Report No. 34. Monday, November 24 thru Wednesday, November 26. RAIN and Bristlebirds... and RAIN.

 

Monday, November 24, 2003. Day 103 of 118. Heading north to Jervis Bay. Abie See de Bristlebird?

It's 715 am, and we're headed back to Jervis Bay and the Cape St. George Lighthouse ruins. We will try again for Eastern Bristlebirds, hopefully to SEE one today...

... in the RAIN.

We come to the entrance station and there is a machine where we must insert ten dollars in coins. Hot Dog! I've been waiting for this a long time. We have a bag of small coins that must weigh five pounds. You know how everybody has a drawer or bottle or jar that they keep throwing coins in? We count out ten dollars in fifty cent, twenty cent and ten cent coins, I insert them and punch out our ticket.

We see signs every once in a while that say "Endangered Bristlebird," with a bristlebird outline. We get Kookaburras and currawongs as we drive in.

We park, get out, check out the area, and start playing the tape of the Eastern Bristlebird. I won't drag this out. We spend two hours playing the tape, hearing a response, and not seeing a bristlebird.

At one time the sun actually comes out, and we hear a bristlebird singing loudly from a bush beyond a wall of foliage. When we quietly make our way around it for what we are sure will be a great view, we get nada. A nice White-bellied Sea-eagle is soaring and hovering in the heavy wind. It occasionally drops below the level of the bluff, then unseen by us drifts over to near our cliff, then catches an updraft and comes zooming up very close to us before rising higher and drifting off.

At noon, we give up on trying to see the bristlebird and take off. It starts raining heavily again. We find a Coles, load up on groceries, then have lunch at a Subway sandwich shop.

We get on the road, aiming for Kiara, which is near the turnoff to Fitzroy Falls, our next birding stop. We find Kiara, find the caravan park, but learn that they don't get TV reception, by now a requirement for tonight's episode of Survivor. How can we SURVIVE without TV reception?

We move on and Sharon finds another place in the caravan park guide. We check there, but they also say they don't get TV reception. The fellow recommends Shellharbour, around the bend and flat terrain.

We take off, but decide to wait till tomorrow to visit Fitzroy Falls, since it's pouring down. Having made that decision, we relax and enjoy the rest of the trip to Shellharbour.

But first we spend about an hour of driving around trying to find a place where we can buy some Portasan, to add to the chemical toilet each time I empty it. We finally locate a place, and I'm grateful to pay $21.40 for about $9 worth of stuff. I mean really grateful. I immediately don't like all the congestion and the way one town blends into the next. I don't like the freeway and all the roads as we are now close to Sydney.

I want the outback!

We make our way back to the Beachfront Holiday Park in Shellharbour, New South Wales. It's right on the beach and it's very nice, although it's...

RAINING!

We want to have dinner with our friend Ian Standen and his mom, in Wollongong, about 35 minutes north of here. He calls and we decide on either Wednesday or Thursday night, depending on what birds we are able to get tomorrow. We'll talk again tomorrow night to finalize the date. We watch Survivor and go to sleep.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 0
For the Trip: 402.

Trip Birds Today: 0.
For the Trip: 469.

Bird Upgrades Today: 0
For the Trip: 9

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: Shellharbour Beachfront Holiday Park, Shellharbour, NSW

 

Tuesday, November 25, 2003. Day 104 of 118. Rainy Fitzroy Falls.

We call our friend Ian Standen and leave a voice message on his work phone that we'd like to have dinner with him and his mom tomorrow, Wednesday night. We say in the message that we'll talk to him tonight to confirm and finalize times, etc. This is on the basis that there are more good birds to see after Wollongong than the ones we'll be after today and tomorrow.

We check out of the Shellharbour Beachfront Holiday Park, and head up to Fitzroy Falls, where we're going to try for the Rockwarbler. Our friend Greg Anderson has seen them here, and we want to duplicate that sighting.

Unbelievably, the sun's shining and we can't quite stand it. However, there ARE some heavy clouds on the horizon. We hope they're going away from us and not towards us.

We're climbing, climbing, climbing up the east side of what I think is the Great Dividing Range, but I'm not quite sure of that. At 930 am, we're at 1800 feet. Twenty minutes ago, we were at 50 feet or so.

We break into more open area at 2400 feet, and we are now in fog, rain and wind. About 10 am, we turn into the Fitzroy Falls visitors center carpark.

We talk with two ranger ladies, one of whom knows all about the Rockwarbler. She tells us where she usually sees the bird, and relates an episode where about a hundred young school kids were gathered around her and she was talking about how hard the Rockwarbler was to see, when one popped up about ten feet from her, on a rock, and proceeded to sing for about five minutes.

