Report No. 37. Wednesday, December 3 thru Friday, December 5. Scrub bird, Storm bird, Mangrove bird, Beach bird.


Wednesday, December 3, 2003. Day 112 of 118. Barrington Tops National Park. Chasing the Rufous Scrubbird.

As we head out of our caravan park, about 7 am, we get a female Satin Bowerbird and thirteen Red-browed Firetail Finches, eating grass seeds.

A Willie Wagtail wags its tail as we leave camp, heading into town. We get on Buckett's Way, heading back the way we came yesterday.

Sharon sees an ice cream store named "Bucketts of Ice Cream." As we drive, to our right is a big valley with a line of mountains behind it. A long, continuous line of clouds divides the mountains in half, top from bottom. I take about six photos, intending to "stitch" them with that tool in my Adobe Photoshop computer software program.

We hear that they had torrential downpours in Melbourne and they logged about a thousand phone calls of people in distress. They said it was the worst such storm in a hundred years. And we missed it!

Dang.

We continue our drive in, getting Crimson Rosellas, Eastern Rosellas, and a flock of about thirty Crested Pigeons, flushed up from the roadside as we pass.

At 730 am, the road changes to gravel.

We get several large rusty brown birds, and Sharon IDs them as Brown Pigeon in her ancient Pizzey's, named Brown Cuckoo-dove now. We got this bird four months ago, but forgot what its name was.

In a farmer's valley, a brown raptor flies overhead with something in its talons, with ravens chasing it. They try to whap it. Another single brown raptor with white wing patches follows the group, but it looks more streamlined than the first raptor. Otherwise, I'd have thought it was the partner of the first one.

Welcome Swallows welcome us, and horses watch us as we cross a grid made of railroad rail pieces. I can hear the rattle on the digital recorder as I play it back.

We go through a low point, then begin climbing. A small turn-around loop on the right is a temporary stop for a school bus that passed us earlier, empty. Now there are four little heads in the windows.

I stop, and it feels like I should go straight ahead, though there are signs pointing to a sharp, uphill left turn. The signs say caravan park 8 km, Gloucester Tops 28 km, though we've already gone 30 km.

There seems to be two sets of signs made by two sets of people who disagree on what the definition of Gloucester Tops is. Picture the town or city you live in. If you count the distance from another city to yours, you can either measure it to the city limits or to the city center.

Anyway, it's confuse-a-Bob-and-Sharon. I'm going to carefully measure everything on the way back out.

Two little blond girls get out of the bus and run over to my window, which I roll down. "The caravan park is THAT way," one says, and points to the road to our left. "Thank you," I say, and they run back to the bus, and hop in. The driver heads back down from whence we came.

We make the left turn, which Sharon has been arguing for since I stopped in the middle of the road. Her point is, you see, that every single familiar location we're looking for points to the left.

OK, I'm convinced. Sometimes, I like to just hang around, rubbing my toe in the dirt until little girls come over and tell me how to get unlost.

A big lizard with a black line on his neck separating the white head from the greenish body zips across the road. The black line thickens as it passes through the side of the neck visible to us, then thins towards the front and back of the neck. The green body has horizontal stripes (radial, not lengthwise).

We come to an area where the stream and the road run side by side, then come upon a diagonal yellow sign on a post that says "FORD" on it. As we descend onto the concrete, underwater slab crossing the stream, to the right the water is all smooth and silky, then it drops off the slab to our left, and about a foot or less, down to the stream, rushing away to our left.

This reminds me of the creek that Mom and Dad used to take us to when we were small, on the road to Gravois Mills. We called it "The Slab," and it always smelled like the sycamores around it.

Three Highland Cattle watch us drive by, and I try to think of how I would say "moo" with a Scottish accent, but before I can come up with it, we're past them. We cross a second ford right after that.

Sharon has been reviewing our reptile book, and decides the lizard is an Eastern Water Dragon, a fairly common reptile. Very million-years-ago looking.

On our left, a pasture slopes down away from us. A wallaby hops along beside us, and stops when he sees that we're slowly catching up with him.

As we approach a third ford, somebody has taken silver paint, drawn a line through the "FORD," and written below, with the paint, "BMW." Pretty clever. So far, that's two fords and a BMW.

We cross two more fords by a few minutes after 8 am. As we pass over the fifth one, I drift a little too far towards Sharon's side, and she holds up her left hand, open and thumb up. She sweeps it back and forth, like she's sweeping something to the right. Saying "A little more to the right please." I drift slightly to the right. I don't want to have to call somebody to fish us out of the river.

Embarassing, and I would be letters 6 through 8 in that word.

