Report No. 32. Tuesday, November 18 thru Thursday, November 20. Tasmania Maniacs.


Tuesday, November 18, 2003. Day 97 of 118. The Last Tasy Endemics.

I get up and walk over to the toilet about 7 am. The upset lady (who was that lady eyesore you with last night?) next to us is packing things away into her car, getting ready to leave. When I return, she is staring daggers at me, and I say, "Sorry about last night. It won't happen again," and she sort of nods at me in a grim manner as if to say, "It BETTER not. I OWN this world."

We gear for travel and about 8 am, we pull out, with the lady and her twin sister watching us go. Dang, I forgot to give them our email address.

We drive through Snug, passing the butchery and the post office, post code 7054, and where have I heard that number before?

We drive to the nearby Peter Murrell Reserve, park and get out. There is one bird in particular we're hoping for here, and we begin a walk through the eucalypts. We want to get a better look at Strong-billed Honeyeater, which is here, so I play that song. Well, low and behold, who should respond but a Forty-spotted Pardalote! Fantastic.

The information board said that they breed here, and here is some proof. We continue on, getting a Restless Flycatcher. Our friend Greg Anderson got them here too.

A little after 9 am, after I play their taped song, we get four or five YELLOW-THROATED HONEYEATERS*, chasing each other, calling back and forth. Occasionally one drops from high in a tree all the way to the brush-covered ground, like a parachute.

I call Greg to inquire where he saw Scrubtit. We know it was either at Fern Tree, here, or at Mt. Wellington, from the email he sent me regarding a trip he made to Hobart some time ago. He says it was at Fern Tree. We review a couple of other birds, and we're off again. Greg has been our best Australian "lifeline", in the parlance of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire."

A little after 10 am, we start to leave the Murrell Reserve, but Sharon, using that phrase I love to hear her say, "What's THAT?" She points to a sign, and there's a large grey bird perched on it. We study it, and it has a cuckoo-shaped bill. We check our field guides, and it's a Pallid Cuckoo. It immediately goes to the ground, gets a worm, and flies across the road to land on a fence, where a juvenile Pallid Cuckoo sits on a post.

Sharon reads that this is the only cuckoo that can eat a hairy caterpillar, having somehow developed the necessary skills or system to handle them. I know I can't eat one.

I ask Sharon, "What's unusual about this picture?" She can't get it, so I tell her. "It's a cuckoo, raising its OWN baby." Sharon says, "Wow, that's right." She looks up the detailed information on this bird, and it says sometimes they raise their own chicks.

Great upgrade of Pallid Cuckoo.

We drive to Fern Tree, and arrive there a little after 11 am. I go into the Fern Tree General Store and ask the lady proprietor where the trails are. She says I tripped over one on the way in the door, then shows me a map with two major trails on it, both starting right near here.

We decide on the Pipeline Track, which goes down into a gully right behind her store, as we see some teachers leading about 20 youngsters up the other trail. We get Bassian Thrush and a Tasmanian Thornbill, with its white "cotton" undertail coverts, and a Tasmanian Scrubwren.

We get a single bird flying around, making a single note. I say it looks like a female Pink Robin, so I play the tape, and within a few seconds a male Pink Robin joins its mate, searching for the intruding songster (us, don't you know). Beautiful pink color. They hang around for five minutes or so, giving us great views.

We go down into a creek bed, then up the other side, playing the song of the Scrubtit we're hoping for, but all we get is scrubwrens and thornbirds. Sharon says, "I'm going down to the bottom of the gully and see if I can find that bird that is doing the 'tic, tic' calls." I say ok, and we start down.

Sharon gets movement right away, and locates the bird. She says, "Bob, this is our bird. Come here, come here! Hurry!" I come over, and she gets me on it, and even better, on them - a pair of SCRUBTITS*. It never makes any of the calls or sings the song I've been playing, but it is very interested in the tape I've been playing. I thought I heard a 'chewy' once though. Finally, the Pink Robins seem to run them off, or else they get tired of being here and take off.

