Friday, April 29, 2016

Top End ~ Part One

Catching up the blog is more difficult than I want it to be. I will continue, but I am skipping a lot of things that I would love to share. There is just not enough time to do the things and write about them (and edit the dang pictures). Anyway… let’s catch up as best I can.

In our birding of Oz, Lynn and I had had no joy of any Button-quail. Very many people have told us how easy Painted Button-quail are! Just go to this place or that place, but that is usually always after we are 500 kilometers away from those places. We have looked twice up around Deniliquin, NSW for the Little Button-quail without success. We went specifically to Inskip Point for the Black-breasted, but it happened to be the first weekend of school holidays last September and it was utter insanity of screaming kids, bellowing adults and roaring-rumbling 4WDs. We saw neither hide nor hair of any Button-quail. I plan to return this winter and try again!

I would recommend Mike Reed’s wonderful book, “Top End Birdwatching” to any birder coming up here. It is an excellent book. Robert and Edith (a friend of Robert’s and ours as well now) and Lynn and I went by to say, “hi,” to Mike and his wife, Anne. They are awesome people, who I would love to have had more time with. He advised us on a good spot for Chestnut-backed Button-quail. So… sort of bright and definitely early, we headed Troopi and Troopy out of Katherine toward Chinaman Creek. We went to the exact spot that he suggested and we did as he advised. Lynn, Edith, Robert and I walked “grids” to and fro through the grassy area where the Button-quail are known to be. We flushed them four times, getting excellent binocular views as they relocated (i.e. flew and disappeared into the grasses). Tick! I am SO grateful! Finally!

We moved on to Pine Creek and as most birders know, the Hooded Parrots are seen in front of the caravan parks there. They were indeed and they did not disappoint! They are now on our year list.
Hooded Parrots       
Sloppy Parrot kisses...

We headed north to a spot that Mike suggested as possible for Yellow-rumped Mannakin (still no joy of those!). Once again, we did not find them. Although we saw a very Zitting looking cisticila, but I reckon it was a Golden-headed.


On the way back to Pine Creek, we decided to make a detour to Douglas River Crossing by Douglas Daly Caravan Park. I had read on Facebook that our friend, Phil Lewis had seen several cool birds around there including Rainbow Pitta. It was way past any sort “bird o’clock” being about noon when we arrived. We parked near the river and began to look around. I headed down along the water and in moments I got to say, “I’ve got the pitta!” The others were in further, but came running. Soon everyone had gotten satisfying looks at one of the most beautiful birds in the world. I am so grateful!
Rainbow Pitta!

Yes, we had Lifer Pie in several forms and we had a lovely Lifer Supper the other night with fresh barramundi. More soonish. Sending much love from the Top End.

Peace. Love. Birds.

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Kimberley ~ Part Two

I am beginning this in a camping spot at the very cool Ellenbrae Station just off the Gibb. This place has an awesome vibe to it, rustic coolness. Hard to describe. 
Lynn at a table in Ellenbrae Station. I love that place.
I’ve had yet another shower. Yay! It has been over a month since I showered with hot, or even warm water. It has been just the cold tap since we’ve been up here, and it feels great. I am grateful.
The amenities at Ellenbrae Station... rocky cool!
Saturday the 16th was a slow birding day, but a high learning curve day for driving Troopi over rocks, ruts and holes down “tracks.” She is amazing. We made a semi-bush camp at the closed campground on Mt. Elizabeth Station. 

The following morning we had to decide where we were going. This choice had been coming. We knew where we wanted to go, to the Mitchell Plateau in hopes of the Black Grasswren, but the road up to the plateau had been closed. We had just found out that it was still closed. So, without going into the details, I will just say that after an arduous, rough and rattling drive, we birded on the evening of the 17th. We got Buff-sided Robin and Kimberley Honeyeater and we got them on the Mitchell Plateau. I was very grateful, but we had not seen the grasswren... yet.

Buff-sided Robin

Kimberley Honeyeater
The next morning we were out at first light and across on the rocky escarpment near Little Mertens Falls where these grasswrens are sometimes seen. We had an insanely cute Monjon watching us curiously from the rocks. They are an endemic of far northwest Kimberley and they are the smallest of the Rock-wallabies.

Monjon... a very cool little bundle of cute.
While searching hard for the Black Grasswren, we picked up Green-backed Gerygone, another lifer for Lynn and me.

Green-backed Gerygone
We headed off the trail and really began clambering over, between, across and around boulders. Or as George refers to it, “rock hopping.” This activity favors the long of leg, but Lynn hung in there with us on this very difficult terrain. I am so grateful. A check of her Fitbit showed that we traveled (climbed, clamored, stumbled) about 3 kilometers in total.

