Report No. 38. Saturday, December 6 thru Monday, December 8. Unbelievably - the Last Report from Australia!

 

Saturday, December 6, 2003. Day 115 of 118. Mitchell Park, Dharug NP - the Sydney Area.

Ahhh. A sleep-in day. We've got a blue sky and we hope that is a good omen. We take care of some chores, then head for Mitchell Park, northwest of Sydney. This was recommended to us as a spot to look for Common Koel, Cicadabird and Powerful Owl, by the Birding New South Wales group we ran into in the Capertee Valley.

As we leave our motorhome, we see a cabin with the name LAKANOOKI CASTLE. Also, on the cabin, which would be called a modular home in the U.S., is the term "a relocatable home."

We have a great map showing us exactly how to get to Mitchell Park, and it's about 30 km from here.

About halfway there, we move through a section of highway undergoing heavy duty improvement, and Sharon sees a two-story brown building that has the shape and angles of a Snow White and the Seven Dwarves or Disneyland building. None of the corners are exactly 90 degrees, and the walls tilt outward slightly.

This is a perfect illustration of the perceived difference between Australia's pubs and America's bars. On the windows are two neon signs that say, "BAR." Other signs say "PUB" and "Bottle Shop." A big banner says "December 6, Family Christmas Day, Starting at 11:30 AM. Santa Claus Appearance." So little kids will sit on Santa's knee, tell him what they want for Christmas, and get their pictures taken. In the pub.

Can you see that happening in a bar in the U.S.?

When we were in Buledelah, in the information center, I heard one fellow say to another, as they parted company, "Have a nice Chrissie."

Everytime I discover something new and fun in Australia, along comes something that makes it seem even more fun.

By 1030 am, we are in Mitchell Park, at the entrance, and by 1045, we are down by the picnic area. There are six or eight cars parked here, and Sharon starts up a conversation with them, while I'm parking and getting the "Common Koel" tape ready.

Unbelievably, they are also from the Birding New South Wales group, and some of them are good friends with some of the group we met in Capertee Valley.

They are just breaking for tea, and are going to try for the Powerful Owl when they're done. We can come with them if we'd like to. IF WE'D LIKE TO??? What a lucky break.

Sharon and I walk the area and try for Common Koel while they're having tea, but get no response, even though the birders say that an hour or so ago, they heard a koel. We see them "mounting up" in their cars, and beginning to drive further into the park. We do the same, catch up with them, park, and join their group.

Allan is their leader today, and they have apparently been coming here for some years. A birder named John says he hasn't missed seeing the Powerful Owl in the last twenty trips here, and Sharon says, "No! Don't SAY that!"

John's wife Joan and I talk a lot during our trek over the next half-hour or so, and I also talk quite a bit with Ted Nixon, another of their group. We learn a lot about trips they have taken to Africa, and they remove my last roadblock to going to Africa - my safety concern. I can tell that if we do what they did, with the guide they had (Mark Coulton, Pelican Tours), it will be completely safe. Later I say to Sharon, "How about March 2005 as a working date?" She says, "OK!"

So I'll start working on that when we get back. Their visits were in March, so I presume that had something to do with the weather.

At quarter till noon, everybody is scanning overhead, under the canopy, in the right owl habitat, for the pair of Powerful Owls that has been here for a long time. The only problem is, that nobody told the owls that they were supposed to be there for us. And...

They're not here. Or we haven't found them yet anyway.

We come back, and John and Sharon, Joan and I walk slower than everybody else, because we're continuing our Africa conversation. When we emerge into the clearing, someone says they heard a Cicadabird across the river, and since they know I have tapes, they ask me to play it beccause they knew we were trying to see that bird.

I play it several times, but I can't get no satisfaction. Some start to lose interest, but I move closer to the river so I can see all the trees across the river, and I play it again. I see a bird fly toward us, roller coaster style, and land in the huge gum tree above us. Allan is on it immediately and I get on it too, but it has sky behind it, and just looks like a slightly familiar dark shape. I ask Allan, "Is it a [Black-faced] Cuckoo-shrike?" I think he says, "Yow," but Sharon says that he said, "Cicadabird." They pronounce the second syllable ('ca') to rhyme with 'ah,' and because of the noise, I think he said "yow."

But then I notice every one of the birders has their binocs up to look at the bird and I know then that it's a Cicadabird. Finally I get on it, as does Sharon, and we get our CICADABIRD*. I called him over with the tape. Fantastic.

We get our fill, and everybody starts drifting back to their cars.

They invite us to join them, back at the "tea break" picnic shelter, where they are going to have their club Christmas "dinner." We accept their invitation, and are the last ones to drive there. The motorhome is generally the slowest vehicle in any group of vehicles, because I'm so careful, checking the road and the overhead all the time, and the sides, when we're in close quarters.