We start heading back out, and two minutes later we get the same pair or another pair, disappearing into a thick fern. By their behavior, we think they have a nest in there. This is at the place the pipeline leaves the ground and begins traveling through the open air to the other side, where it goes back underground. On our way back up, here come the kids we saw before and they all have a "checklist" of facts they are to glean and answer about the pipeline track. Seems it was the original source of water for Hobart and some what of an engineering feat of its day. They are cute kids, all about 8-9 years old.

We leave Ferntree and go into Hobart, go to an information center and get the name of an internet cafe in Hobart. Sharon checks out antique shops while I hook the laptop up to the internet, do email, and send off a report.

On the way walking past the docks to our parking spot, I see a big ship with an orange deep submersible suspended from some divots (I don't know if this is the right word). The name on the ship is L'ASTROLABE. I get a couple of photos, and somewhere in the back of my mind, it seems I've seen some TV show about this ship.

I also email Greg the remaining birds that I think we have a shot at getting during our last weeks in Australia, to see if he knows any good spots for any of them.

About 330 pm, we check into the Barilla Caravan Park in Cambridge, Tasmania.

Getting to our night's caravan park this early is really relaxing.

Just before I go to bed I go outside and yell at the top of my lungs, "Would you turn down your TV, we're trying to sleep here."

No I don't. But wouldn't that be fun?

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 2 (Yellow-throated Honeyeater, Scrubtit).
For the Trip: 396.

Trip Birds Today: 2 (The life birds).
For the Trip: 463.

Bird Upgrades Today: 1 (Saw Pallid Cuckoo much closer and feeding a fledgling).
For the Trip: 8

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: Barilla Caravan Park, Cambridge, Tasmania


Wednesday, November 19, 2003. Day 98 of 118. Melaleuca Airtrip.

Today's the day we're going to try for the Orange-bellied Parrot, in all the entire world, only in Australia, and in all of Australia, only in Tasmania at this moment, and in all of Tasmania, only in the wild, unsettled southwest of Tasmania, where they come to breed. You can only reach there by boat, by plane, or by a four or five-day hike. {Wonder why we opt for the airplane?}

We are up at 730 am, and I'm amazed by the number of motorcycles that are parked around the area - maybe ten or twelve of them. They have slept in cabins. We pack up the things we want to take with us to Melaleuca, and drive over to the Cambridge Aerodrome, very close to the Hobart Airport.

We check in about 830 am, and pay $210 Australian each for this trip. The plan is for them to leave here at 9 am, arrive there at 10 am. We will bird the area till 4 pm, when we will fly back, arriving here again at 5 pm. They will also pack us a lunch as part of the deal, which we will eat in the bird hide at Melaleuca. The rest of the passengers will go on a boat tour while we stay and bird.

Greg gives us a briefing. There will be four planes taking off from here, each carrying from 3 to 5 passengers, plus pilots. It's apparently illegal to fly us down there without pilots, but it's a lot of extra weight to carry.

The weather had been prohibitive the past few days, but today the weather is expected to be excellent! Fantastic!

I am confident and have not put on a motion sickness patch.

We have been the last ones to reserve spots in this flight of planes, and so we are on different planes. As our plane taxis along, I see a Brown Falcon appropriately sitting on the runway.

Our scheduled path, according to Greg is south to the coast, then west to Melaleuca. This is because there are usually cloud covers in the mornings, which often clear by the afternoon.

My plane is a six-seater, and I'm in the middle row with the lady-half of another couple. It's incredibly loud and nobody can talk. We zoom down the runway when it's our turn, and we lift off. The husband of the lady next to me is sitting in front of me. He's also a pilot, so can fly this plane if there's an emergency that requires it.

We are all wearing headphones, and can hear the pilot's conversations with the pilots of the other planes, plus any others we encounter. It's clear he wants to fly straight line to Melaleuca, if it's clear enough. Which it turns out not to be. So he takes the path Greg outlined earlier this morning.

The weather is a "little choppy," except according to my stomach, which would describe it as "maelstrom." Halfway through the flight, I have to go into "uh-oh" mode. I put my head down and close my eyes, and say the mantra I've taught myself to repeat over the years - "Are we there yet? Are we there yet?"

