Sunday, July 31, 2016

Expat Laughing Gull Twitch, Venus Bay, SA

I have said before that in birding (as well as other things) sometimes one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor. In September of 2014, with our wonderful friend Linda from New Mexico visiting us in North Carolina, we dashed up to Cape May, NJ to twitch a Whiskered Tern. Sure we had seen hundreds in Oz, and our Aussie friends laughed at us, but this was quite a rarity for the US. And when a Laughing Gull, quite a rarity for Oz, showed up in Venus Bay, South Australia, I wanted it on my Australian list. I am sure some of our North American birding tribe found this funny as well.
Expat Laughing Gull, Venus Bay, SA
My childhood was spent along the waterfront of Hampton Roads in tidewater Virginia. I grew up around the water. I spent much of my time fishing and crabbing. I loved it. The sound of a Laughing Gull is a part of my soul. I am now an expat in Oz and I reckon so is this gull. I love Australia. I love it (and my grandchildren) so much that I am going to live here. But it has been far from easy on a lot of levels. So I feel a real connection with this expat North American Gull.

We were on the coast of New South Wales when I began to seriously entertain the idea of twitching this bird. I spoke with Kay Parkin who had just seen it. She thought that in its molting condition and with its comfortable food and lodging at the caravan park, it would be around for a while. We decided to go for it. We started southwest and stayed at our dear friend, Robert’s house in Parkes, NSW. If you have never seen the film, “The Dish” rent it, stream it, whatever, just watch it. It is wonderful, and it took place in Parkes. We had a lovely visit and left a bit late Thursday morning. We drove to Hay, NSW. Not much to say about Hay or that drive. We passed through the Shire of Bland, literally and figuratively. Honestly though, it is lovely out there in its open, scrubby Aussie way. I am grateful.

We decided to do a longish drive on Friday and made it to Burra, SA where we stayed in a very old, but VERY cold stone cabin. It is gorgeous in that part of South Australia. Lynn described the luxuriant green of the hillsides as “emerald” and they were. It was lovely driving through there and it put us within striking distance of Venus Bay, SA on Saturday.

The drive from Burra was about 7 hours and we rocked up at the Venus Bay Caravan Park just after 2pm. I immediately asked about the gull. I had spoken to both Ruth and Linda of the caravan park a few times on the way (wonderfully sweet, both) and they knew who I was and why we were there. Ruth said that the gull was definitely around and it would show up soon. After maybe fifteen minutes of giving me heart palpitations by its absence, show up it did! I was standing amongst a group of Silver Gulls when Lynn said, “Look at that one.” Right in front of me, the Laughing Gull had snuck in. Neither of us saw it arrive, it just seemed to appear there. It touched my heart. I am grateful.


The true Lifer Selfie with the bird also in the photo!       
After about a half an hour of drinking-in the reality of this wonderful widely traveled gull, we checked in and settled into our cabin. I opened a cold non-alcoholic beer (my favorite, Erdinger) and just looked out at the water. We have a wondrously gorgeous view of the bay. The cabin is comfy, cozy, and beachy. It is exactly my kind of place. They have takeaway here at the caravan park and I had some excellent butterfish F&C and Lifer Pie of ice cream on a stick. I am so very grateful.

From our cabin... love this.

This morning I wandered down first thing to check on my new gull pal. He was right there. I took some more photos and had a visit with a Victorian twitcher friend, Alan Crawford who had flown over from Melbourne and was staying in one of the cabins as well. This is a wonderful place and I am glad that it is benefiting from the LAGU. 

There he is... 
Yes, he is molting and there are a few feathers missing.
After Lynn and I had a walk around, I am ready for a lazy Sunday arvo on the bay. Sending love and peace from Venus Bay, SA. I’ll keep y’all posted. Here are some photos from our little walk (I do love me some Pelicans).
Lots of Singing Honeyeaters around.
Australian Pelican
I love the colors on the bill.

RB AUS Life List: 666
Lynn AUS Life List: 647
Couple’s AUS Year List: 630

Peace. Love. Birds.

Monday, July 25, 2016

New South Wales, RT Thrush and Masked Owl

I am sitting in the heated comfort of a motel room in Kurri Kurri, NSW. There were trees down across the roads keeping us out of Barrington Tops where we had hoped to find the Rufous Scrub-bird last weekend. So instead, we headed on south ending up here last Saturday. I am grateful.

