700 Part Two

I was over the moon.

We had done it. I had seen 700 birds in Australia and the seven-hundredth was one of the more difficult and sought after birds in Oz, the Grey Grasswen. It had worked out. When we began the trip, James and I had discussed hoping to get the Eyrean first so that Grey would be my 700th and that is what we did! As told in Part One, we found it on our second attempt, thanks almost entirely to James’ ears! Joy!

After seeing that wonderful grasswren, the two Troopies headed south down the Birdsville Track. We were going to stop for lunch at Mungerannie Hotel. It is a truly cool place. I would not have minded a bit more time there and I would have happily stayed, but we had decided that we were going to press on for Lyndhurst. There is also no mobile coverage in Mugerannie which is a drag. I was dying to share the news of my 700th bird. I was still on an almost illegal Lifer High for the Grey Grasswren and my 700th Aussie bird. Wonderful. 

Chris, Phil and me (photo by Robert Shore)

Chris, me and James making a "700" in front of Mungerannie (photo by Robert Shore)
By the way, the “twins” (depression and anxiety) were nowhere to be seen during this period. They are strong and determined, but they are no match for Lifer High. Unfortunately, I have not learned how to keep them at bay indefinitely. As I write these words almost a week after returning, they are very much lurking in the shadows. I will continue to work toward running them off permanently.

Before leaving Mungeranne, Phil (the owner of the hotel and an outback icon in his own right) put a plug in a small leak in one of Robert’s tyres. He ended up putting a double plug in the tyre and would not accept payment for either. Such is the wonder of old school outback. It is a different, and in many ways a far, far, better world out there. As the US news plays on the television here (never my choice of viewing) I long to be back out amongst it. To be where living is more alive and people are more genuine. The land is perhaps harsher, but so much more beautiful. The outback is everything you have heard about it and more. I love it.
The Birdsville Track... love it.
We rolled on. I was looking forward to Lyndhurst which is yet another iconic spot, but another of Robert’s tyres went flat. The plugged one was fine, but a rather worn one had bitten the dust (no pun intended). The dust was amazing out there and was pretty much coating everything inside the backs of our Troopies. You cannot keep that fine dust out. 

With the tyre changed, we headed on and arrived at the Lyndhurst Hotel at sunset. It was a very beautiful sunset too. 

Troopi at the diesel pumps at Lyndhurst at sunset (photo by James Cornelious)
We took two rooms, a large three-person room and a tiny single. I was very happy with the tiny single. There was no ensuite, but it was only a couple of metres across from the amenities. I was very comfortable for the night.

We ate there at the hotel. I had fish and chips and it was very good. And I bought everyone Lifer Pie ice creams on a stick. I was still riding that lifer high. There was mediocre mobile coverage on the veranda outside the pub and I sat out there to catch my long distance friends up on my news.

I slept well in that room, but awoke even earlier than usual with my chest filled with joy. I was up and out on that veranda with my coffee just past 4am. Yes, I was still very excited and I was happy. I was able to communicate even more online as no one else was up and using the network. I watched first light begin to creep into Lyndhurst. Man, that is being alive.

We headed southwest toward the next possible lifer for Robert and me. James already had seen Copperback Quail-thrush from a visit to Lake Gilles, SA a while back, but Robert and I both had put quite a few hours into that area without joy. It had “almost” attained bogey status, but not quite. We were only about five hours from the location and hoped to be birding that arvo. And then Robert’s Troopy lost some gears. 

He made it to the corner of A1 just outside of Port Augusta before he had no gears at all. We pushed him to the side and he called the Auto Club. His Troopy has well over a half a million kilometres and it has been through a lot. There was nothing else James and I could do there, so we pressed on to Lake Gilles. We tried the spot recommended to us on the road into the lake without hearing or seeing any Quail-thrush. Although James did pick up his lifer Western Yellow Robin. 

I suggested we go over on the south side of the main road to the track into the two dams. This is about 14 kilometres from the lake road. I mainly just wanted to show James the area since it is lovely out there. We started down the track and less than 100 metres in James spotted a bird. We stopped. We hopped out and in moments he said, “That’s the bird.” And it was. Number 701! Yes! It was a female and she was soon joined by a male. Then they promptly disappeared. But James could hear them making contact calls (of course I could not hear them at all). They had moved a bit to the right, but were still around. James refound them and we got wonderful views. Joy.

