Report No. 29. Monday, November 10 thru Wednesday, November 12. Going to the Prom. Little Penguins. Yea!

 

Monday, November 10, 2003. Day 89 of 118. Wilsons Promontory National Park

Because of 1) having to change the Tasmania trip dates because I wasn't aware of the ten-day reservation lead time, plus 2) deleting some places we WERE going to bird, but now won't because we already got the birds there, we find ourselves with the delightful prospect of going to Wilsons Promontory National Park. There are some great birds there, and we are excited about this visit.

It's is an unplanned birding location, and so it has no "birding spot" number. It is a bit southeast of Melbourne.

We sleep in today and it feels great. I set the alarm for 530 am JUST SO I could turn it off and go back to sleep, but I woke up at 430 am, went to the bathroom, and turned the alarm off so it wouldn't wake me again at 530. You CAN push alarm goofiness too far, you know.

We take off for the Prom, as people here call it, about 9 am. In the busy season and on weekends, I guess, they have a ranger collecting entry fees at the park entrance point. But they are closed when we pass through on a Monday when schools are still in session. A sign says go to Tidal River and pay the dues there, about 30 km further on.

So we continue in, but we stop first at Cotters Lake, to try for our first lifers here in the Prom.

By 10 am, we are walking a long, gated, management-only vehicle track from near the carkpark, straight for the beach, about 1 or 2 km away. But to get there, oh to get there, we pass through great heath, bush and low green grass, where we are hoping for a triumvirate of birds. Did I just use the word 'triumvirate?' Sorry.

We get a very dark female fairy-wren with a white throat and a red bill. It doesn't match the pictures in our books, but there are six different subspecies of Superb Fairy-wren, and it doesn't show them all.

Sharon does her alarm call, and in come Eastern Yellow Robin and Brown Thornbill. A Wattlebird clucks in a two-note combination every twenty seconds or so. There are New Holland Honeyeaters aplenty.

We play the calls of the birds we're after, but get no takers, and we make it all the way to the beach, meeting three German female tourists who extol the virtues of the beach, "You MUST go see it." We go, but it's sort of an average-looking beach to me, consisting of rock-strewn sand.

We head back in, and I play the song of one of the birds we're after, by coincidence, at the exact moment Sharon has a bush-top bird isolated in her binoculars. The instant the first few notes come out, the bird starts flying straight for me and the call it hears.. It's some way off, and it veers to our left, landing in a bush, but then makes its way to the top.

It takes us a while, but it keeps moving around, making a call that reminds me of the wrens of the U.S. It's a STRIATED FIELDWREN*, and it's wondering who the heck is in his territory.

We move on through, leaving him a little chuffed, perhaps, that he drove off an intruder.

We continue out, now trying for the other two birds, but have no luck with either of them. I see the rear half of an animal that changes from a wombat to a small deer after I blink real hard. We make a note to ask if there are deer here.

A Swamp Harrier quarters the swampy area showing us its white rump patch. The tussocks are about four or five feet high to our right, and we have the wonderful view of a wallaby's head boing-boing-boinging up and then disappearing down for about five jumps.

We finish up the lake walk and are a little surprised that we never found a lake, though there was water on either side of the road in one spot (It turns out that this is a seasonal lake, and at another time of year, we would take a boat to do this, apparently).

We come to a great look-out-for sign of a kangaroo and a running emu, and around the next corner Sharon is first to spot the three emus.

The road to the town of Tidal River winds up and down, sometimes as high as 500 feet, other times down near sea level. We come to the visitor center carpark and see a dozen or so silver gulls, waiting to eat everybody's lunch they can. We go up to the visitor center, but they are closed from noon till 1 pm. It's 1215 pm right now, so we'll have lunch, take a break, and come back after one o'clock.

We get Yellow-faced Honeyeater by our vehicle, and finally it's 1 pm, so we head for the office. The personnel there don't know a lot about the birds here, but we get a couple of ideas.

We do the walk through the camp to the river, then along the river, over the bridge, up the hill and across to the entry of the Lilly Pilly loop trail. We get mostly expected birds, but the Yellow-tailed Black-cockatoos feeding on tall, thin flowers stand out for us, as well as a nice hillside wallaby. We will come back tomorrow morning,

We do the return walk, and this was an excellent bit of exercise for us, although we didn't get any new birds. Still, it was beautiful.

Back in the carpark, we see a New South Wales license plate with the heading, "Towards 2000." Obviously, a reference to the 2000 Olympics, held in Australia, and obviously issued before those olympics..

As we're driving out, we see a sign that says not to feed the wombats (which look like cute, stout little bear cubs), as they can "get aggressive". Sharon cracks us both up by saying, "Why? What are they going to do, BUMP you to death?"

