Report No. 27. A Bird a Day - That's All We Ask.

 

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

Monday, November 3, 2003. Day 82 of 118. Chasing Painted Honeyeaters

The alarm is off at 7 am, and on the way to the amenities block, I see a Magpie-lark feeding young in a limb nest over our motorhome, as a Common Blackbird zips over. In the rest room, I want to take off my shoes and socks and walk around on the heated floor, but I don't Instead I recall how great it felt last night as I had my shower here.

This reminds me of sister Shirley's previous home near Kansas City, Missouri, which had a heated kitchen floor.

It's overcast, 41 degrees F (5 degrees C) and there is a fresh breeze.

We drive over to Godbehears Mercedes Benz dealer and it warms all the way up to six. Ah, that's a lot better. We're a little early and we're waiting for Jason (say "JIE-s'n"), who is the service manager, and will oversee the correction of our engine starting problem, plus the adjustment of our hand brake.

We meet Ron first, who is in charge of checking vehicles in for service. He's a friendly guy and tells us stories about his cricket, his baseball, and where he used to work - Thirfty Rent-a-Car. He steers us that way to rent our car.

Doug is the driver who runs us over there, through Ballarat, and we meet Andrew, who rents us a white, six-cylinder, hot-looking Mitsubishi. It's $69 dollars a day - about $50 US, plus we can get maximum insurance coverage for an additional $13 ($9 US). I never take this optional insurance in the U.S., but I take this. So we have our new ride for about $60 US, per day.

The funny thing is that we drove past Avis, with its lot full of cars, and Andrew says they only have one car available for us. It's a great car though. Doug takes off, making sure that we're all set up first.

Theoretically, Godbehears will diagnose the problem today, order the part from Melbourne, it'll be delivered tomorrow, Tuesday, and we can pick it up Tuesday evening. A complication is that tomorrow is Melbourne Cup Day, the country's biggest horrse race of the year, and the entire Melbourne area of Australia has the day off. So I figure it'll be Wednesday afternoon, but we'll have our mobile phone on and they will update us as new things happen.

We drive back to Godbehears and pack up the stuff we want to have with us as we drive around and stay in motels. Motels!? NOOOOOOOOOO! Well, we'll concentrate on the advantages about this method of travel, and continue birding.

It's COLD and Doug told us that Ballarat is famous for being the coldest in the nation throughout the winter. I can believe it. It's not really all THAT cold, but it seems like it. The bad news is that I can't look at the dashboard and see how cold it is. Funny how I've gotten used to that.

We say goodbye, and take off for Clunes State Forest, hoping for two or three forest birds. We stop for lunch first though, at a KFC. Birding requires fuel.

I go to use the loo AC (after chicken), but there's a sign on the gents' door that says, "OUT OF ORDER, USE LADIES, SORRY FOR THE INCONVENIENCE." The ladies' is right next door, and I knock and go in when there's no answer. There's a lavatory and a door to another room - the toilet. I go in there and lock the door.

A minute later, I can hear somebody coming through the outside door. She pulls on the door handle of my door, and I yell in a high falsetto voice, "Sorry, I'll just be a moment." No, I don't. But that would have been fun. Maybe I'd have had a low booming return voice saying, "No Worries."

We go to Safeway to buy some snacks, and we buy a newspaper which lists the attributes of the 24 horses in tomorrow's Melbourne Cup. I want to bet on the race, as this is an institution around here. Plus it'll be my birthday, and birthdays are lucky. Australians love their horse racing.

We follow birder-guide-book-author Wheatley's advice, passing through Clunes and heading for Campbelltown. We drive all over, find nothing, then ask an old fellow leaning against a fence that holds about a hundred sheep in tight quarters where the Clunes State Forest is. He doesn't know but wants to talk on and on. He asks us if we've seen all the magpies of the area. It's sort of like asking if we've seen the trees, there are so many.

Sharon asks what they're doing, and the man says cleaning up the sheep, getting ready for shearing. With a cold wind blowing, Sharon says, "NOT TODAY!"

We slowly back out of the conversation, and use his best advice to go into Clunes and ask at the information place.

On the way, a ute (sort of small pickup truck) comes our way with a flat bed in the back. There are two dogs back there, standing on their rear legs, with their front legs on the back of the cab. They are enjoying the wind in their faces, as all dogs seem to love.

We're trying to find the forest, and we're not sure where we are. We are in the interesting position of being LOST OUTSIDE THE FOREST, rather than being lost IN a forest.