We contacted Robert and found out that he was being shuffled around accommodations in Port Augusta. I offered to drive up and get him, but he suggested we stay in Whyalla and hit the Conservation Park in the morning in hopes of getting James a lifer or two. We did. Although the Western Grasswrens were no-shows, the Slender-billed Thornbills were very cooperative.

Robert was going to try and catch a ride down, but the dramas with his accommodations continued (the town was mostly sold-out and the Auto Club had to move him and Chris from hotel to motel- not an easy thing as Chris is not fully mobile). So we stopped by and bid farewell to them for the time being. Then James and I headed off for Murray Bridge. One more sleep and back to Lara. At this point, we were both a bit weary. Our cabin accommodation in Murray Bridge was one of the nicest (and reasonable) in which I have stayed in all my Australian travels. I will return there.

Our route was an impressive 9 days of travelling, with two nights in Birdsville. We saw some of the most wonderful birds possible and the company was excellent. We met some awesome people. I went over 700 birds! I look forward to more travels with James. He is more than my hearing-ear boy; he is a good friend and a good travelling companion.

Sending love as I do…

700 Part One


Lists. Listing. I love my bird list. It gives me goals. Pursuing those goals and those wondrous birds have taken me into the most incredible, beautiful landscapes in the world. I have seen so much of Australia, and I really owe it to the birds, to my list of birds. Some people do not get it. They do not have to.

On the morning of 10 May, my buddy James Cornelious and I left Victoria and drove north. I had hopes of increasing my life list. James is not only a good friend and a good birder, he is also young and has excellent ears. We were heading for Birdsville, QLD and I wanted grasswrens. They are impossible for me to hear.
My snug sleeping area 'downstairs' in Troopi. James was 'upstairs' in the bed in the poptop.
Thankfully, we had no dramas on the way up, but Robert took a different track out of Cunnamulla and had a puncture. We departed Windorah, QLD on 13 May headed west toward the world famous ‘town’ of Birdsville and the Birdsville Track.

After about an hour of driving a large bird flew across the track just in front of us. Flock Bronzewing! We stopped and it joined about 150 others in a flock. We got out and watched, and loved them. Not a life bird for me, but one for James (he got 14 lifers on the trip). However, they were definitely the best views I had ever gotten of this cool bird.

A bit further down the road, Robert came on the radio and said, “I think I saw Gibberbirds.” He made a u-turn, we stopped, and soon we were all looking at five of these awesome, and often hard to find, little chats. We headed on and in about ten kilometres we saw three birds flying on our left. I was asking James what he thought those were as we all realized… GREY FALCONS! Yes! We had three Grey Falcons flying beside and then over us. Wow. We pulled off the track and marvelled at these stunning and rare raptors.

Our next stop held my hopes for my first life bird of the trip. If I found it, it would put my list at 699. There is a dune ridge about 17.5 kilometres east of Birdsville where Nikolas Haass had eBirded Eyrean Grasswrens last November. We stopped and began to bird down the ridge. James and I headed south. James was occasionally hearing them and I had possibly a fleeting glimpse of one. We were about three-quarters of a kilometre from the road and I discovered that I had mobile signal. I called Robert who was back at the vehicles and he said that he had the grasswrens on the ridge just north of the road! We rushed back through the soft sand and soon were looking at least three Eyrean Grasswrens. Yes! 

We drove into iconic Birdsville, Queensland for Lifer Pie and discovered that the bakery was closed on Sunday. We checked into our cabin. Robert’s brother-in-law, Chris was travelling with him. He had had a stroke a few years ago and needs a ventilator when he sleeps. So we were going to be using cabins and rooms for this part of the journey. We considered heading the 90 kilometres south to have our first try at the Grey Grasswrens that arvo, but we decided it would be better to wait and go early the next morning. We had a Sunday Roast dinner at the Birdsville Hotel (outdoors with a lot of flies, but good) and then settled in our cabin for the night.

The next morning we were heading south before dawn. The 90 kilometres took probably an hour and fifteen minutes or so on the track and we arrived at the spot about 7am. We searched basically two locations: one in the neighbourhood of 90 kilometres from Birdsville and one about a kilometre and a half further down the track. We birded hard in these spots until after 1pm and gave up. I had glimpsed a probable Grey GW and James had possibly heard a few, but that was all. We drove back to Birdsville and arrived just before the Bakery closed at 2:30pm. I did try a Curried Camel Pie and it was surprisingly delicious! I would order it again. We messed about Birdsville and I went over to the bore to see the Pied Honeyeaters that James and Robert had seen there the day before. We supped at the pub and went to bed early.

