Report No. 26. The Grampians Mountain Range, Northwest of Melbourne

 

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

Friday, October 31, 2003. Day 79 of 118. Ouyen, Victoria to Hall's Gap and the Grampians

The alarm is set for six, but I wake up about ten till six and have to use the rest room. Don't you just hate it (those who are working at a job where you have to get up early in the morning) when you wake up five minutes before the alarm is going to go off? The opposite of this is when you wake up an hour and a half before the alarm and you know you can go back to sleep for an hour and a half.

Waking up five minutes before the alarm is like somebody asking for your last M and M. I mean, man, why didn't you ask when I still had 30 left?

We call Kaiser Permanente back home in San Jose, California to see if they have approved our medical insurance application. We learn that they have approved it, and tell us how much we owe.

Fantastic! This was the biggest potential problem of our trip - that somehow the renewal of our medical insurance would fall through a crack and lapse. But thanks to the great help from our neighbor Jan Strockis and her son Michael, who is watching our house while we're gone, it looks like we're successfully renewed.

Sharon and I high five at the good news and head for a mountain range called The Grampians (Birding Spot 127), a few hours northwest of Melbourne. Hall's Gap (Birding Spot 126) is the town that's the heart of the Grampians.

A little before 9 am, we are driving down a nice two-lane paved road, with pastures on both sides of us, and a row of trees on either side of us, between the road and the paddocks (fields). The trees are trying to form a canopy over the road, but don't quite reach each other yet. There is barley on the left and a green grass on the right. The feeling is very pleasant, like we're royalty returning to our castle after being away.

At about 9, we pull over because a flock of around forty YELLOW-TAILED BLACK-COCKATOOS* fly over. We can see the pale yellow tail panels in some of them, and the pale cheek patch too. As we say in my country, JACKPOT!

We get a virtual animal review as we pass paddocks with groups of Yellow-tailed Black-cockatoos, then emus, then kangaroos, then sheep. We pick what looks like a good spot to go button-quail-strolling between Zumsteins and Wartook, and drive up a rising gravel road, parking just off the road.

We walk through the likely habitat, about twenty meters apart, hoping to flush some. We come upon a Buff-rumped Thornbill feeding young in a hole in a tree.

Two things are interesting about this. First, this is the only thornbill that makes its nest in a tree hole. Second, we are enjoying the discovery of active nests so much that we decide to add this is a category, especially because it is springtime now and there will be lots of nests to see, hopefully.

We keep looking for button-quail, but after 30-40 minutes, we give up and drive back out. The button-quails are elusive when we're looking for them on our own.

We stop at a picnic area and get a half-dozen or so Red-eared Firetails, flushing from the short grass into the brush. A currawong calls as we leave.

We continue on and the road begins to climb higher. We come to 1200 feet, and there is a gorge to our left, and mountain rising to our right. We're on a kind of bluff with grey sky, intermittent sprinkles, and it's cool to cold. In other words, a perfect day for birding. We crank up the car heater and ooh, does it feel good.

We pause for a honeyeater high in a tree, and it is a Yellow-faced. I look at the GPS and we're at 1900 feet, dropping the past few minutes.

We come to Hall's Gap at 1130 am, and check into the town's Big 4 caravan park. Samantha checks us in, and of course we have to tell her about our granddaugher Samantha too. This Sam has daughters Briana and Ashley, and like daughter Shani's girls, these are called by nicknames - Bree and Ash, like our Mac, Sam and Syd.

We drive over to the Grampians visitor center, and talk to a lady ranger named Irene who is a birder. We lay our questions on her, and she has some pretty good answers. We get tips on finding Gang-Gang Cockatoos, Speckled Warblers, Southern Emu-wrens, White-fronted Chats and Crescent Honeyeaters. If we can get even one of these birds, I will consider it a success.

We eat lunch in the motorhome, excited about our new target birds and instructions for how to find them. We take a awalk around the visitor center, looking for gang-gang cockatoos but don't get any so we go back to the motor home to try someplace else. For the first time, however, the motorhome won't start. We try all the tricks we've learned about it, like letting it crank for 60 seconds to take water out of the diesel fuel line, but nothing works. Every time we've started it today, it has taken a little longer to fire.

