me a little bit of Death Valley. There are loads of interesting things here.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 1 (Chestnut Teal).
For the Trip: 335.

Trip Birds Today: 1 (The lifer).
For the Trip: Still 397.

Bird Upgrades Today: 0.
For the Trip: 2

Snakes Seen Today: 0.
For the Trip: 10.

Sleep in: Balladonia Caravan Park, Balladonia, west of the Nullarbor, West Australia

 

Wednesday, October 22, 2003. Day 70 of 118. Balladonia to Eucla

We can't decide whether to try to go down to the Eyre Bird Observatory (Birding Stop 109) or not. It's highly recommended for serious birders, but we have only two days of "fat" in our schedule from here to Adelaide, through Melbourne, touring Tasmania and back up to Deniliquin for our appointment to try and see the Plainswanderer with Phil Maher on November 20th.

The proper way to visit the EBO is to call them a few days or weeks ahead of time, and arrange for accommodation (aka sleeping spaces), and pickup and delivery by them on the 4WD-only road. But I just haven't been able to decide whether we have time or not. I face the fact that I must not want to go or I would have already arranged it.

I try to call them to ask my usual list of questions, but it's 645am and they don't answer. No surprise. When we leave here, it'll be another hour or so before we get to another telephone. We'll try one more time.

The questions are: 1) Can you send somebody to come and get us for a day trip or overnight? 2) Do you have the following list of birds: ...and then the list of key birds. 3) Do you have guided walks? 4) Can we rent a 4WD and drive down there?

So we rig for travel, and take off, noting a sign painted on top of a huge bus: THIS'LL DO, or if they were botanists, it might say THISTLE DO. Of if they were botanist weathermen, THISTLE DEW.

Sorry.

At 7am, we come upon a triple sign beside the highway that is a reminder that the road is unfenced and to drive watchfully. The three signs are of a kangaroo, emu and camel.

A little further, I stop to take a photo of the Royal Doctor Flying Service sign saying that the stretch of highway just ahead of us is an emergency air landing strip. How cool is that? I measure it and it's about 1 km long - three-quarters of a mile or so.

FLASHBACK: Frank O'Connor said that we had a chance to see a bird called a Redthroat at Newman Rocks on the Eyre Highway. We saw it on our cool map of the Nullarbor, and it even called it "a popular place to stop for a break." Well the turnoff to the 'popular place' was totally unmarked on the highway. We did see a road at the approximate place, but it was an erosion-marred dirt road leading off into the woods. We studied it for a minute or so, then decided that this couldn't possibly be it, and we moved on. But now we know that it must have been the one. For whatever reason, this spot has been downplayed, but the brochures haven't kept up.

At 730 or so we begin a 90 mile straight stretch, 147 km, I think it said, and it is "the longest straight stretch in Australia, and possibly in the world." Would somebody who has a map of Utah handy confirm for me that there is about a 120-150 mile straight stretch through the salty desert from approximately the Nevada border to the vicinity of Salt Lake City? What is that distance? I know it feels like about a THOUSAND miles.

We can see a big bird on the straight-as-a-string road, down on the highway, on a carcass, and it can only be a Wedge-tailed Eagle. It's in the oncoming lane. A vehicle is approaching and is slowing down to give the eagle time to fly, which it does, and as usual, a little slow. We trade waves with the driver.

About 8am we stop at a bush camp (no electricity, no water, nothing except a pretzel of dirt roads where you can pick a spot and camp for the night. "Dry camping" some call it in the U.S.). We try to squeak up some birds, and we see some, but they won't stay interested long enough to be ID'd before they fly off.

We do a driver change, and Sharon takes us to a fuel stop in Caiguna. I fill up for $80.20, we buy two fudgesicles at $1.55 each. The friendly guy adds it up and the register says, to our mutual consternation, $135.60. He scratches his head, turns to the diner and yells, "Ted?" Ted comes over and our man explains what he did, and asks how to void it. Ted yells over to the diner, "Wilma?" Wilma says, "What?" I yell over, "They want to charge us $135.60 and we're refusing to pay." And we all laugh.

