Report No. 28. Friday, November 7 thru Sunday, November 9. WE GET OUR MOTORHOME BACK. MELBOURNE. THE DANDENONGS.

 

Friday, November 7, 2003. Day 86 of 118. Picking Up Our Motorhome. First Dandanong Birding.

I can hardly wait. We drive over to Godbehears, and they have everything fixed, except the stupid hand brake. They say they have to take off both rear wheels and jack the vehicle up, and that their jack is broken so they couldn't fix it. Jason actually told me this yesterday when I talked to him, so it's no surprise at this point.

But I can't believe they couldn't fix the dang thang.

We park the car, and move all our stuff from the car to the motorhome. It feels fantastic, to be getting back into our "home." I thank Jason and Ron and the only remaining thing is to get the car out of the very tight-quartered fenced area they've had it parked. They plugged into electricity to keep the refrigerator cold.

Sharon is on the corner nearest the building as I slowly, slowly back out, staying nearer the building than the car they have parked near the fence, behind and to my left. I go back until I know the super short turning radius will get me through the gate when I turn the wheel back. I turn it to the left as hard as I can, and that's when it happens.

The rear wheels are well in front of the rear of the vehicle, and as I turn, the vehicle pivots about those rear wheels. There is a loud...

CRUNNNNNCH!!!

I stop, get out and see what I've done. I've crunched the rear right corner of the motorhome into the corner of the brick building. I've smashed a reflector, dented the bumper, and twisted and scratched it up a little, not to mention knocking chips off of the bricks on the corner of the building. I look at the corner of the building with Ron standing there. I point to it, speechless, but he indicates something which I interpret as, "You've got enough trouble already. Forget about this little chip thing."

Sharon was madly trying to signal me to stop, but the beginning of my turn had cut her off from view and she didn't have a chance to stop me.

I undo my turn, maneuver to a better position, and make it through the gate. I drive over to Thrifty car rental with Sharon following in the car. Miraculously, the bumper stays attached to the vehicle.

I have checked the paperwork, and am surprised to see that the beginning mileage is 40,000+ km, to be subtracted from the 45,000+ km reading on the odometer now. That's 5,000 km, or clear across Australia and back. We only put on about 800 or 900 km, and I prepare to argue our position.

I go in and start to tell Andrew what's going on, but he interrupts me, "You took the wrong car." What? How could we have taken the wrong car, when he said they only had one car, and it was in front. He goes on to explain that the car fellas brought the wrong car from the back carpark to the front. He doesn't even ask about the mileage. The reason it's meaningful is because it isn't unlimited mileage. We get 300 km per day. Anyway, we filled up the tank before bringing the car in, and that's all he's interested in.

Sharon gets in the motorhome, and it indeed feels like we're home.

We go to the Safeway carpark in Ballarat and resupply. Then we're so hungry that we have lunch right there in the carpark.

We take off, heading for an area east of Melbourne - the Dandenong (Mountain) Ranges. A bingo parlor has a sign in front that says, "Bingo Thursday. Eyes Down at 1:15 pm."

I like that expression - "Eyes Down", instead of "First Game" or "Starts" or something like that.

We seem to take forever to drive the roads to get us around Melbourne and to Ferntree Gully. This turns out to be a town, rather than a gully, which is what I was expecting. We see a sign for information, and I make the turnoff, into the carpark.

The building is only a few meters away, and Sharon doesn't take her walking stick for short distances like that. She gets out of her door while I am shutting off the GPS, putting it down on the floor, getting a map, a pen and some paper.

I get out, lock the door, turn around and hear a cry and a noise. I look up just as Sharon trips and falls on the wavy pavement leading to the sidewalk, just in front of a man waiting there. He and I both hurry over to see how Sharon is. She says to leave her down there for a few moments, while she gets her breath and checks to see if there's any serious damage.

