Return to 2006 Australia Trip


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Stirling Range Retreat


Well, I’m up in the “mountains” now, although they aren’t really mountains, and I’m not actually “up” there.  I am at an altitude of about 700 feet, which I don’t consider very high.  The highest point in southwest Australia is only a few miles away, and it is about 3300 feet.  Big deal.  For such a wild, untamed country, Australia is really wimpy when it comes to mountains.


Anyway, last night I did get Photos09 up, although it took over an hour, I think.  I was still in bed by 10 and awake at 6 this morning.  I again slept quite well (for me).  I had a little walk around the yard, just to stretch my legs, and I started organizing my stuff to move on.  I got online and checked email, and had breakfast about 7:45 or maybe 8.  More of that delicious toasted homemade bread, with my bacon and eggs.  Janine served a nice bowl of mixed fruit each morning, too.  So, I got my stuff packed up and loaded into the car and headed out about 9 o’clock, I think.


My first stop was Jerramungup, the local town.  It is called a “Soldier Settlement”, because after WWII, the Aussie government built houses for and gave land to soldiers returning from the war.  All the farming land in the area was cleared in the late 40’s and early 50’s.  Some of the soldiers made it as farmers, and some didn’t.  Janine’s father was one of those soldiers, I think, and she grew up in the area.  They cleared the land, and the main scrubby trees they cleared are called Mallee trees.  Each year when they would plow the fields, more Mallee roots would turn up, and they used those to heat the house and the household water.  Janine said she was still using Mallee roots to heat water until the mid-90’s!  Definitely a different kind of life than I grew up with.  The government houses were all the same, and were very small 2 bedroom houses.  Over the years, most of them have been added on to and remodeled, but they are mostly still there.  It was fascinating to hear the history of the area from people who lived through it.  It is interesting to think of “pioneering” taking place in the 1950’s.


Anyway, back to my first stop, in Jerramungup.  I needed three things – petrol (gasoline), groceries, and Aussie cash.  I got the petrol with no problems, and I was able to get some groceries in the IGA “supermarket” in town, but getting cash turned out to be more difficult.  The clerk at the grocery store told me that there was an ATM at “the bank” (only one bank in this little town).  Well, it turned out that the bank didn’t actually have an ATM and wasn’t set up to advance cash against a debit or ATM card (I’m not sure what I actually have).  They could change US currency, though, and I had brought along a wad of US cash, so I changed US$500 into Aussie currency.  It was a pretty poor exchange rate, and I would have been better off with an ATM machine, despite my bank’s charge for foreign ATM use, but it isn’t a big deal, and at least my wallet is full of Aussie currency again.  The forms they had to fill out and the computer work they had to do to complete the transaction were amazing, but finally it was all done, and I could hit the road for real, full of petrol, groceries, and cash.


It was only about a 90 minute drive to where I am staying now, through pretty farm country.  As I indicated before, I was surprised and disappointed that I am not really in the mountains, but it is a pleasant enough place.  When I got here, it was kind of early to check in, so I drove the 5 miles to the Bluff Knoll parking area.  Bluff Knoll is the 3300 foot peak I mentioned earlier.  The parking area is at about 1000 feet elevation, and there is a 3.6 mile roundtrip walk up the mountain, to the top, I guess.  It is paved when it starts out, but I don’t know if it is paved all the way.  The Yosemite hiking gang would no doubt find out if they were here.  They say to allow 3 to 4 hours for the round trip.  This fat old man will pass, of course.


I started to have my lunch at the picnic tables at the parking area for Bluff KInoll, but it was too windy, and so I packed up and moved back to the picnic area at the turnoff to Bluff Knoll, which is just across the road from the Stirling Range Retreat, where I am staying.  After lunch, I checked into my chalet.  I have a rather utilitarian cabin or chalet, two bedrooms, with what is supposedly a queen size bed in one bedroom, although it doesn’t look that big to me.  The kitchen is fairly functional, with a microwave and four burner hot plate range, with refrigerator and dishes, etc.  I had a moment of worry when I couldn’t find an outlet in the bedroom for my CPAP machine, but then I found one at the head of the bed – it won’t be easy to get to it, but I will manage.  It appears that the bed might have an electric blanket on it.