I'm getting sicker and greener, and somewhere in the outer reaches of my awareness of the world, I hear the pilot talking with the other pilots. They are saying things like, "We tried, but it's socked in clear down to the deck. Do you think if we hung around twenty minutes it might clear? No, it's really solid. OK, we're going back. We'll drive over Bruny Island, take the scenic way back. At least, we can get some scenery going back."

But to me, what they said is, "Let's try to make Bob throw up."

I gut it out for the return trip, occasionally raising my head to look out the window, and confirm that it is NOT worth raising my head.

We finally land back at the aerodrome, and I get out, breathing fresh air deeply. I've done it, I've made it. I'm alive and I didn't get sick all over the plane. I didn't have to use one of their airsick bags, which I did, incidentally, verify they had.

Sharon gets out of her plane, and we walk towards each other, going into the terminal. I don't know what will happen next. Refund? Partial refund? Rain check - that would do us no good. We're out of here early tomorrow morning. I hear rumblings of a discussion of trying it again later today.

My stomach and brain groan in unison.

I sit down in a chair, and close my eyes, not quite having it together well enough to go ask. But other people are taking rain checks for another try tomorrow morning. Then, after about a half-hour, they say the weather has cleared at Melaleuca, and they are going again. They will take the Lutmans in one plane.

To which I say two things: "Yippee!" The other thing I say is, "Oh Crap!" Sharon is excited that we can go, and I let that define how I feel.

I'll do it. It's going to be bad, but I'll do it. The alternative is to get a refund of half our money. That's no good. As one of the characters said in one of those Mission to Mars movies, "We didn't come 200 million miles to turn around in the last twenty feet." Or in our case, the last 150 miles.

I go to the motorhome, parked just outside and put on a patch. Then I come back in and stretch out on a big chair, hoping to get a little sleep. That would help.

But sleep doesn't come, and a little after noon, it's time to saddle up again.

Somehow - somehow, I make it, and we land a little after 1 pm. I can't wait to get out of this plane and breathe fresh air. I get out, bend over, put my hands on my knees and take five or six deep breaths. Man, I'm sick.

But there's stuff to do. They put our bag down, and we take it over to the small service shack first, but immediately we see the sign pointing to the bird hide, and we head up over the little hill that way. I'm feeling about twenty percent better already. I think I'm going to live. No, wait. Yes, I think so.

Our instructions are to be back here by the planes at 4 pm. So we have three hours to do whatever we want.

As we crest the hill, we can see the raised shelf that holds the bird seed to attract birds of the area. There are two parrots on the platform, and they are either Blue-winged Parrots or Orange-bellied Parrots! Either would be a life bird. But there is a stick attached to the left side of the feeding platform, and I see two small finch-sized birds on it, with INCREDIBLE red rumps. I know what they are, but Sharon hasn't seen them yet. I get her on the pair of BEAUTIFUL FIRETAILS*!

Then we come to the bird hide and go inside. It's a weather-proof building with glass on the side facing the feeding platform. We need the parrots to raise a little or something, so we can see their bellies. And sooner or later, we realize that we're looking at a pair of beautiful ORANGE-BELLIED PARROTS*.

Sharon reads some material that different parrots have coded bands on their legs. No bands means born in the wild, single color means born in the wild, bi-colored means eggs were taken from wild nests, and hand-raised and released. We see all three types, and so can claim wild birds with no hesitation or doubt.

There is a scope fastened to the floor and I set it up to be focussed on the platform. I get fantastic close-ups of Orange-bellied Parrots, and then a Firetail lands. I get a great photo through the scope of the Firetail on the platform. What a stunner!

We already got two lifers, and lunch is announced. From the raw materials provided, we make ham sandwiches and have other snacks and soft drinks, as we watch the parrots and firetails come and go from the feeder.

By this time the other couples on the planes know about us (what a blabbermouth one of is, but I'm not going to say which one he is) and our four-month birding trek. They have been wishing us good luck to see the parrots, and good luck for me not to be sick, and we have been teaching them a little about these birds and two more we're after. To my great surprise, none of them have come specifically just to see the Orange-bellies. They have a much wider scope of interest, and are going on a boat trip that is part of their package.