I call our man Tom in Sydney, and talk to one of his assistants. She relays the message to Tom, who's elsewhere at the moment, then she calls me back with instructions to call the free 800 number for just such occasions.

We call the number (what a genius, genius idea it was to pick up the mobile phone), and they relay the message to the nearest rescue person. About 30 minutes later, he shows up, since I gave our location to the dispatcher.

He listens to it crank about ten seconds and tells me to stop. He goes and gets a spray can of something from his truck, opens the hood (bonnet), takes a hose end off of what it's connected to, sprays a little of the stuff, and tells me to crank. I turn the key and it starts in about 2 seconds, making a loud noise.

Great, but what do we do now? What happens when I turn it off? He tells me that we need to have a part replaced, and asks for our motorhome rental info. He calls and talks to Tom. While he's gone, I turn the key off, count to three, then try to start it again.

It doesn't.

The rescue man comes back and says that we should call Tom and make an appointment at a Mercedes dealer to fix this problem. It's Friday, so maybe we can arrange for it to be done tomorrow, Saturday. Fat chance.

I call Tom, and ask him to arrange for either tomorrow morning if possible, or Monday morning in Bendigo, an hour or more away. The rescue man told us that he knows Bendigo has a Mercedes dealer, but didn't think Ballarat has one.

We purchase the remainder of the can of magic from him before he leaves. It's called "Start Ya Bastard," and he charges us $5 for about half a can of what cost $11 new and full.

I realize that the town of Ballarat is closer than Bendigo, and our map shows them to be the same size. I call Tom back, and talk to Gabi, another assistant, who in fact I did all the emailing with to set up our motorhome rental, from the U.S. She says they were just talking about that, and thought Ballarat would be better. So we hang up and let them do their stuff. Soon Tom calls back and says we have an appointment with Jason at Godbeshears Mercedes Benz in Ballarat Monday morning. No luck on doing it tomorrow.

So we'll keep running around the rest of the weekend, using our special can to "start the bastard" every single time we turn it off to bird.

I practice once, and it starts right up, so I think we'll be able to continue almost as if there weren't a problem. Sharon sits in the driver's seat, I do the motor work, give her the nod, and she starts it up. Then I screw down the hose clamp, close the hood, put away the screw driver and the "bastard."

Now the other unusual thing is that the emergency brake, or hand brake, has slowly lost its grip and no longer works. When we stop on a slope, I have to hold my foot on the brake, while Sharon gets out the chock (stored in the step well just to her left) and puts it under the tire, in front or back, depending on which way we're going to roll. {We make quite a picture when we stop now. First by my jumping out to put in the chock, and then when we want to leave, first Bob has to get under the hood to start the engine and then I jump out again to take the chock out so we can go. Whew!}

Chocker Blocker

The other thing that's going on is that it's pouring down rain and cold. Well, it's 8 degrees C, if you consider that cold. We decide to go back to the caravan park and Sharon will do the laundry.

This is called making hay while the sun don't shine. We hope tomorrow will be a better day, but we hear that the weather will continue cold and wet. That's ok, we've got our rain gear and are prepared.

Bring it on!

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 1 (Yellow-tailed Black-cockatoo)
For the Trip: 352.

Trip Birds Today: 1 (The lifer)
For the Trip: 417.

Bird Upgrades Today: 0.
For the Trip: 4

Active Bird Nests (with adults or chicks or both) Today: 1 (Chestnut-rumped Thornbill)

Active Bird Nests Seen Before Today: 9 (list follows) Brown Honeyeater and Zebra Finch, Tue Aug 26, Walkabout Palms Caravan Park, Townsville, Qld Large-billed Gerygone, Mon Sep 1, Mossman River Tour, Mossman, Qld Black-faced Woodswallow, Mon Sep 8, west of Charters Towers, Qld Pheasant Coucal, Conclurry Caravan Park, Mon Sep 8, Conclurry, Qld Yellow-throated Miner and White-plumed Honeyeater, Tue Sep 9, park by river, Mt. Isa, Qld Little Crow, Tue Oct 7, tree beside road, junction to Exmouth,WA Western Gerygone, Sun Oct 12, Whiteman Park, Perth, WA

NOTE: This doesn't count "abundant" nests, such as Black Swans, Welcome Swallows, etc.)
For the Trip: 10

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

Sleep in: Parkgate Resort Grampians, Halls Gap, Victoria

 

Saturday, November 1, 2003. Day 80 of 118. The Grampians (Mountain Range NW of Melbourne).