Sharon gets another water dragon on a stump in the middle of the stream. We come to cattle on the road, and slowly work through perhaps a dozen or so, of all sizes. The last ones are a mom, two little ones and a teenager. They are all rusty red.

We cross ford number 6, and get a pair of calves to our left, in a rocky paddock. They are perfectly white, with pink noses and eyes. They are albino twins. What are the odds of that? As Sharon's son Matt says, with some wisdom, "100%."

About 820 am, we pass the private campground, and we see an ugly Muscovy-type duck, with skin folds all over its red face. Whew, I hope its mum is still alive (You know, "A face only a mother...").

We get a Brush or Fan-tailed Cuckoo, but it takes off before we can get the ID. We stop for breakfast (Aussie nickname, 'brekkie') at the national park campground about twenty till nine.

About nine we break from brekkie. The road starts climbing more steeply now. We pass a currawong and a couple of Crimson Rosellas. The GPS can't see through the canopy of trees to our left and right, to get readings from the satellites. We're flying normal now.

A male Satin Bowerbird flies to the road, flies ahead of us, in the same direction we're moving, then turns right, into the bush.

We come to a junction at 934 am. To the left is Gloucester Tops and straight ahead is the Links Trail. We go straight, where our instructions place the bird we're after, and at 940 am, we come to the carpark at the end of the part of the road we can drive. A locked gate blocks anybody from driving further, who doesn't have a key to the padlock.

Our bird is supposed to be down this track between the 100 meter point and the 0.5 kilometer point. We get our gear on, walk around the gate, and down the path about a hundred meters. We come to a place where suddenly there starts thick undergrowth, great cover for a bird that wants such stuff.

I start playing the tape, and before five notes come out, a RUFOUS SCRUB-BIRD* starts calling back to us. I pause the tape, and we listen to the rare bird, living only on certain mountain range tops, as we grin at each other. Sharon mouths silently, "Rufous Scrub-bird," and I can't stop grinning and nodding.

We're standing next to a thigh-high post with an angled top and a red plastic plaque fastened to this top. It shows the silhouette of a hiker, with backpack and walking stick, to indicate that this is a trail, we think.

In that wonderful forest quiet, we get the three-note tinkling of a Crimson Rosella. A Kookaburra comes in and two of them begin a laughing - I'm quite sure, WITH us. We hear what may be a lyrebird, because we also see scratchings on the trail. We recognize these, because we actually watched a couple of lyrebirds doing scratchings like this.

We walk the trail about a kilometer, but hear no more birds. We turn around and retrace our steps to the first point we heard our bird. We play the tape again, but now get no scrub-bird response.

We go back to the motorhome and take a nap, waking just before noon. We go back out again, walk to the hiker signpost, and take what looks like another trail, straight to the right.

After about fifty meters, I play the tape again. We get return calls from two birds, one off to the left and another to the right. The one to the left seems very close, and the brush not too thick, so we decide to wade in "quietly" and try to see this one. The return call stops and doesn't resume, so we abandon our forest plunge, and go back to the point again where we heard our first bird of the day.

We decide to go back to the motorhome, and drive from this point - the trailhead of the Links Trail - about 5 or 6 kilometers to another possible scrub-bird location known as Gloucester Tops or Gloucester Tops Walking Track area.

Ranger Peter said someone heard a scrub-bird on the Antarctic Beech Forest Walk. We make our way there, park, walk the forest walk, but get no response from playing the tape. A sign on the walk says the Antarctic Beech trees can be several hundred years old and reach heights of fifty meters (165 feet). We complete the twenty minute loop, and as we approach the motorhome, it starts sprinkling. Not the motorhome. No, no, the motorhome doesn't start sprinkling. IT starts sprinkling - the regular "IT."

We decide to have lunch here. As we finish up, the sprinkling upgrades to a medium rain, and we gear for travel just before the skies open up.

The three or four kilometer drive from the junction to here was all downhill, some of it rather steep. I don't want to be slipping and sliding going up the road, so we take off immediately. The gravel road is what is called "iron" in northern Canada. It means that it is gravel, but the gravel is solidly imbedded into the roadway. There aren't loose rocks, except off the road to the right and the left. It's like somebody spray-glued all the gravel to the road, and you can't pry a rock out, it's so strong.

It is POURING DOWN now, reminding us that this IS a rainforest.

Rivulets speed towards us as we drive up the hill in Old Reliable. We get to the top, to the junction, in short order, and we turn right, now heading back out. Within fifty meters, not only does the rain stop, but the road is perfectly dry.