Eyrean Grasswren Lifer Selfie with James at the Birdsville Hotel

The next morning we packed everything up and left even earlier than the day before. This would be our last shot at Grey Grasswren. I had spoken with Laurie Ross for his advice and he suggested we focus on the area about 92 kilometres south. That was the second area we had birded. We rocked up in the same spot we had parked the day before. It was not even first light yet. We birded that area for a couple of hours. I was birding ‘through’ the shimmering, rainbow arc of a rather impressive visual migraine, something I only occasionally experience. They are not painful and last about a half an hour. James heard grasswrens a few times, but no joy.

An old man and his hearing-ear boy (photo by Robert Shore)

We were sticking to that area and had worked our way back behind where we had parked the Troopies. Then James heard the grasswrens. He crept slowly (and he can creep really slowly) toward the contact calls that he was hearing. After several minutes he put his bins up and looked. He turned back to me and said, “I’ve got them!”

I will never forget the look on his face. Anyone who has birded much has seen it, the pure elation that beams from the face of someone who has just seen a difficult bird. I knew he had them. Now I needed to see them and one popped up! I saw it, but it was only for a fraction of a second. They were across the track from us. We headed over and after about fifteen minutes following James’ ears, I saw one perched low in a saltbush. YES! It was a heart-touching view of a Grey Grasswren. Then it dropped to the ground and I thought I would get a photo. Haha! It had been right there and then it was gone. It had disappeared into a hole in the space/time continuum as they do. But I had seen it. I had seen my 700th species of bird in Australia. As I walked back to the Troopies, there were tears in my eyes.
Grey Grasswren Lifer Selfie 700! (Yes, there were flies).          
Robert and me and the flies (photo by James Cornelious)

I had always considered 700 to be the number goal of my bird list. I know there are quite a few birders who have gone over 800 now, and a few who are even approaching 900. However to me, 700 is the truly a magical number. It is a celebration number, perhaps even a tattoo worthy number. It means a LOT to me and I am so very grateful. More to come in 700 Part Two.

Sending Love from Oz...

An Unexpected Journey Part Two: Ups and Downs

I went back to the caravan park to turn in my key and see whether the manager really meant it when he suggested refunding my money. I had already packed everything up since I was not confident in the cabin door’s ability to be locked securely. I was carrying the key and the parts of the spring that had fallen out of the mechanism in the palm of my hand. The manager saw me coming and did not even ask what happened, he just stated rhetorically, “How did I know?” And we walked into the office where he said to his wife, “Refund his money” and walked out.

This was unpleasant. He had suggesting the fucking refund, I had not asked for it. He was gone and his wife asked me, “Why are we refunding your money?” I said, “Because he said to. It was his idea.” And she still asked, “But why.” And I asked her, “Remember coming to let us out of the cabin last night? The door lock did not work right.” And she wrote, “broken lock” in a ledger and gave me a refund. She was not smiling. I told her that I had travelled all the way around Australia for a year and had never asked for, nor needed a refund. I said my wife and I were travelling and birding.

And then it all changed. She got her bird book out and was asking me about Gouldian Finches (everyone asks about Gouldians). And then she was telling me there was a bowerbird bower on the property. I finally had to cut the chit-chat short so that I could get going. She had gone from adversarial to amiable through the bird connection. That was nice.

And with that refund, I figured I could splurge and stay the night at one of my favourite places in Australia. I was only about an hour away from Mataranka and Bitter Springs.

I stopped at the Woolworths in Katherine and got some stuff. During The Year, I had gone to that grocery several times. I “knew” that store. It is so cool to me that I am familiar with grocery stores, servos, caravan parks etc. and so on, all across Australia. I experienced this familiarity throughout this journey. In Alice Springs, in Tennant Creek, in Kimba, in Waikerie, in Murray Bridge… parts of the whole continent are like my extended neighborhood and I think that is a wonderful thing. It truly is.

Mataranka is a magical place for me. It is not the springs, although they are beautiful and very cool (although quite warm). It is the total vibe of the place. We stayed a night in a cabin there when we were in the Top End with friends in 2012. I loved those cabins then and they have not changed. I phoned from the car park at Woolworths and reserved a cabin. I said that I would be there in about an hour and asked that they start the air con. I rolled into Bitter Springs Cabins and Camping and by 11am I was checked into my literally and figuratively cool cabin.

