Friday, November 17, 2017

Black-breasted Bogey No More

For my non-birder readers, a bogey bird is a bird that has eluded you for an inordinately long time. It is a bird into which you have put a lot of effort and still have not been able to find. It is also sometimes called a nemesis bird. It is usually a bird most of your friends have seen, but you have not. A bogey bird is also not normally a rare bird, but it is rare for you. My biggest, badest, bogey was the Black-breasted Button-quail. It is indeed not an easy bird for anyone. But Lynn and I put in 6 full days birding Inskip Point, a well know spot for them, in June 2016 without success. They had been seen four days before we arrived, and they were seen a couple weeks after we had gone. Bogey created.

So time passed and my friend Karen Weil traveled to Noosa National Park north of Brisbane in October. She went out with my Facebook friend and birding photography guide, Matt Wright, and saw, yep, a Black-breasted Button-quail (BBBQ). I knew I had to go and try. I mean I really had no choice. Such can be the power of a bogey bird.

I contacted my birding friend and traveling partner, Robert Shore, and we decided we could meet Matt in South East Queensland (SEQ) to look for the bird on 10 November. It is almost two thousand kilometers from the Tiny House. I began pulling Troopi and myself together for a ten-day road trip. See the blog before this one regarding my heading off in Troopi by myself. Well, I am getting better at it.

Leaving Monday morning 6 November, I moved along north fairly quickly. I over-nighted in West Wyalong, NSW and Bendemeer, NSW, and then I pressed on to Dayboro, QLD. Robert and I were going to meet at the campground there. Since we had a day before going with Matt, we had arranged to go looking for King Quail with Marie Tarrant in her local patch on Thursday morning. That would also be a Life Bird for us both. 

We met Marie at 6am and began walking the paths through the tall grassy areas by Lake Samsonvale. After only a half hour or so (and seeing several Brown Quail), a small, dark quail flushed off the path, flew by us and went down into the deep grass and began calling. King Quail! John Weigel had told me to prepare myself for seeing a “flying blue potato” and that is precisely what it looked like. Gratefully, we had good views of the potato as it went past. We walked a bit into the tall grasses and listened to it calling to another King Quail while literally somewhere around our feet. We did not see it again, but I was thrilled. That was my first Lifer in quite a while.

We needed to help Marie tow her vehicle to the auto repair guy. It had one wheel that would freeze up. It was a bit of an adventure, but we were successful in the end.

Then Robert and I went to a caravan park in Maroochy River, QLD. Matt would be collecting us there at 5:30am the next morning. Gratefully, Queensland is not on daylight savings time, so to us that felt like 6:30am. I woke up at 3am and could not go back to sleep. Yes, I was excited.

Matt drove us to Noosa NP. It is a beautiful place. We were there before 6:30 and it was already a mad house of people. We eventually found a parking spot as someone was leaving. There were surfers, joggers, beach-goers, tourists and hikers in a constant stream on the path. Unbelievably, Matt said that the weekends there are much busier. Ugh. We wound our way through the people up to the area where Matt had been finding the BBBQ. It was a long and uphill trudge, but adrenaline was high and expectations were as well. It was at least a kilometer and a half to the trail where we would be searching.

Once there, Matt said that it could take ten minutes or three hours, but this was where he had been seeing them. We began looking along the 200 or so meters of track. We did not see any. We did see fresh platelets (the round, bare spots on the ground created by their feeding) and were encouraged. An hour passed, and then two, still with no BBBQ, and then three hours. I began having PTSD from my Inskip Point experience. I was stressed. This was hard birding. All of my Zen-like beliefs about experiencing the bird and enjoying the quest were going to hell in a handcart. I could not dip on this bird again. I continued up and down that track looking (later at the car, my Fitbit showed I had walked over 15 kilometers). The three of us scattered out along the trail as hopes began to fade a little.

Out of the blue, Robert declared, “I think we are going to find it.” He had been sitting on the edge of the track and I sat down in his spot as he wandered off. Just a few minutes later, Matt burst around the corner saying “We’ve got them!” I literally began running before I had stood all the way up. Robert said I looked like a cartoon character whose legs spin before it gets going. I was falling and running at the same time toward where Robert had just seen them. After only a few moments of trying to relocate them, Matt said, “Bruce! There!” And I was looking at not one, not two, but three male BBBQ’s wandering around in the scrub. Amazing. Wondrous. Thrilling. They began making platelets for God’s sake! They were right there. They seemed utterly oblivious to our presence as they went about their Button-quail ways. It had taken four hours, but we had done it. Bogey no more. I was, and am, as grateful as I can be.

