Monday, August 29, 2016

We Really Did It!

In one year’s time, we circumnavigated and birded the whole continent of Australia and more. We passed the “Halfway Across Australia” sign in February 2016 and again in the end of July 2016. We began our Aussie travels on 1 September 2015.
The left photo was taken in February 2016 and the right in July 2016. Notice how much my hat has bleached out.
I will have to find a better way to make maps. This map is crap. It does not include a lot of the places we went, but it gives you the general idea. You can see that we have indeed done it.
Missing a few parts of the route, but it does give you an idea of it.
When we decided to use travel and camping as a way to spend a year in Australia, we decided to “let the birds lead us.” We’d be traveling anyway, so our routing would be based loosely on birding locations and weather. Lynn had no interest in doing a real “Big Year.” Although we were going to keep a list and that list would be kept for a year, from 20 August 2015 to 19 August 2016. It would be a list of birds seen as a couple, a couple’s year list, but not a Big Year. Birders know the difference. I will explain that, and our list in much more detail later. I am extremely grateful for what we were able to do.

We consulted our dear friend John Weigel (I believe his 2014 AUS Big Year total of 770 will remain the record for many years to come). He laid out a basic route for us. Although we followed many of his suggestions, the routing changed again and again as life intervened. We had to push back our departure from the US by a month as I had cataract surgery on both eyes. That changed our original schedule from the start.
John and me at our "planning table" at Maumee Bay Lodge in Ohio, May 2015.
We began traveling on 1 September 2015. In a very abbreviated list, we left Torquay and went to: Little Desert, Hattah-Kulkyne, NP, Gluepot, SA, Bowra Sanctuary, Inskip Point, QLD, Eungella NP, Cairns, Kingfisher Park Birdwatcher's Lodge, Iron Range NP, Lammington NP, Ourimbah, NSW, Norfolk Island, Deniliquin, NSW, Barren Grounds, Portland, VIC, Tasmania and back to the Torquay area for Christmas holidays. Phew.

I love Tassie. It has many faces and moods.
Leaving Boxing Day, we went to Kangaroo Island for a week. Then we house sat for several weeks in Torquay leaving 1 February 2016 heading to: Gluepot (yes again), Adelaide, Whyalla, SA, Lincoln NP, crossing the Nullabor, lots of birding in southwestern WA, then up to Cue, over to Carnarvon, out into the Pilbara and up to Broome for 3 hot weeks. 

The Great Australian Bight near the Nullabor Roadhouse.
Troopi in Broome. I loved the BBO and its people.
Then we went across the Gibb River Road through the Kimberley and up to Mitchell’s Plateau, then down and over to Kununurra and into the NT to Katherine and a few weeks basing at my adopted sister’s (my Yabok, Denise Lawungkurr Goodfellow) in Darwin River, exploring Darwin, Kakadu and the surrounding areas. 

One of my favourite photos from the year... Troopi crossing the King Edward.
Then we went over to Mt. Isa and back down to Alice Springs, further down to Coober Pedy, SA, back up to Uluru and then up and over to Kingfisher Park (yes again, I LOVE it there), up to Cooktown, QLD and into Cape York. Then we came back down the coast. 

My very favourite photo of the year. An unposed shot of Lynn listening intently for Sandhill Grasswrens (she heard, we saw) with Uluru in the background. This. So much this.
In Kurra Kurra, NSW I heard about the Laughing Gull in Venus Bay, SA and we drove across to see it, thus passing the Halfway Across Australia sign in Kimba again. After the gull, we drove up to the Flinders Ranges, then down to Pt. Fairy, VIC and then back to the Torquay area again.
Lynn and me in front of the Kimba Big Galah by the Halfway Across Australia sign, July 2016 in the rain.
And here the year ended on a whimper. It was as if we returned to Victoria and I fell apart. I came down with a horrible cold; then an eye infection, ear infection, and I fell and cracked a rib (one of the more painful things I have experienced). But none of this crap is life threatening and I will eventually be done with it. I just have not felt like writing a blog entry and I have done no birding. It has been an amazing year. I am trying to grok that, and to revel in it as best I can.
Yes, there will be a book about it all. I promise. I am truly grateful (and I am feeling better). 
I will leave you with the 625th bird on the Couple's Year List, the endangered Golden-shouldered Parrot.
RB AUS Life List: 671
Lynn AUS Life List: 654
Couple’s AUS Year List Total: 639

Peace. Love. Birds.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A Few Victorian Birds

We are in the midst of winding down from a massive year. Our year list of birds seen as a couple officially ends this Friday 19 August at midnight. It has not been a "big year," although we kept a list for a year. There are many examples over that time when we did not go for the tick. We did not go by and tick the Barham Ostriches although we passed fairly close to where they are when we went for the Laughing Gull. We did not go out and get the Pheasants on Rottnest Island. We NEVER got to the Strzelecki Track, even though we really had time to do so in the last weeks. There are more examples than I care to think about of things we did not do, but we did do a LOT and I will be focusing on that. I am very grateful.