Saturday afternoon we stopped at the very cool Wingham Brush Nature Reserve near Taree, NSW. It was recommended as an excellent Russet-tailed Thrush site. This was a bird that Lynn needed and we needed on the year list. We birded along the old wooden boardwalk and in the peaceful shade of the lowland rainforest, we soon were looking at a Russet-tailed Thrush. I took copious photos and we are positive of the i.d. I am grateful.

Russet-tailed Thrush... the secondary covert feathers are bold and the colors do not go up the feather shaft. They look as if they were dipped in paint.

The white is longer on the tail feathers...
It has a very russety, shortish tail and its rump feathers do not have the heavy dark edges like the feathers on the back.
We drove on to Kurri Kurri where we had found a nice and “affordable” motel. Our tolerance for cold seems to have lessened since all of our steamy northern travels. We had been hot, and or warm, for so long that camping in the cold is not something that we want to do very much. Especially not in the wind and or rain. So we have been splurging on little cabins and rooms when we can. After checking into our room, we headed to a local Painted Button-quail site where we saw NO button-quail. We did see lots of platelets. I think platelets are made by aliens, like crop circles. We were back at our motel by dark.

Sunday Morning, we were back at that site at first light. We birded until about 9:30am when we gave up and drove back to the motel for breakfast (we have food with us of course). Although it was not real cold, the 6-7 C temperature sank into us. We spent the rest of the morning in our room trying to get warm. Weird.
Early morning Troopi
Yet another place where button-quail are not. We know a lot of these places. But platelets? Platelets we've got. I am damn sick of looking at platelets.
Sunday evening we drove down to Allan Richardson’s house in Morisset. He had generously offered to take us looking for a Masked Owl. Allan had seen one a few weeks ago in the Watagan Mountains not far from his house. We arrived at his spot on a muddy logging track as the darkness descended. After about fifteen minutes Allan said, “That’s it!” The Masked Owl was calling from the upper canopy to the right of us. We listened to it repeatedly and then Lynn saw it fly across the track above us. It called from that side a few times before flying back across the track above us giving us all a good, brief look as it passed between the trees. Not a photo op for sure, but we saw Masked Owl! YES! I am so grateful. Thank you, Allan!
Before we took our coats off, I grabbed us a quick Masked Owl Lifer Selfie. We had looked for this bird in Tassie and Julatten, but finally got it in NSW!
We were back in our room by 9pm for a late sandwich and then we stayed up until midnight. We are wild ones! Tonight we are going out for a proper Lifer Supper somewhere. Wishing all y’all love and peace from New South Wales. I’ll keep you posted.

RB AUS Life List: 665
Lynn AUS Life List: 646
Couple’s AUS Year List: 629

Peace. Love. Birds.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Some Genuine Gratitude and Another Lifer (Finally).

I have a difficult time dropping the anxiety regarding stuff that I had been very anxious about. Even when the anxiety “spark” is gone, the hot little fire of nerves that it fired-up continues to cook. It is not unlike removing a pointy stone from your shoe, but continuing to have a bruised foot. I wish it had an on-off switch. I wish I had an on-off switch. Hell, who doesn’t.

Last November on the day we collected Troopi from the RV place, I had a vitreous detachment in my left eye. It caused a small circular tear in my retina. After major anxiety (the word of the day), I went to an Optometrist, then to an eye surgeon and in less than 24 hours that small hole had been laser-ed over. Since then many checkups have always produced an “all clear.” So even though my world is seen through lots of floaters now, they are nothing to worry (be anxious) about. They are just annoying.

I had been warned all along that my right eye would probably also have a vitreous detachment within the year, BUT there was very little chance of it causing a retinal tear. I was to watch for “flashes” (which I always have, and have had, and I will never understand) and… something described as a “shower of floaters.” This morning, standing by Troopi at the campground, I had a frigging murmuration of floaters. Like a massive flock of starlings, I had hundreds and hundreds of tiny round dots swirling through my right eye. My anxiety hit eleven.
The view from the campground not long before the murmuration of floaters scared the crap out of me.
Lynn and I got on the internet and the phone and found an OPMS near by and soon I had an appointment at 11am. After a thorough examination, the doctor said that in her opinion, the massive shower of floaters (two hours later 99% of them had dissolved and were gone) had been created by the safe (emphasis on “safe”) vitreous detachment in my right eye. The thing that I was warned to watch for had passed safely. It was over. It did no damage to my retina. Sorted. Sweet. I am fucking grateful.