We drive to the turnoff to Five Mile Drive, where Sharon gets four emus. We come around a corner, and suddenly the sky is filled with Galahs and Sulfur-cresteds, flying up from a field. When we get a glimpse of the field, there are maybe a hundred Sulfur-crested Cockatoos, each one with its crest fully up. Sharon wants to take a picture, but when we get turned around and back, they're all down again.

I make note of the fact that it's 2.6 kilometers from the entry to the carpark of Five Mile Road. We get a Wedge-tailed Eagle flyover, as we head down the trail to the beach, where we hope to get black-faced cormorant. We chase a few Yellow-tailed Black-cockatoos, feeding high in a tree on banksia nuts. There are some on the ground unopened, and others split in h alf. A couple of Eastern Spinebills get our attention, as do a couple of wallabies.

We get currawongs and rosellas, wattlebirds and other common birds. It's windy when we get to the beach, and there are no black-faced cormorants anywhere to be seen. There are, however, about 100 black swans and a few black cormorants. Disappointed, we turn around and hike back to the vehicle. Driving back the 2.6 kilometers of Five MileRoad, we get another wombat, who slows down for a photo. {We hang way back because of the warning}

We go back to Cotters Lake, and try for Ground Parrot and Southern Emu-wren, but get neither, so we take our birding act back to the caravan park.

Sharon fixes us this great tuna casserole with fresh green beans. Double yum.

I hear the boobook owl again, and it has moved locations from last night.

Pleasantly tired from the big walks we did, we relax the rest of the evening.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 1 (Striated Fieldwren)
For the Trip: 364.

Trip Birds Today: 1 (The lifers)
For the Trip: 430.

Bird Upgrades Today: 0.
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

 

Tuesday, November 11, 2003. Day 90 of 118. To Phillip Island, Vic

We drive through the boom gate at quarter till seven am, and head for Prom proper again. A wallaby and a rabbit beside the road help me wake up, while Sharon gets an assist from her morning coffee.

We round a corner and are staring at a KEA camper, coming straight for us, in our lane. What the? I slow down, waiting to see what he'll do. He suddenly veers back over to his lane, and I say, "a-MER-i-can," and we start giggling. Sharon because of what I said and me because we're alive.

We make it to the Lilly Pilly 5 km walk and strike out about 730 am. It is nice and nobody is around. I play the Flame Robin call, and we immediately attract a Yellow Robin. We come to a few Yellow-tailed Black-cockatoos, eating banksia nuts.

A mother and baby swamp wallaby, also called black wallaby I think, are on the path, on our right, eating some wallaby tucker. Mom decides it's time to go, and Joey hesitates a bit longer, then follows her into the bush.

Sharon calls in a Rufous Fantail, and we get a couple of juvenile thornbills, then a Bassian Thrush.

About 40 percent of the way around the track, there's a boardwalk loop and we take that, getting a Golden Whistler and a White-throated Treecreeper.

The first half of the walk is pretty flat, but we come to the beginning of the second half, and begin walking uphill as the track begins to curve back around. Two juvenile Crimson Rosellas peep into a hole, like they may have come out of it, while an adult rests on a perch nearby.

We get Grey Shrike-thrush and Eastern Spinebill, about a third of the way back the top part of the loop.

We finish off the loop, back to the carpark about 11 am. We decide to head out, but stop at three of the beaches that have paved roads going to them to try for the black-faced cormorant.

The first is Squeaky Beach, to check for black cormorants. Sharon stays in the motorhome to proofread a report, and the deal is that I'll walk down and check. If there are some, they likely won't fly and I'll come back and get Sharon. I make my way down, having to jump over a bit of a stream flowing right through the sand. The sand actually squeaks when you walk on it! I look off to the left, beginning my scan and I get three Sooty Oystercatchers, and bing bang boom, a pair of nice Hooded Plovers. Three beach walkers scare them back up towards the hillside.

I report back, and we decide to move on to the second beach - Picnic Bay. It's four hundred meters from the carpark to the beach, and we take off. About 150 meters in, Sharon begins to hear a 'chup.' She has listened to me play the call of the Crescent Honeyeater all morning so she stops to look for the bird, and she says, "Here's a bird I've never seen. Bob, come here, quick!" I come over, but before I get there, she says, "It's a CRESCENT HONEYEATER*," just as I get on it. Whew, we finally get our Crescent, together.

We continue to the beach but get no cormorants, and then we move on to the last beach stop - Whisky Beach. We can hear Crescent Honeyeaters singing from cover in the bush around the carpark.

We start our walk and immediately we hear a pair of scriiitching birds flying from left to right. I get the male and then female Gang-gang Cockatoo as they fly in front of us, and I yell, "Sharon! Sharon! Gang-gang Cockatoos," but she saw them too.

