Friday, May 27, 2016

Bonus Entry: Budgies and Stuff

BUDGIES! (More about them later).
Last Tuesday morning, after a bush-camp near Mica Creek, we tried again and were successful for the Kalkadoon Grasswren (see the blog entry before this one). On our way into the areas that we searched, we came across a rubbish pile, and in the midst of the rubbish Robert spotted “The Big Year” DVD! We could not believe it. This is a place where people sometime bird, so I reckon birders put it there. It was quite a surprise. We just left it where it was.

That afternoon, after arriving at one of the better known Carpentarian Grasswren sites, we checked the “cairn.” It has a miner’s hat for a lid and it is where a book of Carpentarian sightings is kept safe for birders to record their sightings. This is a photo of Rob and Laurie with the cairn.

Luckily, the next day, Laurie was able to leave a record of our sightings in there as well. I also took a shot of our bush-camp there. Here are the three Troopies in the bush. What a great time. Incredible birds and wonderful company, as good as it gets. I am very grateful.

On to Thursday morning… I have always loved the photos of hundreds, or sometimes thousands of Budgies (Budgerigars) coming into water holes. Magical! I had never seen this until Thursday morning at Barkly Homestead. Although not quite hundreds, it was a wondrous sight. The light was harsh for photos since I was shooting toward the sun, but I was mostly busy just marveling at the beauty of the spectacle. They were SO fast! Here are some photos that hopefully capture the chaotic, craziness and speed of Budgies bathing, drinking and seemingly, just playing in the water. I am so grateful.

The one on the lower left is drunk.
I love the calm water before they get there...

We stayed Thursday night at a very nice, and very reasonable caravan park in Tennant Creek. Friday morning began with a bit of a glitch. Troopi seemed to be listing to her left. I noticed this coming back from the amenities early this morning. As it happened, the back left tyre was partially flat. I phoned the auto club (best money I have ever spent) and they sent a guy out. He arrived about 8am and informed me that there was a tyre place just across the road. He followed me there in case the tyre did not make it. It made it. As it turned out, the rim had a crack in it. They replaced the rim and soon we were on our way. The cool thing is… that this happened in the comfort of a caravan park and across the street from a tyre place. NOT out in the bush without mobile coverage. Yes, I am very grateful. And it was only $125 total. I don’t think I have ever spent that little having anything done to a motor vehicle in Australia.

Here are a few other photos that are kind of cool and I just want to share them.
Beach Stone-curlew at dusk, Buffalo Creek, NT
Little Egret in breeding plumage, Buffalo Creek, NT
Spinifex Pigeon, race plumifera in Mt. Isa, NT (we saw race ferruginea in WA)
Cloncurry Ringneck, race macgillivrayi, Mt. Isa, NT
I am writing this Friday evening in a caravan park in Ti Tree, NT. Tomorrow we will be in Alice Springs for a few days. I will keep y’all posted. Sending love and gratitude as we get closer to the center.

Peace. Love. Birds.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Grey Falcons and Grasswrens

Grey Falcons!
But first, let's catch up...

Last Sunday began poorly. Lynn and I had opted out when Laurie Ross had gone off early looking for Dusky Grasswrens and then he and Robert had gotten them and were back before brekkie. I was happy for them, not so much for us. Laurie headed on east and we decided to head over to the Barkly Homestead (about two hours) in the hope, the slim hope, of Grey Falcon. Mark Carter had reported one around there about a week ago.

Just as we got well underway, the fuel system warning light came on. I am a little gun-shy of warning lights in my Troopi, but we carried on. We even stopped to have a look at a wicked-cool Thorny Devil that Robert spotted on the road.
Thorny Devil... cool as. It is a one-of, being the sole species of genus Moloch.
Off the road, safe and sound.
Once we arrived at Barkly, I called RACV and they put me on to a mechanic who talked me through resetting the warning light. It was probably triggered by the fast acceleration that I had done pulling onto the highway with a roadtrain coming. The light did come on just after that and the mechanic suggested that may have been the cause. Anyway, I am grateful we got it sorted.

In the meantime, Laurie showed up with a surprise. He had found a pair of Grey Falcons! The exact location is his, and I will only say “Barkly Homestead.” We looked. We saw. We rejoiced. A lot! Grey Falcon! One of the contributing factors to my becoming a birder was reading The Big Twitch by Sean Dooley. Sean had dipped on Grey Falcon in his Big Year. It was his bogie bird. Ever since I read his book, I had hoped one day that I might see one and I saw a pair of them! They are incredibly special to me and this was one of the true highlights of my birding life. Wow. Thank you, Laurie! We had a delicious Lifer-Dinner at the homestead. And I am crazy grateful.
Grey Falcons!

Laurie took this shot. Even his Lifer Selfies are excellent!
The next morning, we decided to tag along with Laurie to Mt. Isa to look for grasswrens. We met Robert there and we began our search for Kalkadoon Grasswren. We tried the water tank area with no luck and then did a marathon hike (rock climbing?) in the Mica Creek area, again to no avail. Seems they are one of the harder birds to find. We made a bush camp there and got a good night’s sleep. I am grateful.

