Saturday, April 13, 2019

Glenrowan Caravan Park and Back Again

On 3 April 2019, Josh invited me along on a short Uni biology field trip near Bacchus Marsh. It was just a few kilometres hiking through Long Forest Reserve, but hills were involved and I truly realised that my lack of fitness was impacting my quality of life. I decided I needed to get myself moving. Full stop, (no pun intended).

The next day I drove ten minutes from home to the You Yangs and did an hour or so walking (maybe 4-5 kilometres) whilst casually birding. Since then I have gone on some sort of birding walk every day. That is eleven days in a row now. I will regain some of the endurance that I took so much for granted only a couple of years ago. I will indeed.

This past Wednesday morning my buddy James and I did a mini trip of about 3 hours up to Glenrowan Caravan Park. I first stayed there in November 2017. I have stayed there 7 or 8 times since. It is the best place in Victoria to see Turquoise Parrots (my opinion of course). I have easily seen them every time I have been there and this was no exception. James and I rocked up about 2:30pm and were gazing on about a score of these gorgeous little parrots feeding in the grass within minutes of our arrival.

Whilst standing there taking too many photos of the parrots, our friend and fellow birder, Adam Fry walked up behind us! He was staying in a cabin with his kids. While he stood chatting with us and new friend (and quite brilliant photographer) Patrick Tomkins, Adam noticed a Speckled Warbler near the parrots. I love this place.

James and I decided to take a walk. I needed to get my body moving. We headed down the long driveway and then over to Orchard Drive, the next road down from the caravan park. We had heard that Double-barred Finches were sometimes seen there. They are even sometimes seen in the caravan park as well. We did find a pair. James’ hearing is amazing. He heard them first and then we saw them. He also heard skinks in the grasses by the path on the way over. He can hear lizards! Well, he hears them moving through the grass, but it is amazing since we were crunching along on a gravel path. James is not only a most excellent travelling companion; he is also my ears (and sometimes my eyes). My hearing continues to decline and I will have to get amplification before long. I was diagnosed with severe hearing loss in my right ear and moderate in my left. Huh? What?

A lovely pair of finches landed on the grass beside the road and we took some photos and marvelled at seeing them. Glenrowan is the furthest south in Australia that these birds are seen. I had only previously beheld them in Queensland. We watched them for a bit and walked back to our cabin. We had been given the one with the birdbath/fountain in front. It was a very nice, very comfortable cabin at the low price of $80 per night for two people! I had driven the Prius up. That works out to be less expensive than buying diesel for Troopi and camping. I will stay in that cabin again. 

After an uneventful bit of spotlighting (not even a Brush-tailed Possum) we went to bed. I was up coffeeing in the dark and watched the beautiful sunrise over the front paddock. My God that is living life. Going from dark to the shining glow spreading across the eastern horizon and then blossoming into the full-blown glory of sunrise. Nothing is more beautiful than a sunrise. It fills my heart.

As the light and warmth increased (it was a chilly one degree centigrade earlier) birds began to come into the birdbath. We had House Sparrows first and then came King Parrots! And then we had perhaps a dozen of the Turquoise Parrots. After the King Parrots, they looked tiny! (See James photo of one beside a Common Blackbird!). Eventually a female Gang Gang Cockatoo landed atop the water-feature. We were sitting comfortably at the cabin window about 5 metres from the fountain. I had never really looked closely at a female Gang Gang. She was so beautiful. It was a wonderful few hours of birdbath watching! Then we walked over to have a look for the Double-barred Finches again.

The finches were not around but on the way back down the gravel path, James heard the skinks again. This time he spotted one. It was the species he was hoping for, a Southern Rainbow Skink. I grabbed a very poor shot (but you can sort of see the rainbow colours on its sides) as it went into the grass. Then we both had good looks as it sat motionless with its head out for a while. Then in an instant, it was gone. Whilst we were walking back down the park entrance we saw a ‘baby’ Southern Rainbow Skink as well.

We decided to ride back over to Orchard Drive and have a look further down the road. We were rewarded with at least 8 Double-barred Finches near the orchard. We also had another lovely Speckled Warbler and a few other birds, but it was time to head back south.

It had been a wonderful morning, but the day was not over. We drove back to Lara where I grabbed a short nap. After supper, darkness had descended and we hopped into Troopi and drove over to 29 Mile Road to check on the Barn Owls (her front flood lights work like spotlighting). Just before 29 Mile Rd. while still on Beach Road, a Barn Owl flushed from the grass on the shoulder. As it disappeared over the paddocks, we turned right and drove down 29 Mile Road. Over the next hour, we saw either two more or three more (hard to tell, we may have seen one twice). We had delightful views of what is to me, one of the most beautiful, magical looking birds in the world. They fill my heart like a night-time sunrise.


The next morning we took a walk through Serendip Sanctuary and I will save that for a Facebook post in a few days. This has gotten rather long. I am doing sort of a Lifer Day, maybe it's for my lifer Southern Rainbow Skink. I am enjoying too many pistachios and an NA beer while I write. I enjoy doing that sitting here at my old ship’s desk in my study with the huge map of Australia right in front of me. It gives me hope. It does give me hope.

I write therefore I am. I share therefore it’s real. I love because I would not be genuine if I didn't.
And please don't forget I wrote a book. Just click here.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Rufous Scrub-bird and Tahiti Petrel Joy

It had been a while since I had gotten into Troopi and gone off by myself, but I had a pelagic to do in New South Wales. I left last Tuesday arvo (19 March) and drove up to Glenrowan, VIC. I love that little caravan park and I always see Turquoise Parrots there. And I did again. I reckon I saw at least 25 in the front paddock. I took some photos.

