Woke up the next day knowing I just needed the Dusky Robin, the Strong Billed Honeyeater and the Black Currawong. Now, I heard the Currawong yesterday but I wanted to see it, anyone can hear it. So on my plan today was to start the day down low and work myself up high with as little hiking as I can do to save my legs. That was the plan….a well laid out plan.
So….I started in the Truganini Reserve which is down low….real low……. I failed to find my Dusky Robin once more, but found a Gray Fantail instead; a bird I saw on the mainland. Now, this bird, well….not the exact same one but, this fantail haunted me the entire day as I saw these in every spot I went. Gray Fantails, Brown Thornbirds and Fairy Wrens….tons of those birds but still no Dusky Robin. So….on I moved from this Reserve to Hobart Waterworks; which is a park like setting surrounded by their water, all damned up. Driving down, or I should say ‘up’ as you start low and work yourself high….I winded thru one way streets and into narrow ones that only allowed one car to pass at a time. I pulled up to the gate and parked outside.
There….in a bush, movement…….. yes, movement….. But this was a park and as I went back to the car to grab the camera, a lady jogger went by and with it the bird. Hmmmmm. So, I moved in slowly. I crept and in fact I would have crawled in if I could have seen this Dusky Robin as this bird eluded me often. Nothing…… No robin. I pivoted to return to my car and there on a sign was the Dusky Robin itself. I had about a quarter of a second to look at him as he looked at me and was gone…. But that was enough. I knew exactly what this bird looked like. Now, most non-birders would say, ‘okay, you had a quarter of a second and you are going to ID that bird, come on mate”….. But you know, a birder has to trust their instinct of what they saw and I knew what to look for and I knew it was around here, so viola….number 10 out of 12. By the way, that was my first and only visual of that bird but I counted it, as weak as it might seem.
So, …Robin in toe and I am down to two more birds. Took the car and returned to Mount Wellington and started to drive up the 1,100 meters. On the way, as I knew I would….I came across the Black Currawong which is about as close as one can get to a Raven without being one. With the exception of a bit of white on the base of it’s tail, it looks like a Raven, although not quite as roman nosed I would say, and the beak was longer and meaner looking. Well, birds are mean down here you know. Number 11, crossed off out of 12. My hunt was now down to one, the Strong Billed Honeyeater.
The game was on….I had the most of the day left and it was just me and the honeyeater. I had several spots in mind such as (A) back to Fern Tree gully, or (B)Truganani Reserve OR (C)up to Neika….OR as my research stated, (D) to Morphetts Road where a concrete water tank is located on the outside of the road and an abandoned school house on the other side.
Well throughout the course of the day, options A, B and C were all nots……so that left me with option D, the concrete/school house. I pulled up, got out of the car….met a local chap who was out for a walk on the road telling me he ‘walks’ to keep in shape, although he was in ‘anything but’….and pulled out camera and bino’s and started to walk Morphetts Road. Probably took a solid hour but eventually I saw a bird high up in the trees as this day was not a good weather day with wind blowing, rain….. But way up there, I took a snap. I had no idea if this was number 12 on the list or I remained penciled in still at number 11 on my apostles. I wouldn’t know until I made it back to the computer and pulled up the image and took shadows out of the photo, pulled out the color etc and attempted to ID what was now, just a black blog on film.
In the meantime on the way home….I found the Black Faced Cormorant, the Great Cormorant, and the Australian Pied Oyster along with a Kelp Seagull and a Lesser Crested Tern. So…even if the Strong Billed was still eluding me, I grabbed four more new birds.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, or I should say my hotel room. Now, this room was interesting as it has an open bath concept. The bathroom was open….and I mean open to the room. So it was a good thing I wasn’t bunking up with any of my buddies on this trip. Well, I downloaded the image and took out shadows, added color etc…. Pretty weak but I could tell a pattern existed, so I took out my Australia guide and the only pattern this matched up to was the very one I was attempting to find, the Strong Billed Honeyeater….viola….Apostle Number 12 was found. Now, in the old days of birding as I remember looking at a Peterson Guide my dad had, birding was done not by color but by pattern. Well, I just met my dad’s generation as this bird was ID’d by pattern.