Wilma comes over and they all scratch their heads. Wilma tries something and that doesn't work. Then Ted figures something out, opens up the paper roll, makes a mark by the $135.60, closes it back up, hits "NO SALE," or the equivalent. Then they ring it up again, and it's correct, so they call it in to Master Card, and we finish up.

Ted, obviously the manager if not also the owner, pulls us aside and asks, "Is this your first time here on the Nullarbor?" Yes. "Where are you from?" Near San Francisco in California. "Ah, San Francisco. My favorite city in the world." Then Wilma joins in, "I walked barefoot from Fisherman's Wharf up to our hotel." Why were you barefoot, I ask. "My shoes were hurting, and the cable cars were broken that day," she says. But you can tell she's just bragging. They are both in a good mood, reminiscing about being there.

Then he pulls us over to a map of the Nullarbor and starts telling us what's at each stop, but we finally get him deflected. He picks up a nice colored booklet and says, "We sell scads of these. They're only 9.50. You can look it over and buy it if you're interested." He goes on like this as we slowly back out the door. No, we thank him and say goodbye. He gets one more bit in though, when he says, "When you get to the South Australia border, stay here, in the Border Village. It's one of ours." So I figure he has a chain of roadhouses or something. Then he says, "Beyond that and for a couple of hundred kilometers is all aboriginal lands."

So now I know what he means by "one of ours."

We take off and soon, I'm totally blown away. A sign says "You are entering Central Western Australia Time Zone. Advance the time 45 minutes." 45 minutes? Now I know what it meant earlier when a roadhouse had four clocks and they showed the time at different places across Australia.

Now to properly set this up, I want to first do the same thing in America:

Los Angeles - 600pm Denver - 700pm Kansas City - 800pm New York City - 900pm

Now let's do the clocks I saw in the roadhouse:

Perth, Western Australia - 600pm Caiguna, Western Australia - 645pm Adelaide,South Australia - 730pm Sydney, New South Wales - 800pm

I don't even want to ask if all of the states go to daylight savings.

We come to Cockabiddy about 10am, and if we were going to the Eyre Bird Observatory, we'd park our motorhome here, in the caravan park. But I've decided that we can get the birds they have there at other places, plus we can't get our questions answered. We decide to drive down the road a few kilometers and bird a bit, then continue on the road.

We go in 4.1 km on the Bird Observatory road, park and take a trail into the mallee that we think is a kangaroo trail. I take the GPS so we don't get lost. It's windy, and as we are walking in on this side, Sharon spots perhaps a dozen Yellow-throated Miners dive bombing a raven who is calmly walking on the ground through their territory.

The flies are out in force and we have our netting in place. We get a few Weebills, then a bird that may be some kind of gerygone or thornbill, but we can't get it identified before it's gone. We head back to the motorhome and have lunch at noon.

After lunch we go back into the scrub again, this time on the other side of the road. Sharon calls in a trio of White-browed Babblers. I play the tape of Shy Heathwren, and after a minute or so, a couple of small birds try to come and investigate, but they are immediately attacked by Yellow-throated Miners. The miners chase them high into the sky, and it looks like they're trying to catch them for food.

And I'm happy to report, that they don't catch them but that the possible heathwrens disappear into the woodlands, not to reappear.

This is definitely Yellow-throated Miner country. They are everywhere, very protective of their territory. And they work as a community.

We move to where we saw a little bit of water beside the road, like an artificial pond. We park and walk around it, getting Grey Butcherbird, who does a nice song bit for us. But nothing much else so we move on.

We hit the highway and turn east. There are still trees here, so we are not in the no-trees Nullarbor yet. We make a driver change at 2pm, and about twenty after, Sharon wakes me to witness our dropping from about 400 feet to about 100 feet in elevation. We have come down off of a plateau. I am so moved by this vision that I go immediately back to sleep.

About 3pm, we change drivers again. A half-hour later, I see a "line" in the road. This line, I figure, is a piece of rubber from a tire that disintegrated, but just an instant before I see it pass between our tires and under the vehicle, I see it do a violent recoil. It's a SNAKE! And either we scared it, or it tried to bite us, I'm not sure which.