We take off and get a) Yellow Robin, b) fog, c) wind, d) three Superb Lyrebirds, two of which scratch for food right on the path in front of us for five minutes, one feeding the other occasionally, but no e) Rockwarbler.

We have wonderful views of several waterfalls, but they are windblown, wet and wild. We also get wombat poo on the path, recognized as "cubes", and carefully laid (is that the right word?) on elevated spots for some wombat inter-communication purposes unknown to humans.

I alternate playing the calls of the Pilotbird (which we've heard but not seen) and Rockwarbler, which would be a life bird.

About 1215 pm, I finally get my digital voice recorder unlocked. I somehow inadvertently locked it so I couldn't record anything on it, and I finally remember the combination of buttons that is needed to unlock it.

I plan to live my old age like this. Somebody will ask me a question, and I'll respond about an hour later, since it will take me that long to think of the answer.

Actually there is no wind when we are walking on trails totally within the forests, but when we break into the open, especially when we're near cliffs or waterfalls, the winds are huge.

We are walking up the trail and I'm playing the Rockwarbler tape. I put it away, when we get an incredibly sharp call. Sharon yells, "What's that?" I say maybe it's a Lyrebird, when it runs across right in front of us. Sharon yells, "It's a Pilotbird." I kick out the Rockwarbler CD, stick in the Pilotbird tape and play it. The Pilotbird slows down its path away from us, turns back, retracing its steps. It runs back across the path, cirlces further and pops up on a log. We can see his orange face, sort of dissolving into brown around it. This is a great upgrade.

We get a gorgeous Rufous Fantail about 1 pm. We turn around and head back, getting a nice Eastern Whipbird.

We make it back to the motorhome, take off our soaking wet clothes and have lunch. We put on dry clothes and go back into the visitors center. We buy some items, then get word of a Christian conference center, which has residual powered sites from the caravan park it used to be. The lady ranger says that if we go up there, much closer than driving back down the mountain, we can probably get a space there.

We drive over there, ring the bell of the office, which is actually just a downstairs room of a house, and meet the owner. He's a friendly guy, who has built this entire concern from scratch, starting 37 years ago, I think he said.

We are the only visitors, but he says tomorrow sixty kids will arrive and stay through the weekend. We'll be long gone before they get here. {The park has two small clothes dryers and I spend the afternoon drying our parkas, jeans, gloves, etc. one item at a time in a dryer that keeps tripping its circuit breaker. I finally stay in the laundry room pushing the "reset" button until our things are dry. The good news is that it was free.}

I put about $3 into a public telephone before I begin to suspect that it doesn't work. I go up to the owner's house, and he confirms the bad public phone condition. He says I can use his telephone. I try to call Ian several times, but get a busy signal. I go back to the motorhome, then return about forty minutes later. I try Ian again, but again get a busy signal, so I call his work voice mail and leave him the new information. Tomorrow night, pick us up at 6, or rather we'll be ready for him to pick us up at six.

I go back and it's rather spooky in this big building-filled clearing in the middle of the forest in the middle of the night. I get the giant spotlight and hit all the big trees around us, but don't get any nightlife.

It rains off and on, and there are great sounds coming from the forest. Cozy sleeping conditions.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 0
For the Trip: 402.

Trip Birds Today: 0.
For the Trip: 469.

Bird Upgrades Today: 2 (Superb Lyrebird - two on path for 10 minutes; Pilotbird - seen)
For the Trip: 11

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: Lyons Christian Conference Center Caravan Park, Fitzroy Falls, NSW

 

Wednesday, November 26, 2003. Day 105 of 118. Rainy Barren Grounds.

We get up at 6 am and rig for travel. It's overcast as we take off. We go back up the road, turn right, go back out onto the main road and into the thick fog. We follow our instructions to Barren Grounds National Park via Robertson, and make it there by about 645 am.

We check the map and select the walking trails we want to use.

It is pouring down rain and foggy. We dress for rain. We both wear our rain pants, overshoes, parkas and we take our umbrellas. It's cold, but we're comfortable in our rain gear and a little smarter than yesterday.

As we begin our walk, a wet, bedraggled Yellow-tailed Black-cockatoo flies away from us, croaking, "When will this rain STOP?" I hear ya, buddy.

We're after three possible birds here. We want to SEE a Ground Parrot, which would be an upgrade to the one we heard. The other birds we're after are to SEE an Eastern Bristlebird (an upgrade) and to see or hear a Chestnut-rumped Heathwren. I like it when you have three birds you're after, increasing by 200% (using sophisticated mathematical techniques) your chances of seeing a bird for the first time.