I will write briefly about the year, the travel, and this winding down in the next blog entry. We are not likely to add any more to the list, but we will see. Much of it will all eventually (soon-ishly) be written as a “book.”  It was an amazing year and a hell of an accomplishment, and it is a story that I need to tell. I will write it.

At present, Lynn and I both have sore throats and head-achy congestion. Maybe it’s colds; maybe it’s pollen. Stuff is beginning to bloom around here. It is odd that after almost a year of traveling around this entire continent without a sniffle, we are both feeling poorly back here. My abdominal issue of last week “seems” to have normalized (at least normal for me, which still ain’t right) but I am grateful for that. I do believe with all my heart that I am healthier when traveling. For me, travel is life (with very necessary occasional pauses!).
Lynn birding in the You Yangs.
I just took some ibuprofen, so I hope to finish with the photos and get this written and posted. Thanks to our dear friend, Philip Peel, we found an excellent spot for Speckled Warbler. This was a lifer for Lynn! I had only previously seen one, and that was several years ago in the You Yangs. At Phil’s spot just up the road in Eynesbury, VIC, we quickly found them and had wonderful views of this sometimes difficult bird. I am grateful.

Then also at his suggestion, we drove over to the Werribee Open Range Zoo where we found a beautiful Buff-banded Rail for the year list. This one is missing a foot, but seems to get around just fine. I will call him Stumpy.

Lynn's lifer Speckled Warbler, Eynesbury, VIC

There were lots of Tree Martins nesting in the area.
There were Brown Treecreepers around as well. We saw several there.
Buff-banded Rail on the Werribee Zoo grounds. I shall call him Stumpy and he will be my friend.

Gorgeous Little Eagle flying over whilst we were in the Zoo car park.       
And just because I like those feathers, here's a Great Cormorant from a few days ago on the Great Ocean Road.
Sending love and peace from the Surf Coast (as this area is called). I will keep y’all posted.

Peace. Love. Birds.

RB AUS Life List: 671
Lynn AUS Life List: 654
Couple’s AUS Year List: 638

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Port Fairy Victoria Pelagic and Global Birdness

Slender-billed Prion, tick!
We got a call from Philip Peel a while back to see if we wanted in on a pelagic on Sunday 7 August. To make a longer story shorter, we said yes and were in Port Fairy on the evening of the 6th. When Phil arrived at our accommodation he asked, "How do you like my hat?" I wish there was a photo of my face as I looked at Phil wearing a BSBO hat! I was gobsmacked. My dual-hemisphere existence collided. Then he gave me a "Love Packet" from Kim Kaufman that had t-shirts and stickers and pins and socks and just a whole bunch of wonderful Black Swamp Bird Observatory stuff! It was so very touching and I am so grateful. My birding family in the USA and Oz have successfully merged and things will never be the same again. Watch out world, this is Global Birdness!

Phil Peel, Lynn and me in Port Fairy, VIC
Sunday morning at 7am we headed out to sea with a boat full of friends.
The sunrise heading out from Port Fairy.
Along with Phil, we had the company of our buddy and birding partner, Robert Shore, as well as our good friend Bill Twiss. Also aboard were friends David Adam, Alison Nesbitt, Tim Nicholls, Kevin Bartram, Adam Fry and other wonderful Victorian birders. As the morning progressed the wind kicked up far above what was forecast and we were rockin’ and rollin.’ In about three hours we were 50 kilometers offshore and we set up to berley (chum). This began our birding in earnest.

We had some wonderful birds, four of which were lifers for the two of us and another just for Lynn. A White-fronted Tern on the trip back into port was a lifer for her. The other lifers were: Great-winged Petrel (nominate race, we had Grey-faced), Brown Skua, Slender-billed Prion and Grey-backed Storm-petrel. I am grateful. I will be honest and admit that having once again dipped on Wandering Albatross was a disappointment. But the trip was wonderful (for a pelagic) and it was especially nice birding with friends. Brace yourselves, here come some photos...
Brown Skua

Brown Skua floating
Brown Skua leaving
Great-winged Petrel (nominate race)

Great-winged Petrel showing off his wing.
Grey-backed Storm-petrel

Fairy Prion
Slender-billed Prion

New Zealand Fur Seal visited for a few moments.
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross

Grey-backed Storm-petrel, Black-browed Albatross and a Fairy Prion

The three hours plus ride back into port. My least favorite part of pelagic birding.
Phil nodding off as Bill Twiss and Robert Shore brave the spray in the stern.        
Lifer Selfie on the way in.
We had a quick coffee with the group before heading back to our accommodation and supper at the pub. A wonderful day it was. I am very grateful.