Making a platelet... amazing
Robert, me and Matt... the Bogey BIrd Lifer Selfie back in the car park

Lifer high reverberated through me as we walked back to the car. What a feeling. After a lovely lunch, we spent the rest of the day and into the night, birding and then mammaling. By the end of the day, my Fitbit said I had walked 22 kilometers. I was exhausted, but what a day, a glorious day. Below are a Powerful Owl youngster and a Sugar Glider from our night time hike.

Cute as

I highly recommend Matt Wright as a guide. His contact info is on his website: Faunagraphic and his Facebook page: Faunagraphic Facebook

We awoke Saturday morning sore, tired and aching and then realized that we were only a little over 3 hours from O’Reilly’s and Lamington National Park. To be continued…

Sending much love from the Tiny House.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Comfort Zones Not Prisons

Birding is the pursuit of what is elusive yet attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope. That is an old quote about fishing, but it is perfect for birding as well.

It also gets me out to places I would never just “go” if I were not looking and hoping for birds. It gets me out period. I sometimes battle through massive anxiety to get out and go to those places. Although I have been open regarding my anxiety and depression issues, I still keep most of it buried under big-smiling selfies and new-agey views about living a genuine life. There is something to “fake it ‘til you make it,” but it only goes so far. It is often a difficult, and mostly invisible, struggle.

Nothing worthwhile that I have done in my life has begun in my comfort zones. Left to my own tendencies, I would have stayed at home, or in bars, drinking and smoking. And that is what I did for much of my twenties and thirties.

Last week I got out. I drove over 3 thousand kilometers, more than a few hundreds of those in a cocoon of anxiety that threatened to crush my spirit. But I carried on. I pushed through. This is the over-sharing kind of shit that I need to do. It is important for me to write this stuff down and look at it. I am 100% visual and being able to “see” things is the only way that I can begin to understand them. So I write for me and I share it with those who want to read it. If it helps one person understand that sometimes we can indeed push through our anxieties and conquer a fear, or fears, even just for a day or an hour, then I am very happy to share. Many people do not ‘get’ this. They don’t have to; it is not written for them.

I was an anxious child. I had a fear about going to school, although I learned to be funny and got on well once I was settled in. I have had separation anxiety issues all my life. Even when I was an entertainer touring full time, I would often go through massive anxiety as I left home. I would be fine once I was out there (sometimes it took a day or three), but I did it and in the later years, I did it mostly alone.

I’m not good at being alone. Sharing is the joy of life to me, but even as a small child I was most often alone. I have had to learn to find joy alone. Sometimes I do, more often I do not, but I am working on it. Life is a process.

I was the unplanned youngest (9 years younger than my brother) and as a child, I never “fit” in my family of origin. I understand this now. It certainly had a part in shaping who I am. That said, I am genuinely very proud of who I have become, even though there are these uncomfortable parts that I am sharing about here.

I self medicated my fear for years. However, as many of you know, I have remained sober since a rehab stay beginning on 16 April 1990. And I still do not smoke. I actually had a drag on a cigarette just this past weekend at a music festival. Yes, it tasted good, but amazingly, the magic was gone. I won’t take another and certainly will not start back smoking. I am actually glad I took that drag.

So with a bit of time open last week without any medical appointments, I decided to go out amongst it solo camping in Troopi for the first time. I say, “solo” as it was just me in Troopi, but I was driving in tandem with my old friend Robert Shore who was in his own Troopy camper. As I have said many times, Robert is like family to me. Lynn and I birded with him at various times across all of Australia. It was great to go out again.

First I had a 9-hour plus drive up to Robert’s home base in Parkes, NSW. It is where the famous radio dish from the wonderful film, “The Dish” is located.

We left Parkes the next day and drove up to have a look at Kooragang Wetlands near Newcastle for King Quail. They were not around. As the day was ending, we started north looking for a free camp. We found one by the “Ayres Rock” servo, a service centre with a fake Uluru on top of it. It was a fine spot to camp with toilets available and it was free.

Free camping by the "Ayers Rock" service centre.

The next day after a glance around Port Macquarie looking again for King Quail to no avail, we headed into the rainforest. We drove about 40 kilometers of logging track into Werrikimbe National Park to arrive at the Brushy Mountain Campground deep in amongst it. It was glorious. Then we hiked to the areas where our target bird, the Rufous Scrub-bird, was known to have been heard, and occasionally seen. We heard a couple, but none were close to the track. 