She rolls over and she's scratched the left side of her face to some extent. "Do you want a drink of water?" the man asks. I almost laugh out loud because it sounds like what somebody would say in a movie. "No, thank you," says Sharon, "I'll be OK."

I help her up and we go back to the motorhome to clean up the scratches on her face and check for bruises and stuff. She keeps saying, "I'm sorry," to me, which just makes me melt for some reason. She spends some time in the bathroom of the motorhome, applying some ointment that we have, and makes a bandage to cover the area on her cheek. She has banged her knees a little, but the blue jeans probably provided a little protection.

She says she's good to go. You just gotta love her - what a trooper. {Klutzy, but trooper.}

We go back to the town information center, which is actually up a set of stairs. They give us a bit of stuff, but tell us to go to the park visitor center.

We talk with Ranger Judi at the park visitor center, who gives us lots of good places try for Powerful Owl and other birds we're after at the Dandenong Ranges (Birding Spot 142).

We try several places, and get not very much. There's a wattlebird chasing some tiny bird. There's a Kookaburra. We park in a picnic area carpark and begin walking down the "thousand step trail," though Judi said to us, "I think there's only about 850 actually."

Sharon squeaks in a brilliant Spotted Pardalote, so close that I can almost measure the diameter of the dots. I decide that the stairs are going to be too much for Sharon's just-bumped knees, and I turn us around before we've descended too far.

We get an Eastern Yellow Robin with a worm, and we hope it's going to a nest, but it feeds a fledgling on a branch.

We get to the motorhome, and set out for a place called the Valley Picnic Area, arriving there about 430 pm. We check out the clearings, and possibily hear a lyrebird, but aren't sure. We get a possible Yellow-rumped Thornbill, and begin hearing the call of the whistler we're after.

We begin to see a fairly plain looking grey and brown bird, which at first we believe to be Grey Shrike-thrush, but it isn't quite that bird. It lands on the side of a eucalypt tree and peels some bark off, then takes it across the woods a ways, returning in half a minute or so to repeat the bark peeling. A check of Morcombe's shows us that this is a female OLIVE WHISTLER*. We are hearing males too, but they won't show themselves.

We head for our caravan park south of Dandenong, the town, and I hate hate hate driving through all this stop and go, rush hour, crowded, stop-light-pocked, cross-town traffic. It sucks, man.

We finally make it there though, to Dandenong Caravan Park. I ask to use the internet but the manager says he doesn't know anything about computers and doesn't want to disconnect any cables. He says his wife takes care of that, and she won't be back till tomorrow. He suggests that I try then.

We have a peaceful evening, planning tomorrow's birding attack.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 1 (Olive Whistler)
For the Trip: 357.

Trip Birds Today: 2 (The lifer plus European Greenfinch)
For the Trip: 423.

Bird Upgrades Today: 1 (Spotted Pardalote, within two meters of our faces).
For the Trip: 5

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: Dandenong Caravan Park, Dandenong (east Melbourne suburb)

 

Saturday, November 8, 2003. Day 87 of 118. Dandenong Ranges. The Search for Yellingbo.

The alarm is off at 530 am. It is overcast right now, but is supposed to be "fine" today, according to the weatherman. The equivalent U.S. weather term for "fine" in Australia is probably "sunny."

We drive up to the Valley Picnic Area again, but the outer gate is locked. It's 715 am, and about one or two km downhill from the gate to the picnic area. We will pick a trail from that point to walk further, but what do we do now? We could bird near the gate and wait for them to open it - when? 8 am, 9 am? {We had called a couple of people in the Parks Dept. yesterday and they both had told us that "there is no opening/closing times in this park, so we trusted that we could go up there early in the morning and get in. Oops.}

We decide to start walking down the entry road beyond the gate, then come back to a hopefully open gate in an hour or more. We rig for birding and take off.

We get a robin high in the canopy, and I now recognize the call of the Rose Robin. We walk past a Spotted Pardalote nest in the dirt bank to our left, having seen the bird fly out of the hole.