I do my new daily habit of resetting the first alarm ring back another hour. A vacation snooze alarm.

It's partly cloudy, and the outlook is for intermittent rain all day and cool. Cool. We put on our rain pants, neos, parkas, and fasten our umbrellas to our fanny packs. We're ready, Freddy.

Our target birds for the day are Southern Emu-wrens and White-fronted Chats, following ranger Irene's directions.

We take off and locate the gravel and dirt track Irene mapped out for us. We park and begin our walk, in the pouring rain for the moment. Two Yellow-tailed Black-cockatoos are calling from a tree across the road and field beyond.

Sharon does her alarm call and we get a couple of White-naped Honeyeaters - I think the first time these birds have responded. A Jacky Winter calls right next to us and it has stopped raining for the moment. We get as much water off our umbrellas as we can, and I hook mine over my water bottle till it gets a little drier or it starts raining again.

How do you get the water off your umbrella? Do you shake it? I like to leave it open and spin it real fast several times in each direction. Then I roll it up, wrap the velcro fastener around it and stow it. {I like to partially close mine and then let it "snap" open, bouncing water off of it as it does.}

Or do you use an umbrella? It's considered nerdy for a man to use an umbrella in some places, extremely rude in others (e.g. in a football stadium), and a welcome assistant in others (e.g. England - "Don't forget your 'brelly.' ").

As a person who wears glasses, I find that my baseball cap bill doesn't quite keep sprinkles from getting to my lenses, but an umbrella works just fine. It IS difficult to hold an umbrella, entice a bird with a call on my miniCD and LOOK at the bird too. But I have mastered this feat, thanks to all the practice I've been getting.

We get a triple corella flyover, and I giggle about how careful we were to identify those first three Long-billed Corellas we saw, and now we see probably a thousand a day. Five Varied Sitellas work all over a tree, then move to the next one. They just don't stop moving. A pair of Rufous Whistlers show up, and we never get tired of them.

A trio of Crimson Rosellas fly over- a juvenile and an apparent parrot parent pair. Say that one time as slow as you can.

We come to an area that is starting to open up on our left, across the fence. We can see Eastern Yellow Robins, Long-billed Corellas, Galahs, Sulfur-crested Cockatoos and kangaroos in or around one open grassy area.

We come to the end of the track, and we have walked perhaps two kilometers. It's here that Irene said the Southern Emu-wrens live. We walk around, stand still, play their taped call, but we get absolutely none of the ultra-high calls we are hoping for. A family of Superb Fairy-wrens gets our attention, and then we turn around and head back out.

The sun is starting to peek out occasionally. We get a Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike on a dead tree snag. Sharon's Pizzey tells us that one large cuckoo-like bird we saw is an immature Fantail Cuckoo - large and brown, but with that signature cuckoo bill.

We wonder who raised it.

Back at the motorhome, Sharon has bacon and eggs on her mind, so she fixes us up with that great breakfast, even though it is 1230pm.

We each have our neos sitting in the steps of the motorhome. Sharon starts out to remove the chock (needed because we are on an angle and the hand brake has lost its mojo), and in trying to sidestep the overshoes, she CRACKS her knee on the left side of the door jam going out.

Man, when I heard that crack, I immediately thought she twisted her knee or ankle and landed on it so hard that it broke a bone.

She sort of deflates down on the neos, and hurts so bad that actual tears come. Uh-oh. I am fearing the worst. My first thought is "If the trip is over, that's ok. Sometimes, the world does that."

