Thursday, August 2, 2018

The Year The Book

I wrote a book. Almost two years in the making, it is now available (see links to purchase at the end of the blog).

I love to write. I have created songs, and I have drawn and I have painted, but I love writing best. I love letting words flow from my brain though my fingers into whatever magic they may weave. It does seem like magic to me. They often take their own path and lead me where I am intended to go. Which sometimes is not where I originally thought I was going. That is the magic of writing.

I began blogging several years ago. As we went off for a year of travel and birding from August 2015 to August 2016 I blogged regularly about it. I used those blogs as the framework on which to build the book, The Year. It has been an amazing process.

Planning at our kitchen table in North Carolina (that table, cut smaller, is in the tiny house here in Lara).
John Weigel writing out his suggestions on the routing and an itinerary for our year. This was on a table at the Biggest Week in American Birding in May of 2015. 
I started writing The Year in earnest sitting at my table overlooking Croatan Sound in September of 2016. That was in our beautiful (two bedroom, two bath) cottage in coastal North Carolina. If I could have that house transported here, I would literally, be in heaven. But it is there in the USA and I have chosen, gratefully and happily, to be an Australian for the rest of my life. I hope to go back and visit, but I am living full-stop in Oz. No regrets.

I am proud of this book. I have put more effort into this than I have put into any single project in my life. It has been a long time coming. The initial plan was to have three versions, and I hope that will be the case in the not too distant future. There will be an eBook as well as an ‘economy’ version without photos. The colour photo version was all ready to print, so I decided to put it out there and refer to it as a prerelease. I have some issues with the printing company and might change that in the future. We will see. For now, I am pleased with the quality of the book they have printed. But I cannot put it onto Amazon yet, which is where I would like to be able to sell it.

The design layout of the book was done by my dear friend Lily Kumpe and I love how it looks. She also did a lot of work on editing and such. There is far more to creating a book than I knew. The continual proofreading was amazing, and not in a good way. 

I am worthless as a proofreader. My ADD makes me “see” what words are supposed to be rather than what they are. But I still proofread the whole thing at least three times. Lily proofread it several times. My friend Anne proofread an early version and my friend Carolyn proofread the final(ish) version. Carolyn found mistakes that everyone had missed. Then we printed another proofing copy and yet still found some errors. Such is working on a three hundred and sixty-some page book. By the way, if in reading it anyone finds any mistakes, please just keep them to yourself. Hahaha.

And I should mention that I wrote it (to the best of my ability) using Australian English spellings. There was much debate about this back when I began to edit, and the consensus was to use the spellings of the country where I live and the journey took place. I also included a glossary in the back with some of the Aussie and birding terms explained. Here are a few photos from that wonderful year of travel. I hope with all my heart (as I do) that I was able to capture at least some of the amazingness of that year in my book. I reckon I did.

And speaking of The Year, here are the links to purchase it!

Aussies click this to buy the book

I write, therefore I am.
Peace. Love. Birds.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Nullarbor Trip Part Two ~ Letter-winged Kite Twitch


Monday morning began without rain or the need to drive west in the dark. We had gotten our Bluebonnet. I took my time, coffeeing at my laptop in Troopi’s downstairs.

Alice Springs birding guru, Mark Carter, had suggested looking for Nullabor Quail-thrush by the airstrip just behind the camping area at the roadhouse. Mark had also given us excellent gen on the Naretha. The Quail-thrush would be a lifer for James, so he walked back to have a look. In less than an hour he had returned and was beaming. He showed me his camera and he had seen and photographed the Quail-thrush! It is well known as a difficult bird of which to get a photo. I did not get one when Lynn and I saw our lifer in 2016. So I walked back with James to have a look. He refound it for me and I even got some photos as it ran across the runway. Sweet.

We packed up and left the roadhouse. Troopi’s engine light issue had reared its ugly orange head and this was worrying me somewhat. This issue continued to play-up on and off throughout the rest of the trip. I am taking it into the repair shop later this week. Crossed fingers, we will see.