"Inconthievable," if you watched the movie "Princess Bride."

I measure distances on the way out, and here's the results:

Gloucester Tops walking trail carpark - 93874 (0 km) First junction, gravel road - 93877 (3) Rain stops - 93878 (4) Park campground - 93890 (16) Private campground - 93892 (18) Spot where bus was parked, at well-marked turnoff - 93900 (26) A horse ranch, where a sign says 'stock horses.' - 93904 (30) Road changes from gravel to pavement - 93907 (33) A sign says Gloucester Tops 21, while our odometer says 35.5 (36)!! Right turn at Buckett's Way - 93914 (40) Gloucester - 93930 (44 km)

Our speedometer, and therefore odometer is high by 4 or 5 percent, so the 44 km measured is actually about 42 km if your odometer is accuate, which it probably isn't.

We're in our campground a bit after 5 pm, as we've decided to stay here tonight.

After checking in, Sharon locates a bird sitting on a nest next to the amenities block. We enjoy the rainy evening, knowing that we've done something only a small percentage of people on the earth have done - heard a Rufous Scrub-bird.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 1 (Rufous Scrubbird - heard only)
For the Trip: 409.

Trip Birds Today: 1 (The lifer)
For the Trip: 476.

Bird Upgrades Today: 0 For the Trip: 11

Active Bird Nests (with adults or chicks or both) Today: 0
For the Trip: 16

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

Sleep in: Gloucester Holiday Park, Gloucester, NSW

 

Thursday, December 4, 2003. Day 113 of 118. Storm bird, Mangrove bird, Beach bird.

We sleep IN a bit, and at 825 am, we finally ID a White-winged Triller female attending the nest Sharon spotted last evening, and even bringing a grub or something, meaning that at least one of the eggs has hatched.

Our goal today is to drive coastward, and try for birds that hopefully can be found around Taree or Forster. We're after Mangrove Gerygone there, in addition to Koel and Cicadabird. The weather forecast said more storms are forecast for Sydney. I have an instinct that says stay out of the big cities in storms, but I can't explain why. Maybe it's saying get IN the city, and I'm not hearing it right. Or maybe it's saying, "Dum ditty dum."

As we drive out of camp, we pass the "Pumphouse," which is a corrugated metal building being used as the recreation room. We can see TV chairs through an open door. Like you made a rec room out of your garage, but left the garage door open.

We refuel at the Gloucester Caltex and take off a little before 9 am. At 930, I see two lorikeets zoom to the top of a small tree in a house's yard. I check for traffic, pull over and start to get Sharon on them, but she's already got them. We carefully ID two Scaly-breasted Lorikeets, going upside down to get the best bottlebrush. I was hoping for Little Lorikeet, which we still don't have.

I decide that we should go to Taree, population 18,000, because with their size, they are likely to have mangrove, bird, and internet cafe location information.

We come to a little cutoff on the way to Nabiac, and as we're descending, coming down off the mountain now, I become aware of birds overhead. I glance out the right-hand window and get definite swift wingbeats. I don't mean that the wingbeats are swift, I mean the wingbeats BELONG to a Swift. Swift.

I check traffic, and pull off to the left, parking totally off the road. I tell Sharon and we both get out with our binocs.

We agree on a large swift, with a stumpy, unforked tail. Sharon sees white on the rear bottom of the birds, of which there are only a handful.

I check the Simpson and Day, and we confirm WHITE-THROATED NEEDLETAIL*. They're supposed to accompany storm fronts, and with the humidity and off-and-on rains we've been having, the conditions are perfect. Five minutes and the swifts are gone.

We come to Highway 1, and turn north, towards Taree. We reach the turnoff, take it and eventually cross a river, then turn right, driving through town and arriving at an information center. We go in and have a typically dynamite experience.

A local birding club has drawn a map and classified about 30 spots all over the area. There are perhaps eight that are mangrove. In addition, there is a phone number to call. And the town has four or five internet points.

We drive back into town, passing a Nissan car dealership where the showroom is a huge open clamshell, with glass in the opening. We continue into town and locate one of the internet cafes. It's the second one I call. The first had only telephone connections (half fast), but the second one has ADSL (full fast). While I go in and connect the laptop, Sharon calls the birding number.

I send off reports 34 and 33. I mention them in reverse order, because I accidentally send off 34 before 33. Oops. Oh well, people will figure it out.

Later when I tell Sharon this, she asks, "Why did you send 34 before 33?" To which I reply, "Accident." She nods her head, approving of the answer, "Oh."