Tasmania…….12 apostles sought…..12 found. Not bad for a non-religious gent.
PS…my last day before my flight left, I returned to Truganani Refuge and must have found 3-4 of the Strong Billed Honeyeaters…it goes to show you that ‘gone today’; ‘here tomorrow’ is a pretty fair statement in birding….
Second day of the Apostle hunt…
Now, with four of my endemically related apostles out of the way, I had the task of getting the other 8. So, first up was a return in the morning hours to Peter Murrell Refuge as I figured I might be able to pull in two more endemics in this one locale. Now, the ‘coup de gra’ of all birding in Tasmania is to locate and ID the Forty Spotted Pardalote. Real tough as these guys are way up in the trees and these Eucalyptus trees go up ‘forever’ so I am going to come down with a new physical malady …Pardalote Neck, ….akin to the Warbler Neck syndrome we get here in Jersey. Now, I looked…I really did….. but I think it was just too early for these guys to come out, even though their neighboring Striated Pardalote were out in full bloom this morning. You see, I had to blame it on something and figured it was too cold to show their spots. The other bird I was after was the Dusty Robin, which is about the size of a sparrow,, perhaps less. I missed out on this one too although I did find the Scarlet Robin which is also found on the mainland. So a good find but no endemics yet.
I was looking for a horse paddock, which someone implied during my research was a great place to find the Dusky Robin. But, I couldn’t find the horse paddock. I asked some folks but no one knew of any paddock around here so I was left with a clue to their location but no location. I ended my time at Peter Murrell with no robin.
Now, they have a lot of down-right mean birds here who don’t play with other birds well. Not raptors but a Grey Shrike Thrush, a Black Faced- Shrike and that ever present and noisy Laughing Kookaburra. I was just settling in taking a shot of the Kookaburra when my eyes caught sight of movement far up in the Eucalyptus trees. It was into the sun and my bino’s did little good but I think I spotted some spots, in fact I know I did. I took out my lens, upped the exposure to give the bird a bit of color against the backdrop of the bright day and grabbed a few shots. I would have to photo-shop it later on to determine if indeed I found the Forty Spotted. Sure, not a great visual but a visual and I did see the spots via binos’….fair enough I thought.
After a quick stop at KFC for chicken…..I drove 30 minutes to Fern Tree. It looked like a village on the map but essentially it was just a tavern and a few homes. I’ll take the tavern anytime.
Now, this was a rough go of it….this was a gully that eventually made its way up to Mount Wellington which is 1,100 meters high I believe. And I was going to walk up this rocky creviced path? Really? My body was already dead tired from hiking Peter Murrell and I had this steep climb ahead of me. I kept swearing at myself for doing too much research which gave on to the fact that this will not be easy. The less I knew, perhaps the better in this case. Many of the endemics I was after were wrens and scrubtits etc…nah, not easy. So I made my way up the path, and yes, ‘up’ it was….. I decided to just stand and wait and sure enough I was well re-warded. Brown birds…two of them. I grabbed my camera and upped the ISO to 6000 to grab a shot of what looked like the Scrubtit as I could see a few white spots on the shoulder as ID marks. A young couple, totally bohemian in nature managed to stand right where I was photographing, afterwards as they passed they told me that ‘those were pretty small birds’…. The key word being ‘were’….hey thanks guys. Thanks for getting in the way. So, I waited another 10 minutes before the spooked brown jobbies returned. I aimed, pressed the shutter and what?....my card is all full. You got to be kidding….. I had no choice but to trudge back down to the car to grab another memory disk card. On the way down, I followed a brown little snake about 3 feet, which seems to be the standard size for snakes down here. Let’s see, in the rocks, on a path…with a brown snake ahead of me that has a triangular head. Hmmmmm, I will give it a bit of room and not attempt to overlap it. About 20 meters following it, the snake veered off to the side. I stopped, jumped up and down a bit and a bit more for good measure, peered a bit….and then walked real fast.