We ask the pilots, who are also familiar with the birds here, about two other birds we're after. They suggest a walking path to get these two birds, and we take off about 2 pm.

We get Green Rosella, Tasmanian Scrubwren and more firetails around the bird hide. A little further on, we get Striated Heathwren, singing his song from the top of a bush. We are headed toward the tin mine, but will deviate from this fairly straight line path.

We come to an orange quonset hut (take a tin can, cut it in half lengthwise, and lay it down longways), where Sharon has to use the toilet, during which she hears one of the birds we're after. She tells me, and I start playing the tape. Sharon has a great ear, and I can hear it too. It is within a whisker of being too high to hear (I mean that in a good way), but we finally work ourselves around to where we're on the walking path, with heath on either side of us. One of the SOUTHERN EMU-WRENS* flies across, with its tail sort of hanging down, appearing to be excess baggage.

The sounds continue, and I see a female perched on a bush for about ten seconds. I can see the rich rusty-brown color of the back and front, with black streaks. Later, on the other side, a beautiful male pops up, and I can see the incredible sky blue of his face and throat, to go with the same color as the female, otherwise, plus the fine wispy tail that gives them their name as the tail feathers look like emu feathers.

We have been trying for this bird all across southern Australia, and we finally have it. I feel like we've found the holy quail, er, grail.

So we gear up for the other bird, the hardest one of all. It's a parrot that lives its life on the ground, running from trouble through thick bush and grass tussocks on the ground rather than flying. Or just freezing in place. We try many places, playing the tape of its call, but without success. Finally, it's time to work our way back to the airplanes, and we begin to head back.

We make it to the planes, and it's quarter till four, but none of the others is back yet. We go back to the bird hide to pick up our bag, and I play the tape at the junction of the boardwalk, where the left path goes to a walkers' hut, and the right path goes to the bird hide.

I play part of the call, then press pause to see if there's any response, and holy cow, a GROUND PARROT* is calling. It seems to realize that it's the only bird and shuts down after about four seconds, not to call again. We decide to wade in after it and walk into the grass tussock area, hoping to flush it into its weak flight, but without success.

We try for that bird for another half-hour, since the others are late getting back, but get neither hide nor feather. Just that one call, but hey, that was plenty. There is absolutely no doubt but we were in the presence of our 400th life bird of the trip. And what a bird to be our Number 400!

We couldn't be happier. I'm not even dreading the return air trip, which I know will make me sick, but I'm so high, I know I'll ride it out too.

Well, I won't bore you with the details. We flew back, and I got a little sick, we landed, we got out, I recovered very quickly, and we drove back to the same caravan park we used last night. We rested until it started getting dark, then we headed out to try for one more bird. This has been such a great day, maybe our luck will continue.

We order a pizza to pick up at 7 pm from the on-site restaurant/take out place, then we relax till dinner time. We pick up our pizza, and prepare to take it birding with us.

As we're leaving, a neighbor yells, being familiar with our license plate pattern, "What part of Queensland are you from?" Sharon, without missing a beat yells back, "California!" Then the man says, "That's the far end of Queensland," or something like that. We all laugh, then we take off.

We locate the area described in our Wheatley's, but there are no Masked Owls in the hole or the tree or the forest described. We get lots of Noisy Miners and a pair of Musk Lorikeets who won't allow themselves to be intimidated by the Noisy Miners, who try gang tactics to drive them off. The Lorikeets finally go back into a hole of the hollow tree we initially scared them out of.

We have our pizza on and off during this bird-checking, and it's a supremo pizza, but a birdless one. So we go back into our own "hollow tree," back at Barilla Caravan Park, to snooze away the night.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 4 (Beautiful Firetail, Orange-bellied Parrot, Southern Emu-wren, Ground Parrot - heard only).
For the Trip: 400!!!.

Trip Birds Today: 4 (The life birds).
For the Trip: 467.

Bird Upgrades Today: 0
For the Trip: 8

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: Barilla Caravan Park, Cambridge, Tasmania


Thursday, November 20, 2003. Day 99 of 118. More Tasy.