They fly up to a tree and the male immediately seems to lean over in front of the female and groom her neck. They take turns doing this, them begin grooming themselves. Sharon thinks maybe they just took a bath, and are up here drying off. I get several photos, but none very good, as they are in the shade on a sunny day.

We go on down to the beach, and get a couple of Sooty Oystercatchers. Coming back up, we get a male and two female Gang-gangs perched in the top of flowering heath, and they are in full sunlight, but far away.

Fantastic.

We learn that the Giant Worms, which I thought were near the town of Lakes Entrance, are actually just a little southeast of Melbourne, near the entrance to Philip Island, home of something called the Penguin Parade, in which hundreds of Little Penguins swim in each evening, just after dark, walk across the beach, and up the bushy, sandy habitat, to their burrows. There is a facility there, where you can watch them come up on the beach, then get up from the seats near the beach, and hustle back to be at the burrows when they go into them.

We will try for the penguins, which would not be a life bird, but would be a trip bird, plus hope for Short-tailed Shearwaters, coming to THEIR burrows also.

We stop to refuel in Foster, go through Meeniyan again, use their phone line again to connect to the internet. Sharon buys some post cards, where they confirm the location of the giant worm museum. We also learn that today is Remembrance Day, where at 11 am, the country stops for a few moments of silence to honor all the Aussie men who died in all the wars. It's not a holiday that people get off work, but is a solemn one.

We drive onto Philip Island, in the northern part, to the town of Cowes, and find the caravan park we have chosen from our book. There is a pickup camper there, and the young man comes back and tells us there's a note on the window that says they'll be back in fifteen minutes. He's been waiting about a half-hour, and I say to Sharon, "We're not staying here. Let's pick out another one. This treatment is indicative of how good the rest of the camp will be."

We do that, make our way over to our new choice, and there's the pickup camper guy and his wife, who apparently knew a shortcut. There are two ladies working together to assign sites to tourists as we come in, and they are lots of fun. They say to skip the giant worms, but we should go to the pelican feeding tomorrow morning.

We decide to go to the Penguin Parade, but skip the pelican feedings tomorrow.

We arrive at the Penguin Parade, and it's a huge affair, sort of like a Sea World in the U.S. There is a big outdoor amphitheater, centered around the beach where the Little Penguins come in after dark.

We buy our tickets, and are disappointed to learn that no video or photos are allowed. But it's a pretty cool thing, nevertheless. After we get our seats, I go back to the motorhome to get my parka because, although it was warm today, it's cold, cold, cold tonight, with a chilly wind blowing, and it looks like rain is coming.

As I see Sharon when I get back, she's about to explode. She motions for me to hurry down and I do. She's got a flock of Short-tailed Shearwaters, which we have been told may or may not show up tonight. After a bit, I finally locate the SHORT-TAILED SHEARWATERS*, in a swirl far out, away from the beach. You can see them circling, and sometimes diving to the water.

What's going on with them is that it's their so-called honeymoon period. This is the time they come back to their burrows, and clean them up a little each day. After about two weeks, the female will lay one or two eggs, and the incubation period will begin. We see the shearwaters and can occasionally hear them, but we don't see them coming over land.

About 840 pm or so, the first penguins begin walking up the beach for the official crossing. They have made about a dozen false attempts, each one interrupted by one of the number rushing back into the water, followed by all the others. The announcer says it's linked to sky darkness.

When twenty or thirty have made the crossing, we rush out to the observation areas to watch them. We see them squabbling, going into burrows, reversing directions and heading back to the beach for some reason, sitting all alone and just squawking, for what we're not sure.

It's an excellent experience, and I'd recommend it. We are told to check under our vehicle before driving off, because once in a while, a penguin will stop under a car, I suppose thinking maybe it's a nice big, new burrow or something. Anyway, I check and we don't have any beneath us, so I take off.

We go back to our camp at Cowes, set up for the evening, and relax.

Tomorrow? The Giant Worms!

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 2 (Crescent Honeyeater, Short-tailed Shearwater)
For the Trip: 366.

Trip Birds Today: 3 (The lifers plus Little Penguin)
For the Trip: 433.

Bird Upgrades Today: 0.
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: Cowes Caravan Park, Cowes, Phillip Island, Victoria

 

Wednesday, November 12, 2003. Day 91 of 118. Phillip Island to Yea, Vic

We sleep in, then gear for travel and leave Phillip Island about 11 am. A veterinarian concern has a big painted sign in front, picturing dogs, cats, colts and calves, with the wonderful name of "Catmandog."