We made a short detour over to The Head of the Bight and paid a small admission fee to walk down to the viewing areas and look at the whales. There were at least a dozen Southern Right Whales out there. A parent and calf came in close and I took some photos. It is a stunningly beautiful view. It is definitely worth stopping and having a look.

We drove on and stayed in Wudinna again. Then we headed over to Telowie Gorge for James to tick Grey-fronted Honeyeater, and both of us saw our lifer Yellow-footed Rock Wallaby. It is a lovely area in that gorge. After these successes, we went over to Port Germein and stayed at the very cool little caravan park there. In the morning, James saw his lifer Black Falcon right over the town. There were three of the birds, and I followed them in Troopi through the neighborhood streets until James got some great views and photos. 

In the meantime, a Letter-winged Kite had shown up in Rupanyup, Victoria. Yes, there was another LWK in VIC! I was fortunate enough to see the one in April of last year. It had only stayed around for three days. This would be an incredible opportunity for James to add a very special lifer and a cool sighting for me as well. We changed our route and rather than stopping by Adelaide to get James a Barbary Dove (they could wait), we drove to Keith, SA. We did stop on the way to have a quick look at some Silo Art. Keith would put us about two and a half hours from Rupanyup. We spent the night there and in the morning left at first light for the twitch.

We arrived in a dense fog. Ugh. After a lovely clear drive over, the kite area was foggy as London in an old film. Our friend, Gary Gale had just arrived as well and the three of us began looking. I decided to ring my friend, Jenn Stephens, who had seen the raptor the day before. She told me that we were searching further east than she had been, and suggested we go back toward town. We did and the fog was lifting.

As we started down Rupanyup-Burrum Road, I glimpsed what looked like a kite shape amongst the foliage at the top of a tall gum. I stopped and said, “I saw something.” Gary stopped behind us and watched us get out. James and I walked to get an angle where we could see more clearly into the leaves and yes, it was the Letter-winged Kite! I think James said, “That’s it!” And it certainly was.

The day before, Black-shouldered Kites had harassed the bird, causing it to fly several times. Our friend, Jenn got some beautiful photos. But no BSK were around bothering it and it just perched there, occasionally shutting one eye or the other as it appeared to be nodding off. Of course we hoped to see that gorgeous under-wing “letter” and we waited to see if anything happened. We stood around for about three hours while it perched there comfortably. We finally just left it as we had found it. It was a glorious ending for Team Troopi’s trip. After taking a Lifer Selfie for James and Gary under the "kite tree," we drove on back to Lara.

I am in the Tiny House and yes indeed, I will be continuing to work toward finally getting the book, The Year, out and available to the public. As I have promised, it will only be a couple more weeks or so. I really think y'all are going to like it.

I write, therefore I am.

Love. Peace. Birds.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Nullarbor Trip Part One ~ Naretha Joy


The Nullarbor. The outback. Those very wide-open spaces are not intimidating for me. I find them comforting. The vastness enfolds my soul like an embrace. As a former agoraphobic this really should amaze me, except that I now consider it normal. I am now this person. I am grateful for that with all my heart.

That said, I cannot stay out there forever, sleeping in the back of Troopi and living on sandwiches and meusli bars. I need to get “home” every so often and I am sitting here now. I will be continuing to work toward finally getting the book, The Year, out and available to the public. It will only be a couple more weeks or so. You have my word. So I won’t be doing any more traveling for at least a little while.

It is Sunday here now and I will begin to write the first part of the blog of the trip when James Cornelious and I went out to the Nullarbor. Bill Oneil called us, “Team Troopi” and I reckon that fits.