When the pain finally lets up, she says, "Oh, I banged my knee on the doorway." I can see the dent her knee made in the great crash of '03. I tell her that I thought it was a bone cracking, and she - well, doesn't exactly laugh, but says no, nothing's broken.

Later she says, "Wow, that made me cry, it hurt so bad." I take the overshoes out and shoot the bastards. Well, no, I store them in the back.

We get her in the driver's seat and I do the ether-in-the-air-intake thing. The car starts up first thing, and from where I am it sounds like a mini-explosion.

We work our way up to Reed's Lookout carpark, and make the walk to the lookout called the Balconies. On this walk, we're hoping for Gang-Gang Cockatoo, but get White-eared Honeyeater, Brown Thornbill and White-browed Scrubwren feeding a youngster, plus a few other common birds.

We make our way next to the camp at Smith Mill, hoping again for Gang-Gang Cockatoos. When we get there, Sharon is feeling like a nap. I tell her to go ahead, because we're on vacation, and we can do whatever we want to. Then I make the great mistake of going off to see what birds may be around while she sleeps.

This is the worst possible violation of our rule that we only bird together, but I figure if I see a new bird, I can go get her. I walk around the immediate area, getting a nice Eastern Spinebill, then wander off across a bridge over a fast flowing stream with a sign that says, "Horsham's Water Supply," and they would appreciate it if I didn't spit in it or do other such mischief.

I see a picnic area, and follow bird sounds, when suddenly I see a honeyeater perched near the top of a small thin tree, right over the water. I recognize the Crescent Honeyeater potential life bird immediately, and I think to myself, "This can't be happening. Wait RIGHT THERE." I take off for Sharon and wake her up. She's understandably frosted and says that she came within a whisker of not taking the nap when I went out to bird.

We make our way over to the tree, but there's no bird. We play the bird's song several times, pointing the speaker in all directions, but get no response. So that really disapponts Sharon, something I totally understand, and as any man can verify, this is something I need to "fix." We talk about this situation, and finally conclude that I just can't go out birding in such a situation, even though it might get us new birds (if for example, the stupid C. Honeyeater had stayed in place, like he was supposed to). It just causes too much of a jolt to Sharon's system. {It's one thing to get hurriedly awakened from a nap, but then to not see the bird is too much.}

My bad.

Now one might conclude that I just had some freedom removed, not being able to go out birding by myself. Well, if I want to go out birding by myself, I will. It's just, that now, I don't want to. {Bob can bird by himself,he just can't see any new lifers, which is of course a result of our "rule". Even if he sees a bird that is new to us, he can't count it unless I see it too. We sometimes get "stuck" in the opposite way too, if one of us thinks a bird is a new one and the other one doesn't, we can't count that one either.}

We drive slowly through the camp, but get no relief. We do, however, see a very grey white-faced, black-eared wallaby of some kind, hopping along on all fours, slowly, and I notice a big belly. I say, "I figure she's pregnant or got a joey in the pouch," all knowledgable and everything. Sharon asks, "Do you know how big the baby is when they are pregnant?" Uh, that's right, about the size of a pea or so.

It's a little before 5 pm when we stop at the turnoff to Silverband Falls to check out the birds.

I award Sharon a certificate for the 100th time she puts the chock behind the front left wheel as I keep my foot on the brake, parked on a hill. She starts giggling and I can't wait to hear what's going on in that little head. She says, "Remember when we looked at that chock, and asked, 'What the heck is that thing?' " So I start giggling because we have come a long way, baby. Pretty soon we're both laughing out loud.

Stupid hand brake.

We continue down the road to Silverband, and come to the two spots Irene told us about, but they seem too dangerous to park near, plus it's now raining again, so we bypass both spots. We can see the trail at the second one. It goes steeply up to our right, and steeply down to our left.