I do a U-turn, and Sharon says, "What did you see?" I said, "You'll see." And as we pass it going the other way, it does the same recoiling as we pass. I do another U-turn, come upon it and it sort of can't decide what to do. I stop in the middle of the highway, with the snake right in front of us. I put on the left turn signal. {Yay, Bob, for protectingthe snake while it crosses the road}

The snake tries to continue its travel across the highway, about to move into the oncoming traffic lane, when a car zooms by. Then we get to witness first hand the snake's violent reaction, with mouth opened and fangs flashing. Holy cow.

This happens three or four times with prople honking at us for being in the road, and then there is a quiet traffic period. The snake continues, moving into the other traffic lane. I pull forward, getting a good photo of it, so we can try to identify it later. It crawls into a small bush, just on the edge of the road. "You probably want to go down there," Sharon says to me. "No way," I say. "Let's go down there," she says. "No way!" I say, "It's too dangerous. Not from the snake, but because there's a lot of traffic, and we can't watch out for the traffic and the snake both at the same time. One of them would nail us."

And we take off, with the knowledge that we were in the presence of one very serious snake.

FLASHFORWARD: We look the snake up and it is an acanthopis antarcticus. And if that doesn't get you going, I'll give you its other name - SOUTHERN DEATH ADDER! Sit on that! There's something fairly sobering about dealing with an animal whose middle name is 'death.' The cool thing about this snake is that has a little 'rib' at the tip of its tail. When it's hungry, it coils up {hidden in leaves or under the sand}, with its head close to its tail. When a mouse or lizard or bird comes close, it wiggles that tip, making it look like a grasshopper or grub. Then the animal tries to snatch it, but becomes the snatchee. {After I read that, I thought of us tramping all around in this sort of snake's territory. The snake would of course be buried under the sand and leaves we were stomping on. Thank God we didn't encounter one there. The book said about this snake, "Venomous and dangerous. Capable of inflicting a potentially fatal bite." Yikes!}

OK, back to the present.

We drive past the Mundrabilla Roadhouse, and a big sign in front says, "Friendliest Service, Cheapest Fuel," and something else I miss. The great thing is that they are the only service and fuel here. This area of bluff is also called the Grreat Australian Bight.

About 5 km short of Eucla, there is another highway emergency landing strip for the RFDS.

A little after 4pm, we begin climbing up to Eucla, from around 50 feet to around 300 feet above sea level. Up to now, there have always been trees, though only a few. I think the 'Null' part of 'Nullarbor' is going to start up here, tomorrow.

We pull into the service station in Eucla, refuel and pay for a spot in the caravan park. And by 5pm we are in place, set up and relaxing. I take a walk around to see if there are any birds in the last remaining trees before the big void, but there are only common ones.

A fellow relaxing in a chair in front of their tent camper says the traditional Aus-TRY-un "How ya goin'?" I say fine and we start talking. He's a professional firefighter who was going to retire last year till he realized that he didn't want to. He told his wife Lynn this, and she told him if he didn't want to retire, then don't. So he still works, but takes a month off twice a year, during which time they go on big camping holidays all over Australia. They live in Perth, where he says Black-cockatoos used to fly over their house every day, but then about ten years ago, they stopped. He thinks it was the bees taking over the nest holes of the black-cockatoos. Anyway, he says, recently they have begun flying over again. He says, "They love to eat the red bottlebrush," and we can attest to that. Attest, attest.

I say, "See ya," and we swap have-a-good-trips and then I'm in for the evening.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 0
For the Trip: 335.

Trip Birds Today: 0
For the Trip: Still 397.

Bird Upgrades Today: 0.
For the Trip: 2

Snakes Seen Today: 1 (acanthopis antarcticus, aka Southern Death Adder).
For the Trip: 11.

Sleep in: Eucla Caravan Park, Balladonia, West Australia

 

Thursday, October 23, 2003. Day 71 of 118. Our Travel Plans Transmogrify, upon Discovery of a Great Birding Road. Eucla to Nullarbor Roadhouse, SA.

We are up and driving out at 630am, Western Australia time. The fact is though, that we are in "Central" Western Australia, which is 45 minutes later. So it's actually 715am local time. And when we go into South Australia, it will be another 45 minutes later still.

