Return to 2006 Australia Trip
Wednesday, November 15, 2006 Ė 6 PM
It is actually hailing outside, as I type this. I love the rain, and hail is even better. I find it very ironic that I visit here in the midst of the worst drought they have had for decades, and yet I get rained on every day. I particularly enjoy the rain when I can be inside, looking out at it, but it was fun today when I was out in it, too. But, Iím getting ahead of myself.
I heard from Richard last night finally, and we had arranged to meet down the road a bit at 8:30 this morning. Where we birded was going to depend partly on the weather, as the forecast was ďappallingĒ, as Richard put it. To give you the idea, it was 44 degrees in Melbourne this morning, according to Yahoo weather, and in a strong wind, that is damn cold. I might mention that both Richard and I were wearing shorts today, though. I have been complaining about the heat here, mostly, but today was finally a bit too cool for me. A couple of times I got chilled, when I was out of the car, and we ran the heater in the car all day.
Anyway, I was up at 6:30, had my bacon, sausage, and egg breakfast as usual at 7:30, and met Richard on schedule. The weather didnít look very good, and based on what birds I had seen yesterday, we decided to not go up into the You Yang Range, but to go directly to the Western Treatment Plant. We ended up spending six intense hours of birding at the WTP, and it was thoroughly enjoyable, not to mention productive.
It started out slowly, though, as we looked in vain for the Striated Fieldwren. We went to place after place where Richard had seen them reliably before, but we couldnít manage to see one. We spent over an hour looking, and it was fun, actually, but we never did achieve success.
After a while we stopped at a site that is reliable for crakes (small, shy birds that are usually very hard to see. They live in swamps or ponds with reeds or other vegetation around the edges. We had seen one yesterday, and I had been quite pleased with that.). This time we hit the jackpot, and two of them appeared, quite close to the car. It was raining when we got there, as it was much of the day, but I was able to see them and photograph them out of the car window, on the downwind side, so I wasnít even getting rained on. The sun came out while we were there, and I got some great pictures of the Australian Spotted Crake, not an easy bird to photograph. See Photos22, when it gets up.
Eventually we moved on to the site where Pacific Golden Plover are pretty reliable. I had been there with Shirley yesterday, and we had dipped on them. Today we got lucky, though, and saw a dozen or so of them. My first trip bird of the day. Our luck had changed.
Soon after that, Richard spotted an Australasian Gannet, a big gull-like seabird, out over the bay. I got my binoculars on it, and it was trip bird number two. Now we were rolling!
After that, we moved on to the most reliable Freckled Duck site that Richard knows. I had never seen a Freckled Duck in my life, and when we saw about a dozen of them, it was my first lifer of the day. Now we were really on a roll!
As I was enjoying the Freckled Ducks through the scope, Richard called out ďPeregrine Falcon!Ē Now, the Peregrine Falcon is a great bird anywhere, anytime. It flew in and landed on a dead tree, right next to the Freckled Ducks. We got the scope on it, but its head was obscured by a branch, and the head is the definitive thing to see with a Peregrine. But, then it moved a bit, and I got a good look at the distinctive Peregrine head markings. I have seen Peregrines in the USA, but never in Australia, so it was one for my Aussie list, and the 4th trip bird of the day. This morning I had told Christina on Instant Messaging that if I saw 5 trip birds today, it would be great. Only one away now.