We get an A-Number-One look at the Rose Robin, who it seems, has come down to us. He's a beauty, and then he's gone again.

We get a treecreeper we can't ID before he's gone again. But we do get Golden Whistler, and at the spot where water runs under the road - several Red-browed Firetails.

I suggest walking back now towards the motorhome, but Sharon wants to keep walking down to the picnic area, and that's just what we do.

"We're machines - machines don't break down." - a quote from our personal trainer, Eric.

We've been hearing a "Dink. Dink. Dink." High in the trees, and Sharon finally gets us both on one, which we ID as BELL MINER*. We later find out that this bird is almost considered a pest in some local areas, but it evokes that great sense of wonder we get the first time we ID a new life bird. It calls continually while feeding high in the eucalypts, staying in clumps of leaves.

A White-eared Honeyeater is far, far overhead, as is a likely Restless Flycatcher. We get a better look at a Bell Miner, and we can see the yellow and black of its face.

A male Eastern Yellow Robin chases a female all around, as we come to the last dip in the road before the rise to the picnic area. Suddenly a male Olive Whistler lands in a small bush just to our right and stays there maybe thirty seconds, plenty long to get great looks. Nice upgrade of this species from - when was it, yesterday? He flies across the road, passing in front of us and disappears into the forest to our left.

We take a break at the picnic area, then choose our path, just to the right of the toilet block. We can see a kookaburra dropping from a tree to the ground to pick up something, then shoot back up. Knowing Christmas is getting closer, he is laughing all the way.

We hear a bird doing a three-note bell-like sound, and it is the Crimson Rosella. There are several variations of this - sometimes all three notes are identical, sometimes the middle one is higher than the others, and other birds do other variations.

Sharon spots a nice Rufous Fantail. I hadn't realize they would be here. The corellas or Sulfur-crested Cockatoos are making an incredible racket in the upper stories as they fly around. We change from Herman Track to Georges Road.

We walk around a bend in the road, heading uphill, and we see a couple of birds walking away from us on the path, in the same direction we going - uphill. They seem to be strolling, more or less. I say, "They look like treecreepers," and I can see brown above and black or grey below. We get closer and they fly into a bush on the left, then far, far up. We are just able to make our the red on the face of one, and it's a pair of RED-BROWED TREECREEPERS*.

We make it back to the picnic area, and there are a couple of cars here, so they obviously opened the upper gate sometime. We finish our walk all the way back up to the motorhome and have sandwiches for lunch.

Then we head back for the caravan park, refueling at a Mobil station on the way at about 2 pm.

Now the rest of the afternoon was pretty frustrating, and I'll spare you the details, except to say that it was the search for Yellingbo (Birding Spot 144). We went down many wrong roads, trying to find one of the few locations in Australia where the endangered subspecies (Helmeted Honeyeater) of Yellow-tufted Honeyeater lives. When we finally do get there, 1) it's quitting time and the volunteer working there is just leaving and locking the gate, 2) the birds are in a swampy area and it's hard to get to them, 3) it's breeding season, and they're not letting anybody go back there. So all that getting lost again and again was so we could get this news. Such is birding, such is life on some days.

The stupid part of all of this is that the Helmeted Honeyeater is the most difficult of the Y-T Honeyeaters to see. It's just that I noticed they were so close to where we going to be, I thought we'd "stop in."

The only other event of note is that we met a retired couple at their farm who raise a small bird they called a "Euro-jap" quail. They turned out to be like a small chicken. The males have an INCREDIBLY annoying call, and when you have about fifty of them together, and apply the Malamar Statistical Profile, you see that there won't be ANY quiet moments in such a group. Well, actually you can just use your ears - you don't have to apply this profile at all, and in fact I just made it up anyway.