The times below (for this day only) will be not in local time, but in Western Australia time, unless otherwise stated. Add 45 minutes to any time given to get true local time, and another 45 minutes to get South Australia time. {What!!! Bob, how in the world does this make sense and why would anyone want to convert the times you talk about in this report? Only an engineer would write this way!}

It's a quarter till nine and I have been able to get onto the internet at a roadhouse stop, and send an email to Dave Torr, whom we met up in Seisia, near Bamaga, at the top of Cape York. We were both looking for Palm Cockatoo. I think he said he lives in Adelaide, and he gave us his email address. Hope he can help us around Adelaide. On the way out, I take a photo of "Rooey 2," a big kangaroo statue. At Sharon's request, I take a photo of the triad of a camel, a hairy-nose wombat and a kangaroo. And Sharon gets off the first joke of the day: "Hairy-nose wombats, but does Harry know us?" There y'are.

We cross into South Australia, and our first bird is a raven. We stop at the first bluff pullout on the S.A. (South Australian) Nullabor, and Sharon squeaks in a Singing Honeyeater. We take some photos of each other, about to fall off the cliff and so on.

And now we believe we're officially in the "nullarbor" because there are no trees at all. There are plants and bushes all over the place, but not a tree in sight.

We drive on and skip the second pullout, but stop at the third. There are Singing Honeyeaters here, all over the place, and not much more besides ravens. We walk out by the cliff edge and I trip over the sign that says, "Danger. Cliff Edge." Dang signs.

We switch over to South Australian time now, and that's what will be reported for the rest of this day. No further conversion required.

We move on and I turn left, onto a wide dirt road leading up to a tower. We stop halfway up and walk out into the bush, hoping for desert birds. We get only common birds of the area, and not many of them.

And what are the common birds of the area? They are Singing Honeyeater, Welcome Swallow, Grey Butcherbird and Raven.

We stop at another bluff overlook, and on the way back out, see a most strange device. It's a tandem tricycle, or bicycle-built-for-two, in the parlance of 1950s Versailles, Missouri. Only it's a recumbent device, meaning the people are sitting on seats about a foot off the ground, and reclining at about a 45 degree angle. There are five wheels - one pair in the front, one pair behind, and a single wheel between the riders, closer to the back.

Their feet are straight in front of them, more or less. They wear bicycle helmets, shorts, teeshirts, bandanas for dust protection when needed, and there are places on the device to put all kinds of supply packs and a tent.

Strapped on top of the last pack is a rectangular black thing that they tell us is a battery, charged by the sun. It supplies power for a laptop. They say they have come from Sydney the long way. Sharon asks them if that means they have come via Perth, and they say yes. Then Sharon asks them if they are going to write a book about this trip and again they answer in the affirmative.

They have logged 12,000 km so far, and I don't tell them we've done about 21,000. They also connect to the internet every few days, and the guy gives me his card. It says this:

Bill & Julia Young Touring Australia On our Recumbent Tandem Trike Web: www.geocities.com/tourdetandem Email: takes22tandem@hotmail.com

A tiny bell is ringing back in what I like to call my brain saying I've heard of these people in America somewhere, sometime. I'll have to send them an email and ask them.

We get a couple of good photos of them and their bike, and then they take off. We stay for a little birding before we leave. Again, we don't get any new birds, so we take off too. We make the drive up the dirt road to the highway, then turn right. After a half-mile or so, we overtake the tandem trike, give them a honk, and head for our next stop, a dirt road going off from the highway, near the Nullarbor Roadhouse, well into South Australia.

And so it happens that at a quarter till 1pm, we turn onto the dirt road just past the Nullarbor Roadhouse (BirdingStop 110), which runs along bluebush, samphire and other small desert plants on one side and a fence on the other, with more of the same on the other side of the fence.

Nullarbor Roadhouse

We stop a lot going in, and right off the bat we get three birds that respond to my tape of Shy Heathwren. They bounce around so fast that before we can identify them, they are gone. They have streaked underparts and white wing patches (the right stuff), but we can't be sure, and have to let them go. Maybe on the way back out...