We come back into town and at first we get lost, trying to find the information. We crack up, lost, trying to find the place which has information to get us unlost. We stop at the library, finding that we have not arrived during open hours. It's open Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Love the small towns.

This vehicle is like the one in Bamaga, as the wipers and turn signal stalks are reversed from the motor home. I keep wiping the windshield, trying to signal for turns.

We get directions in the information center, which is in a building that has what they claim is the largest old bottle collection in the southern hemisphere. Do you believe that? Right here in little old Clunes.

Sharon noses around and discovers a purple rosella bottle, the same as the one she bought in Markleeville, California, across the border from Nevada, where her mom and dad, sister and brother-in-law live. She tells the lady, who says to Sharon, "Then you're lucky."

Ooooh, and tomorrow's the big horse race.

It turns out that the state forest is towards Maryborough to the northwest, not Campbelltown to the northeast. Completely different road. Like looking for Canada in northern Asia instead of north America. OK, OK, nothing like that. But wrong.

The friendly, helpful lady asks us if we've been to Mt. Beckworth reserve yet, and we say no. She gives us a bird list and a map of the area. We have no intention of making this side trip, but who knows?

We reset our target and head out to the real forest.

4 pm, and we've been driving through the pieces of the forest (on either side of the road), playing the tape of the key target bird we want, hoping for a response. We don't have any specific directions within the forest.

We cover one side of the road for an hour or so, then move to the other side. It's a lot easier cruising the dirt and gravel roads with a car rather than the rougher riding motorhome. After another half-hour, we drive along an area that opens up to the left, with huge areas of grass-covered flatland. There are also spots of bush and tall eucalypus trees.

We know we need stands of tall, tall eucalypts with mistletoe (the key ingredient) for our bird {the mistletoe here looks completely different from our mistletoe in the states so it took us a while to figure out what to look for} and we stop for the twentieth time of the day, or so. I'm just estimating - it might have been the millionth. I fire up the taped call again, and play it several times, pointing the speaker in all four major directions, one at a time. We hear nothing and get back in the car, but with our windows rolled down. Suddenly Sharon's face lights up and she says, "That's IT! I heard it!," and points to our left.

I get out and listen, and sure enough. It's like somebody's out there, playing a tape back to me, only it's not a tape, it's the original! We wait and the call comes closer, then we see a bird fly high from that direction, and disappear into a tall eucalypt nearby. Sharon starts doing her thing, searching, searching. The bird flies before she gets on it, and now it's closer to me. He doesn't call very often - maybe every 20 seconds or so, so it's listen, adjust binocular target, search, and listen again.

Sharon moves to a slightly different location, and then bingo, she says, "I've got the bird! And it's actually in mistletoe!" She gets me on it, and we can see its greenish-yellow wing, dazzling white underparts, and outstanding pinkish orange-red bill. This color mix is the source of its name, PAINTED HONEYEATER*. It continues calling, and another one begins calling from the other side of the road. It comes in closer, but we never see it. What a beautiful honeyeater, and this is supposed to be a fairly difficult bird to get. We give ourselves "snaps," as they say on the TV show "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," in which five gay fellows help a series of straight guys get over their nerdiness. Each fellow has his own expertise - one is fixing dinners, one is clothes, one is interior decorating, one is personal grooming, etc. In this case, "etc." means I can't remember what the fifth guy's expertise is.

"Snaps" is everybody snapping their fingers together, intended to be a sort of private, hip applause for somebody who did something cool.

I realize that we won't be driving a long distance today, now that it's fairly late, and so we decide that since we're in the area, and since the birdlist for Mt. Beckworth contains some useful birds, we will locate Mt. Beckworth this afternoon, stay at a motel in the area, and do Mt. Beckworth tomorrow morning.

I get my first European Goldfinch in the grass near the last turnoff to Mt. B, though Sharon got one the other day.

Sharon reads this story of Mt. Beckworth, and how back in the 40s, they wanted to put a tower on top of the mountain peak, to promote the area I guess. They had earlier planted five pine trees on top of the mountain so now they had to remove them to put up the tower. But instead they cut down all the pine trees save one, on the top of the peak. This one they trimmed to be round and look like a big lollipop, which we have seen many times during the day, from various directions.

We make it to Mt. Beckworth dam (we would probably say "pond" in the U.S.) and get Brown Honeyeater, White-naped Honeyeaters, and Sharon picks up the red coloring above their eyes. We also get Brown Thornbill, making a nest deep inside a bush. We may have seen Striated Thornbill earlier, but can't be sure, so we'll concentrate on that bird tomorrow.