When I come back out, Sharon has great news. She has learned of an excellent spot recommended by the lady she called, for Mangrove Gerygone and a decent spot for Beach Stone-curlew, a bird I thought we wouldn't get because I didn't think we'd be in its habitat and geographic region again.

But, and this is the good part, we ARE!

Beach Stone-curlews are best to locate early in the morning, and so we decide we'll probably stay here tonight. We decide to go for the gerygone first, then dry run the stone-curlew location, so we get all our mistakes ironed out in the daylight instead of early morning.

We go back across the bridge over the huge, wide river. I suddely see movement above and to our right, and it's a kid jumping off the bridge into the water, daredevil-style. I say, "Holy cow, somebody just jumped off the bridge!" Sharon yells, "WHAT?" I can tell that she thinks I was saying somebody committed suicide. "It was a kid and he jumped on purpose, for sport." "Oh," she says, relaxed now.

Continuing on, I notice another kid up there and to the left. He's got jean cutoffs on, and our eyes meet. He looks deadly serious. Like I would look if I was 15, up there and trying to get up the nerve to go. I give him a thumbs up, and he gets this instant grin on, and returns the thumbs up.

We're out on Oxley Island now, at 1230 pm, heading for mangroves. We pass a paddock full of about fifteen miniature horses, reminding us of Uncle Calvin's miniature horse, Dusty. Excellent. Sharon says it's a good thing they weren't full size, or the island would sink.

We find and drive to the end of Ferry Road. I can see where a ferry used to cross, but now both sides of the river look like they are used as boat ramps, with the roads angling right down into the water.

When we're both ready, I play the gerygone tape, and maybe six or eight little birds fly to us, perching in trees and bushes in front of us. Some are dark, and there are clearly different birds here. Then another bird flies over, and it matches the description (strong white supercilium - that means 'eyebrow' to you non-birders, white tail corner tips, generally very light underparts), but we are warned about other birds similar in appearance. Then, to erase all doubt, a MANGROVE GERYGONE* (jur-IG-uh-nee), sings us back the same song the tape played to him.

Gerygonacious!

We head off to check out the location for the stone-curlew. We backtrack to the place we turned off to get here, and make our way to Old Bar and the beach north of it. We park at the first carpark mentioned, then decide to have lunch first.

While we're eating, I see a Red-browed Firetail land on a tall piece of grass, with seed on the tip. He's so heavy, that the grass bends way over. He starts working out toward the seed, and the grass bends slowly all the way over. He falls off before he gets to the seed. He repeats this once, and gets maybe one seed bit, then falls off again.

Great bird stuff.

We finish lunch and walk over the dunes to the beach. The stone-curlew is supposed to be to our left, about a half to one kilometer up, somewhere near the protected Little Tern nesting area.

We start walking that way, but a huge black storm cloud is coming. We hightail it back to the motorhome in time for the first rain to hit.

Today, at the internet place in Taree, I forgot to do one of the main things I intended. We find another internet place here in Old Bar, so I go in and do that thing now.

There is a website at

www.cse.unsw.edu.au/birding-aus

where you can do a search of archives of bird reports for particular birds. I search for Freckled Duck and for Beach Stone-curlew. It looks like I blew Freckled Duck by not having us go to the sewage treatment plant at Werribee, near Melbourne.

I have better luck with the stone-curlew. A guy saw three, right here at Old Bar, back in March of 2003. He says he saw them west of the Little Tern site. I can't understand what that means, so I email him to ask.

I go back to the motorhome, and discuss it with Sharon. We decide to drive further north, past the first carpark where we stopped before.

And we quickly come upon an inlet lagoon, with sand bars all through and lots of birds further on up. All on the west of the Little Tern nest area!

We pull over and check the birds near here first. Sharon gets on the scope and after pointing out a Little Tern on a nest, gets on a lone bird standing in a little rivulet splitting a sandbar in two. She says the magic words, as she steps back from the scope, "Come here. I think this is our bird."

Love those words.

I get on, and I'm looking at the bird from the back. It's quite a distance away. It turns its head to the left, and I see lots of dark splotchiness, plus a thick bill. "Gull," I say, in the manner I like - to just throw out my first thought. "I don't think so," says Sharon, and she starts ticking off things she saw. The bird is standing taller than a gull, and I retract my first call. She's right. It's a BEACH STONE-CURLEW*. We walk up the road, where we get closer to the bird, and scope it again. No doubt now. We walk up to the last place where we can see it, and get great, great views.

We turn around and I reset the trip odometer. We measure 1.8 kilometers from the spot where we turned off of Old Bar Road (between the airport and caravan park), to the spot of the bird.