We come to the main highway, turn right, and finally locate the other road Irene pointed us to. It goes in for quite a ways, but it's a little rough and is gravel and dirt. We soon figure out though, that it's a fine road for us. Fine, that is, until we come to a spot where a creek crosses over the road in a low spot. There are boulders in the water, and the road goes up steeply and sharply to the left, beyond the water. Sharon starts giving all the reasons we shouldn't proceed, so I interrupt her and I say, "All those in favor of driving through the water, raise your hand." Then she sees that nobody is for it and she relaxes and stops listing the reasons, that are the same reasons I have. She thought I wanted to go through.

There isn't any place to turn around, and the road is muddy when you get just a little bit off of the road, on either side. Sharon gets in the bed, in the back of the motorhome, and looks out the window as I back up. We back up maybe 2 kilometers or so, till we find a spot to turn around. We park in that pullout, and bird a little, but there's not anything of interest. We mount up again, and head out of the road to nowhere.

We find a road that leads to the edge of Lake Bellfield, and we drive in there, hoping for White-fronted Chats. But what we get is a family from Israel, who now live in Australia. They are feeding the Crimson Rosellas, who are more than happy to perch on the arms, shoulders and even heads of the Israeli-Australians.

So Sharon digs out our parrot food, and we take turns feeding them too. It makes you feel good, when the parrots are trusting enough to perch on your wrist, and eat food out of your palm till they have eaten it all, so then they bite your thumb. Cute little birdies. Pass the bandaids.

We head off for the lake edge, and get about twenty grey fantails, but nary a chat. Could we just have a little chat?

We then drive into town to the general store, where we buy groceries. We drive back to camp then, in the heavy rain.

We're in place about 730pm, and it's cozy in the motorhome, having dinner, updating reports and statistics, watching TV, and listening to the rain pound down on us all night long.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 0
For the Trip: 352.

Trip Birds Today: 0
For the Trip: 417.

Bird Upgrades Today: 0.
For the Trip: 4

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

Sleep in: Parkgate Resort Grampians, Halls Gap, Victoria

 

Sunday, November 2, 2003. Day 81 of 118. Finishing the Grampians

Seven am, here comes the sun, and there go the corellas. They are perched in the forest, high in the eucalyptus trees, on the huge mountain slope behind us, and are pretty impressive when about fifty of them take off as one. They fly and wheel and soar and are beautiful, especially for how loud and unbelievably raucous they are.

We have an over-abundance of information for the Grampians now. We don't know where to start, so we decide to start with the easiest. Last night, a camper told us she heard Gang-Gang Cockatoos by the supermarket in town. We go over there, and walk the park across the street from said market. We get a few Welcome Swallows patrolling the park, about six inches over the grass, and they pass within three feet of us several times.

A pair of Rainbow Lorikeets sound off in the trees nearby, but no Gang-Gangs.

We drive to a camp to the south where Gang-Gangs were reported recently, park and wait to see what will happen. We walk around a bit, and after about thirty minutes, we decide to leave. I get out the "Start Ya Bastard," pull the hood release inside the motorhome, unhook the latch and open the hood. I use my screwdriver to loosen the hose clamp enough to pull the hose off the air intake. Sharon is waiting in the driver's seat, and I signal her that we're ready. She says she's ready too, so I spray the ether for one second. I give her the nod, and she turns the key. The engine starts with a little explosion. I reclamp the hose clamp, put the hood down and lock it, and start for the propane compartment, where I keep the 'Bastard' and the screwdriver.

But then I hear them. "SKRIIITTTCH, SKRIIITTTCH, SKRIIIIITTTTCH!" It's Gang Gang Cockatoos. I look to the left, and it sounds like there are ten or twenty. I can see rapid movement from left to right, but through thick stands of trees. I've got to tell Sharon! I yank open the passenger door and yell, "Gang-Gang Cockatoos! Get out here!" or something like that.

She gets out, and I hear the sound become stationary. The sounds now come from a huge, enormous eucalypt tree. I say, "In that tree I think!" She starts looking, and I'm running around, I hate to admit, in a giant panic. Here are my thoughts.

What am I gonna do with the 'Bastard?' can, Where are my binoculars? In the car, on the floor, by the driver's seat.

I finally pick one of the short vertical posts that define the car park perimeter to set the can down on. I start running for the driver's side, when something is banging against my neck. It's my binoculars. I've already got 'em on.