There was a beautiful old covered shelter with two massive picnic tables and a fireplace. As night was descending Robert started a fire and as the temperatures dropped considerably, that fire was much enjoyed and appreciated. We had our supper at the table with the fire crackling in the background. After dark we went out and looked at some frogs including a lovely green Barrington Tops Tree Frog.

From where I had parked Troopi, I could lie in the bed and actually watch the fire out the window from my bunk as I went to sleep later that night.

At first light we were down the track and again heard ‘distant’ Rufous Scrub-birds with no success, or real hope, of seeing them. As the forecasted rains began in earnest, we headed back to camp. Under the shelter, sitting by a revitalized fire, we talked about birding and about where we were.

The point was this. We had not seen either of our target birds, but that was all right. Those birds were only a portion of what we were doing. They had led us out there amongst it. We were deep in the wondrous rainforest of New South Wales. It was beautiful (even in the rain and fog) and I was there. I had to allow the appreciation of that into my heart. I did. And in writing this, I am reaching out to it, and I am touched by it yet again.

Here are a few photos on the way back. We did hear the Scrub-bird again, clear and close to the road on the corner of Oxley Highway and Knodingbul Road. But it was impossible to get down the mountainside slope to it. 

Sunrise from my last morning leaving NSW. I stayed in a caravan park to get a shower and was greeted by this morning view. Glorious.

There is so much more I could say and so much more for which I am grateful. And so much more that I hope to share in the future. I am very glad that these words connect for some of y’all. And if not, that’s okay too. More to come soonish…

Sending love from back at the Tiny House.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

I Love Orange-bellied Parrots

Last Friday I was looking down a track in the northern part of the Western Treatment Plant and saw a jewel in the grass. It was so green and bright that at first it called to mind an Emerald Dove. Of course I knew that it would not be an Emerald Dove and as my bins went to my eyes, the back of a tiny Orange-bellied Parrot appeared. I did not expect to see one of these beautiful birds, and as much as I loved looking at it, I wish I had not. That little bird should have been in Tasmania.

According to its leg bands, he was a mainland released male from earlier this year. He had a silver band with a Y on his left leg and a red ring on his right. He was actively feeding on the tiny grass heads and seemed happy, although a tad woebegone. I was deeply moved. I stood for about 35 minutes basically where I had stopped when I first saw him. I just kept taking photos and marveling at, and loving, this tiny treasure. I did not want to disturb him and he allowed me to spend a little time with him. Just the two of us.

Here he is...

Eat well my little friend... get strong.

Num, num, num...
Eventually, moving slowly and quietly, I called my friend Dez Hughes (the Wader Whisperer) who was only few kilometers away. He headed up to see the parrot. However, minutes before he arrived, it had flown up, around, and disappeared into cover in the same general area. As Dez stood there with me, it flew up and out again, giving him great views of those vibrant blues and greens (and orange-belly) before it landed again disappearing in the scrub. We left the area.

I first saw wild Orange-bellied Parrots in June of 2012 at the Borrow Pit at the WTP. There were three. I was a fairly new birder and I fell in love with these wondrous little parrots as I would. I took Lynn and my twelve-year-old granddaughter, Mandy, to see them. We had amazing views and I took copious photos. Below are a few from that day.

I do not know if these critically endangered little parrots can survive. There are only a handful left in the wild. Literally. There might be less than thirty maybe? I do not know exactly.

Time is passing. I find being sixty-four years old unbelievable. But when I look at the changes I have been through and that I have seen in this world, I reckon I have to believe it. I hate to think that one day there may be no wild OBP’s left. I am so glad that I got to show them to Mandy over five years ago and I am so glad I got to see them then as well. However, I wish I had not seen this little guy there where he should not still have been. I wish he had gone to Tasmania weeks ago.


I literally just now read that a male OBP that was seen at the WTP on 21 September has arrived at the breeding grounds in Melaleuca, Tasmania on 29 September! And my little buddy was eating constantly. Maybe he was storing up energy for a big flight. I will not give up hope. Maybe he is going to get to Tassie after all. I hope so with all my heart.

To help these birds click here: Difficult Bird Research Group

Sending love from the Tiny House.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Northern Shoveler ~ SA Twitch!