We find a motel in Maryborough so Sharon can watch "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" and we both can watch "Survivor" tonight. {We get the US shows here a few weeks later than you get them in the states so Survivor may have finished by now there. So please don't tell us who "survived" as we are still in the middle of it. How we love our familiar TV shows. I like the Australian ones too but it's hard to follow if it is a series that has been running for a while and we don't know all the characters.}

Then we set out to find a place for dinner. It's about a quarter till six. We try several small shops in town, but every one is closed, even the two or three that say OPEN. Like we're just supposed to know they close at 5. We wind up back at the motel/restaurant directly across the street from our motel. Sharon goes in first while I wait in the car, because even though the sign says come on in and eat, we don't totally trust this message. After a few minutes, Sharon comes out to the car, laughing. She gets in the motorhome and tells this story, "I asked if they serve dinner, and the lady said, just as if every person on the planet knew it, 'Not on MONDAY!' " She recommended the Albion Hotel.

We make our way to the hotel, park in the back, and go in. A girl brings us a menu, and after waiting ten minutes, a memory begins to surface that says, "You have to order at the bar." Like in an English pub. We go up to the bar and sure enough, that's a fact.

We order and go back to our seat. Well to make a long, long story short, the little old lady who delivers the food brings us our food after a long, long bit, and it's not too bad, and not too good. We order dessert and that also takes forever. But is fantastic - anyway my banana fritter with ice cream was.

We enjoy comparing the time it took to leave our motel, get the name of an open restaurant, make our way there, get a menu, put in our orders, get that food, order dessert, get that food, pay the bill and get back home - 2 1/2 hours, with the time dinner would normally take in our motorhome - maybe 30-40 minutes, including preparation and doing the dishes.

We are SO happy that we're doing our vacation in the motorhome. In fact, if it weren't for the motorhome, I don't think we'd be doing this vacation.

And none of this counts finding a motel, checking in and unpacking the baggage.

Anyway, we make it back to the motel to watch our TV shows, and I get on the internet from the room at about 35 cents/minute.

We take showers right there in our motel room - "ensuite" in caravan park parlance, and this is one of the advantages of motels over caravan parks - you don't have to leave the your home to take a shower.

And then I stay up till I'm sixty. {Happy Birthday, Bob}

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 1 (Painted Honeyeater)
For the Trip: 353.

Trip Birds Today: 1 (The lifer)
For the Trip: 418.

Bird Upgrades Today: 0.
For the Trip: 4

Active Bird Nests (with adults or chicks or both) Today: 2 (Magpie-lark, Brown Thornbill)
For the Trip: 12

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

Sleep in: Junction Motel, Maryborough, Victoria (temporary auto rental)

 

Tuesday, November 4, 2003. Day 83 of 118. Chasing Speckled Warblers and Striated Thornbills

Sharon wakes up with severe pillow hair, caused by the late shower, and we get a good photo.

At 8 am, we've packed up loaded all our stuff and we're on the road, heading south from Maryborough. It's cold, with not a cloud in the sky. A good day to be sixty.

Looking out to the left where the sun is coming up, the pastures and green grass look like they are covered with a layer of white or spider webs. It's the dew. We don't know what the temperature is, but it's likely 2. That's because we know the low of the area was supposed to be 1 in Bendigo, not too far away.

We pick up our first White-winged Chough of the day in a tree in the right-hand side. The sun shines on his white wing panels - great stuff.

We pass a line of Welcome Swallows sitting on a fence. A bit later, we pass one with its back to us. We stop just even with him. He twists his neck around sort of like an owl to get a look at us and just sits there. We see his white rump with black wings crossed over in the back. Very elegant.

Sharon gets a Wood Duck off to our right, being followed by six littl'uns.

Yesterday in Ballarat, as Doug drove us over to Thrifty, he told us that the seven year drought culminated last year in the Black Swans of the nearby lake producing exactly zero chicks. They somehow knew the drought was continuing. He went on to say that everybody was excited that the swans were producing young this year. Hopefully a good indication of a wet season coming.

We come to the GPS point I laid down yesterday, to signal the spot where we should turn off the highway. Sharon's internal GPS recorded the "old barn" as the point to turn off, and the two GPS points coincide.