Back on the path with my new card, I started climbing…… my research told me it was a climb. Yes, it was…. Along the way I managed to nail down another endemic, the Tasmanian Thornbill. Now, it differs from the brown Thornbill by having more ‘white on the rump’ and yes, this one had white…as I saw the Brown Thornbill back at Peter Murrell and carefully spent the previous night attempting to convince myself thru photoshop that it was Tasmanian Thornbill, but unless I photo-shopped in more white, it was to remain a Brown Thornbill. So…now, two more endemics to add to my five of the previous day, bringing me to seven so far.
Not bad…..on I trudged…. I came to a nice even spot about 30 minutes into the hike and took a rest. I saw a bird, snapped it….Oh yeah! That has to be a Strong Billed Honeyeater. Well, I thought so and chalked up 8, but that didn’t last long as the more I looked at it with my bino’s, the more it wasn’t what I thought it was. …8 minus 1, now equals 7 endemics.
On…on and more on…..but down I looked to stare into foliage and movement I saw…This time I just grabbed my bino’s and took a gander. Yeah mate…. Right on, a Tasmanian Scrub Wren which closely matches the Scrub Tit but no white spots and darker. So…back up to 8 now. Not bad….8 apostles out of 12. It quickly went away but sometimes it pay just to look with the eyes and bino’s and forget trying to get that photo ID. Trust yourself….trust your instinct.
Walking further on…viola….a Green Rosella just appeared. Gorgeous parrot-like bird. I was told this should be an easy find as many times it is low in the trees and is not brown attempting to camouflage itself with the dirt and leaves. Okay….9/12 apostles. First full day----gone.
Okay….the next 2 ½ days will focus on birding in Tasmania where I will solely delve into finding the 12 endemic birds (my apostles).
Now, Tasmania goes way beyond the devil and into the Apostles. While this island is small, it still takes 4 hours to drive north to south, so like all other aspects of driving in Australia, ‘mate’….it takes a while. Now, prior to coming down here I did my research and carefully staked and mapped out my birding protocol. Destination Hobart, and from there I made a point to ‘bird’ Tasmania minus Bruny Island. Although all endemics are found on this small Island south of Hobart, I had this impression that it was a combination of a ‘zoo and a tourist locale’. I also purposely chose not to bird with a guide for I wanted this to me my ‘finds’ and not a guide who drives me up to the bird, opens the car door and allows me to snap a shot while telling me exactly where on the tree limb it is located. Oh, watch the door as he closes it so we move on to the next bird.
Airport….you forgot that they drive on the left hand side of the road and the steering wheel is on the right hand side. Surely you jest batman. Getting ‘behind’ the steering wheel was the first problem as I immediately opened up the wrong side of the door. Tentatively, very tentatively I drove out the airport parking lot knowing that I just signed a waiver saying I was personally responsible for up to $4000 in car bills if…..if….well, you know.
I aptly got lost in traffic in Hobart on the way to the hotel. You see, Hobart is built on small hills and mother nature did not take into account numerous cars that make up a certain element of the population here. And to top it off, today the Chinese president was in town (spending time in nature after the G20 summit where the environment was omitted from all topics---gees, what is the point of politicians). Because he was due to land just minutes after I set off to get lost finding my hotel, thousands of Chinese tourists lined the streets waving the red flag as I passed by. Hmmmmm…wrong guy.
I dropped off and checked in and ….First up…birding Peter Murrell Reserve as I still had some light left. Initially I went to the wrong end of the place and ended up in a dry habitat and became disappointed quickly. So, off on the car to find the right end of things using the right hand side of the car and left hand lane. I found it….A great little spot and things were active. I came away with about 25 birds including four endemics under my belt; Yellow Throated Honeyeater (their version of Warblers I think), Yellow Wattlebird, Black- Headed Honeyeater and Tasmanian Native Hen. Not bad…3 hours, 4/12 apostles checked off. But, let me tell you that the most awesome aspect of that birding was not in the endemics but in coming across three, 3, yeah….3 Tawny Frogmouth. Now, those things are like Night Jars on a limb, so you don’t find those very easily but I found three of them. And to top it off, they were all on the same exact limb. A mom, dad and a baby nestled in between. Awesome mate…… Also, I meet a cool mate named Mack, who is president of his equivalent of the Hobart Audubon Society and we birded a bit and just chatted about birds in general. Surprisingly how like people meet….. Well, back to the hotel to download images and plan tomorrow.