Going over the bridge to the mainland, Sharon says, "I've got two cormorants on a snag." I ask if they are black (not interested) or pied (very interested). "Black and white," she reports, so we pull into a convenient frontage road, park and get the scope out. The uncooperative cormorants turn out to be two clever snags on driftwood, but there ARE cormorants visible from here - both black and pied.

We scope carefully, but the likely black-faced ones are too far away to identify, so we move on, now thinking of giant worms.

By noon, we have walked into the museum. It is a combination coffee shop and restaurant, tourist shop and live animal display and museum. There are new owners and they apparently are going to de-emphasize the worms. We walk up to the place to buy tickets and they are $15. $15? Holy cow. I read the words describing what we will see, and it says, "See giant worms live."

A helpful, friendly lady comes over and I ask her directly, "Will we actually see live giant worms?" and she says, "Weellllllllll, no. It IS a museum," meaning why should we expect to see live worms? She starts describing the stuffed great white shark and other animals here, but Sharon says, we only came here to see the worms. I say, "This says that we will see them LIVE."

The lady, acting as if she's been caught with a hand inthe cookie jar, says, "OK", and charges us $3 each instead of $15 each. As if that's her solution to the problem. She walks us over to the worm stuff and points to the door. We walk in, and the information is fascinating.

We walk through and see photographs of these worms, hanging around the necks of a couple of men who dug them up, like a 1920s black and white movie of white explorers in Africa, holding snakes proudly. The worms can be 8 to 10 feet long and about as big around as your thumb.

There is one life-size photograph of a worm, and I get a photo of Sharon next to it. We continue walking around, and unbelievably, we see a photograph of the exact photo I took back in the Dandenongs, where we kept seeing these casts on the walking trails.

The text next to the cast photo says that it's, to put it directly, worm poop. We wonder if the holes we saw in Sherbrooke Forest were made by land yabbies or by giant worms. There is a map of the area inhabited by the worms, and it doesn't quite reach the Dandenongs, although it's very close. We tuck this information away, intending to ask some expert later (Phil Maher confirms that what we saw in the Dandenongs was worm poop).

We leave, discussing how they could advertise live worms, but not have any. There were glass displays with dirt in them, and they clearly were inhabited by giant display worms at one time, like that ant farm I ordered when I was a kid, but the lady tells us they are endangered now, and so they don't put them on display any more.

We take off and Sharon gets a paddock with white-belly-banded black cows. Sharon says maybe "see the giant worms live" means we are alive, and can see photographs of them. Well, there were two small giant worms in extremely long glass tubes, filled with formaldehyde or some other, similar preservation liquid. {We had read a travel book called "A Sunburnt Country" by Bill Bryson in which he described visiting this worm museum.It sounded so crazy and so much fun that i just had to see it for myself. It was actually quite fascinating with the old pictures of people who were posed with family members holding the worms stretched out between them. It looked like the thing people used to do to impress visitors. It is fun to think that the worms are still here and doing well. They say the Kookabura is the only predator they have and we saw a video of a Kookabura smacking one on a limb prior to eating it. They say fish don't like them so, sorry Jeff, can't get any big fish with big worms.}

We pass a field of recently cut hay, and there are about 200 Straw-necked Ibises and 50 starlings, plus maybe 10 or 20 ravens feeding on insects, we presume. We enter Wee-ko-up, and a sign says this is asparagus country.

We're heading north, crossing the Dandenong area again, and look at this, we're in Yellingbo, home of the Helmeted Honeyeater, but now we know that you can't see them here. We have lunch beside the road, where we hear Bell Miners.

We continue north, passing through heathland, then ranch paddocks, one with Scottish Highland Cattle. We come to the Tollangi State Forest Discovery Center, and six foot five Tony recommends a Yea River walk trail to try for some of our life birds.

We decide to sleep in Yea tonight, the town with the cheerful name. We head out on the walk, where we get Brown Thornbills and other common birds, but nothing exciting for us. We hop into the motorhome and take off again.

About 5 pm, we stop to go on the Willa Willa Rainforest walk, near Tollangi. Sharon explains that Willa Willa means Pink Robin, one of the birds we're after in this type of forest (No it doesn't).

We take off on the boardwalk, and Sharon immediately calls in a robin, who insists on keeping its back to us. Finally, we see a pink chest and it flies off, high into the canopy. Pink Robin? We don't know. We hear its song, and I play the song of the bird I think it may be. In this way, we cofirm a Rose Robin.

By 7 pm, we are in place in the Yea Caravan Park. I call Phil, and he will pick us up in the visitors carpark here tomorrow at 630 pm. Can't wait.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 0
For the Trip: 366.

Trip Birds Today: 0
For the Trip: 433.

Bird Upgrades Today: 0.
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.

Worms seen today: 2 preserved in formaldihyde

Sleep in: Yea Caravan Park, Yea, Victoria


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