Report No. 31. Saturday, November 15 thru Monday, November 17. Tasmania.

 

Saturday, November 15, 2003. Day 94 of 118. Get Thee To The Tasmania Ferry.

FLASHBACK #1: I forgot to mention that late, late last night, as Phil Maher was driving us back to our caravan park, I suddenly saw a shooting star out to our left. But it had several strange characteristics: 1) It was brilliant, pale green, 2) if the horizon is zero degrees and straight overhead is 90 degrees, then it started about 45 degrees, and dropped to about 10 degrees before disappearing. 3) It was triangular shaped, like the main three sided sail of a sailboat. 4) I yelled to Phil and Sharon from my position in the back seat to look at it, which they did.

END FLASHBACK #1

FLASHBACK #2:

I also forgot to mention this yesterday. Here's an incredible conversation we had with Phil that I meant to include.

Also, 'casts,' in this conversation, refers to these things about as thick as a pencil, and maybe eight or ten inches long, but divided into pieces about three-quarters of an inch long, but still connected to each other, then sort of piled up on top of each other, as if they had come out of a can of silly string.

Sharon said, "Phil, we were up in the Dandenongs walking on the trails and we kept seeing these casts... " Now the rest of her sentence was GOING to be this: "... and we couldn't decide whether they were made by land yabbies or giant worms we've heard about recently a little south of the Dandenongs."

Well, he interrupted her after the word 'casts,' and said, "Giant Worms!" Sharon told him that we'd been to the giant worm museum, and that the giant worm area didn't quite go as far north as the Dandenong Mountain Ranges, according to the museum's map, but he said, "Yep, those were made by giant worms."

So we saw giant worm poo before we ever saw the giant worm display and museum. I bet you've never seen giant worm poo.

END OF FLASHBACK #2.

The alarm goes off at 6 am, and we head out for Melbourne and tonight's ferry to Tasmania. Almost everybody says TAZZ-ee, and here this is spelled Tassie, but I'm going to spell it 'Tasy,' if you don't mind. Tassie, is too close to Lassie, and that pronunciation, in my mind.

We stop for breakfast about an hour later, now back in Victoria, then stop for fuel in Echuca.

FLASHBACK #3:

Echuca is the low bridge place.

Yesterday, as we were driving north, through Echuca, I wasn't paying particular attention to the road signs as we were driving into town, and suddenly we were about to pass under a railroad bridge when I noticed the height limit on vehicles passing under. It's the exact same height as our vehicle - 3.5 meters!!

I jammed on the brakes before we got to it. Whew, that was a close one. I could just see it taking the air conditioner off the top of the motorhome. That would be exciting. Cars were honking at me as they had to stop, then check for oncoming traffic, then go around us.

My only option was to back up. There is a side street parallel to ours, and as I'm backing up, a car came out of that side street, and pulled behind me. I couldn't see him, and continued slowly, slowly backing up. He started honking, so I stopped backing. He drove around us, yelling some kind of encouragement, I imagine, and indicating that we're Number 1. Excellent!

I kept backing up, and took that parallel street, but it just turned left, and didn't get us over the tracks. I went back to the fuel service station, and asked how to get around it. The lady told me to turn around, head back the way we came from, and follow the "truck route" signs.

Before she gave me those directions, upon hearing of the 3.5 meter limit being the same as the vehicle dimension, she said, "I would just have driven under. They must make some allowance." Right. Like I was gonna do THAT intentionally.

I followed her instructions, and in this way, went through town without having to pass under the low railroad bridge.

END OF FLASHBACK #3. BACK TO TODAY.

I continually misjudge the day's driving distance and time required to cover it. I thought it would be eight hours or so to Melbourne, but it's 1020 am, and we're only 2.5 or 3 hours away. By eleven o'clock, we can see the Melbourne skyline, and by noon, we're in the Melbourne Big 4 Holiday Park. I paid for one night's stay here, but we'll only be here for the afternoon and early evening, at most.

Sharon will do laundry, I will fill up the freshwater tank, empty the grey water tank and toilet cartridge, and try to catch up a bit on reports.

The caravan park people are great. They give us a map of Melbourne with our exact path highlighted to the ferry. Melbourne has street cars which run touching overhead electrical cables, and these street cars share the road with regular traffic. In order not to have the cars block the street cars, they have invented something called a right hook turn.

Remember that in Australia, we drive on the left, not the right. So the right turn in Australia is like the left turn in America.

