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Friday, November 10, 2006 Ė 7:30 PM

Hobart, Tasmania


Today was supposed to be a laid back, relaxing day, with little birding.  It turned out differently.


I was up and around about 7.  I checked email and got myself ready for the day, including shaving Ė something I only do about every ten days or so on this trip, it seems.  Then I went out to breakfast at McDonalds.


One of my books mentioned Orielton Lagoon (pronounced Or-ee-ELLí-ton, I was told later), but nothing had said where it was.  So, I got online this morning and Googled it, and eventually decided where it must be, but I didnít have any specific directions about where to park or where to actually look for the birds.  It is a fairly large lagoon, with little access to the edges.


So, I drove out there (only maybe 20 miles away) and rambled around.  My first few attempts to approach the water failed, but then I came to the golf course, which I had seen reference to in my Googling.  I drove on in, and it was pretty much deserted at 10 in the morning, but I found a guy painting a deck and told him I was looking for birds and asked him where I might access the water of the lagoon.  He said I was welcome to walk across the golf course, at my own risk, looking out for golfers who might be hitting golf balls in my direction.


So, I wandered out across the course, to the edge of the water.  The north end of the lagoon was pretty deserted, with only gulls there.  That was consistent with what I had read.  So, I worked myself south along the edge of the course.  As I approached the south end of the course, I saw some interesting looking birds at the edge of the water.  They turned out to mostly be Bar-tailed Godwits, a trip bird for me, although one that I will certainly see in Melbourne next week, too.  Then I noticed that there were some smaller birds in with them, and they were Curlew Sandpipers, another trip bird, but one that I would also probably see in Melbourne.  So, maybe I was only stealing from next weekís birds, but trip list birds are trip list birds, and you record Ďem when you see Ďem.  2 for the day.  Not bad, considering it was supposed to be a non- birding day.


But the fun was just beginning.  Looking far across the water with my scope, I saw what could only be a Whimbrel.  Whimbrels also visit California, and I have seen them frequently, so I was pretty sure that is what it was, despite the distance.  They are fairly uncommon down here in Tassie, but I was sure enough that I decided to count it as bird number three for the day, although I would have liked a better look or confirmation from a local birder that Whimbrels could be around here.


I took a lot of pictures, at great distances, of the Godwits and Curlew Sandpipers, but nothing turned out very good.  I will probably post a picture or two of the Godwits, but I never got close enough to get anything good of the Curlew Sandpipers.  I also got good pictures of a Royal Spoonbill, another uncommon bird down here, but I had read online this morning that one had been hanging around the lagoon and golf course for a number of months.  Well, I saw it, and I got good pictures of it.  Bird number four for the trip list today, and still another one that I would have expected to see in Melbourne.  Next to the spoonbill was a Great Egret in full breeding plumage (lots of wispy plumes), and I got some good pictures of him as well.


I also took some pictures of a duck that I thought at first was a male Chestnut Teal.  I got some good closeup pictures, but then I realized something looked wrong with this duck, so I looked in my book.  It wasnít a Chestnut Teal at all, but some kind of weird cross.  What I call a ďpark duckĒ at home.  A bird that birders studiously ignore.  It looked to me like maybe it was a cross between a mallard and a Chestnut Teal, but I donít know if those two species can cross-breed or not.  Anyway, it doesnít deserve a place in my pictures, but since I did get some good pictures of it, I will include it in the next Photos, especially since there arenít many pictures for the next one.


After that, I was getting hungry, and so I moved back north, heading back toward the car.  I wanted to look for the Whimbrel again, too, and I would be closer to where I saw it as I returned to the car.  When I again looked to where I had seen the theoretical Whimbrel, I saw 8 or 10 Eastern Curlews.  Another trip bird!  And, another one I will probably see in Melbourne.  The problem with seeing the Eastern Curlews was that they are similar to the Whimbrel, but larger and with a much longer downcurved bill.  Could I have mistaken a curlew for a whimbrel?  I started worrying about that, but I see both long-billed curlews and whimbrels in California, and I was quite sure of the whimbrel call.


I kept working my way back north, and much to my surprise, I saw another bird I had hoped to see, a Little Egret.  My book says they are uncommon in Tassie also, but this sure had all the features of a Little Egret, which is another trip bird, and one I very well might not see in Melbourne.  It was close enough to get a picture, so I switched my camera with tele-extender for my scope, on the tripod, but by the time I got the switch made, the bird was gone.  Damn!  Still, I was sure it was a Little Egret.  The difference hinged on the color of the bill, and it was definitely black, with yellow skin at the base of the bill, and on the face.  That said Little Egret to me.  OK, bird number five for the day.  Outstanding.


It was getting on for one oíclock by then, and I was definitely getting hungry, as well as feeling like a rest room might be a good thing.  I was still looking for the elusive Whimbrel and the Little Egret I had seen, but wasnít having much luck.  About that time, a ute (pick-up truck) pulled up nearby, and a guy approached me.  He asked what I had seen today, and he turned out to be a local birder who was doing a survey of birds in several areas, including this one.  We chatted, and he confirmed that there were one or two Whimbrels around, which I was glad to hear.  As we were talking, a Little Egret flew in and landed very close to us, and he confirmed that it was indeed a Little Egret, so that was also very reassuring.  It flew before I could change my scope for the camera, so I didnít get a picture of it when it was so close.  Later, I did get some pictures of Little Egrets (there were three in total that I saw, at one time), but they are pretty poor, due to distance and lighting.