Many times I have found that ‘birding’ comes at the occasional opportunity. This time that occasional opportunity came at the end of an evening BBQ on the beach of St. Kilga which is just down the road a bit from Melbourne proper. Anton’s parents Din and Evelyn had just put on a BBQ and here the propane is provided by the city. BOF, or bring you own food, that what all that was needed.
You see….the beach has this long jetty connected to it which still has the original Gazebo from the early part of the 20th century. Today the jetty is used by the casual fisherman and as we walked down to the far end, many dangled hooks off into the water, in hopes of catching, well…I never did find out. Continuing on we moved from the cement path down the middle to a wooden planked path which spanned the top of the jetty. At the far end are rocks that jut out into the bay. It is here where the birding began and we were just after one bird, one species. The fun began at around 8pm as the sun was just setting and darkness started to fall. Melbourne faces south, so the sun had an eerie appeal to it and seemed to set almost more south than west. At this point, oh I would say a solid hundred people were out here from all ages and I would guess to say that the vast majority were not birders, just gawkers.
These birds are not endangered but are limited in their habitat burrowing under vegetated sand dunes and within rocky crevices, and this jetty is the perfect spot. As the onlookers waited in anticipation for the early arrivers, several Aussie volunteer naturalists appeared urging all to not use their flash. Funny how the human nature of it all almost whispers in some that the ‘no flash’ rule was applied to all comers, with the exception of them. “No flash, no flash, no flash’ was repeated countless times…and yet flashes still occurred throughout the arrival of Eudyptula minor.
There were 10 of us in our combined family of Yanks (6) and Aussies (4)….Anton’s sister Monica knew where one could get an early shot of one, up above…on the path overlooking the rocky terrain. I followed her back up from the sea side of jetty where most people were as they stood waiting on a planked path that just edged along the rocks and the incoming sea. She stood with her Nikon 600 and started snapping at one little guy as he climbed around in between the crevices. The light was leaving us fast though. Then a few more popped their heads up. I decided to take the lower road and went down to the sea side of the jetty on the wooden planked path. Water was not quite up to the path and a splinter of sand still remained between the sea and the jetty itself so I waited in anticipation for more of these little critters to find their way ashore.
Standing there, one of my daughters spotted 4 of these little guys making a break for the rocky crevices of the jetty. They just seem to rise up from the sea and under the heart of darkness they scampered beneath the planked fortress. But one lone one stayed, looked around as if being caught in a searchlight trying to escape and then turned and threw itself back into the sea. You could tell it’s watery flight by the ripples of water it kicked up and in about 3 seconds was about 20 meters away (since I am ‘down under’ I am trying out my metric talk)….
Then a few of the folks began turning on their red flashlights which was ‘okay’ since the soft red glow doesn’t stress the birds…..with red light now cast on a few, those with cameras started taking shots but the result was just an alien glow on the image. I urged Monica to ‘up’ her ISO to 6000 or so and sure enough, with red flashlights off, the images; although not National Geographic in nature, were images to keep. The Little Penguins of Australia had shown their plight from sea to jetty and we…the happy travelers from far away and near, were honored to have been their guests. The Little Penguins are the smallest species of penguins and I was told that this was a colony which numbered close to a thousand. Amazingly these little guys move around these rocks. They are not overly ‘sure with feet’ and many tumble down into the crevices. They look artificially ‘propped up’ and stiff legged when falling. But this is their home, their natural habitat and thus, a ‘tick’ on my Australian bird count.