The lady has a wire about 5 inches off the ground, completely around her garden, which is electrified at night, she says, to keep out the wallabies and wombats. I can safely say that this is the first time I ever heard anybody say that they had to take special electrical steps to keep wombats out of their garden.

We have plans for dinner at Jean-Paul's "France-soir" restaurant tonight, but 1) we've taken so long to NOT find the Yellow-tufted Honeyeater, 2) we're pooped, and 3) Sharon's still feeling some effects from her fall yesterday. I call and cancel, since Jean-Paul isn't there. I tell the guy I talk to (Jean-Paul isn't there yet) that we'll try again the night we come back from Tasmania, and he says, "OK," only in French. Well, in English - well, Australian, with a French accent. I hope they have omelet du formage, the only french words I can remember, taught to me by Steve Martin one night many moons ago on Saturday Night Live.

Now that we know we're not in a giant hurry, I purchase a mobile telephone "topup" for $100. It has a giant long number on it. You dial a special Telstra number, follow the menu instructions, punch in the meganumber, and boom, you have $103.30 instead of $3.30.

We continue our drive to the caravan park, passing a view stop carpark with a gigantic rock in the middle. It's painted white, then lined so that it looks like a white bunny. It says 'Happy 60th Dad." I can't figure out how the kids knew I would drive by here. Those kids! Sharon says that after we drove by and she turned back to see, it was painted to be a white elephant on the other side. A bunnephant.

We stop at a Subway sandwich shop to pick up a meatball sandwich for me (delicioso) and a teriyaki chicken sandwich for Sharon.

Later, I try to do some constellation identification, but there's too much background light. We need one night of bush camping away from the lights, but I'll have to give Sharon something in trade to get her away from electricity for one night. Maybe I can put my own dinner dishes into the sink for, say, any three nights of her choosing. No, she'll want more. Hmmm. {This from the man who every night plugs in his computer, his power strip, his battery recharger, telephone recharger, owl flashlight recharger. Hmm, who needs the electricity most? But I do admit, I love having the microwave and the TV when we rest at night}

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 2 (Bell Miner, Red-browed Treecreeper)
For the Trip: 359.

Trip Birds Today: 2 (The lifers)
For the Trip: 425.

Bird Upgrades Today: 1 (Saw male Olive Whistler, eight feet away, 30 seconds).
For the Trip: 6

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: Dandenong Caravan Park, Dandenong (east Melbourne suburb)

 

Sunday, November 9, 2003. Day 88 of 118. Dandenong to Wilsons Promontory NP

We turn in our caravan park amenities block key and head for Sherbrooke Forest (still part of Birding spot 142). It's 630 am. We pass a church sign that says there are two services, an english one at 830 am and a mandarin one at 1000 am.

We make it to the turnoff about 40 minutes later. A dark wallaby bounces away, and a lyrebird sign reminds us to drive slowly and carefully. It's really ferny.

We come to the Sherbrooke picnic ground carpark, where we take off on Lyrebird Walk after talking with a hiker with a wool cap on his head. He gave us new lyrebird information, and we are excited.

We pass a place where tourists are feeding birds, and I watch a Sulfur-crested Cockatoo walk with his feet pointing inward. It's a perfect demonstration of walking "pigeon-toed."

Onto the walk now, we hear the "dink dink dink" of Bell Miners. At the intersection, we switch to the Hardy Gully nature walk. That's what Sharon tries to call it. That Sharon! Everybody knows it's the Hully Gully walk. I remember it from our high school dances.

We hear the not-heard-for-a-long-time Eastern Whipbird doing his whip-CRACK call, and we see an Olive Whistler female. We hear a call that sounds a little familiar, and we come face to face with a cooperative Rufous Fantail. I see white on the chin, with black below that, and all the rufous parts. This is a great upgrade of a beautiful bird.

We switch to the Hall Track at that intersection and hope this is the magic lyrebird stretch. Minutes later, we hear a bird I think is a lyrebird, but Sharon isn't sure. We have to get closer. We had been told to look for "the clearing" where people often saw the lyrebird.