The next morning as I was coffeeing, I heard the unmistakable calls of Gang Gang Cockatoos and sure enough there were two in a tree beside Troopi. I got the camera out yet again, unusual for me. They are very cool birds.

After enjoying the cockatoos, I headed north with an unmemorable stop-over for the night in Bargo. The next afternoon I rolled into South West Rocks, NSW and checked into my nice little studio cabin (I prefer a cabin or room before going on a pelagic). About 9:30pm, I applied my Scopolamine patch behind my ear and soon after went to sleep.

The next morning I awoke at 4:30am feeling crap as I do when I wear the patch, BUT I do not get seasick. It is worth it. I was at the boat by 6:30 and we were underway by 7am. Liam Murphy had organised this pelagic. I had first met him at “his” Aleutian Terns in December of 2017 when those terns were very new. I had dashed straight up there. As it turned out they remained for months. I could have walked up from Victoria and not dipped.

The wind was light and we chugged out to the deep waters beyond the shelf and by 9:30 we began to drift and berley. We had Providence Petrels and a few other of the usual suspects. I was mostly watching for a certain white bellied beauty and it soon appeared. Tahiti Petrel! Distant at first but then it hung around for an hour or more and everyone got cracking views. It is a stunning and easily recognised pelagic bird. I took some photos. Tick!

The birding slacked off and we headed in a little early. I was knackered. I was more tired than I thought I should be. I will readily admit that I have gotten into real crap shape. Migraines, battling the twins (depression and anxiety), using food for comfort and being way too sedentary has taken its toll. I was tired as. I went back to my cabin, showered and had a quiet evening. I would be meeting Liam in Beechwood at 7am and I needed to leave at 5:30am to be sure I was on time. I was up by 3:30am. I was excited. I was going after the Rufous Scrub-bird with someone in their home patch.

A couple of times a year, Liam goes into the rain forest of Werrikimbe National Park (about two hours inland from where he lives in Port Macquarie) and has a look for Rufous Scrub-birds. He had given Robert and me the gen on where to look when we went there in October of 2017. We heard them very well and in a few spots, but did not see them. That is usual for these exceptionally elusive, skulking birds. Liam has only seen them three times out of perhaps a dozen attempts. 

We rumbled up the rough logging track through the majestic towering trees of the rainforest eventually arriving at the beautiful Brushy Mountain Campground. Robert and I had stayed the night there on our 2017 visit. It truly is lovely. I was prepared to stay over if we did not have success that day, although Liam needed to return to Port Macquarie. We parked behind the shelter and hiked on up the Loop Walk.

The path slopes up gently, but in my state of utter non-fitness I was out of breath in minutes. About six-hundred metres in, Liam heard the bird. I heard it too. It was imitating a very loud version of an Eastern Yellow Robin. The bird then did a few more odd calls. Then it settled in on its own call. It was not far from us, but not exactly close either. Liam suggested we just stand there where we had a bit of a view in through the tangles of brush and trees. There were a few logs and deadwood lying amongst the various flora that covers the rainforest floor. There were also leeches. I flicked a large one off my calf and applied a bit of Liam’s bug spray. We stood listening and watching. It sounded further off. Then a few minutes later it sounded closer again. We decided to move in just a little. We only went four or five metres in, but it gave us a bit more elevated view of the area from which we reckoned the bird was calling. And we stood there quietly listening and peering intensely into the underbrush. After maybe ten more minutes of this Liam whispered, “On the log at the base of the tree.”

In that area there were numerous ‘logs at the base of trees,’ but we were looking in the same spot and before Liam had finished half of that sentence I had the Rufous Scrub-bird in focus in my bins. JOY. Amazing, heart-filling Joy! The bird looked left, then turned as if to jump off the small log, but stopped, turned to the right and stood for a second and then looked again and disappeared off the log into the brush. We had had approximately four full glorious seconds (one-thousand, two-thousand, three-thousand, four-thousand) viewing the bird. This was the best look Liam had ever gotten. We high-fived, fist-bumped and then hugged. Glory. It will remain as one of my all-time top birding moments. I had beheld the Rufous Scrub-bird (yes, there will be ink).
My friend and brilliant photographer David Stowe has successfully photographed the bird. My buddy Robert Shore got a good recording shot of it as well. I am borrowing David's for this blog entry. 
As we stepped back down on the path, Liam said something I have often said after getting a single good view of a target bird. He said, “That bird owes me nothing more.” Indeed. And we just left it be. We walked joyously back to the campground and sat around the shelter. I even picked up a lifer mammal in a cute and busy little Brown Antechinus. 

Eventually we left and drove back down to Beechwood and the cafĂ© there. After a Lifer Selfie and more rejoicing, Liam went home and I drove on to stay the night in a motel in Bulahdelah, NSW. It was called the Mount View Motel. I highly recommend it. It was inexpensive, clean and had large Hieronymus Bosch pictures on the wall! My room had The Garden of Earthly Delights. I have always found Bosch’s work wonderfully weird and brilliant. I slept well.

The next day I stayed in Gundagai before driving on to Lara on Monday. I had been gone only seven days and I had two lifers (and a mammal). Joy.

The route there and back again
I write therefore I am. I share therefore it’s real. I love, although I often do not understand this world.