I turn just in time to see two dark forms flying left to right, already fifty yards from the big tree. That's the only look I have. I never saw the red-orange head.

"Did you see them?" I ask Sharon. "I just saw two dark birds fly out of the tree, I never heard them." The sound of the engine prevented her from ever hearing them, but since I was near the back of the vehicle, I heard them perfectly. The sound is slightly different, or markedly different from that of the Sulfur-crested Cockatoo depending on what kind of ear you have, what you WANT the bird to be, what you had for breakfast, and whether you remember accurately the texture of the extra long, sweeping skritch of the Gang-Gangs vs. the Sulfur-cresteds."

At the moment I heard them, I was absolutely certain. We had been hearing Sulfur-cresteds for days, and I kept saying to myself, "That's not it. Is THAT it? No, that's not it."

Anyway, we don't have quite enough to claim this bird. We are mightily disappointed. The fact that we will almost certainly get these birds several times during the rest of the trip doesn't help us a bit, right now. But we'll get over it.

We have other information that Crescent Honeyeater and Striated Thornbill were seen on a hike from Hall's Gap to the Pinnacle. We won't go that far, but we decide to go up the right side of the stream towards Splitter Falls, cross over to the other side, then return. As we're crossing the bridge to the right side, a black bird flies up from the creek and within three feet of us, like a shot. We don't get this bird at all, but it is exciting, right off the bat. We get Brown Thornbill, Superb Fairy-wren and Crimson Rosella - all fairly common birds, all in one patch on the way up.

And the sun comes out! Ahhh.

We get a nice White-throated Treecreeper calling, then we see him fly to his new tree, at the bottom, and start working his way upwards. We're on a concreted path that says "suitable for strollers," and I guess it's mostly true, but there are some muddy patches. A great Eastern Spinebill displays his colors in the sun, as we come to the bridge to the other side.

We get no new birds coming down the other side, and next we drive up towards the Boroka Lookout, where we have the GPS coordinates that a Flame Robin was seen some time ago. Since that bird comes up here to nest, it's a fair bet that he will likely still be in that general vicinity.

We park off the road, about half a kilometer away, since that's as close as we can get the motorhome. It's lunch and listen, but we neither hear nor see the robin. We walk around a bit, then drive out, stopping at several places a few seconds, when there is no traffic, and play the taped song of the robin. But there are no Robin robins at this spot. Sharon does get a great Sulfur-crested Cockatoo feather though, which looks white except when you hold it at the right angle to the light. Then you can see the yellow tint to it.

We go on up to the Boroka Lookout, and incredibly, you can see all the Grampians - the lake, the dam, the visitors center, where the stores are, the park, the river, the bridge, the caravan park where we stayed last night. Unbelievable. Sharon even picks up two dark spots, gets me on them, and with our binoculars, we watch two Yellow-tailed Black-cockatoo dots fly over our caravan park. Wonderful in miniature.

Hall's Gap View from Boroka Lookout

We look and look for Gang-Gang Cockatoo flight plans but don't get any, dang dang it. We walk over to the second area, which looks out at a slightly different angle, and when we finish, Sharon notices two boys kneeling beside a fat tree, and she says, "Look, those boys have an echidna!" And sucker-bill, they do. We go over there, and meet the boys, and one of their sisters, who comes over too. We take a photo of the three kids with the echidna, and several different shots, as the echidna pretty much ignores everything we're doing, and does his digging and sniffing and moving around.

Pretty cool.

We drive up to Reed Peak next, where there were other reports of a flock of Gang-Gangs flying over. It's incredibly windy on the steep side, and nice and calm on the top and the other side of the ridge. I talk Sharon into walking down to this big vista where we can sit on some flat rocks and wait for the Gang-Gangs to come to us. And this plan works exactly at the 50% level. We do our half, but the Gang-Gangs don't hold up their part. Sharon picks up a White-eared Honeyeater, and we see other common birds, but that's it. So finally we have to take off.