Birding Pals…. In case you are not familiar with Birding Pals, this is a site where birders from around the world participate in. These are just local yocals who are willing to take a foreign birder out around their neck of the woods and usually the foreign birder will pay for gas/food etc. So prior to coming down to Australia I went on the Birding Pal sight and contacted a nice lady named Linda who escorted me out to the bush country. She and I spent the next few days out of various wet and dry areas, bush and forest country. A splendid country….
On this one occasion we headed off to Werribbee. This is a dry/ marshy area, if that makes sense. But there is tall grass, lots of water for waterfoul etc. Hey, do you remember that Whiskered Tern we all went down to Cape May to find? Well, turns out there are several thousand whiskered terns down here and to top it off, there were just two of us observing them do their insect catching dives on to the water. How many times have I birded a local patch in the states when a rare bird drives by, and we all stomp on down to find the poor bird. Cameras and digiscoping equipment within and an endless line of gawkers. But if given the chance, I would much prefer to see the bird in more of it’s natural environment and while in Werribbee, I saw them. They were doing their ‘bat like flight’ in between the black swans and pacific ducks.
But one moment stands out during this adventure into the bush. We were driving in the bush upon a dusty road and while momentarily Linda was occupied with staring out her right window trying to find cranes, I by-hap-chance was staring out the front window. We were meandering along at a constant 5 KPH while there in front of us was this beautiful colored and streaked 3-4 foot snake crossing the road. Now, running over a snake in Australia is against the law (no road kills here) so I tried to warn Linda of her upcoming illegal activity. But it was to little avail as the car kept speeding forward and promptly ran over the little fellow. Once past I poked my head out of the window and there was nothing, no dead snake…no snake alive, ..nothing. At that point of wonderment there are just a few options left as the most obvious one was that the snake was on the wheel well of the car. This isn;t far fetched as Linda was a nurse and told me that a lady came into the hospital the other day as she ran over a snake and while unloading groceries, she was bit. Sadly she died....but this 'wheel well' thing does occur.
Now….this is normally not that much of an issue but giving the fact that every snake down here can kill a person, this was a bit un-nerving knowing that eventually we would have to get out of the car, nicely present our legs to the snake and hope for the best. So Linda pulled out her reptile guide and asked me to do a ‘police line-up’ which I did. Even without putting on my glasses. I managed to selected the Eastern Tiger Snake, which is a very common but very nasty snake. So, this Tiger Snake is in the wheel well (on my side of the car) and it is highly venomous. We sat in the car for awhile hoping the thing would just fall out, but it never did as we kept looking out the window on either side as we proceeded forward.
Well eventually nature calls and we needed to use the bathroom so pulling up to a local hide, I opened my door and gingerly peered around. I didn’t see anything but that is tough to do when I can’t rubber stretch my neck to the wheel well. So with a giant leap meant for mankind in another world, I leapt from my side of the car to about as far as I could leap and skirted a bit aways. Still nothing….no snake. Hmmm…. But I manage to answer nature.
As of this writing….I have no idea where the snake is. Linda in all of her wisdom decided to park the car that night down the street from her house. I don’t blame her.
….at this point, I had seen 93 new birds within a day and a half of birding with Linda. Not bad….
Seat 12A—Down Under
Frequently I participate on the BIRD FORUM and just as frequently I hear of someone birding from an airplane or at an airport. So, given that I just landed in Brisbane after a 13+ hour flight, my mind turned to looking out the window, with nothing special in mind, after all I am a man and am allowed to ‘unthink’ like a man should and does. The act of ‘unthinking’ is natural as most men find themselves in this Zenish practice on a normal basis.
As the plane sat on the tarmac waiting to pull into a gate, my window which was not particularly scratched or foggy though, presented to me off in the distance with a nice white wading bird. But sadly there was a harsh sun which provided a poor backdrop to even ID the thing. But thru that window I noticed a small white hump moving in between the green areas on the tarmac as we taxied to the terminal.. …..All right, I finally get my chance to bird from the plane and my first bird ID in Australia. There I was, sitting in seat 12A doing what I love to do…bird. None-the-less this appeared to be a tough call, if not an impossible call until…the bird turned and offered me a silhouette. Viola, a spoonbill. Shouldn’t be too hard eh? A white spoonbill with a light colored bill and legs …bird number 1 from seat 12A.