Before I got too settled, I decided I would finally go for a swim in the springs, something I had not done on my previous visits. I have had my dive bag with my snorkel gear tucked behind the seat in Troopi for ages. I got it out and I went to the springs. The water is very warm and it is gorgeous down there, but underwater, there is not a lot to see. I saw a few tiny fishes and lots of grey/brown algae covering everything. Doing things like that alone is not my way, nor would it be my choice, but I was there, and I was alone. I somewhat enjoyed it and I was glad that I did it. I often do things because I know that afterwards I will be glad I have done them. However I do not really enjoy them in the moment, not alone anyway.

After only about forty-five minutes I was back in the comfy cabin and spent the rest of the day just hanging out. I showered and even took a short nap. I had not had one of those in a while. Then I had a couple of non-alcoholic beers and a lot of pistachios while fiddling with the laptop. The internet, that electronic companionship that helps keep those of us who are the antithesis of loners from losing our minds (maybe).

I had my usual sandwich and some potato chips. Then I had an ice cream on a stick for my Lifer Pie. They had only had one kind at the office/store and it was Connoisseur Murray River Salted Caramel with Macadamia. That was the go-to Lifer Pie ice cream on a stick during The Year. That was perfect.

I had a lovely evening and the best and longest night’s sleep of the journey. The next morning I drove on to Tennant Creek and stayed in the Tennant Creek Caravan Park. We had stayed there twice during The Year and now I was staying there a second time on the Unexpected Journey. Familiarity.

My next stop over was Alice Springs. I arrived in Alice, went to its very familiar Woolies grocery downtown and then checked into the G’day Mate Caravan Park. I liked that park. The heat was dropping and I had a shady spot. I took a nap. I took a shower. I was sort of content. Not a feeling I experience a lot. I do like it. I just don’t achieve it very often.

The next morning I drove to Coober Pedy for the night. The twins (Depression and Anxiety, as mentioned in Part One) although with me, had stayed in the background most of the time. I had been on a quest, and even alone, questing is something that suites my brain. I was leaving the NT and would be two days drive away from another try at the Copperback Quail Thrush. It did not have the quest feeling of the dash up to the mannikins. I am not sure why either, possibly because I had my doubts about finding the bird. 
Leaving the NT
And it was also my sobriety birthday the next day. On Monday 16 April 2018 I turned 28 years sober. Instead of feeling any sense of accomplishment or joy it just hammered home my sadness and solitude. The twins were completely running the show. It was a shitty, emotional drive down to Lake Gilles. I arrived there at a beautiful spot (although rather too many flies- see photo below). I know that the Quail-thrushes are consistently seen there. I birded that area hard for several hours until dusk without a glimpse of a QT. I decided to drive the twenty minutes into Kimba to the nice free camp for the night.
Lord of the Flies

I find the mallee incredibly beautiful. 
I slept fitfully and was up before 4am and back out at the birding site before first light. It was unexpectedly drizzling and foggy. Regardless of the wet, I birded that gorgeous area of mallee until about 10am at which point I gave up. I had had no sign, nor sound of a Copperback. Robert and I had searched for them two weeks before. I had come back and searched for them (Lynn and I had also looked for them in 2016 on the way back from Venus Bay). So as the Yellow-rumped Mannikin bogey bird was ticked, a new bogey was beginning to be created.

I think anyone who is a serious birder has a bogey bird (or two). If I counted pelagic birds as bogies, Common Diving Petrel is definitely in the running for me as well. But pelagic birds are a different kettle of fish (no pun intended). I do pursue them, but with a different attitude than I have about terrestrial birds.

I decided to drive over and stay the night in Murray Bridge, SA and from there I could reach Lara the next day. It was the first caravan park where Lynn and I had camped in Troopi, Boxing Day 2015. That also hammered home the loneliness and sadness. The twins were right there with me. I showered, had my last ‘road sandwich,’ got a night’s sleep and was driving east as the sun began to rise. I was back in Lara by 3pm.

After 12 days and over 74 hundred miles, Troopi and I were parked again at the tiny house. It is a house that is too small for two and far too small for four if the twins are visiting, and it seems they are more often than not. 
That is more like 50 Troopi hours. We only go 90-95 kph and the speed limit in the NT is 130 kph.
Lifer Day at my little desk. I had NA beer and pistachios whilst writing Part One of this blog.
I am not sure if this is an appropriate entry for my blog. There is “keeping it real,” but there is also “dragging everyone else down into my personal crap.” So I am not sure. And I will never write a “poor little me” entry. Fuck that. I truly do know how much I have to be grateful for, but sometimes that is what feeds the twins even more. I feel better this afternoon and for that I am grateful. I also want others to know that sometimes you can get through some of this crap, not always, but sometimes.