We are running low on food, but Sharon makes us a couple of great tuna sandwiches, and we gather up some of our tomatoes too. Ted comes over and knocks on the door, just to make sure we know we're invited. We tell him we're coming over, and that's just what we do.

They offer us orange juice and champagne. Sharon has her coke, but I have the holiday drink with them.

They're a great bunch of people. Some are Australian and others came here from England. Everybody in the group calls the Englanders "Poms," including the English, and we've heard that expression before. It's great fun listen to them rag on each other, casting aspersions on each others birding abilities, nationalities, politics and whatever else they can think of.

If we lived here, I'd have fun in this club.

When we finish up, they offer us some cake, and Sharon takes a bite of hers first. "It's just full of brandy," she says, and passes her cake over to me. Allan gives us the last two copies of their newsletter, and I give them our email address and internet website address (www.24birds.net).

They all head off to a place called Newman's Road, where they will try for Crested Hawk (Pacific Baza), which nests there. Allan asks if we have that bird yet, inviting us to join them if we need it. Since we already have it, we tell him we'll continue with our plan of taking Wiseman's Ferry across the Hawkesbury River to Dharug National Park, and try for Spotted Quail-thrush, which is over there.

We all say goodbye, and I feel like we've known these guys for ten years.

Sharon and I take off for the ferry, and reach there a little before 3 pm. We're first in line for the next pass. The river is only maybe 200 meters across, and the small ferry is one of those that goes back and forth on cables strung across.

We drive off the ferry, and as the front wheels touch the road, there is this terrible metallic scraping sound. Oh crap, what'd I do? I hear a guy yell, "It's your spare tire," which I know is slung on a rack below the motorhome and towards the back, just behind the rear axle. He yells, "Pull over here," and points to the side of the road.

Here's what we sound like as I pull in there. "Kkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk!!!"

I get out, retrieve my mechanics pad, lay it out underneath the rear of the motorhome, and roll under. I can see that the metal rack holding the tire is attached towards the front, and has come disconnected at both of the two points where it fastens at the rear. So the sound was the rear of the metal rack dragging on the road.

I study it a little, adjust the nuts to give me some working room, swing the rack up, get the hooks in place, then tighten the nuts real snug with the spanner (U.S.= "wrench") that is in the motorhome tool kit. I think all the vibrations loosened these nuts just enough so that when the rack hit the high point of the ramp, it knocked the hooks off their normal positions.

Anyway, I think we're ok now. {I go back when the ferry comes over again and ask the operator "What time does the last ferry run?, not wanting to miss it if we come back this way too late. He looks at me and says, "When they build the bridge". Seems like the ferry runs day and night, and it's free! Can you imagine that in the U.S.? Someone would have built a bridge by now.} So we take off, and come to the roadside pullout next to the Old Great North Road. This road is now closed to traffic with a locked gate. It's gravel and goes steeply up the side of the mountain. It was built by convict labor, but is too dangerous now and is closed. But hikers and bikers use it a lot, and we hope a Spotted Quail-thrush decides to use it in the next hour or so. We hike up, up, up and get great views of the river and the surrounding area. We get some very nice birds, including Yellow-faced Honeyeater, Yellow-tufted Honeyeater, White-eared Honeyeater, Kookaburra, Olive-backed Oriole, lots of thornbills, a couple of fairy-wrens and others. But no dice to the quail-thrush

We turn around at 430 pm, and head back down. By 530 pm, we are across the river and on the shore. The operator pulls the ferry higher up on the road on this side than he did on the other. He yells to me, "I gave you a nice flat deck this time," and flashes this great big grin at me. No problem getting off.

By 7 pm, we are in place in our caravan park again. We go over to the laundry to see what kind of coins it takes. Sharon does one load tonight, and will do the rest tomorrow or Monday.

As I'm walking back, I see two Kookaburras sitting together on a TV antenna in the caravan park. Something about this scene reminds me of us.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 1 (Cicadabird
For the Trip: 413.

Trip Birds Today: 1 (The lifer)
For the Trip: 480.

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

 

Sunday, December 7, 2003. Day 116 of 118. Mitchell Park, Take 2. The Last Bird. Review and Corrections of Trip Bird Totals, Life Bird Totals.

The alarm is off early today, for the last time - 6:00 am. We're birding here one more time because the birders had heard the koel yesterday and we know he calls more in the early morning.

We make the now familiar trip to Mitchell Park, and drive down to the creek area. We hear a Koel even before we play our tape. I play the tape, and the Koel flies back and forth from one point across the river to a large group of eucalypts, beyond the open space we're standing in.