At first light the next morning we were at it again. And again, we did much semi-vertical hiking. We were spread out across a couple of ridges and my phone rang. Laurie had found them! Lynn started over the ridge to try and find a way to the other side. I headed up the next ridge to look for Laurie. After an exhausting climb (it turned out he was on a different ridge, UGH!) I found Laurie and I saw the Kalkadoon Grasswren! Then I went straight back to where I could see Lynn beginning to come across on another ridge. I headed to the top of that ridge, and together we worked our way over to Laurie. She got wonderful views as well! I am so very, very grateful.
Kalkadoon Grasswren... Oh, hell yes. I was amazed.         

Ms Kalkadoon Grasswren
We moved on to a Carpentarian Grasswren area. There was more hiking, but mostly flat land. We tried some of the known spots, but we had no joy. We moved on to the Lady Loretta area (it’s the name of a mine). We made another bush camp and then went birding. The afternoon heat had begun so we came back and rested for an hour or so. About 3:30 we went out again. After a not all that arduous hike, Robert had a bird in front of him in the spinifex. Laurie could see it from where he was and called, “GRASSWREN.” Bear in mind that Laurie is about seven feet tall (he is actually 6’3”) with excellent eyesight and he sees everything. Soon we had its little area surrounded, but it did not give up views like the Kalkadoon. Robert and Laurie both saw it before we did. Then Lynn said, “There!” And I finally had a view of the male Carpentarian Grasswren as it flew across, over and down disappearing into the spinifex. We had done it. Two very difficult grasswrens in one day. Lynn’s Fitbit was smiling at 8.25 miles. We were smiling like idiots. Yes we did it! I am so grateful.

The double grasswren Lifer Selfie at our bush camp in the, um bush. Exhausted and elated!
I am beginning the rough draft of the blog in the back of Troopi in that bush camp. Robert wants a photo (he only counts birds he photographs) and Laurie wants to get an excellent photo. Laurie’s photos are honestly amazing. He is truly one of the best I have ever seen and yet he is really just getting started. So they are going back in the morning and I will probably tag along and see if I can get another look at this sneaky little bird. If I do, fine, but we got it today! I am grateful!

Post Script… I did go along for a while with them and got some better views of the Carpentarian. I did not get a photo, but here is a back of the camera recording shot from Laurie. He got absolutely incredible photos of some other Carpentarians later, but this was one of the earlier ones that I saw. I want to thank him for his ears, eyes and research into these birds. He made this wondrous birding accomplishment possible. I am very grateful to my friend for some amazing birds.

Carpentarian Grasswren!

RB Life List: 649
Lynn Life List: 628
Couple’s Year List: 610

Peace. Love. Birds.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Top End ~ Part Five Chestnut Rail

We finally got it!

Chestnut Rail, Buffalo Creek, NT
But first... since the last blog, Lynn and I headed out to the Nourlangi Rock site in Kakadu and saw (briefly) a White-lined Honeyeater. We left there and went to Nawurlandja Lookout where we had gorgeous views of a Chestnut-quilled Rock-pigeon (and gorgeous views in general). We then went back over and walked about two thirds of the way into Gubara Pools, hoping for better views of the White-lined and we got them. I am grateful.

Chestnut-quilled Rock-pigeon      
Where Chestnut-quilled Rock-pigeons live.
Then we drove over to the Bark Hut Roadhouse by Mary River and stayed the night. We love it there. The family who run it now are wonderful. I even did an impromptu guest set out back for maybe a dozen people. It was a blast. I have not “performed” in months and months and it felt good and I am still pretty good at it. I may very well in the coming years finally do the pub/roadhouse tour that I have thought about for ages now. We will see.

We returned to Darwin and again started the first-light searches for the Chestnut Rail. We’d spend several hours beginning at first light searching the mangrove mud banks of known Chestnut Rail spots. We had done this four or five times (six or seven times? I lost count) with no joy. I decided we should concentrate on Buffalo Creek, as it is the most famous spot for them. For the time being, Lynn had burned-out on mangroves, midgies and mozzies and did not go Thursday morning.

I met Robert by the boat ramp and we headed off south through the mangroves along the river. He and I had gone this way the evening before. We were beginning to know the “paths” through the mangroves (and the mozzies and midgies of course) very well. But we saw no Chestnut Rails. It was about 8:30am when a guy and his girlfriend came by in a small aluminum boat. I chatted to them and described the rail and they thought they’d seen two or three. They then stopped and were chatting with Robert and I yelled to him, “Ask them if they’ll take us up there.” He asked and Pat said, “Hop in!” Pat King was the gentleman who owned the little boat with a motor that continually conked out, but continually restarted. We puttered up the river as the tide dropped further, and the sun rose higher. I did not have a lot of expectations. But less than a kilometer upstream, Robert spotted a Chestnut Rail on the mudbank. YES! We were oogling it and snapping photos and it walked out into the sun! We got incredible views and some good shots. I was (am) SO grateful! We saw at least two more and it was awesome.
The first view was the classic, skulking rail view...    
And then it got better!