It's 830 am as we begin birding. Four Yellow-rumped Thornbills are in a bare fruit tree of some kind. A fuzzy baby New Holland Honeyeater is perched in a bush, fooling us as to its ID for a little bit.

We pass a plowed field with Galahs, Sulfur-crested Cockatoos, Long-billed Corellas all sharing the pickings. A White-necked Heron looks out of place somehow, in the middle of a green pasture, carefully inspecting something between its feet.

We head down through the little gully below the old bridge, where yesterday Sharon put her foot down, saying we were NOT driving across that bridge. That was before we got close enough to see that the new road did not go across the old bridge, but dropped down in a sharp turn, to go over a hidden lower bridge.

We get European Goldfinches and Superb Fairy-wrens down by the water and they are beautiful in the bright sunlight.

We find the way to the entrance to the park, and about 200 meters before it, the birds are everywhere. We get Eastern Rosella, Red-browed Firetails, Grey Fantail, and White-browed Woodswallow.

I go for broke and play the call of the White-fronted Chat and Yellow-tufted Honeyeater, but neither one will come to my party.

Willie Wagtail, more Red-browed Firetails, plus a pair of Restless Flycatchers beating the tar out of a Brown Falcon. They follow it, taking turns dive-bombing it, and they seem to occasionally actually land on its back for a second or less.

Now we are in the park, stopped by the dam. Sharon gets what she initially thinks is Red-capped Robin, but it turns out to be a Scarlet Robin. We confirm by checking its call with that on our taped song.

We get a couple of different kinds of thornbills. One has the low chack occasionally, and that is the Brown Thornbill. It is working low in the bushes, sometimes going over our heads a little but usually below our eye level. The other has more of a bzzt in his call. We can see a streaked chest, a brown cap, olive green back, and it's working high in the tree, occasionally fluttering just outside clumps of leaves. We claim our lifer STRIATED THORNBILL*. My first life bird of the year for my birthday.

We drive the road that goes to the upper picnic area and get White-throated Treecreeper on the way. We get a fantastic closeup view of a Spotted Pardalote, much better than we've ever had before. And then we see that the reason for the good view is that it is close to its nest hole in the dirt bank beside the road. Sharon asks if I'm sure it's Spotted Pardalote and not a Forty-spotted Pardalote, but the Forty will only be in Tasmania. But I like the way she thinks.

A pair of Yellow-faced Honeyeaters work the mistletoe, and then Sharon gets a Mistletoebird actually in the mistletoe. I like the symmetry. A Grey Shrike-thrush adds its bit to the music, as does a Brown Honeyeater, and then a currawong. A pair of Wedge-tailed Eagles signal eleven o'clock in the morning.

We get Australian Raven and White-eared Honeyeater, and then even a kingfisher. We have a dickens of a time with this ID. The color is Forest Kingfisher, but the geography and bird list say Sacred. There is not a speck of green anywhere on this bird. It changes positions as do we, and finally we can see some rusty tint to the white, near its legs. So we buy Sacred Kingfisher as the ID.

We start heading out of this part of the reserve and get a nice pair of White-winged Choughs. Four thornbills zip around and we get another Scarlet Robin, or maybe the same one we had earlier. Springtime has definitely come to Mt. Beckworth.

We start working our way in the car over to the Gumma Oaks picnic area. We get another nice Striated Thornbill and a Striated Pardalote on the way out. A huge tree has fallen over, breaking off jaggedly, about three feet above the ground. Bees are buzzing in the stump. A Yellow-rumped Thornbill sings to us as it flies over the road.

We finish up here and head out, after taking a photo of Sharon, lying in some yellow flowers. And that's the truth.

Sharon finds a pair of birds down in the scrub, near a meadow and it's a pair of Southern Whitefaces, a nice surprise. Sharon picks up four Masked Lapwings, outstanding in a farmer's field.

We call Jason, who says the replacement master pump (diagnosed by the super whiz bang Mercedes Benz service computer as the problem) has arrived, been installed and there's just one little teeny tiny thing.

It still won't start. Dohp!

They will study the problem further, and currently suspect a bad sensor, which would have to be ordered from Melbourne, the part delivered tomorrow and then installed. Jason hesitates and notes that it's Melbourne Cup Day, and that might add a day of delay to getting the part here.

This is good news and bad news. I immediately can see that we will get our car Thursday afternoon at the earliest, so we are free to roam a little further from Ballarat if we want.