There is a wide range of accommodation here.  There are people camping in tents, people in trailers and recreational vehicles, they have dorm type sleeping places, motel like units, cabins without their own bathrooms, and four of these chalets, like I am in.  So, there are a fair number of people around, but still all these birds are here, and quite a few are nesting, sometimes right in the middle of a camping area.


It is quite a comedown from the last several places I have stayed, in terms of décor or comfort items, but it will do.  I had thought I would have my dinners and maybe my breakfasts at the Café across the road, but it is farther over there to it than I had expected, so I will probably make do with provisions I brought with me.  It also closes early and opens late.  I have some canned Irish stew and a can of whole kernel corn that I think I will mix together and heat up tonight.  If I don’t eat it all, I will have it again tomorrow night.  I’m having beer and mixed nuts now, which will take the edge off my appetite.


But, wait a minute, I’m getting ahead of myself.  I was all settled in to my chalet by 2 PM, and there sure didn’t seem to be many birds around.  I was signed up for a “bird walk” at 4 PM, and another one at 8 AM tomorrow.  I wasn’t feeling real peppy, and I didn’t want to wear myself out before the bird walk, which was supposed to last for 1 ½ hours, so I took it easy around the chalet, seeing a few birds out in front.


I went over to the office at 4, and it turned out that I was the only one signed up for the afternoon bird walk today.  It was conducted by Vicky, a young woman in her 20’s, I would guess, but I am a terrible judge of age.  She has a nose ring and lip stud, or maybe it is vice versa, and maybe that makes me think she is younger than she actually is.  She speaks English very well, but has an accent that I would guess is German.  The bird walks are supposed to be conducted by volunteers from an organization called Birds Australia, but it turns out that they couldn’t get any volunteers (who get a week of lodging for free, in return for conducting two walks a day and several slide shows a week) this week, and Vicky was filling in.  She lives here permanently, evidently, presumably working for the Stirling Range Retreat.


By the way, to slide off into a side topic, this is an “eco-tourism” experience I am having here, which helps explain the utilitarian nature of things, I guess.  We are asked to limit showers to three minutes and conserve water, in the name of ecology.  The water is terrible – I’m sure glad I have some drinking water left from the ten liters I bought in Kalbarri.  I’d hate to have to be drinking what comes out of the tap here – supposedly rainwater, but I don’t know how or where it is collected.  They used rainwater at the last two place I stayed, too (Picture Perfect B&B and the Fitzgerald River B&B), and it was wonderful water at both of those places.  They both collected it off the roof of the house, though, and I suspect that “rainwater” here means it was collected from runoff, into a dam.


Anyway, the bird walk turned out to be great.  I learned some things, and saw more birds than I expected.  When I saw the place and looked at their bird list, I figured I would be doing well to add to five to my trip list here, in a full day and two nights.  I ended up adding 7 to my trip list today, 4 of which were lifers.  Because I like the Aussie bird names so much, here is the list of all 7, with lifers having asterisks.  Yellow-plumed Honeyeater * , Purple-crowned Lorikeet, Short-billed Black-Cockatoo * , White-breasted Robin * (a little doubtful in my mind, and not even on the local bird list, but Vicky agreed that that is what it must be, although she had never seen one before), Varied Sitella (at a nest with three young ones – see pictures), Regent Parrots (great views of both the male and female, perched and flying), and the highlight of the day, a pretty rare bird, a Square-tailed Kite * on a nest.  I have pictures of the kite on the nest, and they do seem to show pretty definitively that that is what the bird is, although you can only see the head and some wings or tail sticking up.  The key seems to be the white “face” and light colored eye.  The local expert has declared it to be a Square-tailed Kite, too.  So, it was a very successful bird walk.  I am signed up again tomorrow morning, and Vicky thinks it will probably be another exclusive tour, with just me.  There aren’t too many more species that I can reasonably expect to see here, to add to my trip list, but I have a list of three possibles, and we will see if I can see any of them.  There were other nice highlights of the bird walk, too – an excellent view of a Red-capped Parrot, Dusky Woodswallows on nests in two places, and a Restless Flycatcher feeding a couple of young ones on a branch.  All in all, well worth the Au$17 (approx US$13) that it cost.