See, the worry that had created a cloud of anxiety over my head since last November was over… safely. I should be relieved. I AM relieved!! I am also still so used to staying vigilant that it is difficult to drop it and to really have that relief sink in. I am working on it. I really am.

LIFER!! Our lovely friend, Marie Tarrant, picked us up last night and took us out to the Brisbane airport to watch for Eastern Grass Owl. Just before dark, by the light of a gorgeous full moon, we saw one! I was getting some more mozzie spray from Marie (they were biting me through my damn socks!) when Lynn said, “WHOA! What’s that!?” And Marie said, “That’s it!” A Grass Owl passed by giving us lovely views as it flew low and slow across the field. I am SO grateful!
Eastern Grass Owl Lifer Selfie... Marie, Lynn and me.
Tonight is more than a Lifer Night. It is a chill and try and relax night. We are heading south and will be chasing some birds here and there, mostly on our own, but joining friends when they can. Tonight it is just Lynn and me heading over to the local pub here in wherever we are NSW. I am going to have chips and gravy. Yes, for dinner. Think, “Lifer Pie” I am very grateful.

And here are just a few fairly random photos from the last month or so that I never posted in the blog. I am so grateful for these birds and the eyes with which to see them.

Little Kingfisher, Buffalo Creek, Darwin, NT 
Grey Fantail, Alice Springs, NT (will look up subspecies later- it's the one around Alice Springs with so much white in the tail).

Crimson Chat and bug, Coober Pedy. 
White-winged Fairy-wren, Coober Pedy
White-browed Woodswallows on the Barkly Highway, NT
Rainbow Bee-eaters, Cape York, QLD

Pied Monarch, Julatten, QLD        
Variegated Fairy-wren, Inskip Point, QLD 
Red-backed Fairy-wren, Inskip Point, QLD 
Yes, I am grateful, so grateful.

RB AUS Life List: 664
Lynn AUS Life List: 645
Couple’s AUS Year List: 627
Peace. Love. Birds.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Not Superstitious

It has been ten days since the last blog, so I reckon a catch-up is in order.

When last I left y’all, we were heading south after the fantastic prawns in Ingham, QLD. Friday a week ago in Marlborough, QLD we pulled in to the caravan park and noticed oil dripping from the left back wheel hub. A call to the roadside assistance brought a slightly histrionic young man from Rockhampton who pronounced it as differential fluid. He said that we should not drive it and that no one would be able to touch it until Monday morning (weekends are sacrosanct). The RACV put us up at the caravan park motel. So Monday morning the mechanic (emphasis on “the”) in Marlborough diagnosed it at a glance (he did not even have to lean down to look at it closely). He said that it would be ready later that afternoon. I called RACV and they extended our motel to include Monday night. The wheel bearings had gone in that wheel and needed repacking in the others as well. Expensive, but not as expensive, or as much trouble in general as it could have been. I am grateful.

We were finally out of there Tuesday morning and after camping one night in Gin Gin, we arrived at Inskip Point early Wednesday afternoon and began our search for the Black-breasted Button-quail. Despite the fact that another birder had seen two males the previous Saturday at midday, we did not find any.

I do not want to become superstitious. I am already OCD (emphasis on the “O” for obsessing). I do not want to have to wear blue socks or some such thing when I look for a new bird. I do prefer (emphasis on “prefer”) to wear a PRBY apparel t-shirt when I am birding, but I do not consider that a superstition. It is just me being ready for my Lifer Selfie. What I am sort of bothered by is posting on the Facebook about the bird I am looking for before I have found it. There have been several times in the past when I have posted about a certain bird before I saw it, only to dip on the bird.