The problem is, that Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes and Cicadabirds are flying back and forth too, interfering with our ability to isolate our bird. Finally, about 740 am, a large dark bird, with a long, rounded tail flies over, and though it might be my imagination, it seems to look down at us. It calls as it flies over, thus becoming our last or next-to-last Australian Life Bird of the trip, the COMMON KOEL*.

We head down to the trail we found out about yesterday, where we hope for one more bird, the Powerful Owl. This would be unbelievable if we could get this bird. All of the Birding NSW group yesterday couldn't get the pair that's supposed to be here, but we hope that the owls have come back to roost near the trail, or will be easier today.

We hit the trail about 8:00 am, after I have to go back and pick up my forgotten fanny pack, with my drinking water. Sharon waits for me, and is entertained by a couple of Eastern Whipbirds, who she says, seem to be in total shock at her presence. They are all around her, calling and calling.

As I come back, they have moved, but Sharon suspects their upset is because they have a nest and maybe little ones. But we're here for another purpose, and we head in for the big owls.

Then we get a fantastic bit of entertainment. We hear a whipbird, in the brush to our right, doing the Eastern Whipbird call, except that it's very high, and the "crack" is just a little whistle. We believe it's a fledgling male, and is practicing, but doesn't have the ability to crack the whip properly yet.

Like a big lion, who opens his mouth, shows his teeth, and lets out a mighty... "meow." Ted Nixon told us yesterday that they very infrequently have seen Black Bittern here, and this is one of Sharon's specialties - pinpointing very hard-to-see crakes, rails and bitterns, as they hide in reeds.

We get a pair of White-throated Gerygones building a nest. Or more precisely, it seems that the female is building the nest and the male is singing one of the most beautiful Australian bird songs. It's a hanging structure, with a little bit of it hanging down from the underside, sort of like a thin beard.

We continue on in, very slowly, checking overhead, until we reach the same spot we turned around yesterday. We repeat that reversal today, and start heading back out.

Then it happens.

I am done birding Australia. I enjoy the return walk back to the motorhome, but I'm thinking about the forest and woodlands we're in, about Cape York, Mt. Isa, the Alice, Uluru, Kakadu, Broome, Perth, the southwest, the Nullarbor, the Dandenongs, Wilson's Promontory, Capertee Valley, about Christmas, and about flying back home. I've stopped birding. {I keep stopping to look at birds or whistle at them but I can tell, too, that Bob is not birding anymore.}

We have breakfast, then have a nice peaceful nap. I'm vaguely aware of a couple of other cars coming in and driving past us, probably looking for Powerful Owls.

Good luck, y'all.

We wake up, and head back to the caravan park. I check the tire pressures and oil level at a service station, and both are reasonable, but there are two tires I can't quite reach (the inside tires on the back). I top off the tire pressures I CAN reach at 40 psi. I also fill the fuel tank, then it's back to Parklea.

We do some cleaning, have lunch, do some more cleaning, all while Sharon gets the laundry done for the day. She will do one more load tomorrow.

Sharon does a practice packing, and I finish up the day's events.

Then it's time for our last sleep in the motorhome. We love our motorhome.

Trip Bird Total Correction:

I went through our Morcombe's Australian Bird Guide, checking back through all my transcribed digital voice recordings, and came up with ten more birds that we saw during our four-month trip. I mentioned each of these birds on the recorder, but neglected to count them in the totals. Since we had already seen each of them before this trip, they are "trip birds," but not life birds.

Here is the list of ten trip birds not counted in the totals:

Rock Dove, August 14, Thornleigh, NSW, where we picked up the motorhome. Great Crested Grebe, August 19, Lake Samsonville, Brisbane, with Greg Anderson Pied Cormorant, August 20, near Brisbane, with Greg Anderson Plumed Whistling-duck, August 21, Brisbane environs, with Greg Anderson Jabiru, August 21, Brisbane environs, with Greg Anderson Comb-crested Jacana, August 30, Mareeba Wetlands, Queensland Striated Heron, September 1, Mossman River tour, Queensland, with Peter Cooper Rufous Night Heron, September 19, Mataranka, NT Great Cormorant, November 14, Deniliquin area, NSW, with Phil Maher Australasian Gannet, November 20, Bolton's Beach & Cons. Area, Tasmania

In addition, here are two birds that we're positive we saw, but did not note any particular location:

Mallard Australasian Shoveler

Life Bird Total Correction:

Further, in reviewing our life birds, it is possible that the Western Corella tallied on October 15, in Margaret River, southwestern Western Australia, could have been a Little Corella. We need to check with Frank O'Connor about this, but until he comments, I will remove the Western Corella from the life list and trip list.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 1 (Common Koel)
For the Trip: 413 (413 + Common Koel - Western Corella correction).