There is another type of bird also, chunkier, with stubby bills, and they also bounce around a lot. We don't get them identified either before they are gone.

We continue in.

We've covered 0.7 km of the 7.0 km we plan to go in, and it's taken forever. At this rate, we'll die of old age in here.

We get another bird at 1245 pm, and it's a smashing dark blue White-winged Fairy-wren, but I can't get Sharon on it in time. We decide the second, stubby-billed bird we saw coming in may have been Southern Whiteface, so we're hoping to get that bird in here now.

At the 1.0 km mark, we get a couple of Australian Pipits, with their dapper white outer tail feathers.

Why did the Shingleback (lizard) cross the road? I don't know, but why don't I ask him. There he goes right now.

The great thing about this dirt road is that it's straight, and you can see far ahead. It's dirt, but obviously only traveled occasionally, because there's a permanent grass strip down the middle, the entire distance of the road. And we are seeing lots of grass birds go in and out of that patch. In fact, there are three right now, but they are gone before we get there.

Then a brilliant red spot shows up on the fence. I stop and get my binoculars on the beautiful Crimson Chat, and this is our third instance of the beautiful chat. There is another bird on the fence near him, with its tail cocked up, but it's gone before we get there.

We come to a huge hole in the road, a little left of middle, and I have to drive a little out of the track in order to straddle it. I'm a little worried that the ground will cave in and I'll have to walk the 3 or 4 kilometers that we're in now, to get help. We both get out and stomp up and down around the hole and it seems secure.

So here we go.

Ah, no problem. Whew. We get a couple of kestrels on the fence line, and they too are gone by the time we get to them. We are at the 4.9 km mark now.

Next we get a medium sized bird, but larger than the fairy-wrens that are perched on either side of it, and larger also than the even smaller birds on the fence wire below it. What the heck is that bird? We drive as close as we dare, then we get out and slowly walk toward it with the scope, checking it again every 10 yards or so. Good news - it's not flying away, and we have time to study it.

We finally do the ID and it's an immature BLACK-EARED CUCKOO*, using the new Morcombe field guide. Fantastic. We've been trying to get this bird for weeks now. It has been raised by another species, maybe some kind of thornbill, and now it has fledged. The smaller birds around it were either whitefaces or weebills, but they are gone before we can get close enough for the ID. We don't know if they were feeding it or trying to chase it away. Most birds have an innate fear of and reaction to cuckoos, just as they do for raptors.

We drive on again, and out of the center grass patch pops some kind of little bird that just walks straight ahead and away from us, then right turns into the grass. What the heck was that bird? It seemed tiny. Baby quail? Other shorebird? Button-quail? We don't know. We continue on, and then, we get another little bird, just like the first. And it does exactly the same thing. Another bird and another no-ID. This is getting a little frustrating, but in the best kind of way. Like you're in a whirlwind of hundred-dollar bills and you're grabbing like crazy, but haven't got any yet.

We reach the full-in distance about 230pm, and I had planned to be back on the highway and most of the way to my planned, day's destination by now. Oh well, I switch my plans to coincide with the time we're taking on the great track we've found here. Now if we could just get a couple of these birds ID'd. And we haven't even seen the main one we've come for.

We have lunch and begin heading back out about 330pm. During our lunch breaks, I'm reading a great book Sharon has already read - The Da Vinci Code. And Sharon just read that Ron Howard is going to be the producer of a movie to be made, based on the book. It's exciting, and I'm about half through it.

I recalculate and decide that if we get back out to the highway by 4pm, we can be in Cedena by 7pm, and that'll be ok. Long drive, but so what?

Sharon gets us on a large grey-sand colored bird with a dark face. What is this? We look through our books and canNOT come up with it. Finally, Sharon makes the breakthrough in her out-of-date Pizzey field guide. It is a Brown Songlark, but this is our first close-up look.

We watch the male fly high, high up into the sky, then start a parachute-like flutter down to the ground with its wings held high as it glides down, singing all the way. What a thrill, to see and hear this electric performance.

As I was looking at this bird a minute or two ago, I saw another bird fly through my binoculars, and I went with it. It was dark brown, medium size, and flew across the meadow, then settled down, turning to face me as it did its last few feet before disappearing into the grass. And it was bright ORANGE on the chest or belly! This might be the Orange Chat. I tell Sharon, but we let the possible chat go while we ID the songlark.