We go back into Clunes, and since the race starts at 3:10 pm, it being about 2:30 now, we will bet on the race and watch it on the telly. Most horse race betting takes place in a TAB, which stands for totalisator something-or-other, but it's the equivalent of off-track betting in the U.S. Except there is one in every town, down to the size of little Clunes, and it is combined with a pub, or higher class lounge. There are races going on at other tracks also, so if a person wanted to, he could go into this pub, and gamble all day long.

There are signs all over, plus advertisements on TV, about gambling addiction, and where to get help to deal with this problem.

Ignoring that, we get our spot in a couple of chairs by a table, against the front wall, and Sharon has already made her choice, a mare with a name she likes - Makybe Diva (say MACK-uh-be DEE-vuh). What kind of a name is THAT? I can't decide between Holy Order, an Irish horse that has been acting up, not wanting to train, and the favorite, Mahmool. I finally decide to bet $5 on each of them to win (guaranteeing one loser for sure), and Sharon decides on $5 also, for her mare. All to win, of course.

Two ladies come in and join us at our table. They are boisterous and fun. The red-haired lady next to us says she's betting on number four becauuse today's her birthday.

Ta-da-da-da-da-da-da, they say it's your birthday, Ta-da-da-da-da-da-da, it's my birthday too, yeah...

The other lady, about four feet six inches tall says she's going with a mare called She's Archie, and I think she split her bet, with half to win and the other half to place (come in either second or first).

As in California, at Golden Gate Fields, everybody is an expert before the race. They can tell you EXACTLY why their horse is going to win.

The betting is done by touch-screen machine. There is a TV monitor attached, inviting you to put in your money or previous winning ticket. Then you select which race track (Flemington, in Melbourne, for us), then which race (Number 7 - the big one), then how much money on your bet, then which horse, then whether to win, place or show. Then it spits out your ticket and if you still have credit left, it asks for your next bet.

When Sharon tries to bet, the machine jams, says the fiver is too crinkled, and starts blinking a HELP light. The official TAB lady comes over and gets it unjammed, and Sharon asks me for a different $5 bill. I give her a nice new bill in exchange for her crinkly one. {Everybody, remember this later}

So I have two tickets, safely tucked away in my pocket, and Sharon has her ticket, lying on the table in front of us. The two women have their tickets on the table too.

The horses finally finish warming up, and load into the starting gate. As in the Kentucky Derby, when there are a large number of horses, the starting gate is actually the regular gate plus an extra gate which connects to the end of the regular one. If you don't look carefully, it looks like one long gate.

At about 3:13 pm, the gates fire open and the horses break. It looks like a western stampede and it's wonderful. Everybody starts cheering in the pub. We listen to the names of the horses, being called out by the TV announcer, from the leader to the trailer. We hear Sharon's horse's name about two-thirds of the way to the back, and Holy Order is one of the last two. Mahmool is about third.

It's a thundering race, about two miles long, on the grass, and there is so much screaming and lead changing near the end, that at the instant the winner crosses the finish line, I think She's Archie is the winner. That's because the tiny lady at our table has hopped out to the floor area just below the overhead TV and is jumping up and down like a kangaroo on a pogo stick, screaming "She's Archie! She's Archie!" As excited as you can imagine.

But they put the preliminary names on the screen a few seconds later, and guess who's name appears in the winner's spot... MAKYBE DIVA!!!

At payoff odds of 9.1, Sharon collects $45.50 from the payout lady, and she's beaming.

I get photos of key points in this sequence - the horses breaking, Makybe Diva crossing the finish line, Sharon turning in her ticket, collecting her winnings. It's a great day. And Sharon used MY $5! So I suspect she'll want to split her winnings, don't you think? AS IF! {I offered to give him his $5 back!}

We load up and start heading back towards Ballarat. We find a supermarket in a little town and locate the food court in the center. We have chinese food for lunch. Lemon chicken and hot spiced chicken, and the lemon drizzle on the lemon chicken is fantastic.

We finish our meal about 5 pm, and take off again, heading for a town called Bacchus Marsh, about an hour or so from Ballarat.

As we approach Bacchus Marsh, we can see the skyscrapers of downtown Melbourne. The only motel in B.M. is full and they recommend trying in Melton. We drive the few kilometers closer to Melbourne, and successfully check in at the Melton Motor Inn.

We watch Cosima drop out of "Australian Idol" because of newly-discovered nodules in her throat. She is afraid that if she wins, she won't be able to do what's required of the winner - namely sing and do publicity, day after day. Two doctors recommended that she rest her voice for a month or so. The TV program producers and judges, not to mention the studio audience, are visibly shocked by her announcement.