We had a nice chat about birds and Tasmania.  It turns out that he has a self-contained cottage near Hobart that I could have stayed at if I had known about it.  He doesnít have a website, but it is listed on a website that has a number of places on it, but I hadnít found that site.  After a while, he said he had to go, and my needs for some food and a rest room (not in that order) had only heightened, so I got ready to move along, too.  Before I left, I swept the area with the scope again, and the Eastern Curlews had moved away, but there was one bird left in the area, with its bill tucked under its wing.  Suddenly it took its bill out, and it was the Whimbrel!  I was much closer this time, and there is no doubt about it.  It was probably there all the time, with its giveaway bill tucked under its wing.  Anyway, it was good to confirm the sighting.  I took some pictures, but only one was marginally okay, not good enough to post.  The bird was definitely a Whimbrel, though Ė the head has different markings than the head of an Eastern Curlew, and I got a good look through the scope.


So, with five (confirmed) trip list birds in my book, I headed for a rest room and some lunch, about 2 oíclock.  I had been out on the edges of the golf course for almost four hours.  So much for my non-birding day.  I used the gents in the clubhouse (this was a very downscale golf club), and headed for food.  I could have looked for a hot meat pie, but the nearby town of Sorell had a McDonalds, and that sounded good to me at that point.  I had a Quarter Pounder and a large order of fries, and felt much better.


My golf course acquaintance had mentioned another nearby place to look for some birds, so I took the long way back toward the city, stopping at the bridge at the north end of Orielton Lagoon.  I didnít see the ones he had mentioned, but as I was sanding there, I saw some birds in the grass and undergrowth in front of me.   I thought they were Richardís Pipits, a species I had seen and photographed way back in the Capertee Valley at the beginning of the trip.  Then I looked closer, and they didnít seem quite right for pipits.  I have seen Richardís Pipit (also called Australian Pipit) a number of times on this trip, and these just didnít seem quite right, somehow.  I went back to the car and looked in the field guides, and I thought these were probably Skylarks.  I tried to get pictures, but couldnít do so.  They moved to an adjacent filed, and I finally got the scope on one of them, and it was indeed a Skylark.  Skylarks have a crest that they can put up or down, and when one of them raised its crest, there was no doubt at all.  My sixth trip list bird of the day!  I would have never guessed this morning that I would add six more birds to my trip list today.


I headed for ďhomeĒ, but took a roundabout scenic route, visiting Seven Mile Beach and Lauderdale on the way.  There was some shoreline along the way, and I stopped a few times, but saw nothing else new or interesting.   I did see more of the countryside, though.  I really like Hobart and the surrounding area.  The city is beautiful, with hills, water, and lots of green.  It reminds me of what Seattle might be like if it had about 10% of its population.  It seems like a city, but it is easy to get around in it, because it is so small.  Everybody I have met has been extremely friendly and they all seemed happy, as well.  A very nice place, with a very nice feel to it.  I havenít been to all that many places, but one thing I have noticed is that I donít think I have seen an apartment building yet.  It is all single family homes.  There must be apartments, but I havenít noticed any that I can recall.


So, I got back here to the Motel Mayfair about 4:30.  I checked email and looked some things up, while enjoying some Bundy on the rocks and some mixed nuts.  I walked up the hill after a while and ordered some lasagna and a salad at the neighborhood pizza and pasta place, and enjoyed sitting out in front of it while I waited for my order.  They were doing a booming business for such a small place, with someone showing up to pick up an order every couple of minutes.


I brought my lasagna and salad back here to my room and ate it while watching the news on TV.  The US elections are one of the lead stories on the news over here, even after a couple of days.  The drama of the delayed Virginia Senate result probably added to that, but there is a big interest in American politics over here, as there is in most of the world.


Tomorrow I leave Tassie, for the last stop on my trip, Werribee, a small town near Melbourne.  Actually, I stay one night at an airport motel in Melbourne, and then move to a B&B in Werribee for my last five nights.  I am supposed to meet with two or three local birders when I am there, and I am looking forward to that.  I donít know how many more birds I can see on this trip, but I hope to pick up maybe five more species still.  It could be more, but we will have to wait and see.


I added an impressive 27 species to my trip list here in Tasmania, exceeding my wildest goals.  For the trip, I have seen 243 species, of which 54 are life list birds, and 56 are new for my Aussie list (bringing it to 343).  Already those are better numbers than what I had hoped for, so anything I can add in Melbourne is just icing on the cake.  Maybe I could get to 250 species.  That is a nice round number and a very worthy goal.


I donít leave until 5 oíclock tomorrow afternoon, and I am supposed to check out of here by 10 AM, so I donít know what I will do until my plane leaves.  I need to pack my scope into my big bag, for the plane flight, so I will have to make do with my binoculars and camera, whatever I do.  Iíll think of something to entertain myself, Iím sure.


Iíll see if I can get Photos19 processed now, and get it and this Ramblings up to the website tonight.  Photos19 will be pretty skimpy, though.


Another really great day downunder.