We left on a Wednesday and drove from Lara to Murray Bridge, SA, to Wudinna, SA, and arrived 1800 kilometres later at the Nullarbor Roadhouse midday Friday. We secured lodging and bolted for the Koonalda Track 97 kilometres further west. We were going to be looking for Naretha Bluebonnet. It is the stunningly gorgeous relative of the Eastern Bluebonnet. We started down that track with high hopes, but despite searching until dark, we did not find any Narethas. It is so beautiful out there. We drove back to the roadhouse, grateful for Troopi’s new spotties illuminating the road in front of us. Travelling back and forth, we would be grateful for them daily.
Sunset on our first day at the Koonalda Track

We were out there the next morning before first light. We spent the entire day going slowly up and down that wet and muddy fourteen kilometre track. We saw some sweet birds, including Ground Cuckoo-shrikes and a pair of Stubble Quail wandering around the edge of the track. We saw several Mulga Parrots that made our hearts jump. They are beautiful, but they were not our Narethas.

We had showers on and off that created some of the most beautifully intense rainbows I have ever seen. It was stunningly beautiful out there. But our hopes for the bird were beginning to sag. We drove out and around the old Koonalda Homestead with its scores of abandoned, rusting, rotting vehicles. I am not sure how or why they ended up there, but it is an interesting sight. As darkness approached, we headed back east to the roadhouse, again grateful for the spotties lighting our way.


The next morning we headed west again through the intermittent rain. We arrived at the track at first light and began birding. Truly our hopes were pretty low. At this point we had put about fifteen hours into this finite area. James had gotten two lifers in the Redthroat and the Ground Cuckoo-shrike, but the main target for us both had not even been glimpsed. About twenty past ten, we were driving back south down the track into one one of the first wooded areas as I saw two birds fly out of the trees. They looked light coloured and the right size. They flew to the right and behind some other trees. I quickly drove Troopi around the curve in the track to see where they went. I told James what I had seen and as we turned to the right, he said, “They landed in the top of that saltbush.” I stopped and we both put our bins on them and James said the magical, wonderful words we had longed for, “That’s them!” And they just perched there for us. We stared and took pictures. I know I choked up a little. A light rain was falling, but the sun shone on them. They are one of the most beautiful parrots I have ever seen. It was so worth it. That moment, that second in time when we realised that we were finally, after eighteen hours of searching, looking at our bird. The joy echoes through me yet again as I write this one week later. Lifer high is a time-release gift that keeps on giving.




The view in front of the roadhouse as I ate my chips and gravy treat for lunch. 
In the midst of Lifer High, we drove back to the roadhouse where we had lunch. My first lifer pie treat was chips and gravy. We had done it. We had beheld the Naretha Bluebonnet. Yay, Team Troopi! The adventure continued, more to come in Part Two. 

I write therefore I am. 

Love. Peace. Birds.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

700 Part Two

I was over the moon.

We had done it. I had seen 700 birds in Australia and the seven-hundredth was one of the more difficult and sought after birds in Oz, the Grey Grasswen. It had worked out. When we began the trip, James and I had discussed hoping to get the Eyrean first so that Grey would be my 700th and that is what we did! As told in Part One, we found it on our second attempt, thanks almost entirely to James’ ears! Joy!

After seeing that wonderful grasswren, the two Troopies headed south down the Birdsville Track. We were going to stop for lunch at Mungerannie Hotel. It is a truly cool place. I would not have minded a bit more time there and I would have happily stayed, but we had decided that we were going to press on for Lyndhurst. There is also no mobile coverage in Mugerannie which is a drag. I was dying to share the news of my 700th bird. I was still on an almost illegal Lifer High for the Grey Grasswren and my 700th Aussie bird. Wonderful. 

Chris, Phil and me (photo by Robert Shore)

Chris, me and James making a "700" in front of Mungerannie (photo by Robert Shore)
By the way, the “twins” (depression and anxiety) were nowhere to be seen during this period. They are strong and determined, but they are no match for Lifer High. Unfortunately, I have not learned how to keep them at bay indefinitely. As I write these words almost a week after returning, they are very much lurking in the shadows. I will continue to work toward running them off permanently.

