Return to 2006 Australia Trip


Wednesday, October 18, 2006 – 7:30 PM

Nallan Station still


What an incredible day, topped off by a wonderful surprise at the end of the day.  But, more on that later.  First, I have to continue the narrative from where the last one of these things left off.


The power did indeed stay on all night last night, and I slept well, although I did wake up more often than usual.  I went to bed early, about 9:20 (not a lot to do out here in the Outback, you know – not that I ever “do” anything), and was I up before six.  Oh yes, I have to mention the stars.  On a clear night, like last night, away from all city lights, the stars are just incredible.  I haven’t seen them like that for years.  I didn’t realize that you can see the Milky Way from the southern hemisphere, but I can tell you that you can, or something just like it.  It was amazing.


So, I was out looking for birds before six, and they were all over the place.  I guess they were all ones I had seen last night, but I had good looks at a lot of them, and had a good time.  I saw one bird on a big antenna on the main house, and I couldn’t identify it.  I will put several pictures up in Photos07, and maybe some Aussie birder can clue me in.  My only guess was a juvenile Western Bowerbird, but after seeing the adult Western Bowerbird this afternoon, I now believe that is out, so I am truly clueless.  Help, anyone?  There were two of them, and they were fairly large, in the 20 to 30 cm range, I think, although size is tricky.  See Photos07.


I had my breakfast on the western facing verandah, that I now have dubbed the “breakfast verandah”.  Very pleasant indeed.  Ham, cheese, sesame crackers, and a couple of jam tarts.  A breakfast fit for a king, in an incredible environment.


I went out birding again, and wrote a couple of emails, then went over to the “homestead”, which seems to be the Aussie term for the main house on a station, to see if I could get online.  Sandy was down at the shearing shed, but she had left me a note, inviting me to go in and use the phone line.  I did so, and got connected, but it was so incredibly slow that it was useless.  I guess the phone line must be pretty long to the telephone switching office.  When Sandy returned, she suggested that I try the Telecenter in Cue, which has public internet access.


On one of my morning walkabouts, I was just trying to get a picture or two of the tiny Zebra finches, when all of a sudden, a large bird swooped through, obviously trying to grab a finch.  It missed, but landed in a tree not 15 feet from me.  I got the bins on him, and it was a Collared Sparrowhawk, a bird I had seen out in the Capertee in the air, but this was a really close look.  Later there were at least three of them swooping around, and I did manage to get some pictures of the beauties.  It was fun to see one in action at such close range.


So, I headed out, but rather than go straight into town, I headed a bit farther north to Nallan Lake.  It is a beautiful lake, in this incredibly dry country.  I thought it might turn out to be dry, but no, it is a great lake, much larger than I would have expected.  There were some birds there, but the only new one for my trip list was the Black-tailed Native-hen.  I got some distant pictures of them, with their tails held characteristically high.  I saw a Black Kite fly over, too, which added to my trip list, and a couple of Wedge-tailed Eagles.  I saw a flock of corvids, too, and based on my location and the fact that they were in a flock of 20 or so, I called them Little Crows, which was another lifer.  So, I guess I was wrong – I got three new trip list birds at Nallan Lake, and one was a life list one.


After that, I headed into Cue, a very small town, about ten miles from Nallan Station.  I found the Telecenter, which was a little internet access business in a home, and I was able to connect my computer to their network (strictly dial up, but they told me they are getting broadband next month).  Au$3 for half an hour, and I got all caught up on email (reading them, anyway) and got Ramblings10 up to the website.  Christina came on while I was there, too, and we IM’d for a while.


After that, I got a sandwich at the grocery store – they made sandwiches, as long as you wanted ham and salad.  I had my sandwich and a little bag of potato chips in the car, with the a/c running, and then headed back to Nallan Station, after starting out to another birding site, but deciding soon that I didn’t need any more long, corrugated dirt roads into the desert.  By the way, the a/c in my rental car sucks.  I’m glad I am heading south, where the weather should theoretically be cooler.


After lunch, I came back to the station, and went looking birds, in the heat of the day, which was hotter than the day before.  There is a “bower” of a male Western Bowerbird on the station, and I had tried before, but had not seen the bowerbird.  He still wasn’t there, so I hung around and looked at some other birds, nothing new.  Then, as I was about to give up, the bowerbird came back.  Bingo, another lifer!   He was in the tree above his bower, though, making amazing sounds, almost like a cat hissing.  There was a Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater in the tree, and the bowerbird obviously didn’t like it.  Eventually the honeyeater went away, and the bowerbird started to tend to his bower.  A bower is a structure of twigs, surrounded by shiny objects that the bowerbird has collected, and the idea is to attract a female bowerbird to his bower, for the obvious purposes.  Anyway, I eventually got a couple of half-decent pictures of the Western Bowerbird at his bower.


But, then, as I was trying to take pictures of the bowerbird, another new bird showed up.  Then another one!  I was going crazy trying to memorize features, so I could look them up later, while also trying to take a picture of one or the other of them.  About that time, still another strange bird showed up, so I was really going crazy.  Later when I got back to my books, I decided that the first two were the female and male of the same species, but looking very different.  Crested Bellbird – another lifer!  I had a hell of a time identifying them, as the pictures in the field guide I use the most turned out to be terrible.  I had gone through every page several times, and couldn’t find either of these birds, and finally I looked in a second field guide that I had bought before this trip, and the pictures there did much more justice to these birds, and now there is no doubt in my mind.  For one thing, the male I saw had his crest up, and the main field guide I use shows the crest down, which made a big difference.  I finally decided that the third bird was one I had seen before, earlier in the trip.  So, that was the end of my bird count for today.  Five more species, and three of them were life list ones.  Quite satisfactory.