One walking track supports Ground Parrots and another the Eastern Bristlebirds. We figure since the heathwren is a heath bird, it will probably be more likely on the Ground Parrot track.

We decide to go for the Ground Parrot first. There is a ton of fog, and we wonder if any self-respecting Ground Parrot would be out on a day like this. We walk the trail though and get lots of mud, pools of water, and a Grey Fantail, responding to Sharon's alarm call. A White-browed Scrubwren also pops up to check her out. We go as far as we want to and turn around at 815 am. We still have a shot at Ground Parrot on this return leg.

We get a loud shriek, which turns out to be a fogged-in black-cockatoo.

But there are no hints of any GPs and we switch over to the bristlebird track. We keep seeing these rounded cube-like poo droppings and we now know that they're courtesy of wombats.

By 900 am, we have gone as far as we feel like, trying for the Eastern Bristlebird. We think we hear one or two, but none feels like coming into the open, even though they would be mostly covered up by fog.

About 930 am, we get a bird flying up the path, then darting to the ground right beside the track, in response to our Chestnut-rumped Heathwren call. Sharon gets a whitish face and underparts and a white supercilium and I get a flash of white tail corners as it disappears back into the vegetation. We review the possibilities and this has to be our CHESTNUT-RUMPED HEATHWREN*, bold enough to venture out into the fog to let us see him.

We make our way back to the carpark, passing Lake Michigan and a couple of other pools of water in the track that we named on the way down the path. We get whipbird and Rufous Whistler on the return.

We get back to the motorhome and decide to have lunch and a nap and stay till about 2 pm, hoping for the weather to clear. If it does, we'll try the walking paths again. Birds love to come out after a rainy period when the sun first comes out.

Then 215 pm comes, the rain comes and then intensifies, and we head out, immediately followed by the sun coming out. Nice day.

We make our way down the mountain and go back to the Shellharbour Beachside Caravan Park. As we are coming in, Sharon sees whales breeching out in the bay. Other people walking by get on them and pretty soon, everybody in the caravan park's watching these whales, which we ID as probable humpback whales.

Ian calls and confirms a pickup here about 6 pm, but that's to our voice mail on our mobile phone. We are outside watching the whales when he calls. He leaves the number of his mom though, and we call her to tell her we're looking forward to having dinner with them. She says Ian will likely pick us up about 615 or so, based on her knowledge of how long it takes to get around the road system here.

We have our showers, and I collect some stuff we want to share with them - mostly birding stuff. When Ian arrives, his mom, Margaret, is with him. We love her Scottish accent, which makes sense, since she came over from Scotland.

Ian drives us to Margaret's "Villa", a charming little house in a suburb of Wollongong. Then we get to meet Sweet Georgie, her 18-year old canary. He sings a little bit after we leave him alone and he stops being so self-conscious. Very nice. When his bedtime comes, Margaret drapes a cloth around his cage, then puts another one over that. "Because it's cold," she says.

This is the world's luckiest canary, in spite of his blindness from cataracts. Margaret takes exquisite care of the little singer, who also talks a little bit. We may have heard him say, "Georgie," but I can't be sure.

Margaret has fixed us this great Moroccan dinner, and it's delicious. Ian, Margaret and I share some wine from the Hunter Valley, a popular wine-growing area north of Sidney.

We have lots of fun talking about our trip and all sorts of stuff, and Margaret shows us something we haven't seen - a video of a Victoria Riflebird doing its mating display. We are really sorry we didn't get to see this. It's spectacular. She gives Sharon a sort of sticker with sequins. It is a wombat, and you just press it against your shirt or jacket and it sticks. It's very cool. Sharon gives her a little amethyst heart.

Finally it's time for Ian to take us back to the caravan park. He delivers us safely about 11 pm, and then he takes off for the drive back to his home in Gymea, further up towards Sydney.

Thanks Ian and Margaret!

Before we turn in, Sharon finishes proofreading Report 31. Then it's bedtime for Bonzo.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 1 (Chestnut-rumped Heathwren)
For the Trip: 403.

Trip Birds Today: 1 (The lifer).
For the Trip: 470.

Bird Upgrades Today: 0
For the Trip: 11

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: Shellharbour Beachfront Holiday Park, Shellharbour, NSW

That's the end of Report 34 and we hope that's the end of the rain. Thanks for scanning. I assume that nobody is actually READING these things any more. I know I've stopped paying attention to what I'm writing.


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