Before leaving Mungeranne, Phil (the owner of the hotel and an outback icon in his own right) put a plug in a small leak in one of Robert’s tyres. He ended up putting a double plug in the tyre and would not accept payment for either. Such is the wonder of old school outback. It is a different, and in many ways a far, far, better world out there. As the US news plays on the television here (never my choice of viewing) I long to be back out amongst it. To be where living is more alive and people are more genuine. The land is perhaps harsher, but so much more beautiful. The outback is everything you have heard about it and more. I love it.
The Birdsville Track... love it.
We rolled on. I was looking forward to Lyndhurst which is yet another iconic spot, but another of Robert’s tyres went flat. The plugged one was fine, but a rather worn one had bitten the dust (no pun intended). The dust was amazing out there and was pretty much coating everything inside the backs of our Troopies. You cannot keep that fine dust out. 

With the tyre changed, we headed on and arrived at the Lyndhurst Hotel at sunset. It was a very beautiful sunset too. 

Troopi at the diesel pumps at Lyndhurst at sunset (photo by James Cornelious)
We took two rooms, a large three-person room and a tiny single. I was very happy with the tiny single. There was no ensuite, but it was only a couple of metres across from the amenities. I was very comfortable for the night.

We ate there at the hotel. I had fish and chips and it was very good. And I bought everyone Lifer Pie ice creams on a stick. I was still riding that lifer high. There was mediocre mobile coverage on the veranda outside the pub and I sat out there to catch my long distance friends up on my news.

I slept well in that room, but awoke even earlier than usual with my chest filled with joy. I was up and out on that veranda with my coffee just past 4am. Yes, I was still very excited and I was happy. I was able to communicate even more online as no one else was up and using the network. I watched first light begin to creep into Lyndhurst. Man, that is being alive.

We headed southwest toward the next possible lifer for Robert and me. James already had seen Copperback Quail-thrush from a visit to Lake Gilles, SA a while back, but Robert and I both had put quite a few hours into that area without joy. It had “almost” attained bogey status, but not quite. We were only about five hours from the location and hoped to be birding that arvo. And then Robert’s Troopy lost some gears. 

He made it to the corner of A1 just outside of Port Augusta before he had no gears at all. We pushed him to the side and he called the Auto Club. His Troopy has well over a half a million kilometres and it has been through a lot. There was nothing else James and I could do there, so we pressed on to Lake Gilles. We tried the spot recommended to us on the road into the lake without hearing or seeing any Quail-thrush. Although James did pick up his lifer Western Yellow Robin. 

I suggested we go over on the south side of the main road to the track into the two dams. This is about 14 kilometres from the lake road. I mainly just wanted to show James the area since it is lovely out there. We started down the track and less than 100 metres in James spotted a bird. We stopped. We hopped out and in moments he said, “That’s the bird.” And it was. Number 701! Yes! It was a female and she was soon joined by a male. Then they promptly disappeared. But James could hear them making contact calls (of course I could not hear them at all). They had moved a bit to the right, but were still around. James refound them and we got wonderful views. Joy.

We contacted Robert and found out that he was being shuffled around accommodations in Port Augusta. I offered to drive up and get him, but he suggested we stay in Whyalla and hit the Conservation Park in the morning in hopes of getting James a lifer or two. We did. Although the Western Grasswrens were no-shows, the Slender-billed Thornbills were very cooperative.

Robert was going to try and catch a ride down, but the dramas with his accommodations continued (the town was mostly sold-out and the Auto Club had to move him and Chris from hotel to motel- not an easy thing as Chris is not fully mobile). So we stopped by and bid farewell to them for the time being. Then James and I headed off for Murray Bridge. One more sleep and back to Lara. At this point, we were both a bit weary. Our cabin accommodation in Murray Bridge was one of the nicest (and reasonable) in which I have stayed in all my Australian travels. I will return there.

Our route was an impressive 9 days of travelling, with two nights in Birdsville. We saw some of the most wonderful birds possible and the company was excellent. We met some awesome people. I went over 700 birds! I look forward to more travels with James. He is more than my hearing-ear boy; he is a good friend and a good travelling companion.

Sending love as I do…