Trip Birds Today: 1 (The lifer)
For the Trip: 492 (480 + lifer + 12 missed birds - Western Corella correction).

Bird Upgrades Today: 0
For the Trip: 11

Active Bird Nests (with adults or chicks or both)
Today: 1 (White-throated Gerygone) For the Trip: 19

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

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

 

Monday, December 8, 2003. Day 117 of 118. Turning in the Motorhome. Last Night in Oz

GOOD MORNING, AUSTRALIA!

It's 833 am and we didn't set the alarm for our last wakeup in the motorhome.

First, I have to pass on an Aussie joke Sharon read to me. What did the hat say to the scarf? "You hang around, while I go on ahead."

We are finished packing and cleaning at 1115. We bought a duffel bag the other day to hold all the souvenirs and gifts Sharon has bought, and so we have an extra bag for the flight home. Sharon called Qantas a few days ago, and we can check two bags each and carry on two pieces each (I'm not sure if this is standard, or because we're in business class). The checked bags can be 70 pounds each. The carry-ons can be 15 pounds each. The first checked piece has a total volume limit, and the second one does too, but the second one must be a certain amount smaller than the first.

We have no idea what all this will mean when we get to the airport. We meet the 70 pound limits on the three checked bags we have, if our cheap scales are correct, but I don't know about the volume limits. Sharon was delighted to discover a zipper that could be undone on her checked bag, and this increased its volume by 20 percent or so, after she packed everything in she wanted.

Oh well, we'll find out tomorrow. We may have to reshuffle some stuff.

We drive over to the caravan park's aviary and check out the caged birds they have. We are not surprised to see that we have seen all the birds in the cage, in the wild. We see a Collared Dove spending a lot of time in a thick evergreen tree, and Sharon thinks it has a nest in there. We think that this is a trip bird, but when I check the field guides later, it's not listed as a countable Australian bird. Sharon thinks maybe it escaped from the aviary. I drive around the grounds, but I can't find the dump point, so I drive back to the office.

I check us out from the caravan park, get our $20 deposit credited back to our credit card for returning our keys like good little girls and boys, and learn where the dump point is.

I get on the internet for twenty minutes, check emails and American football scores, then I drive to the sewerage dump point and take care of that task for the last time.

Now the motorhome is totally ready to return, except for checking the air pressure in the last two tires. We follow our map, stopping at a BP service station.

We find the air station, and we need Sharon's small hands to reach into the tight space where the valve stem is and connect the supply to these last two tires. It's a dirty job, and Sharon's gotta do it.

We drive the last bit to Around Australia Motorhomes, aka Coolabah Motorhomes, and I record the odometer at 94618.

A quick calculation says we've driven 30,018 kilometers - 18,700 miles. That's 72% of a total trip around the planet.

We're done.

Jason and Gabi check us in. I review the dings and nicks I put in the vehicle, and Jason and I agree to swap the four days worth of credit we had coming (when we had to rent a car in Ballarat and stay in motels, while the motorhome was unavailable, being repaired) for the damage I've done to the motorhome.

The damage is: Crunched right rear corner, twisted bumper, broken reflector, misc. damage Bent retractable, attached step Took small piece out of the refrigerator vent structure on roof.

The four days amounts to about $600 Australian, or $400 US, and this trade eliminates the requirement to do estimates for repair and all that sort of stuff. Seems like a reasonable deal to me.

We get photos of the cool Coolabah people, and then Jason takes us to Hotel Ibis, all rooms $99 AUS, near the airport. We'll take the free shuttle to the airport tomorrow, leaving here about 915 am for our 1235 pm flight to LA.

We load our luggage onto a big hotel cart, and roll it into the lobby, where we check in. Our room is on this floor, only about fifty feet from check-in. Great. So we just roll ourselves over there and I move all the luggage into the room.

We watch TV, have a nap, and relax.

About 630 pm, we go downstairs for dinner, where Sharon has steak and I have pasta. We top it off with desserts, then come back to our room about 800 pm. We need to get good seats for Survivor, which will start at 830.

I can't say any more, we're watching Survivor, in Panama's Pearl Islands. Hey, look at those Brown Pelicans. For those of you who watch Survivor in the U.S., you already know who won. They will have five shows next Sunday and Monday, culminating in a winner, but we won't be here. So we intend to check the internet and find out who won there.

1148 pm. I finish this report.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 0
For the Trip: 413.

Trip Birds Today: 0
For the Trip: 492.

Bird Upgrades Today: 0
For the Trip: 11

Active Bird Nests (with adults or chicks or both) Today: 0
For the Trip: 19

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

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

That's it for Report 38. Sharon's calling me. I gotta go...


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