Last Saturday evening there was a post on the South Aussie Birding Facebook page about the sighting of a Northern Shoveler. My buddy, James Cornelious, alerted me to this. I began seeking more information. My friend, Kay Parkin, suggested a dash for it as it might quickly move along. I decided to go the next morning.
The white spot in the middle is Norman the Northern Shoveler
Troopi is still in the shop awaiting a used replacement fuel tank to become available somewhere. So I was off in the Prius at sunrise Monday heading for South Australia (and saving enough in fuel to afford a room). It was about seven hours to the spot. Around two thirds of the way there, I began getting reports that the duck had not been seen that day. I considered cutting my losses so-to-speak and heading back home. My new Facebook friends, Eddy and Jenni, texted saying that they were going to check out the surrounding areas later in the afternoon since the day before the duck had been seen in the arvo. I decided to carry on.

I checked into a little cabin at the Keith Caravan Park ($100, I recommend it). Then I drove about 40 minutes to the “ponds” near Tilley Swamp. There was no one else around and no Northern Shoveler either. It had not returned. As dusk approached, I left the ponds and drove back to the cabin.
Keith Caravan Park cabin... works for me.
This is what was odd to me. I was not disappointed. I was honestly okay with not having seen it. I had kind of figured it was gone. A group of serious birders had spent the whole morning searching the area and had dipped. The smart money was on that it had departed for good. I am sure I would have been disappointed if I had missed it by an hour or something, but it had not been seen all day. I did not have that ‘dipping sadness' that can be so crushing. But I figured I would go have a look in the morning. Who knows?

The next morning I was up before five and put the kettle on. I was loading the car as the dawn chorus was coming alive. Sweet. I love that. At first light I was driving west to the spot. With the sun rising behind me, I arrived by the ponds and parked off the edge of the road. With my bins, I scanned the pond on the right, no Northern Shoveler. Then I scanned the first pond on the left (south) and it was not there either. Then I caught a glimpse of bright white in the pond just behind the south pond. I got the scope out of the car quickly.

As I am going on a twitch I have a lot of time to think. I was in the car alone for close to seven hours on the drive over. And I picture in my mind various scenarios of rocking up and seeing the bird. What that will feel like. I picture seeing the bird in my mind. This is not magical thinking. I do not think I can manifest the bird by visualizing it. But I do imagine seeing the bird and how wonderful that moment can feel. That moment feeds my passion for this type of birding. It don’t get much better than seeking and then finding. Not for me anyway.

I set up the scope and focused it. There was that moment. The glimpse of white morphed into the beautiful white chest, and then the iridescent deep green head and rufous sides of a male Northern Shoveler. It was the “That’s It!” moment in twitching that makes it all worthwhile. I was looking at the bird! I drank in the experience. I breathed that bird. I took recording shots as best I could. I was approximately four hundred meters from the duck and the land was fenced and private, but the scope views were crystal clear gorgeousness. There was no one else around to see me glow and I was glowing with excitement and genuine joy. I walked to the middle of the road partially up the hill behind me and with one dot of signal I texted Eddy and Jenni. I sent one word, “YES!”
Lifer Selfie. Norman is somewhere in that pond over my right shoulder.
I resumed staring at, and appreciating, the duck. Then I went back to the road and I sent Philip Peel a message asking him to please post to Facebook that I had refound it and the location. I managed to get a back-of-the-camera phone pic to go though! Then I went back to staring at the duck.

There were other cool birds around. A couple of dozen Black-tailed Native-hens were bobbling about in the paddock just in front of me. They are beautifully goofy birds. I was standing so still viewing the Shoveler that they ended up walking over within a few meters of me. When I did move, they freaked out in their wonderfully goofy way. It was like they were saying, “Run! It’s a monster! Run! RUN!” I love them.
A few of the several hundred Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos in the area
Lifer Pie in the form of Ice Cream (and I had a cookie too).

There are so many wonderful parts of a twitch. And at the culmination of a successful twitch there is Lifer High. It strikes me the first moment I see the bird and then it reverberates and reverberates. I feel giddy and giddy is good! That wonderful feeling can echo through me for days afterwards. I feel it right now two days later sitting at my table in the Tiny House. I am so grateful. I did it. I twitched Norman the Northern Shoveler. Yeah, I gave him a name. I love that bird. As I would.

Before I left for the long drive back to Lara, Luke and Kathy Leddy rocked-up to view the bird and then Eddy and Jenni arrived (having set land speed records to get there). So I was able to share a bit of the delightful giddiness of Lifer High. This was all due to Facebook. Social media: don’t go birding without it.

And... the book about the year of traveling all of Oz is coming along very well. I will keep y'all posted. I am hoping to have it completely finished by Christmas.

Peace. Love. Birds.