Monday morning we drove to Torquay where we have a beautiful AirBnB apartment for the next ten days before we move in for a few weeks at our son’s. I awoke Tuesday morning here feeling abdominal discomfort that sometimes means trouble. I’ve now done a day and a half of 'clear' liquids and so far so good. I am weak and tired, but that is to be expected. Crossed fingers that I will be back to whatever it is that is considered normal for me very soon. There’s some birding left to do! I am grateful.

RB AUS Life List: 671
Lynn AUS Life List: 653
Couple’s AUS Year List: 636
Peace. Love. Birds.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Short-tailed Grasswren, Flinders Ranges, SA

When my plan was hatching to dash across to Venus Bay, SA, it more than crossed my mind that the Flinders Ranges with their Short-tailed Grasswren were only a couple hours or so northeast of Port Augusta. We had to go through Port Augusta anyway, so why not pop up to have a look for the Grasswren on the way back from the Expat Laughing Gull twitch? I also had plans to look for the Copper-backed Quail-thrush at Secret Rocks near Kimba. The pouring rain drowned that idea and we continued on to stay in a truly crap cabin in a dilapidated caravan park in Stirling North. Live and learn and move on.

We were out of there first thing the next morning and after a grocery stop, arrived in the Flinders Ranges at Willow Springs Station and our nice little cabin by noon. We got the list of recent grasswren sightings at the Station (they keep track of them there) and headed to Stokes Hill Lookout, just around the corner from the station.

Views in the Flinders Ranges are amazing, even more than I expected.
The big wing at the entrance to Willow Spring Station.

These are views from Stokes Hill Lookout. Yeah, wow.
The wind was howling. This makes grasswrens sad and they sit at home somewhere and watch old movies and eat ice cream. Maybe not, but they were not to be seen anywhere across those hills that afternoon. And in many people’s opinion, Stokes Hill is the go-to place for the Short-tailed GW. We went back to our cozy little cabin for the night.

The next morning the wind was still up. We waited until about 10am and then went over to have a look. It seemed a bit less windy and we trudged across the ridges toward the optimum grasswren area (as dictated by the recent sightings). Low and behold, the wind did drop out a bit more AND the sun even came out! It was still chilly, but much better. We bumped into three other birders and began a “sweep” along the side of the hill. In about fifteen minutes we were on the bird! I saw it. Lynn saw it. And I even got some recording shots. Then we saw that bird again, as well as a second one nearby. Awesomeness. Truly. Lynn and I rejoiced, and after hanging around to see if any more were going to pop out in the immediate area, we joyfully walked the kilometer and a half or so back to Troopi. I am so very grateful!

At times we had an audience.
First view of the Short-tailed Grasswren!

I love how Grasswrens go up on tiptoes.
Yes, I do.

The Short-tailed GWs were just in front of where Lynn is standing.
Looking back at Troopi and a few other vehicles at Stokes Hill Lookout from the Grasswren area.
I am sitting in “our” Willow Springs Overseer’s Cabin writing this. There is no mobile reception or wifi here. So this will get posted from somewhere, hopefully tomorrow. This is an interesting experience. It is remarkably beautiful out here. The cabin’s setting is picture-postcard lovely. There is no television or internet, none of my usual ADD distractors (I am usually popping back and forth to Facebook and checking things… weather, routing, email, etc). So we are listening to background music as I write and edit photos. This is very peaceful. Just being quiet in peacefulness is not something I do very well. I tend to be a doer. I tend to want to be doing, and just chilling does not come easily to me. It is something I would like to work on, but we will see.

The three photos above are views from our cabin. It is so lovely there. Once again, the birds did their job and lead us to wondrous places. I am grateful.
There were 3 horses around Troopi. I got this one's photo.
That evening, I had a couple of those excellent non-alcoholic beers before supper and Lynn had a couple of regular ones. Then we grilled some sandwiches and… I just happened to have bought a small carrot cake (just in case). So yes, there was Lifer Pie. I do wish I had had some ice cream to go with it!

RB AUS Life List: 667
Lynn AUS Life List: 648
Couple’s AUS Year List: 631

Peace. Love. Birds.