By that time it was about 2 or 3 o’clock, and I was trying to cool down on my verandah, and the couple who were booked for tonight showed up.  They are Aussies, from near Sydney, on vacation, younger than me, but older than my children – closer to me than to my children.  They seemed surprised to have a roommate, and the whole nature of the place didn’t seem to be what they expected.  Evidently, it had been booked by a travel agent, and they had no idea what they were getting into.


They moved their stuff in, and sat around in the living room for a couple of hours, while I did some computer work and tried a little birding once or twice.  I wasn’t paying any attention to them, and was working on my pictures in the kitchen, enjoying my nightly drinkies (without ice, of course), when dinner time rolled around at 6:30.  Sandy brought me my dinner on a tray, and I asked, what about the other people?  She said, “They’ve gone.  She wasn’t feeling well.”  Well, blow me down!  I hadn’t even noticed them leaving, and they certainly didn’t say good-bye.  I guess I was pretty absorbed with my photo work on the computer.  So, that was the pleasant surprise at the end of the day.  It is much, much better to be here alone than to be sharing with a couple I don’t know, in the next room.  I presume that they must have felt the same, which is why they left.  I wonder where they are staying tonight.  Mount Magnet is only about an hour south, and there are a couple of motels there.  After that, it is a couple of hours at least, to anything else.  Oh well, not my problem.  I’m just very happy to have the place to myself again.


It is hotter tonight.  Yesterday at 4:30 PM, it was about 78 degrees on my verandah.  This afternoon it was 85 at the same time.  There was thunder this afternoon, and rain showers in the area, but we only got a few fat drops.  Now the wind seems to have died down, so it is staying hot in here.  It was 61 degrees in my room this morning, and about 70 when I settled down early last night.  It will be hotter than that tonight when I go to bed, I am sorry to say.  It will be very nice to get down south, where the weather is more to my taste, I think and hope.  The north has been quite interesting, but I am a cool weather kind of guy.  I got about a third or a quarter as many birds as a good Aussie birder would have gotten in the places I have been up north, but I have had a great time, and I am satisfied.  I’m up to 178 species for the trip, of which 20 are new for my Aussie list (bringing me up to 307 here in Oz).  Nothing to brag to birders about, but again, I’m satisfied.


Electrical power here at the station seems to be generated from a combination of wind power, solar panels, and a generator.  The generator wasn’t running all night, but the power stayed on all night.  There must be some kind of big battery or something.  There is an airstrip adjacent to the homestead and cottage, but it doubles as a field (paddock, in Aussie terms) for cattle.  I imagine they move the cattle off the strip when a plane wants to take off or land, but what about all the cow pies?  It seems to me like it would make a mess to run over them in your plane.  The strip is dirt, of course.


There is a young kangaroo that hangs around, a sort of semi-pet, I gather.  I got some pictures tonight, but it was after I had made the web page for Photos07, and I don’t think I am going to redo it for a kangaroo picture.


I think I will stop tomorrow morning at the Telecenter in Cue and see if I can get Photos07 and this Ramblings up.  I’ll close this now and write a few responses to emails, to send out tomorrow morning as well.  I’ll have an early morning walkaround, to see if there are any new birds to see, and I will try to hit the road by 9.  It might take me an hour in Cue to get the large Photos07 folder uploaded to the website, at dial up speeds.  Tomorrow is another relatively long driving day, but it is only about 6 hours, I think, so I can do that easily enough.  Not many birds tomorrow, though, if I am driving that long and spending an hour in an internet place.  I’m looking forward to getting to a cooler climate, not to mention back to air conditioning.  This Outback Experience has been great, but I am ready to get back to Comfort and Convenience, my normal standbys.  Maybe even ice for my drinks, or is that too much to ask?


Outback Barry Downunder still, for one more night


Addendum Thursday morning


I got to bed early again, about 10, but I woke about midnight and couldn’t get back to sleep for an hour or more.  That is the first time I have had trouble sleeping since my initial jetlag wore off.  I was still up early, though, and out looking for birds by six.  The birds didn’t seem to be as active this morning, and I didn’t see anything new.  Three parrot type birds flew over, squawking, and it was hard to see them because the sun was behind them.  They turned out to be Galahs, though, sorry to say. 


I did get really excellent views of a Western Bowerbird this morning, perched on a pole near the bower.  Seeing this bird makes me think that my first impression of the Unknown Bird from yesterday was indeed correct – immature Western Bowerbird.  I will await expert opinion from Aussie birders before I completely accept that, though.  I have redone my Photos07 page to include a couple of shots of today’s bowerbird, which show the lilac colored patch on the back of its head.  Pretty bird.


So, it is 7:30 now, and I will have some breakfast, pack up, pay my bill, and head south.  I am still planning to stop at the internet place in Cue, to check email and get this up on the website, but it doesn’t open until 9.  I will try to get Photos07 up, too, but it may be only a partial job, with the thumbnails only, full sized pictures to be added tonight from my motel in Northam.  It all depends on how fast their connection is.  I have five or six hours of driving to do today, so I can’t be spending too long fooling around online.




And another postscript –


As I was finishing my breakfast on the verandah, I had some more birdie treats.  First, one of the Collared Sparrowhawks flew through and scared all the little birds.  He perched on a dead tree about 75 feet away, so I tried for a picture.  It isn’t great, but for a little camera, hand-held from 75 feet away, I am pleased with it.  I have again redone Photos07, and it is the last one.  After that, a pair of red-capped robins flew through, and I almost got a great shot of the male in the sun, but he flew an instant too soon.  Then there was a mixed flock of thornbills, and I added Chestnut-rumped Thornbill to my life list.  Time to pack up now and hit the road.  I’m running late, thanks to the birdies.