We drive down into Hall's Gap to check one - last - time for Gang-Gang Cockatoos, and you know what? Can you guess? That's right. Nada.

So we take off for Ballarat, where we are to drop off the motorhome tomorrow morning at 8 am at the Mercedes dealer to diagnose and fix the starting problem. They are pretty sure that it's the main fuel pump. We'll see.

A funny thing happened, thinking back now, when I was planning our stay in the Grampians. We had a rather poor map, with the names of the roads scrawled along the black lines that represented the roads. And along one road, stretched out, with big spaces between each word was the line, "VICTORY MT DIFFICULT ROAD," which I took to mean Victory Road was a mountain road, and was a difficult road. Probably need a 4WD to negotiate it, certainly not meant for caravans and motorhomes. So I marked that path and paths that required driving that road as not to be taken.

Well, it turned out that there was a peak called, of all things, Mt. Difficult, and an adjacent road called Victory Road, and the scratchy scrawling didn't make it clear where one stopped and the other started. It took me about a day to figure out that the Mt. Difficult road was a fine, wide, paved road, suitable for coaches (like big Greyhound buses, for you Yanks) as well as our motorhome.

As we pass through Hall's Gap, Sharon says, "There are some kids playing cricket, with kangaroos in the outfield," I'm too busy driving to look safely, but love the thought of that scene.

I'm not saying Australians are gregarious, but we pass one camp that reminds me of the wagon trains of the old American west. There are 15 (Sharon counts them) tents all pitched in a circle. Each tent has several chairs in front of it, and each is filled with an Australian, we presume. They are clearly enjoying this sunshiny (finally) day, as it's been pretty much raining since we got here on Friday.

I've decided to stop reporting what the countryside looks like, because from now on it's going to be settled, farms, pastures and paddocks, sheep and cattle, big fields of wheat and barley, with patches of big trees scattered here and there. OK? Sharon bets me a dollar I describe the countryside again within 24 hours.

We go past a sign just before Ararat that says it's the Tourist City, or Destination City, or something like that, and it gives the dates 1982 to 1985. Doesn't that sort of ask a question? We think the sign is more of a liability than an asset now.

We pass a sign pointing left, to the College of Wine, and we see a big castle up on a hill. That must be it.

We decide that the Willie Wagtails in this field (or Restless Flycatcher?) are in the beginning of an evolutionary breakaway. They are on the grass, but occasionally jump up on the backs of sheep, then back off again. Someday they will spend their entire lives centered on the backs of sheep, more or less, and will probably be called sheepbirds. Like the oxpeckers of Africa.

We like the signs we're starting to see. Instead of Rest Areas, some are now calling them Powernap Areas. There are reminders all over the place that if you're sleepy, pull over and take a nap. We commend this practice highly - of the reminder cautionary signs.

We come to Ballarat, arriving down a tree-lined boulevard. There are trees maybe every 5 meters or so, on both sides of the road. We pass under a big arch and it says, "Avenue of Honour. Victory 1914-1919." Obviously, honoring World War I vets.

We get to our caravan park about 7 pm, and by 730, Sharon is fixing dinner. It's cooooold here. About 8 degrees C, but with the wind chill, it's about -40.

A female blackbird hops around with nest material. Another sings in the dead of dusk.

We have stir fry with rice. Delicious. We watch Australian Idol, which is down to two guys and a girl - three finalists. Voting is tonight, announcement of the latest loser, tomorrow night.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 0
For the Trip: 352.

Trip Birds Today: 0
For the Trip: 417.

Bird Upgrades Today: 0.
For the Trip: 4

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

Sleep in: Welcome Stranger Caravan Park, Ballarat, Victoria

So that's it for Report 26. One life bird in the last three days, and in the Grampians. Terrible! We take our motorhome in tomorrow and I suspect that for the next three or four days, we'll be in a rental car and sleeping in motels. Doing the thing that we would never normally do. I'm interested in how it really shakes out - what's good and what's bad about staying in motels and having a speedy, easily maneuverable car instead of sleeping in caravan parks with our clunky, friendly motorhome.

Later, Gator.


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