That leaves two guys as the finalists. Later, there is an uproar by all the people who called in to vote for her, because each vote costs 99 cents, and the show rakes in millions of dollars each time there's a vote. The producers promise to refund all money collected from people who voted for Cosima, as I understand it. {Now, we understand that this is AUSTRALIAN Idol, so none of this will make any sense to you there in the states who only get AMERICAN Idol.}

So that's it for my sixtieth birthday. For everybody not yet sixty, I can say that based on one data point, it'll be a fine age.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 1 (Striated Thornbill)
For the Trip: 354.

Trip Birds Today: 1 (The lifer)
For the Trip: 419.

Bird Upgrades Today: 0.
For the Trip: 4

Active Bird Nests (with adults or chicks or both) Today: 1 (Spotted Pardalote)
For the Trip: 13

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

Sleep in: Melton Motor Inn, Melton, Victoria, near Melbourne (temporary auto rental)

 

Wednesday, November 5, 2003. Day 84 of 118. Chasing Rufous Bristlebirds.

Based on the target birds we're after, on information we got from talking to a Melbourne friend of Greg Anderson's, and on the estimateed date the motorhome will be repaired, we will skip Brisbane Ranges National Park, and go straight to the You Yangs - another, smaller mountain range.

I call Mercedes and the part is not in, just as I suspected, because it never got shipped yesterday. Jason tells me this as if it's a great surprise, but I'm sixty and wise - I figured on this right off. That means we'll be free to do a little wider range of birding before the motorhome will be ready. Now I estimate this will be Thursday afternoon or Friday morning. I decide to key on Friday morning, before 10 am, which is when we checked out the rental car at Thrifty.

We head back towards Bacchus Marsh, and about 11 am, we get an echidna, ambling across the highway near the You Yangs entrance. Sharon tries to capture this on video, and we hope it turns out well.

A pair of Eastern Rosellas greet us as we enter the park. We come to the park office, but it's closed. We check the map of trails and choose the Big Rock picnic area, about 3 km away.

We park in the Big Rock carpark, and get several Yellow-rumped Thornbills working the grassy area beside us. Speckled Warbler, our target bird here, hangs out with thornbills sometimes, so we check every bird, but with no warblers present.

We have lunch in the carpark, listening for bird sounds, with our human recognition software in 'background' mode as we eat and read our novels.

Walking around, we get a Grey Shrike-thrush going into a thicket with a worm, disappearing into a little depression, then emerging without the worm. We can't get all the way in, but we can see the broken off tree where the nest is.

A female Rufous Whistler cocks her head as she checks us out. I like to do the same, looking at her. We go to the toilet block and get a Yellow-rumped Thornbill building a nest in a bush outside the women's entrance. It comes back again, with moss, and arrranges it just right.

Sharon says there is a swallow's nest on a beam of the ceiling in the ladies' loo.

We continue walking around and get a pair of birds which are female or juveniles. We review the markings and there is a definite possibility that they are flame robins. Sharon is sure, but I'm dubious. There are just too many things we don't know about what a female flame robin would look like. We check the Morcombe's when we get back, and it seems to vote FOR the flame robin, but I still feel the need to get a male.

The one bird we studied carefully was definitely a robin. We could see a wing bar, not pure white, but definitely off-white. There is a little streaking on the underparts and brown on the back of the tail. It is also brownish-greyish on the chest. Those are Sharon's notes.

I would say grey on the chest, a little streaking, no color (red or pink or orange) anywhere on the bird. Sharon saw a little white above the beak, but I didn't notice any.

Sharon continues her alarm squeaking, and it attracts a feral cat, who reverses its direction when it sees that it isn't an injured bird calling, and it heads back into the brush.

We get a Scarlet Robin, though the color of the breast appears to me to be orange.

From where we are up here, we can see Geelong, on a bay or inlet. We leave whatever Speckled Warblers are in the You Yangs, and head out of the park. We get a Myna, and these become abundant as we continue through the day.

We refuel, and have a lunch outside a milk bar in Lara, having sandwiches made on the spot for us at the deli counter inside.

Continuing on, having entered the Great Ocean Road, we make the turnoff to Bremlea, and are getting pretty close to the ocean. We can see sand banks, and we're looking for Hooded Plovers, but have no success at all. So we drive on to Point Addis, right on the coast.