This was the second rail that showed for us.

A beautiful Little Kingfisher. We saw several of these very special kingfishers along the creek

Pat is concentrating on driving the boat and Robert and I are doing Lifer Selfie for a very difficult bird.
I arranged for Pat to take Lynn and me Friday morning. I bought him a slab of beer by way of thanks. I offered petrol money, but he seemed more keen on the beer. I would gladly have paid him. Long story short, the tide was an hour higher and it took us a little while, but Lynn saw three Chestnut Rails! We heard the territorial call of a fourth, but did not see that one. I am so grateful.
Lynn on the front seat of Pat's boat just after seeing 3 different Chestnut Rails!
I’m writing this in Mataranka, NT. We are on our way south. It is so beautifully cool this evening. I will see if I can get this finished and posted. Sending love from the Northern Territory. The adventure continues and I am grateful!

Peace. Love. Birds.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Top End ~ Part Four

Goshawk and Fruit-doves

After her stay in the service centre, Troopi was raring to get out and do some birding. We decided to give one last go at the Yellow-rumped Mannikins that had eluded us everywhere (and most everyone else too this year) except for our friend, Laurie Ross. He had seen several only eleven days ago in the Victoria River area. We went out there. They were not there, but it is lovely and we had fun. Except when Lynn sat down very unexpectedly in the rocks of the riverbed and bruised her tailbone. Ow. I am grateful she did not injure herself more seriously.

Victoria River
Lynn at the Escarpment Walk car park... there can be Mannikins there, but not lately.
Victoria River riverbed with a lot of rocks that can bang a tailbone. There were Yellow-rumped Mannikins here just eleven days ago.
Victoria River Bridge... another good spot for Yellow-rumped Mannikins, but not now...
Next we headed for Kakadu. Stopping in Katherine we picked up a few things and mailed a birthday card to one of our granddaughters. After crossing into Kakadu (and buying our park pass) we spotted a Red Goshawk! Always an awesome bird to see! I am grateful! I shot a few photos and we left her alone.
Red Goshawk


After years of having nested there, the famous Mataranka Red Goshawk was just about hounded out of existence by photographers. A very small minority of “wildlife photographers” will climb trees, trespass, blast with flashes and otherwise harass birds to get photos. I have friends who are very much into photographing birds, and all of them treat the birds with the respect they deserve. I am grateful for them.

We spent the night camping at the lovely Gagudju Lodge in Cooinda in Kakadu. It is beautiful there, but the mozzies are ridiculous. It is a long-standing joke that mosquitoes don’t bother me and it is true. They do not. But this was craziness. I even itched (for about an hour, then the bites went away). Anyway, there were too damn many mozzies for either of us. We did see a Barking Owl. We had heard them in a few places, but needed to see one for the year list. Lynn came down from Troopi's pop top and saw the owl in her jammies (how it got in her pajamas I have no idea... thank you, Groucho). Using the dim light of my flashlight, I was able to grab a recording shot. Then we left the next morning before dawn and headed to Gubara Pools.
Barking Owl
It is at least a 6 kilometer walk round trip to the rainforest area and the pools. We went there with one main target... Banded Fruit-dove. Again, our friend Laurie had been out there recently and had seen several. Our friend, Robert had been out there just a few days ago and had seen some as well. This would be a lifer for me. But not for Lynn. In 2012, when we had spent a few days birding up here, Lynn had been the only one of us to spot the Banded Fruit-dove that appeared high in the canopy and then quickly disappeared. Yet she hiked all the way out there with me, even with a sore tailbone. I am grateful.

We started down the walk at 7:15 and arrived at the Gubarra pools about an hour later. It was a quiet hike out, without many birds. We made our way along the creek to the larger pool at the end and began looking. I went a bit further along the edge of the pool and keep searching through the trees around it. And then I got to say, “I’ve got them. Two of them!” Lynn was soon on them from her vantage point, but I had them straight on from where I was standing. Sweet! I am so very grateful.
Banded Fruit-dove! YES
Another one

My Lifer Selfie for Banded Fruit-dove! That is the pool behind us. 
Heading out. We had been there and seen the doves (there are no crocs).
The walk back was much hotter and we neither heard, nor saw, any White-lined Honeyeaters, or Chestnut-quilled Rock-pigeons (neither are life birds, but we want them on the year list). So we are staying the night in Jabiru and giving the area of the Nourlangi Rock a look in the morning. Right now I am relaxing in more comfort than I can afford, and I just had Lifer Pie in the form of ice cream on a stick. I am so grateful. I will keep you posted.

RB Life List: 645
Lynn Life List: 624
Couple’s Year List: 604

Peace. Love. Birds.