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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Near Fitzgerald River National Park


Well, we were up early Monday morning, and got off on our birding expedition at 6:45.  Richard and I went back to the Wungong Dam area again, to see if there would be more birds than the evening before.  Unfortunately, the answer was no.  It was disappointing that there wasnít more bird activity, but it was reassuring to me that an experienced Aussie birder like Richard agreed that the activity level was very low.  I was afraid my expectations were too high, since I had not seen much bird activity in the last few days.


We did a fair bit of walking again (for this fat old man, anyway), but heard and saw little.  I did manage to get excellent views of a pair of Scarlet Robins, a life list bird for me.  I almost got a picture of the colorful male, but he flew, and all I got was a blur of black and white and scarlet.  After a couple of hours at Wungong, we moved up to the top of the hill, to Bungendore Park.  As soon as we arrived, we saw a little group of Western Thornbills, another lifer for me.  It was great to have Richard along, because I would have had a hard time identifying this species.  With his help, I saw the significant features and ticked it.  We had a nice walk in the woods, but no more new birds.  We got attacked by a swooping Magpie, a risk in nesting season, and I did get a picture I like of a female Common Bronzewing, not a new bird for the trip, but the best view I had had.  Pretty bird.  As it turned out, Richard and I didnít see all that many birds, considering how hyped these two birding locations have been, but we had a lot of fun, and I learned a lot about identifying two or three common species that I hadnít seen before and would have had a difficult time recognizing on my own.


We were back at the Picture Perfect B&B by ten oíclock, as planned, where we had arranged to have Shelley cook us breakfast.  It was huge (bacon, sausage, eggs, hash browns, baked beans, cooked tomato, toast, and juice) and it was absolutely delicious.  I didnít need to eat anything else until dinner.  I asked if I could use their phone line to send and check email, and lo and behold, they had a wireless network with a high speed connection!  While I scarfed down the breakfast (sitting outside on the beautiful verandah), I was busily uploading the last Ramblings and Photos pages, as well as doing other internet tasks.  It was really great to be able to have a high speed connection like that, at just the right time, when I was wondering how I was going to get those two things up to the website.

Richard took off, and I packed up the car and headed out myself, saying goodbye to Mark and Shelley, who had been extremely gracious hosts.  They are from England and have been out here about 12 or 14 years, I think.  Their house is beautiful and is located almost right next door to the two great birding places we had wanted to visit.  Richard knew of it because he had stayed there once before.


I had a long drive that day, especially since I had been up at 5:30 and had walked a lot, not to mention stuffed myself with a huge breakfast.  I had to struggle to keep from falling asleep while driving, but I made it safely.  I had one scare when the bumps at the edge of the road woke me from a little micro-doze.  It is a good thing that happened in the first half of the journey, when I was on a main road with the strip of bumps along the edge.  After that I was even more careful to stop frequently, listen to the radio or a CD, and to keep myself alert.


It was about a five hour drive, with only half a dozen little towns on the way.  There was more traffic than I expected, though, including quite a few trucks.  One stretch of road, for about 20 miles, was what I call single lane road.  There is pavement about one lane wide, with gravel/dirt shoulders.  When you meet a car coming the other direction, each driver puts his left side wheels on the dirt, and you shoot by each other.  I only met a few cars in that stretch, but that was enough.  It was fine on a straightaway, but as I approached the crests of hills, it was scary to wonder if someone was going to come barreling over the crest of the hill.  There is no posted speed limit, but I was going about 65 mph, and I suspect that that is what others were doing also.  After that stretch we got back to a rather narrow two lane road, but at least there was a center line and enough room on each side for a car.


As I approached my next destination, the Fitzgerald River B&B, I was surprised how isolated it was.  I hadnít realized how sparsely settled this area is.  It is farming country, and the farms are large, with few towns.  The nearest town, Jerramungup, is about 18 miles away, of which about 8 miles is dirt/gravel road.


The B&B itself, which is a working farm, is a beautiful new house, only six years old.  My suite has a sitting area, a little kitchen counter area with a little refrigerator (with two small ice trays, although they were empty when I arrived), a wonderful queen size bed, and a huge bathroom with both a stall shower and a tub.  A very nice setup, and beautifully decorated and kept up.


The place is owned by Trevor and Janine, who are about my age.  Trevor worked as a shearer for ten years to save the money to buy a farm, and then after he and Janine got married, they worked their way up until now they own four separate pieces of property, I think, spread over a distance of up to 30 miles between them.  They have over 8000 sheep and grow wheat, barley, and canola as well.  Their son is gradually taking over the farming business now.