We get an interesting view of an Eastern Whipbird, perched on a hanging fern vine with his tail all fanned out. Sharon squeaks in an Eastern Spinebill, and we always like to see this beautiful and elegant bird.

A little before 930 am, we get a BASSIAN THRUSH* on a branch near the ground. We stop and eat the snack we brought with us, mainly to watch and listen for lyrebirds and pilotbirds but no birds seen at this clearing.

A White-throated Treecreeper and a Grey Shrike-thrush keep us company while we wait. {Two women come along and when we ask them about "the clearing" they tell us it is still up ahead and they have seen lyrebirds there but didn't see any yet this morning. So we walk further along the path.} We keep hearing what Sharon agrees sounds like lyrebirds, and decide to go in after 'em. We carefully mark the sun, the slope of the terrain and wade in. It's not terribly thick and we go in as quietly as we can following the sounds {we can hear that are not exactly like the taped sound we have but has moments that are similar to the Albert's lyrebird we heard in Lamington}.

We get a flash of a lyrebird, through thick brush, but it is moving away from us. We go in further, and can see where it was scratching. I have been alternating the lyrebird call and the pilotbird call. Suddenly we get a sharp call, identical to our PILOTBIRD* call. It moves quickly around us, and we feel it's checking out the source of the sound. But we can't see it.

Then it sounds like a lyrebird is coming closer. As we're switching birds, a dark brown bird flies through about a 100 degree arc, from right to left, disappearing back up the slope. OK, we heard it, that's for sure.

The Pilotbird got its name because when the aboriginals wanted to get feathers from a lyrebird, they would listen for the call of the Pilotbird, who would guide them in. Presumably the Pilotbird benefitted from the insects the lyrebird kicked up.

Then the lyrebird is really close. I violate our rule, and move away from Sharon a little bit, to follow a sound. She stays put, preferring to let the birds come to her. I come past a big fern, and see the delicate-looking fan of a male displaying just on the other side. I move to my left, trying to see him better, but he folds up his show and takes off. I think he saw me too.

I go back to Sharon, and she motions for me to come over. She whispers that a pair of lyrebirds have been chasing each other, and just then they go past, seeming to be on a circular path, with part of that path running right past us. Then they break out of that loop, and go right past us. It's not clear if one's chasing the other away, a male is chasing a female, two males are practicing fighting, or what. But we get smashing views of a pair of SUPERB LYREBIRDS*.

Then the winner moves through the area where we are, scratching and doing those wonderful lyrebird mimic calls, ever so softly. It has totally ignored the sounds I've played on the minidisc, and I'm delighted to put it away and just watch and listen. One of its songs is the kookaburra, very nice and clear, thrown into the non-stop series of calls.

We still aren't sure whether we had females, young males or one of each.

As it moves behind us, suddenly Sharon spots a wombat. The bird goes right past the wombat and I try for a photo (which doesn't come out) of both of them in one shot. As I get closer to the wombat, it just sits down on its bottom, and appears to take a short nap. I get a great photo, and we watch a bit, then it gets up and walks on through.

Wombat!

We get a pair of Crested Shrike-tits Sharon has spotted beside the track. Then it's time to move on. We get back to our motorhome about noon, where we have lunch, then move on down the road.

By 330 pm, we are in Meeniyan, on the way to Wilsons Promontory NP. Sharon pulled over to change drivers, and "what have we here?" She's stopped in front of an antique shop. Nice going, Sharon.

While she's looking around, I ask if there's an internet point in town, and the proprietor says there is. He points me to a building just up the street with a big yellow INTERNET sign on it, inside a combination library and restaurant. Interesting.