Little Mertens Falls (Lynn is in the photo, you just have to look hard).
We emerged from the boulders into a sort of clearing. Lynn took this opportunity to sit down on a rock, and I stepped off to the side behind a boulder (I had drunk my normal two mugs of coffee earlier). And at that moment, George found the grasswrens. Needless to say, I immediately stopped what I was doing and in seconds Lynn and I were standing beside him looking at two females and a male. The Black Grasswren is one of the most beautiful birds I have ever seen. It truly is. I was able to grab a few photos and then we let them be. They had shown themselves beautifully and owed us nothing more. All that we had gone through to be there was so very much worth it. What a bird. What a place. I am grateful.
The little clearing... that boulder in the center back is where they first showed.
Black Grasswren! (male)
Black Grasswren female

The male again, from the right angle they do look black.
We left this wondrous place and drove back down the amazingly rutted, horribly corrugated, mud-hole filled track. After once again safely crossing it, we stopped and had a luxurious swim in the King Edward River.
Troopi making us proud! Crossing the King Edward River (again). Thank you, George for taking our photo!
Lynn coming back from a swim.
Our swimming rock... a lovely place to slip into the river!
We headed to Drysdale Station. They had showers, as I mentioned at the end of Part One. It was a lovely evening, and a very lovely shower! What a day that was! Black Grasswren, I am so very grateful!

The next morning we went to Miner’s Pool just north of the station and saw Purple-crowned Fairy-wrens again. The males were more in color than the ones we saw a couple of days ago. What gorgeous birds they are! 
Purple-crowned Fairy-wren. We have now seen all of the Fairy-wrens. I love them. 

On our way back to the main road, we stopped at the Gibb River crossing and gave Troopi a wash (no soap, just a good rinse).
Lynn was washing on the other side... our girl had gotten very muddy!
Then we reluctantly parted company and George headed west on the Gibb and we headed east. He taught us what Troopi can do and gave us the confidence to travel on and explore some of the more wild parts of Oz. He also showed us real bush-camping. Yes, we can do it, and we will do it again. Thank you, George, I am grateful.

Peace. Love. Birds.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Kimberley ~ Part One

26 Years Sober.

At our bush-camp on a ridiculously idyllic, wilderness riverside in The Kimberley, a Huntsman Spider the size of a child’s hand was hiding in my boot the other morning. I had slipped the boots on my bare feet and somehow I walked around sharing the boot with the spider for about five minutes. Seemingly it suffered no ill affects, but then it bit me. I suffered no ill affects either (it did sting a bit). It was an amazing way on 16 April 2016 to begin to my 26th year of sobriety. That this once massively addicted alcoholic (who was also agoraphobic) is now twenty-six years sober and out in the utter wilderness, and loving it, is just about unbelievable. Hell, it is unbelievable, but believe it. And I am grateful.

We entered the Kimberley on Thursday, 14 April and before we made our first camp, we had Sandstone Shrike-thrush. Tick!
Sandstone Shrike-thrush        

We were exploring a bit of this amazing wilderness with our new friend, George Swann. Thank you, Nigel, for introducing us! George knows The Kimberley better than anyone, and we are incredibly fortunate that it worked out for him to accompany us on a little birding trek across this amazingly wild part of Oz.

We made our first bush-camp somewhere out amongst it well off the famous Gibb River Road. It was a gorgeous evening (no humidity!). It was mostly clear and we ended up setting our scopes up to look at the sky. We saw planets! I saw the moons of Jupiter and the rings of Saturn! Just wow. That is an experience I will never forget. I am so grateful.
George and Lynn heading back toward our first bush-camp.
We began the next day birding around the dams near where we had bush-camped. Then we headed off bright and early along the Gibb and over the course of the day we picked up seven Life Birds! I will let the photos below mostly tell the tale.
Northern Rosella

Pictorella Mannakin

Silver-backed Butcherbird recording shot, sort of               
Lynn on the rocks
The view directly in front of Lynn where a White-quilled Rock-pigeon hopped up on that rock. It then flew to our left where I made its photo. We were doing a bit of "rock hopping" here. More about that in part two.
The lovely White-quilled Rock-pigeon

We headed away from the rocks to find three more lovely life birds.

Purple-crowned Fairy-wrens! We have now seen all of the Fairy-wrens. I love them all. We saw more Purple-crowns later in the week and I will have a few more photos of them in the next blog. 

Banded Honeyeater. We had looked for them around Broome with no joy. We saw lots of them in the Kimberley, but this was our first little group. 

The absolutely beautiful Varied Lorikeet. I just did not expect them to be that beautiful.
The day ended with the lovely camp mentioned in the first paragraph. Lynn even went down the river that night (the moon-brightness here is amazing) and had a wash-up on a big flat rock. She is far more comfortable going bush than anyone would have imagined. I am grateful.

As usual, these blogs are being written in bits and pieces over several days. I am in fact writing this part on Monday 18 April. We are exhausted and exhilarated, thrilled and dazed. I will go into more of that in Part Two, but now I am going to take an actual shower! I am oh, so grateful!

Stay tuned for Part Two and the quest for the Black Grasswren!

Birds. Peace. Love.