Next we went looking for a bird that has been hanging around for months, and is very unusual for this area, or for Australia, for that matter. Red-necked Phalarope. We had looked for it yesterday but not seen it. We went to Walshís Lagoon (I think thatís the name), and started looking. That is where it usually hangs out, and it had been seen there two days ago. As I remember, I was the first to spot the little darling. Its plumage changes when it comes into breeding season, and it was more colorful than Richard had seen it before. It was a little beauty, frantically rushing around feeding on something, on the surface of the water. I got really great views of it through my scope Ė fortunately it was one of the sunny periods, so I could stay out of the car and really enjoy it. I might have seen one in the US, Iím not sure, but I am calling it a life list bird, anyway, pending reassessment when I get home and look at my US list. This bird is unusual enough for Australia that Richard got a call today on his cell phone, from a birder in
Brisbane, which must be about a thousand miles away, asking about this bird. The guy wants to fly down this weekend, to see it, if Richard or someone will take him out to the WTP. It felt great to get such great views of such an unusual bird for Australia. I have been reading about people seeing this particular individual bird for months, on the Australian birding mailing list I subscribe to. And, I saw it! Fantastic! I even saw it on my own (having been taken to the location by Richard, of course). Not really a big deal. Any birder would have seen it if placed where I was and told that it might be there. It was still a thrill, though.
We did a lot more rambling around the sewage works, and I got some nice pictures of a couple of Royal Spoonbills with large breeding plumes flying off the back of their heads in the wind, a pretty good picture of a male Musk Duck, and good pictures of Marsh Sandpipers, a bird I had seen yesterday for the first time with Shirley. I also took some pictures of the treatment plant in general, to give an idea of what some of the land looks like. What I havenít taken any pictures of is all the cattle, though. I donít understand exactly where cattle come into a sewage treatment plant, but if you will remember, the plant is called ďthe FarmĒ by the birders, and that is presumably because so much of it is indeed a cattle ranch. The state runs this large cattle ranch Ė many 100ís or probably 1000ís of cattle are in various paddocks all over the place. The ponds tend to be near the bay, and the cattle inland. Maybe the land the cattle are on is sort of reserved for future ponds, I donít know. Maybe the government sewage people just managed to grab a huge hunk of land, more than they need for the sewage treatment, so they are running a cattle ranch on the side, to make some money. I would guess the latter, but it is only a guess.
Anyway, we finally found some Black-tailed Godwits, a bird that was bound to be there somewhere, but we hadnít seen yesterday or until near the end of today. That was trip bird number 6 for the day, which put me over my goal, so I was very pleased. I was finishing up with two great days of birding at the Western Treatment Plant. I am now sitting on 260 species for the trip, which I am extremely pleased about. A really good Aussie birder who had been to all the places I have been in the last six weeks would have had well over 300, Iím sure, but I am very happy with 260. I have added 59 to my Aussie list, and that brings me to 346 species seen here in Australia. I am quite happy with that total, too, given that I have only been in Australia for 15 weeks of my life, and Iím not all that great a birder.
So, finally feel like the trip is winding down. This is the first time I have really felt that way strongly. For the first time, if I could change my reservations and go home tomorrow, I would do so. But, I can have fun tomorrow, and Friday morning is only 36 hours away, and then I will be packing up for the last time for a while.
I have at least two choices for tomorrow. I could take a train into Melbourne and walk around the city and the river bank, which would be nice, no doubt, or I could ramble on out to the You Yangs and the public areas of the treatment plant, and maybe pick up another bird or two. Right now, I am leaning toward the latter. Iím sure Melbourne is a perfectly nice city, but this trip isnít really about cities, and Iím just not that interested in cities. The last I saw, the weather forecast for tomorrow didnít include rain. I donít know about wind. Besides rain this week, I have had wind every day, and that interferes with birding at least as much as rain does. I feel like I have had outstanding results this week, considering the weather. All that is thanks to Shirley and Richard, of course. I knew I needed to get help from local birders here, and I have gotten it.
I have selected todayís pictures, and maybe I will process them tonight and get them up on the website, or maybe not. I am getting somewhat tired of always having to process pictures and get them up, and the same with these Ramblings. It is something of an obligation now, although one I do enjoy, when I make myself do it. I am at the end of the trip now, though, and I could reasonably put anything else off until I get home, so weíll see what happens. Iím guessing I will get Photos22 up tonight, but we shall see. If you donít see it, maybe it will be there tomorrow or maybe in a few days. Iím on vacation, after all, not on a job.
Winding down fast now,
Barry still Downunder, but not for much longer