I had signed up for dinner, bed, and breakfast, and dinner last night was a real treat.  Not only was the food delicious and plentiful (panned fried beef steak, potatoes and onions in a white sauce, broccoli, and little yellow squash Ė with cake with fruit and cream for dessert), it was really enjoyable to visit with a couple of true blue Aussie farmers who had lived in this area all of their lives.  Oh yes, I forgot the birding highlight of the evening.  Before dinner, Trevor took me out into the paddocks (fields) in his ute (4WD pickup) to look for Malleefowl, an endangered bird that is difficult to see in the wild.  We ended up seeing three of them, and I got pretty close views, approaching them on foot.  I tried some pictures, but it was getting late and there was very little light.  I got close enough to the third one to use the flash, and I will include one rather poor shot of the bird, just to prove that I did see it.  They are beautiful birds.  I got some really good shots of them in 2004, near the Little Desert Lodge, with Wimpy, but that is another story.  Click here to see one of my good shots from 2004, just to show the beauty of the bird.  So, that gave me 3 birds to add to my trip list yesterday, two of which were life listers.


I asked about using their phone line, and again I have really lucked out.  It turns out that they have a separate phone line for their fax and computer, located in an office next door to my suite, and they invited me to plug in my computer as often as I like.  What a luxury!  Iím connected again!  I plan to upload this Ramblings and the Photos09 tonight, after dinner.  Iíd do it before dinner, but I want to get a picture of Trevor and Janine to include in Photos09.


I slept really well last night, but was still up at 6:30 this morning.  I am managing to stay on an early schedule, which is great for birding.  I generally have been getting to bed between 9:30 and 10 PM.  I did some computer stuff this morning, and Janine cooked me a delicious bacon and eggs breakfast that included three thick-sliced pieces of homemade bread toast.  Mmmmm.  It is a two hour drive to a decent sized supermarket or any other decent sized store.  It must be really different to live such an isolated existence.


I had decided to make today a laid-back, rest day, but there are a couple of birding places not very far from here, so I decided to venture out for a couple of hours this morning.  Before I had even gotten out of the driveway, I had another lifer Ė a male Brush Bronzewing.  I had to look closely to see the differences between the bird I was looking at and the Common Bronzewing.  Now that I have seen the bird well, I know what to look for, and I donít think I will have trouble recognizing the two species now.  A little while later, I saw a common Bronzewing, and that cemented the differences in my mind.  Oh yes, while still going out of their driveway (which is about a mile long), I came upon a batch of about six emus chicks, about the size of chickens, but with long legs, escorted by their father (as I understand it, the male emu does the child raising by himself).  They ran away from me, up the driveway, and it was funny to see them scoot along, especially the adult one.  Emus have a funny gait.


I drove up the road about 10 or 15 miles to the Fitzgerald River crossing and got out and scouted around.  I ended up spending about an hour there, and the birding was pretty good.  I picked up two trip list birds, Yellow-throated Miner and Purple-gaped Honeyeater.  I even got one blurry picture of the Honeyeater, which I will put in Photos09.  Not many bird pictures this time, Iím afraid.  I made a couple of other stops briefly, and at one of them, I picked up the Tawny-crowned Honeyeater, another lifer.  So, I have 4 more species today, two of which are life list birds.  Not bad for a rest day with little birding.  Iím up to 198 for the trip now.  I think each of my other two trips produced about 220 species, so I am on pace to exceed them.


It sure is a relief to be in cool weather.  I actually wore jeans today, the first day I have worn anything but shorts, except for my plane flights.  It was a lovely 59 degrees in my room this morning.  It was even drizzly out when I got up, but that soon stopped.  I like this weather, and the flies wer not bad today, either.


Janine is cooking lamb tonight, and something is smelling awfully good, so Iím looking forward to it.  I think I will get this posted to the website now, and then try to get Photos09 up after dinner, with a picture of Trevor and Janine.  Oh yes, one other thing.  As I was having breakfast, Janine said she was doing the laundry today, and offered to do any that I might have.  Now that is what I call going way beyond the duties of a B&B hostess!  I felt guilty about it, but accepted.  Just a few minutes before, I had been looking at my itinerary, trying to figure out where I was going to be able to do laundry again.  Iíve stayed at some very good places this trip, but so far, this one is my favorite.


Tomorrow I head out to the Stirling Range National Park, which is up in the mountains (well, what pass for mountains in Australia).  It is a short drive, and it is supposed to be very pretty and very birdy up there.  I have a two bedroom chalet with a kitchenette, and there is a restaurant just across the road as well.  I wonít have a phone, but I can supposedly connect my computer to the internet (or a phone line, Iím not sure which) in the office.  Weíll see how that works out.


So, that is my story for today.