After yesterday's marathon trips to Melaleuca, we sleep in. Sharon giggles and reads me this out of her magazine, "The pregnant lady looked like a freshly fed python in a field that's one cow short."

I get a great kick out of watching a little kid sitting inside a laundry basket on a sidewalk. He's launching himself forward, while seated, one jerk at a time. His basket tips over to the side, spilling him onto the grass. Instead of getting up, righting the basket and getting back in, he stays in it, trying to rock it back onto the sidewalk. He finally decides that's not going to work, so he gets out, puts the basket back on the sidewalk, and gets back in. Then it's shove, shove, shove. Great stuff.

For some reason I think of Steve Martin.

We finally take off and drive by a sign that says a vegetable stand is selling New Season Pink Eye. We believe these are potatoes, and we also guess that they don't use this name for conjunctivitis here.

About 10 am, Sharon gets another echidna, walking along beside the road.

That's about the fifth old time car that we've met, and they are obviously having some kind of rally.

About 11 am, we are pulled off to the side of the road. About ten feet away is a Tasmanian Devil. We can see its incredible claws, nostrils and teeth. He is about a half-inch tall, and you can guess what that means when I tell you he is on the highway.

We stop at the beach in Spring Hill, then at Louisville, where the Maria Island ferry comes. We are looking for Fairy Terns, but there are none to be seen. This is a beautiful place though, very peaceful.

Next we go to Bolton's Beach and Conservation Area. There are signs that dogs may never be walked to the right, and must be on a leash when walked to the left, on the beach. A sign shows that this is a nesting area for Fairy Terns, Little Terns, Pied Oystercatchers, and Hooded Plovers. This is incredibly exciting - our best shot at Fairy Tern.

We go to the right first, and get a pair of Hooded Plovers and a very nice Red-capped Dotterel. We go back to the left then, and get three Australasian Gannets. I watch one of them do that fantastic dive and plunge. After we get about 500 meters down the beach, it starts pouring down rain, and we are getting used to this. We hustle back to the motorhome, wet below the area where the umbrella protected us - about the mid-neck area.

We have lunch, then head up towards Swansea, just as we can hear thunder down under. We admire a fence made from sandstone rocks. We find Nine Mile Beach Road, and drive the whole length of it, hoping for Fairy Terns. The problems are 1) it is POURING down rain, and 2) it's not a national park, but private homes with deep lots. We can't even see the beach. No Fairy Terns here.

We are heading northwest, at about 1200 feet, and have been climbing in moderately heavy fog. Sharon finishes reading Report 29 as we are driving. I stop at a Kalangaloo store for some popsicles, and we find that it has some irresistible souvenirs for a total of about 70 bucks. That's OK, we're on vacation.

We continue on, refueling before reaching Launceston, where Sharon notices a chicken restaurant called "Ponderoaster."

It's late evening now, and a bit hazy. We come around a corner, about twenty minutes from the Devonshire ferry, and we see devastation - every single tree in a bit of forest next to the highway has been cut down. It looks like a nuclear explosion leveled everything. An ironic sign says, "Shhhh. Trees Growing."

We get in the ferry line about 730 pm. Sharon has already got her stuff together to take into our cabin tonight. We switch drivers on the fly, while we wait in line, and I get all my stuff together. Then we switch back.

This hurrying turns out to be a total waste, as they have us wait for an hour and fifteen minutes, while loading what seems like everybody else before us. About a quarter till nine, they give us the go ahead. We drive on and pull up behind one and adjacent to another huge trailer.

The ride to Tasmania was so smooth that I don't put on an anti-motion sickness earpatch this time. We eat at the eatery again, then stop at the souvenir store, where I buy myself a wool pullover that says "Tasmania" on it.

Then it's off to our cabin, where the sleepin' is easy.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 0
For the Trip: 400.

Trip Birds Today: 0.
For the Trip: 467.

Bird Upgrades Today: 0
For the Trip: 8

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: Spirit of Tasmania I

That's it for Report 32 and that's it for Tasmania. I think we needed about two more days here. Oh well, always leave something to come back for.

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