In this right hook turn, in order to make a right turn, you get in the far LEFT lane and wait. When the light cycles around to right turn, you make it from the extreme left. That way, the street cars don't have to wait for people, waiting to make a right turn.

Anyway, the path highlighted for us is specially designed NOT to have to execute any right hooks.

There is an internet machine in the lobby of the caravan park. You put in two dollars, and it automatically dials a Melbourne internet connection number, then you're on. When we checked in, I told them about my laptop and needing to connect it, and Mary told me in a low tone of voice, "We don't normally do this, because we want to discourage it. But come back when you're ready, and if nobody is using it, you can."

So I send off a report and do email, and we decide to head for the port about 6 pm.

There's just one thang...

The hand brake doesn't work, and when we shut the motorhome engine off, it doesn't "hold." In other words, if you stop on a hill and shut it off, it'll just roll down the hill. So we've been using the chock under the wheel since, let's see, I can't remember when - Western Australia somewhere. Sharon says we have to tell them before we drive onto the boat, and I resist, yet I know we have to, of course. It suddenly occurs to me that we might not be going to Tasmania.

I argue that in other situations like this, the boat will be level when we get on, and the workers fasten each vehicle to four points so that it can't move at all. Sharon's still uncomfortable with this, and starts reading through the truck owner's manual again. She once again brings up the point that it's an automatic transmission, and that when we park, it should hold in place.

For the sixth or tenth time, I explain that the Mercedes has a so-called "intelligent" engine, that for some reason, won't stay in gear when we park.

She continues reading, and comes up with the fact that the brain of the engine "sees" what gear the transmission was in when you shut it off, and keeps it in that gear, no matter what you do to the gear shift after you turn the engine off.

Huh?

You have to start the engine with the transmission in neutral and your foot on the brake, so I had been leaving it in neutral when I shut it off. I DID try putting it into AUTOMATIC, a sort of equivalent of FIRST gear of a manual transmission, or PARK of a regular car but it doesn't work. {we discover after this that Bob has been putting it in gear AFTER he turns off the engine and this is why it has no effect.}

So I test it. I stop on a hill, make sure the transmission is in AUTOMATIC, and turn the key off. I take my foot off the brake and we hold in place! And the display says the transmission is in '1'. I presume that means first gear, or low gear.

This reminds me of discovering that pickles are made from cucumbers about ten years ago. In the words of my friend Bill Petrick, "You've done it again, Robin."

Don't tell anybody about this, 'kay? It might ruin my rep.

So now we toss our worry about the motorhome rolling around on the parking deck of the ship into the trash can. I just grin and shake my head when I think of all the past weeks we've been having Sharon stick the chock under the front wheel to keep us from rolling away.

My bad. {Some times it does pay for me to read everything}

We drive into town, following the perfectly laid out highlighted street path, and get in line for the boat { a very long line but everybody is going the same place so we don't worry They very efficiently walk back to each car, collect your boarding information and get you your ticket before you get to the check in window.}. I have to dump the 10 liters of fuel from our jerry can into the vehicle's fuel tank. Then in order to keep the red jerry can, I would have to fill it with water. I asked if I could just throw it away, and I did, since the answer was a 'yes.'

We finally get onto the boat, the Spirit of Tasmania I (the II is in Tasy right now, prepping to come this way), park and lock our motorhome SECURELY, and by a quarter till nine, we've found our cabin, a four-berth room with porthole and bath. They gave us this at the same price as a two-berth cabin because they said they were out of the two-berth ones.

Oh well.

We go down from our deck 8 to deck 7 and watch the Australians watching their Wallabies beat New Zealand in a huge rugby world cup semifinal. I think the Aussies were underdogs, but they pull it off. We have our dinner in the "eatery," a sort of cafeteria, then go shopping in the souvenir store.

I keep giggling and elbowing Sharon, "We don't need the chock any more. Sorry about those five hundred times you put it in and took it out." And bless her, she giggles too. Mostly because she won't need to do it any more, I think.

We turn in and my anti-motion sickness earpatch is doing its job. I feel groggy and it's sooooo easy to go to sleep.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 0.
For the Trip: 379.

Trip Birds Today: 0.
For the Trip: 446.

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: a private room on the Spirit of Tasmania I overnight ferry to Tasmania

 

Sunday, November 16, 2003. Day 95 of 118. Tasmania Mania, Bruny Island.