Then we drive up to be even with the possible chat, but the chat has no desire to chat, and stays hidden. We drive on.

It's 335pm, and suddenly a bird walks out of the center grass strip and onto the dirt. It's our target bird, and I bust out laughing, from relief at spending all this time and finally getting the beautiful bird. We are looking at a 'NULLABOR' QUAIL-THRUSH*, a very local subspecies of the Cinnamon Quail-thrush. When I first studied this bird in California, I asked, "Well, is it a quail or a thrush?" And it seems to act a little like both. It walks the road, going in and out of the grass, then finally disappears into the grass. And when it turns away from us and walks, we recognize it as the same view we had earlier, when the two unknown birds were walking away from us in the road, and disappearing into the grass on the right.

I won't go into all the details, but we have about seven more sightings on the way out, stopping for all of them. What a great, great bird.

This bird is the very definition of the term 'locally common.' This means that if you can get yourself into the right location, you have an excellent chance to see the bird just by hanging around or walking around the area. Only the trick is the phrase 'get yourself into the right location.' In our case, we had to catch a ride to San Francisco, a jet to Sydney, a motorhome 22,000 kilometers to this road (we could have taken a short cut and driven only 3-4 thousand kms), drive up the road 7 km, hang around a couple of hours, and then, sure enough, we saw lots of them.

Now closer to getting back to the highway, we get the beautiful Crimson Chat again, and its mate.

Now we're trying to figure out whether we're too tired to do the three-hour drive. Sharon asks what if we just drive an hour and stop then. I don't think there are very good caravan parks for the next three hours, so I say that. Then we make the entirely satisfying and relaxing decision to stay right here at the Nullarbor Roadhouse Caravan Park. Ah, perfect, after I let go of my drive to get further down the road. And I DO let completely go of it.

Sharon makes the point that since we're staying here, we can now go back in again, and try for the Orange Chat and the Whiteface. So, "suck-er bill," as Uncle Peter used to say, we do just that.

And as a reward for this relaxation, we get three little SOUTHERN WHITE-FACES*, bouncing around, but staying around long enough for us to see their miniature bills, white masks and black lines separating the top of the mask from the crown.

We go in about two-thirds of the total distance, then turn around to come back out again.

We get a few more white-faces, and then we get a five-second look at a bird that has 1) a streaky chest, 2) a tail cocked up like a wren, 3) a white supercilium, 4) is a little bigger than the white-faces. We make this out to be our SHY HEATHWREN*.

And the last thing we get is a rabbit, and a yellow streak which I make out to be a Dingo, running like it was in the Kentucky Derby for Dogs. Chasing the rabbit, we reckon. We don't know who won this chase.

We exit from the Great Fence Road, refuel at 630pm, and check into the caravan park, which consists of an extremely honest flat , nullarboreal patch of gravel with electrical poles to connect with. No water in the "carpark." But they have a TV antenna, and the fellow proudly tells me that if we just point our antenna toward it, we will pick up three channels.

Sharon takes a shower, but I don't want to wash off this great quail-thrush feeling I'm having. I'll hold this feeling another day. Poor Sharon...

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 4 (Black-eared Cuckoo, Nullarbor Quail-thrush, Southern Whiteface, Shy Heathwren)
For the Trip: 339.

Trip Birds Today: 4 (The 4 lifers).
For the Trip: Still 401.

Bird Upgrades Today: 0.
For the Trip: 2

Snakes Seen Today: 0.
For the Trip: 11.

Sleep in: Nullarbor Roadhouse Caravan Park, Nullarbor, South Australia

PARALLEL WORLD (This tracks the analagous locations of our trip in the U.S., a country roughly similar in shape to Australia):

Our total trip, if taken in the U.S., would have consisted of the following, ignoring some rather major deviations:

Fly to Savannah Georgia. Drive up to Maine along the east coast
Drive along the northern border to Seattle
Drive down the west coast to San Diego
Drive east along the south coast to Texas
And that's where we are now Y'all


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