We get Silvereyes, a Nankeen Kestrel and I start playing the Rufous Bristlebird taped call, hoping to get one to pop up. We don't know that there are any here, but hope to find out.

A ranger comes over from where he parked the truck and asks, "Are you upsetting my bristlebird?" But we can see that he's kidding us. He says they're so thick here, that sometimes you have trouble avoiding them. This talk goes on for some time, and we are hearing them, but not seeing any.

We review birds we're looking for (Southern Emu-wren, Gang-gang Cockatoo, Speckled Warbler, Hooded Plover), and the ranger says the Emu-wrens are all over too.

He finally has to get back to his business, but tells us to call him tomorrow if we make it as far as Lorne, where he works. We shake hands and he gives us his card, saying, "I'm Dial," but my Aussie-to-American translator tells me that this would be 'Dale' in the U.S. Well, my translator, plus his name on his business card. We're not sure what we'll be doing tomorrow, but that's a possibility.

We decide to try another trail, and after hearing calls, we get a RUFOUS BRISTLEBIRD*, checking under a piece of white plastic which has blown under some thick shrubs. Another bristlebird shows up and ours chases the new one back into the thick greenery.

We go back to the trail visible from the boardwalk, and play the call again. After a bit, a bird runs across the open ground with its tail fanned out, something the book describes.

We switch to trying for the Emu-wren, but have no luck with that, so we head out, locating Anglesea Motor Inn in the town of Anglesea. We check in, then walk over to Shelles, a cool seafood restaurant, where Sharon and I order the same thing - bug meat and tiger prawn rigatoni. 'Bug' turns out to be some kind of meat, like lobster, but when asked what it is, are told, "It's those bugs - YOU know."

O-K.

Then we stroll back to our motel for an evening of R andR.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 1 (Rufous Bristlebird)
For the Trip: 355.

Trip Birds Today: 1 (The lifer)
For the Trip: 420.

Bird Upgrades Today: 0.
For the Trip: 4

Active Bird Nests (with adults or chicks or both) Today: 2 (Grey Shrike-thrush,Yellow-rumped Thornbill)
For the Trip: 15

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

Sleep in: Anglesea Motor Inn, Anglesea, Great Ocean Road, Victoria (temporary auto rental)

 

Thursday, November 6, 2003. Day 85 of 118. Chasing Hooded Plovers and Southern Emuwrens.

We go to Point Addis again, hoping for Southern Emu-wren. It's extremely windy and cool, and we get a better look at a Rufous Bristlebird crossing an open space, but no emu-wrens.

We move our traveling show to the Split Point Lighthouse, where the wind almost blows us away.

We come back to the motorhome and call Phil, then Patricia Maher. We change our date with premier bird guide Phil Maher from the 20th to the 14th. This is because I had to shuffle our itinerary around when I tried to make a reservation to take the ferry to Tasmania. I learned to my great surprise that there is a 9 or 10-day delay right now between when you call to make the reservation and the first day available.

We have no choice but to reserve the 15th - the next date available to Tasmania, with a return on the 20th. We will have to do about five days of birding I had us doing AFTER Tasmania, but now BEFORE. I threw myself into this task and we have a new itinerary. {Great recovery on the part of Bob after some moments of panic by both of us when we think we might not get to Tasmania after all.}

We drive to Lorne to talk with Dale Appleton, who we met at Point Addis. On the way in, I see a pair of Gang-gang Cockatoos fly down into a little valley and disappear. I park the car, and we go after them, but can't find them anywhere. Dangit.

We go into the Park Victoria office and locate Ranger Dale. He tries to get in touch with some of his connections who may know where we can see Hooded Plovers, but everybody is away from their phone right now. We tell the Dale we will go use the town's internet cafe, then come back.

We find a place to connect my laptop at the Fig Tree, and I get on, checking American professional football news for my Fantasy Football League. While I'm sending and receiving email, I get a "prriinnngg!" It's our friend Nancy Burlingame, who has us on her Buddy List on AOL. Any time she's online and a buddy comes on, she's told about it. We chat "live" by text messaging back and forth. I tell her Sharon's in the car and won't get on this time. She's disappointed and I change my mind.

I go out and yell for Sharon to come in and "talk" with Nancy. She's sitting in our rental car across the carpark. She comes in, and passes the key to me with the sentence, said over her shoulder, "There's a cat in the car sitting in your seat."

Huh?