We get up and out on the deck at 620 am, trying for some seabirds. We get a number of birds we can't identify - some shearwaters, maybe a petrel.

Then, we are suddenly aware of a bird flying right along beside us, at our eye level, and holy cow, it's a BLACK-FACED CORMORANT*. It stays there about twenty seconds, long enough to verify the eye in the black of the cap. I have to smile at the number of places we tried for this bird along the coast during the past few weeks.

About 30 minutes before docking, we head down to the motorhome with our valuables and overnight things. We have time to put them away, and are excited, waiting our turn to exit. {Of course, we forgot which side of the ship we had parked on so had a mad scramble to find our RV.}

We leave the boat about 7 am, and have to wait our turn to go through the agriculture check, where they take our vegetables and fruits. But...

WE'RE ON TASMANIA!

A volunteer gives us a pack of free brochures and a big "Welcome to Tasmania."

We find a Coles supermarket and restock with groceries, then make our way out of Devonport, where we've docked.

We check for birds and get starlings, house sparrows, pacific and silver gulls, and a couple of masked lapwings on a fresh cut grass lawn.

At 930 am, the hot, hot weather we had yesterday in Melbourne (101 degrees F) set us up for a very comfortable day here. There are a few puffy white clouds around, and it's beautiful.

We drive by an arboretum and get a number of TASMANIAN NATIVE-HENS*, with at least two chicks. A Kookaburra plunges from its perch to deep grass, then immediately flies back up to its perch. A starling and a green rosella fly up from the road, but Sharon doesn't see the rosella.

We are heading for the ferry to Bruny Island, and we don't know if we can make the five o'clock one, or we may miss it and have to take the six-thirty. We drive by the Big Spud, sort of like an oversized Mr. Potato Head, next to a Mobil service station.

We stop for lunch about 1 pm in a little wayside picnic stop and get a couple of TASMANIAN SCRUB-WRENS*, House Sparrows and Welcome Swallows, all working the area.

We hit the road again, and realize that all the ravens we're seeing are FOREST RAVENS*.

We stop once to refuel, and about 4 pm, it's clear that we are probably going to miss the five o'clock ferry. We were told we need to get there at ten till 5, and I estimate we'll get there about five till, at the earliest. The other problem is that the road is narrow and winding, plus we keep having to slow down when we go through small towns.

But we keep being on the edge of making it, so I keep driving as fast as the speed limit allows, and suddenly we can see the harbor where the ferry will leave from. I drive us down to where we can see the line, and holy cow, cars are still driving OFF of the ferry.

We made it!

We get in line and within two minutes, they start having us drive onto the ferry. Our cost is $28 so this is very reasonable. They charge us for off-peak hours and six meters in length, although we know we are longer, and the price might have been as high as $40 or more.

When we get to the other side, a ride of about twenty minutes, we know that we must drive east, then turn south, cross the narrow isthmus connecting the north and south islands that make up Bruny Island. We make the right turn, cross the isthmus, which isn't quite as narrow as I think it's going to be, and continue south, making Adventure Bay about 6 pm.

We continue on till we come to Adventure Bay Caravan Park, where we check in, drive to our site, close to the beach and to the mountainside forest. This is great! We can see birds all over the place, and we know some of them are lifers.

After setting up, we start birding. We walk back across the creek bridge, and get YELLOW WATTLEBIRD* chasing a GREEN ROSELLA* out of a tree. We also get our first view of SWIFT PARROTS*, high in the eucalypts.

There are a number of Yellow-tailed Black-cockatoos and Sharon sees a Red Wattlebird.

As we walk around, we see something the manager of the caravan park mentioned - a white wallaby! It's an albino, and Sharon notices a little white foot sticking out of its pouch.

We walk over to the forest edge, and can see honeyeaters far overhead. We are hopeful of what they may be, but it's getting dark and we return to the motorhome.

I start filling the fresh water tank, which for some reason over the entire period of time we've had it, requires that the water be filled extremely slowly - just a trickle. If you try to fill it at a normal flow rate, it behaves as if it's full, but it isn't. As a former chemical engineer, I cannot figure out how this can be. But as a that's-how-life-is observer, I accept the fact without understanding the mechanism.

I go outside to check it every once in a while, since there's no indication inside.

The first time I go out to check, after I've started it trickling in, I take a very, very dim flashlight. I am totally surprised to find seven or eight wallabies eating grass within ten feet of our camper. They stop feeding and watch me, so I teach them how to pull the hose out to make sure the trickle is still happening. They are fascinated with this activity.