Sharon will try a couple of other shops while I internet. I walk up to the shop, go in and ask a girl if they have internet, and she says yes. She takes me to a corner of the library where an external modem connects a phone line to an old, old Macintosh, all of which are turned off. "We don't know how to use it yet," she says. "I do," I say, "What are your rates?" She doesn't know and says for me to go ahead while she checks.

I simply disconnect the phone cord from the wall to the old Mac and plug it into the back of my Mac laptop. She comes back and says, "They are trying to get the town to learn more about computers, but we don't know anything yet, so it's free."

Dang.

I hook up for thirty minutes, and do in and out emails and some fantasy football stuff, then get off.

Sharon hasn't found anything useful at the antique store but the store I am in is a used book store and she gets a couple of books to read. We head on down the road, passing a place called Stony Creek, where a full day of golf costs only $15. We are thinking of giving our friends the Petricks a gift of an entire weekend's worth of golf here (transportation and accommodation not included). What a bargain - FIFTEEN dollars! And that's Aussie dollars - about $10 U.S. They will be totally blown away.

We drive by a property for sale. The big realtor name around here is Love. The sign has some big red letters, and some small black letters. If you read it carefully, it says something like, "For Sale," then phone numbers and email addresses and the like, all under the name of their company. But if you squint your eyes and let the bright colors dictate the message, it says "LOVE FOR SALE."

A pair of black-cockatoos fly over, and they are likely yellow-tails, but we don't get a definite ID.

We come to the caravan park we've selected, a little north of the "Prom," as they call Wilsons Promontory National Park around here. This is a huge caravan park, mainly used by fishermen apparently, and it has only eight or ten powered sites, one of which we have reserved for two nights.

We learn that the near laundry's dryer doesn't work, so we drive all the way to the far laundry without stopping at our site. Sharon does a laundry while I transcribe the day's activities and work on a report.

I am happy to announce that there is good news for local dog-a-phobes. There is at least one place in the world you can go where there are guaranteed to be no dogs, because there's a sign on the laundry that says, "No Dogs in Laundry."

We go down and check the beach and rocks for a couple of specialties we're after, but get only silver and pacific gulls. It's a beautiful day, and the sun feels great.

I go back to my computer and Sharon waits in the laundry to switch the clothes when they're ready. A bit later, Sharon comes in and looks at me in an odd manner. I take off my mp3 player headphones, and she says, "Tell me if this doesn't sound like Gang-gang Cockatoo." I drop everything (not really DROP! You know) and go tearing outside. I listen to the relatively quiet "scritches" compared to the recorded calls we have, and I'm not sure. "Let's get closer," I say, and we start following the sound.

Just as we come to the tree the sound is coming from, a big bird flies out, across the park and lands high in a eucalypt tree. We can see the wonderful red-orange head of a male GANG-GANG COCKATOO*. Fantastic. High fives. We can see him through a hole in the leaf cover. Sunlight on a grey body, with a bright red-orange head, and a forward sweeping crest.

Sharon finishes the laundry and fixes us hamburgers with carmelized onion and mushroom bits, corn on the cob and baked potatoes. Yum.

About 10 pm, I walk across the camp to the toilet block, and I enjoy the call of the little Southern Boobok owl. The stars are excellent, there's no moon, and I could go across the road to a patch where it is totally dark. It's an excellent chance for star-watching, but it's freezing and I'm tired, and looking forward to burrowing down into a cozy bed.

It's a wonderful life.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 4 (Bassian Thrush, Pilotbird - heard only, Superb Lyrebird, Gang-Gang Cockatoo)
For the Trip: 363.

Trip Birds Today: 4 (The lifers)
For the Trip: 429.

Bird Upgrades Today: 1 (Saw Rufous Fantail from a couple of feet away).
For the Trip: 7

Active Bird Nests (with adults or chicks or both) Today: 0
For the Trip: 14

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

Sleep in: Anakie Caravan Park, near Wilsons Promontory NP, Victoria

If you never had a Report 28 in your life, well, you got one now.

 

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