I run out to the car, open her door, and a handsome black cat with white markings yawns, gets off of the driver's seat, and comes across the front seats, checking me out, waiting for me to pet her. I knew she wasn't going to pee on my seat, didn't you?

She climbs out of the car, and I lock it up, then go back inside. Sharon and Nancy are having a great time swapping live messages.

This goes on for ten or fifteen minutes, then Nancy has to go keep a babysitting date with her new grandson, Carlo, in Napa, California. We finish up and go back to the ranger's office. Dale has got us some information about the plovers' location. We thank him and take off, calling Godbehears and Thrifty, telling them that we'll pick up our motorhome and drop off our rental tomorrow morning.

We drive east on the Great Ocean Road, then go through Geelong (say "juh-LONG"), continuing on to Point Lonsdale, where the Ranger Dale told us there is one pair of Hooded Plovers. He couldn't pinpoint the location any better than about a 4-km slice of beach, but says it is closer to Point Lonsdale than the next town to the west, along the beach.

We locate the town, then find a parking spot near a path to the beach. There is a sign that this is a Hooded Plover area, and lists all the problems that can cause their nests to fail.

In a terrible fit of hopefulness, I bring our 15x-45x Nikon zoom lens spotting scope along. We walk over a sandy hill then drop down to the beach. As we're stepping off the last wooden steps onto the sand, we meet a woman walking a dog, just leaving the beach. I ask her, "Did you by any chance see any Hooded Plovers?"

We hit the jackpot. Not only does Elizabeth know what a Hooded Plover is, she 1) has been on a group that has counted them, and 2) she just saw a pair about one km up the beach. Unbelievable. Then she says, "I'll walk you there." We say she doesn't have to, but she seems glad to talk with birders. Maybe she wants to practice her American.

We head up the beach and about one kilometer later, although the wind and waves make for difficult hearing for me, she points to a spot near the high water mark (where the tide gets to at its absolute highest over a period of time) where a pair of HOODED PLOVERS* stand. They are fantastic in the scope. Red bill, black neck collar, overall grey bird, red legs, red circle around the eye and that great black head hood.

Head hood? Ungowa.

A hang glider goes over, and Elizabeth's dog wants to chase it. She says he can't see the plovers because of poor eyesight, but can see the hang glider and the glider person plays with him every time he's out.

You cannot believe all the difficulties the offspring of this pair of Hooded Plovers will encounter. Unexpected high tides may wash the eggs away, gulls may steal the eggs or the chicks, dogs or foxes may get the chicks. I think the chances for any chicks at this particular spot are about zero point nil, but we'll be rooting for them. {I ask Elizabeth why they don't keep dogs off the beach during breeding season as they do in Calif. and she looks at me with disbelief and says, "But this is an off-leash area, they couldn't do that!". She also said that the one time they fenced off the breeding area, people were attracted to the fences to see what was in there and caused more stress to the birds. Unbelievable}

We watch a while after Elizabeth leaves us. We have been trying for Hooded Plover for a long time now, and here is the payoff. A dog chases them off their spot, but they circle around, waiting for the dog to move, then fly back. Sometimes, they go down by the waterline and eat, then go right back to their spot. Sometimes, one stays behind while the other flies off.

We go through Geelong, and drive all the way to Ballarat, where we stay in the Begonia City Motor Hotel - our last night in a motel. We eat at the Atlantic Hotel, where I ask the bartender/manager what a hotel is, first reminding him what a hotel is in the U.S. He says that it's a place where you can have a drink at a bar and sit down for a meal.

We have dinner, which isn't all that great, then dessert, which for me is a banana fritter and ice cream. Deja Vu.

After dinner, which isn't all that great, I ask him what is the difference between a hotel and a pub, and he says, "They're the same."

We go back to the Begonia and enjoy our last night in a motel, all the while looking forward to getting our motorhome back, so we don't have to unload then reload a car full of stuff every night.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 1 (Hooded Plover)
For the Trip: 356.

Trip Birds Today: 1 (The lifer)
For the Trip: 421.

Bird Upgrades Today: 0.
For the Trip: 4

Active Bird Nests (with adults or chicks or both) Today: 0
For the Trip: 15

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

Sleep in: Begonia City Motor Inn, nr. Ballarat, Victoria (temporary auto rental)

And there you have Report 27 - a time period that covered my sixtieth birthday, plus Sharon cashing a winning bet on Melbourne Cup winner, Makybe Diva. And that's pretty hard to do, picking a winner out of 24 horses.


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