One time, I see a white wallaby, with a dark brown joey in her pouch. I finally get the fresh water tank filled, and turn in.

Can't wait for tomorrow! We'll be after more Tasmania endemics.

And if you don't know, or would like a reminder, an 'endemic' is a bird that is only on that island or in that area. A Tasmanian endemic is only on Tasmania. All Tasmanian endemics are also Australian endemics, since Tasmania is a part of Australia.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 7 (Black-faced Cormorant, Tasmanian Native-hen, Tasmanian Scrubwren, Forest Raven, Yellow Wattlebird, Green Rosella, Swift Parrot).
For the Trip: 386.

Trip Birds Today: 7 (The life birds).
For the Trip: 453.

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: Adventure Bay Caravan Park, Adventure Bay, S. Bruny Island, Tasmania

 

Monday, November 17, 2003. Day 96 of 118. Bruny Island back to Tasy.

We get up late by design, and Sharon fixes us a full, hot breakfast, with eggs and bacon. We need to let the sun come over the mountain behind us to light up the forest before we go for our target honeyeaters.

At 730 am, we are out birding and get about twenty Yellow-tailed Black-cockatoos flying out of a few big eucalypts. We make it over to the forest edge, and I start playing robins' tapes. We get three DUSKY ROBINS*, who come across the open grassland to check out the interloper.

At 8 am, we get honeyeaters working high overhead, and we get BLACK-HEADED HONEYEATERS*, as well as STRONG-BILLED HONEYEATERS*.

We leave the forest edge, and work past a nice garden, securely enclosed to keep out the wallabies and wombats. Several big black birds fly from one large tree into another. We see white wing tips and tails with white tips, plus a red eye - a number of very attractive BLACK CURRAWONGS*.

Walking around the camp grounds now, we are totally surprised to get a canary feeding on the grass, like a house sparrow. It's two kinds of yellow, has a yellow bill. At first we think it is an albino, but it's not. A little before 10 am, we get several beautiful Dusky Woodswallows over an open area next to the forest edge.

Sharon looks in our mammal book and learns that the white wallabies are of the Bennett's subspecies.

We are off, headed across the mountain now, hoping for more Tasmanian lifers. As we take off, Sharon reads how Captain Bligh climbed this one particular hill, and was supposedly the first European to do it. In other words, it was a place where the hand of man had never set foot - European man, anyway.

A little before 11 am, we reach the turnoff to Lunawanna and turn left, heading up the slope. We stop at a couple of pulloffs and at one, we get a thornbill with puffy, cotton white "underpants" - the key feature of the TASMANIAN THORNBILL*. We were expecting this white color, but they actually have dimension, like a piece of a cottonball.

We stop at one of the rich fern gullies on a steep slope, park as far off the road as we can get, put the chock under the wheel just for insurance, and walk up and down the road, playing the tape for Pink Robin. This is the correct habitat, and now we need the presence of Mr. Robin. I alternate among the taped calls of Pink Robin, Flame Robin and Scrubtit, and suddenly a bird lands on a big fern. Sharon is on it immediately, and yells, "PINK ROBIN*!" I go into analytical mode, and intending to review the specific features of the bird, such as wing bars, white on the tail, color of the throat, etc., I ask, "Now why do you think it's a Pink Robin?" Instead of falling into a detailed discussion of the bird's attributes, she yells, "BECAUSE IT'S PINK!"

Good answer.

There are another couple of robins with various shades of red, pink, or orange, but this is definitely a Pink Robin. Then the female comes, and she has a very light pink wash on her chest.

We are really excited about getting this robin, and continue the return trip, stopping at another spot. Sharon reaches for the chock, and - oops, we left it at the Pink Robin spot. We drive back, retrieve it, and double back again, finally coming to a new spot.

Here, we get another Strong-billed Honeyeater, working away in the high eycalypts. We see no black necklace that would indicate Black-headed Honeyeater. A Bassian Thrush works the top of an uprooted tree trunk.

A little before 2 pm, we are on a walking loop trail, recently cut short by a big storm. We're trying for Scrubtit, but we get another nice Pink Robin. The contrast of the bright pink with the deep green ferns is remarkable.

We decide we'd better head across the isthmus to the north island, and go for our last and maybe biggest target bird here. We notice the low tide, and as we drive across, we see the hill that is the lookout for watching the Little Penguins and Short-tailed Shearwaters coming into their burrows in the evenings. As we drive by, Sharon says, "Look, I can see their burrows," and points them out to me.