Lynn took a photo of me sitting on a log that I quite liked and she posted it on Facebook noting that we were pursuing the Black-breasted Button-quail. After being there at first light on Thursday until mid afternoon and then yesterday from about 9am (when the rain stopped) until mid arvo, we still have not seen, glimpsed, heard, nor even smelled one. The superstitious-ness is building and Stevie Wonder is doing a guest set in my head.
One of the methods is to sit quietly and watch an area with new platelets. I am sort of doing that here. But I am also resting my knee. Yes, it is still not right, and is worse than it was a few months ago.
We have covered that area from the roundabout to the point until I have memorized it. We have seen "new" platelets that should indicate the presence of the button-quail. We have had advice from excellent birders on methods for looking for them. We have tried them all. Repeatedly. I reckon Tim Dolby was once again spot-on. He said before ever we arrived here, “It is just a matter of stumbling on them. Allow time for several days perhaps.” And that is the advice that we are following. We are still here in Rainbow Beach (close to Inskip Point) waiting out the weather to go back down and see if we can stumble on them. I am very grateful that we can do that.

Here are a few photos from Inskip Point, Queensland. Cheers for now, I will keep y’all posted.
That is a platelet, a roundish bare area created by a feeding Black-breasted Button-quail.
A Carpet Python that was there both Wednesday and Thursday. On Wednesday he seemed to have no head.
On Thursday he was looking at me. Yes, we did joke that he might be too full of button-quail to move.

Lovely White-cheeked Honeyeater

Peace. Love. Birds.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Beginning To Head South

Once again we had a lovely several days with our friends, Andrew and Carol Iles (and their wonderful, big, sweet as, goofy, puppy, Peggy) at Kingfisher Park Birdwatcher’s Lodge. I could easily stay there for weeks, or months. There is a vibe to that place not to be found anywhere else. Of course there are other awesome places with good vibes, but KP is unique and I absolutely love it. I know I have gone into this before, but I do. I am so grateful for this place and these friends. So grateful. We did have to go, but I will never completely leave it as it lives in my heart.
The road in...  Kingfisher Park Lodge is at the end... I love how I feel going down this road to that place.
Brekkie on the verandah          
The back side of the lodge
The rainforest front yard... Love...
Yes, it was time to move on. We decided to head south down the tablelands. We had never been to Ravenshoe (pronounced Ravens hoe, NOT Raven shoe as I kept referring to it). It’s the highest town in Queensland. We had a look at the town and a nibble at the bakery and then drove on to a sweet little caravan park in Mt. Garnet. It even had working wifi, which is all but unheard of in caravan parks in Oz. There were a beautiful group of Pied Currawongs that hung around the park. Lovely birds, but I did not take any photos. There were also Pied Butcherbirds and Magpies. It was a very pied place!

A real tourist selfie
I did grab a few photos of a Spangled Drongo earlier in the day in Mt. Molloy. It is a bird I tend to overlook. They are fairly common and if you don’t really “look” at it, it is just a “blackbird.” But through your bins in the sun, it is black-blue and red eyed gorgeousness. And that cool tail? I love me some Spangled Drongos. And it must be said that it has one of the best bird names ever.
Spangled Drongo amazingness

We left the mountains and drove over to the coast, then south to Crystal Creek caravan park, one of our favorites. We stopped briefly in Tully so that I could climb the Golden Gumboot in the sunshine (it almost always rains there… hence the gumboot being the symbol of the town). I also used the Gent’s room there and saw a dispenser featuring the wisdom of "Condoman!" I had not seen, nor heard, of Condoman. Which if you think about it, is really written as if it’s “Condo man.” Not a very tough sounding superhero… CONDO MAN! He can sell you an apartment faster than a speeding bullet!

I've got to climb the boot. I just do.          
"Don't be shame be game." I don't even know what that means.
And then we thought we’d grab a quick afternoon snack and ended up having insanely delicious prawns (and some chips) in Ingham. Seriously as good as I have ever had (and I have had some excellent, fresh, local shrimp). So our snack became our main meal of the day.
Fresh, local, insanely yums!
We are heading south toward more birding. I don’t like to talk a lot about exactly what we’re doing until it’s done. I reckon I feel like it’s tempting fate or something (not that I am superstitious- touch wood). For the next few days though, we are just traveling along and taking our time. I am so grateful.

Peace. Love. Birds.