The second sighting of note (other than Myna’s and starlings, ravens and crows) came that very same day as my son-in-law was driving the car he used to pick me up, back to his sister down the road from downtown Melbourne. Standing outside talking to his sister Monica, this loud squawking sound began to reverberate from down the street and appeared to close in on us. Demonstrating keen athletic birding my neck turned like an owl and followed this bird in flight from one end to the other. This flash of white darted by at eye level screeching it’s way out of site. That was ah…ah….yeah…that was a pretty quick glimpse…Let’s see features…features…Well it was white. It screeched like a parrot and appeared to have a flat face so I am guessing parrot. There was no color other than white, no long feather dangling from behind, no crest, nada…zero, zilch….But I was going to find out what this bird was.
Now, you know how it is when given an ID in the field and attempt to match up that ID to the those wonderful images in the field guide. One goes into the book knowing full well that in your mind, you know exactly what you saw. Yepper….it was “x and X’ but usually once in the field guide you quickly learn of the features you ‘should have found’ in the field in order to correctly ID the bird in the Field Guide. Those are two entirely different things…. So I decided to take bird number 1 from seat 12A first. I quickly turned to wading birds and found that there are only two spoonbills in Australia. Both are ‘white’ in color but one has a yellow bill and legs while the other is decorated with a black bill and legs. Wow, couldn’t get much easier that that as I saw no black so a positive ID it was…the Yellow-billed Spoonbill. Now on to the second ID; white parrot like birds. Again, there were two possibilities; the Little Corella and the Long Billed Corella. Hmmmm…no way did I see the bird in a quick ‘fly by’ to determine whether it has a long bill or just a regular bill as besides from that while the Long Billed Corella had a hint of pink below its chin, there was no way I picked up on either of those features in that dart-thru. So the end results for bird number 2 were totally inconclusive. Oh well, I have been there before so just mark it up in the “I think” category. One needs to pull away from that frustrated point and just move on thinking that I will see that bird again. .End of day 1…
Well, what a weekend, eh? .... Did you get blown away? Oh by the way, welcome to 'fall'.
So...today is Monday and since this weekend was blustery and wild ....today I grasped at the opportunity to just stroll around Egg Harbor Township's Nature Reserve. This reserve is located on Zion Road and has about 6 miles of walking trails and a total of 220 acres. The old environmental learning center is located on this site and although somewhat old, neglected and certainly tired...it still can provide moments of solace as you just sit under the canopy and let your mind find your youth.
After a windy weekend it was nice to just wander. Oh I saw the usual suspects of birds, lots of jays, Audubon Warblers (as I still call them but I believe they are officially classified as Yellow-rumped now-a-days). But the highlight of the walk was really just the walk itself.
I love just walking in soft moss or wet leaves where you move so quietly and the ground just kind of 'gives a bit' as you wander. I like to take my hands and as I walk, just have them glide along the tops of tall grasses and feel them bend and then pop back up. It is easy to find yourself immersed in this environment which for today was void of all people, dogs, and for the most part, noise. That is difficult to find and especially around here if one ventured on weekends, so this Monday provided me with that glimmer of silence and softness, something we all need within us.
Take a few minutes out of a day and find your 'silence' ...your nature.
Tomorrow...I will be 'leaving on a jet plane' ..... Although Peter, Paul and Mary made that famous, it was actually John Denver who wrote it. Now, John Denver would have loved my walk today..... I know he would have.
But my jet plane will be taking me to Australia for the next three weeks as my oldest girl gets married, but I will try to blog from there. I travel a lot and like to label myself as 'speculative'. I am always 'leaving' and am always chasing something, be it a bird, a new land and culture or just the experience. It is admitting to myself that there is no greater chase in life than that of experiencing life. There are never any problems or negatives in my travels for every new experience is just that--an experience. I am speculative, for if I am not chasing after a new experience, what am I doing?