We go back to the caravan park and Sharon calls the lady who told us about the stone-curlew spot. "Oh, yes, I forgot to tell you about the inlet," she says to Sharon after Sharon tells her about the spot. She gets Sharon's name and says she's going to include our names in the report of this sighting to her birding club, I think.

She also says the stone-curlew predates (is a predator of) the Little Tern chicks. My opinion of the Beach Stone-curlew takes a little dip.

With three life birds under our belt for the day, we drive back to our site and set up for the evening. We were going to get up tomorrow morning about 6 am, but now we get to sleep in, because...

WE GOT THE BIRD.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 3 (White-throated Needletail, Mangrove Gerygone, Beach Stone-curlew)
For the Trip: 412.

Trip Birds Today: 3 (The 3 lifers)
For the Trip: 479.

Bird Upgrades Today: 0
For the Trip: 11

Active Bird Nests (with adults or chicks or both) Today: 2 (White-winged Triller, Little Tern)
For the Trip: 18

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

Sleep in: Old Bar Beachfront Holiday Park, Old Bar, NSW, south of Taree

 

Friday, December 5, 2003. Day 114 of 118. Driving + Rain = Draining.

Because a) we got Beach Stone-curlew last night, b) it's raining, and c) we're starting to have that rosy feeling you get at the end of a spectacularly successful project, we sleep in.

Sharon proofreads the most recent two reports I wrote, and we will drive back into Taree when we finishe here, and send them out.

Sharon goes to the amenities block and sees a few White-throated Needletails overhead. She tells me and although they're temporarily gone, I see some about five minutes later.

A little before 11 am, we take off, heading west, then north towards Taree. We park near the internet spot again, and Sharon stays in the motorhome while I go in and email Reports 35 and 36. I pick up other emails and empty our email outbasket.

While I'm in, Sharon makes reservations for our last night in Australia at the Ibis Hotel near the airport. She also calls the Big 4 Parklea Garden Village caravan park and reserves the next three nights.

You'd think we are leaving or something.

We take off and stop for lunch in Buledelah, where we spent our first night on the road, after leaving Sydney, back in mid-August. Sharon fixes tuna salad sandwiches, one of our favorites, and we have fresh tomatoes too. Tasty, man.

When we finish, Sharon drives while I have a nap. It's just beginning to rain as I drift off, one of Sharon's least favorite things (Driving in the rain. I don't think she minds when I drift off too much, except when she's talking to me).

I wake up about 40 minutes later, and it's pouring. She finds a spot to pull off and I take over. I like driving in the rain, and she hates it. Then it's back onto the highway.

We make one more stop, at a motorway Caltex service station, for fuel and a good Sydney map. The Sydney map is more important than the fuel, and you KNOW how important fuel.

At one point, Highway 83 exits to the left. The motorway is at the bottom of a vertical 200 foot deep cut through solid rock. The exit to the left, likewise, is a vertical cut down through the rock. The result, right at the exit, is a wedge-shaped, 200 foot tall piece of rock that reminds me of that view you often see in New York City, on Times Square. You know the one - a road approaches a skyscraper, then splits into a 'Y'. The building there in the junction is wedge shaped and extremely tall.

Very cool.

We continue on the motorway (National 1) till it ends. We soon drive through Thornleigh, where we will return the motorhome on Monday. We continue on, switching to the 7, then entering the M2 toll motorway. It costs $4.40 to drive about 5 kilometers, and I'm not sure, but I think it bypasses a humongous amount of Friday afternoon commute traffic.

We arrive at our caravan park about five after six, and I check in. We sign up for an En Suite (private bathroom), powered site. It costs $39 a night (the most expensive of our trip), but we get 10% off because we joined Big 4 when we first got to Australia.

We set up in the rain and decide to have popcorn for dinner. Then I totally catch up on reports by writing Report 37 - this one.

Finally, we watch one of my favorite movies - Stripes, with Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, John Candy and Judge Reinhold, among a lot of other famous people. Typical scene: The character Francis, who insists that everybody call him Psycho, and who says, "If you touch any of my stuff? I'll kill ya. And if any of you homos touch me? I'll kill ya." To which the sergeant says, "Lighten up, Francis."

I drift off before it ends - I love to go to sleep when a really good movie is on.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 0
For the Trip: 412.

Trip Birds Today: 0
For the Trip: 479.

Bird Upgrades Today: 0
For the Trip: 11

Active Bird Nests (with adults or chicks or both) Today: 0
For the Trip: 18

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

Sleep in: Parklea Garden Village, Parklea (suburb northwest of Sydney), NSW

That's it for Report 37. I can't believe we're winding down.


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