The weather here is nice – the high today might have been in the low 70’s F.  I suspect it is going to get cold in here tonight, if I don’t turn on the heater.  The flies are pretty bad, going for your eyes like the Dryandra ones.  I killed a mosquito on my leg, too, at one point, but haven’t seen any others.  I wore long pants on the walk and was comfortable, which tells you it wasn’t too hot here today.


So, there is a report on today.  I don’t know when I can post it to the website.  They have a computer in the office that guests can seemingly use, and they told me by email when I made the reservation that I could hook up my laptop in the office to the internet (what kind of connection, though?  I don’t know).  I’ll check it out tomorrow after the bird walk, and see if I can check email and maybe put this up to the website.  I think more pictures are going to have to wait, though, unless it turns out that they have a high speed connection here that I can connect to.  That seems doubtful, though.


I have not really warmed to this place yet.  There isn’t really anything in particular wrong with it, and getting 7 trip list birds today was excellent, but it just doesn’t feel real warm and cozy to me.  That is probably because I enjoyed the company of Trevor and Janine so much at the last place, that I am now feeling very alone, in my utilitarian, silent eco-tourism cabin.  I don’t have a way to connect to the internet from my room, either, and the office has limited opening hours.  No TV to watch here, not that I have watched much TV this trip, so I guess I won’t have any trouble settling down early tonight.  It is 8:20 now, and I haven’t had dinner – just beer and mixed nuts – but I don’t feel especially hungry.


That’s it, this Rambling commentary is over.


Barry Downunder, not really in the mountains


PS – I have processed my pictures from today, and there are only a few of them, so I will try to get Photos10 up tomorrow, too, to keep things in synch.  The pictures of the kite on the nest came out great, I think.


Addendum Thursday Morning, October 26, 2006


I ended up going to bed without any dinner last night, other than the beer and mixed nuts I had had.  I slept well and was up at about 6 this morning.  I had a little walk around and got great views of a bird I hadn’t seen yet on this trip, and one that I was hoping to see today – a Grey Currawong.  I also again saw the bird that we had called the White-breasted Robin last night, and this time I heard it call several times.  I went right to my car and listened to the CD I have of bird calls, and the call did sound like the White-breasted Robin call, so I am now pretty convinced that that is what it was.


Then, while fixing my breakfast, I saw a little bird, with yellow on it, fly into some bushes across the way, so I switched off the toaster, grabbed my binoculars, and rushed out to have a look.  It was a Western Yellow Robin, another bird I had hoped to see today, and a lifer.  I’ll probably see many more of them, but the first one is always exciting.  So, I have now seen 9 more species for my trip list here at the Stirling Range Retreat, which is much better than I had expected to do.  This is one of the “birdiest” places I have been on this trip.  The number of species isn’t huge, but there is a good frequency of them.  I have seen about 28 species so far here, right around the facility.


Having seen the two most likely target birds for the day, I then went on the bird walk with Vicky again, and again was the sole client.  We didn’t see any new species, but we saw a number of birds feeding their young, which was interesting.  They included Willie Wagtails, Restless Flycatchers, and Yellow-plumed Honeyeaters.  We also got very long looks at three Elegant Parrots, and I have some pictures that I will include in Photos10.


There was also a white-browed Scrubwren feeding a Fan-tailed cuckoo chick.  Cuckoos lay their eggs in other birds’ nests, leaving the host parents to raise the young.  Many times the young cuckoos push the other chicks out of the nest, leaving themselves to get all the food.  In this case, the White-browed Scrubwren is much smaller than the Fan-tailed Cuckoo, and it must take a lot of effort for the parents to feed the cuckoo chick.  This cuckoo was 4 or 5 times the size of the poor little scrubwren feeding it.  It is very interesting that the host parents don’t recognize that the cuckoo is a completely different species – if it is hatched in their nest, they feed it and care for it, regardless of how it looks or its size.  I got some pictures of the cuckoo, including one with his mouth open, hoping for some food.


I also got some pictures of a Willie Wagtail on its nest, and a picture of some kind of kangaroo or wallaby, near my cabin, and I will post those as well.  It seems that I can use the computer in the office that is connected to the internet, and I think I will be able to connect up my laptop as well.  If so, then I will see if I can upload this Ramblings and Photos10.


What a life!