We follow our instructions to a place called McCracken's Gully and pull over on a wide curve in the gravel and dirt road. We get out, and I start playing the song of the bird we want. I play it once or twice, and Sharon says, "He's coming, I can hear him." And she's right. The rare FORTY-SPOTTED PARDALOTE* perches about ten feet from us, looking left and right, listening for the call that brought him over.

This is a great bird for us to get, and he's exactly at the spot described. At first, he was facing me head on and I couldn't see his wings. I thought it was some kind of thornbill till he began looking left and right, then I could see the spots on his wings. Sharon, of course, knew what it was right off the bat. {"of course", isn't he sweet?}

It's 330 pm, and we are running short of time, if we want to make the 430 pm ferry back to Tasmania mainland. We can't turn around where we are, so we head north on this road till we come to a spot where we can turn around. It's a big spot right next to a young fellow and his dogs getting ready to drive a herd of sheep across the road.

I start to take off, but then two things happen simultaneouosly. First, I see a single bird on the fence ahead of us on the right, past the sheep paddock, and it is showing a chest that is BRIGHT ORANGE! Brilliant orange! Second, Sharon yells, "Stop. I want to watch this dog herd the sheep across the road. I am jamming on the brakes for the bird as Sharon is requesting the stop.

She asks, "Did you stop for the bird or because I said I wanted you to?" What kind of a question is that? The answer, of course, is that I stopped because she asked me to...

The young man seems to be waiting for us to move on before he and his dogs drive the sheep across the road, but we're so excited because of the fantastic FLAME ROBIN*, that we aren't quite aware of what he's doing.

When we get our fill of the robin, and his mate, I back up behind the path the sheep will take. Sharon gets out the video camera and as the dogs are doing their job, the young man comes over.

We talk to him while the sheep are crossing, and he's probably 20-25 years old, and his parents own 1300 acres and are raising 14,000 sheep, of which we are looking at a couple of hundred. The dogs are in their element. The guy has just come from South Africa to help his parents, and has been here a couple of months. He says the island is beautiful, but the social life is a "bit lacking." We talk a little more, the sheep make it across, and he takes off on his quadrunner to lock the gates.

Sharon says, "Maureen, we've got the guy for you! He's gorgeous! " We move on, and see the pair of robins working an old log as we exit the area. We pass by the tree that has the "forty-spot" (this great nickname supplied by our friend Greg Anderson) in it as we continue on for the ferry.

We get to the dock and a little after 4 pm, we watch the small ferry pull into the dock. It cost us $28 to get here, but we think they underestimated our length. I expect that it'll be a little more to get back. When we ask, we are told that the $28 was a "return" fare, meaning it covered the entire round trip.

Sharon is thinking about the robins we got today - pink, dusky and flame. Three great birds.

Just for fun, as we are docking over on Tasy a little before 5 pm, there are three Black-faced Cormorants perched on a floating platform part of an oyster farm or something.

We head north and at 452 pm, Sharon points out that it was exactly 24 hours ago that we arrived here to take the ferry TO Bruny Island. Wow, what an amazing 24 hours.

As we're driving north, Sharon says, "There are two pigs in that field. I think those are the first pigs we've seen in Australia." Nearby a sign says, "Sheep manure, 50 cents a bag." That seems pretty sheep, er, pretty cheap.

We stay the night in the Snug Caravan Park, in a town called Snug, Tasmania. Sharon fixes dinner, and we get to watch Survivor, the TV show. Addiction can be a wonderful thing.

About 11 pm, there is a loud knock on our door. I'm figuring boogeyman right off. I say, "Yes?" A lady tells us that our TV is keeping them awake, they are right next door, and it's after 11 o'clock. Sharon has already turned it down. "Sorry," I say. "We're just right next door and you've kept us awake," she yells for emphasis, and goes back to her caravan.

I call this - "Making friends in Australia."

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 8 (Dusky Robin, Black-headed Honeyeater, Strong-billed Honeyeater, Black Currawong, Tasmanian Thornbill, Pink Robin, Forty-spotted Pardalote, Flame Robin).
For the Trip: 394.

Trip Birds Today: 8 (The life birds).
For the Trip: 461.

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: Snug Beach Caravan Park, Snug Beach, southeast Tasmania

That's it for Report 31. My early estimate of 40 reports seems about right now. 40. As in 40-spot.


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