Peace. Love. Contact.

An Unexpected Journey Part One: Top End Bogey Bird

First, the keeping it real part. I experienced some unexpected and frighteningly dark depression in Tassie in January. A month later, I was attempting to “get back on the horse” with a solo trip up to Queensland. It did not go well. Anxiety and Depression, the vicious conjoined twins, the yin and yang of my unhappy brain had taken over and were running the show. It was not a happy show.

So I called and got an appointment with my GP for early the next week and just headed home. I had only birded about 5 hours up there. Long story short, I got back and saw my GP. Then I saw my neurologist. He gave me botox injections in my head that have now almost eliminated the daily headaches that I had been having for months (and I am very damn grateful for that!). I got in with a psychologist named Sigmund and am beginning the process of climbing, one step at a time, up from that damn dungeon of fear, sadness and nothingness. With Sigmund’s encouragement, I decided I would go off again birding for a few days. It is what I used to enjoy. I am working on beating the vicious twins as best as I can.

My plan was to meet up with Robert at Gluepot (or Waikerie) and then go up the Birdsville Track with the Vic Birder Group that Phil Peel organized. Out and back in a few days and could get three lifers! I arrived in Waikerie, SA after a long ten-hour drive, to discover that the Birdsville Track was flooding. I needed to change my plans.
Crossing the Murray River on the ferry. Troopi and I were the only ones on board at 6am. 

Robert and I decided to travel over to the Lake Gilles area and stay in the excellent free camp in Kimba, SA. It is the little town of “Halfway Across Australia” fame. We were going to look for the Copperback Quail-thrush and then go meet up with the Vic Birder Group in Coober Pedy. Despite having coordinates of a recent sighting, there were no Cooperbacks to be found. We headed on north mid morning. I did a selfie at the Giant Galah and the Halfway Across Australia sign. Lynn and I passed that sign 3 times during The Year.

I arrived in Coober Pedy on dusk. Robert got there a bit later. After a nice night’s sleep, I was up in the dark chatting with Phil and waiting on the sun. Here is a photo of Phil in the dark. It really is Phil.

The sun did rise and soon after we saw the Thick-billed Grasswren! Thank you Phil, Tim, Jack and the group. Younger ears made finding that bird much easier. This was my first lifer in a while. By the way, it is an excellent free camp out there by the monument although during the day there can be a lot of flies.

Thick-billed Grasswren recording shot. It is right there in the middle.

That grasswren was the only bird in the region that would be a lifer for me. The group was heading north to Marla and then to Alice Springs. I was considering just going back south. But, but, but. There were Yellow-rumped Mannikins being seen consistently in Katherine in the Northern Territory. Robert had been banging-on about them. I was painfully aware of them. Friends had been posting gorgeous photos of these finches. Phil and Robert were both saying I should go for them. Even Lynn encouraged me to go. They had been one of two bogey birds of our Year in 2016. We had looked in most of the right places in WA and NT repeatedly and had never seen them. We had backtracked, we had made special trips, a bogey had been established.

So I decided to drive up to Erldunda, stay the night and decide what I was going to do. I looked on Google maps and saw that I could get to Tennant Creek the next day and then… Yes. I could be in Katherine the day after. In two days I could be looking at my last (for now) bogey bird.
In Troopi, that ends up being about 18 hrs. We only do a little over 90 kph and the speed limit is 130 out there.
I made the journey. My friend, Marc Gardner, who lives in Katherine, had given me spot on directions and a map of the site. Laurie Ross gave me the same gen. I rocked up at the mannikin location about 3pm. It was very hot and humid and as I expected at that time a day, there were no birds around (but I was there, I had to check). I left and took a cabin at a nearby caravan park. I turned on the air con and went to the store. I came back and the air con was “clicking.” I told the manager and he had a look and said that was a bad thing and moved me to another cabin. The air con in there worked fine. I moved my stuff, had a sandwich and then I went back to the mannikin ditch about 5:30. In the late arvo light, I saw a pair of Yellow-rumped Mannikins! I did it! Bogey no more! I had seen all of the finches in Australia. The photos were pretty bad, but I am not about that. I was happy!

I headed back to my cabin and settled in for an early night. I planned to be back in that ditch at first light hoping for more looks at these beauties. About 8pm, I discovered that the sliding door latch was jammed. I was locked in the cabin (and it did not have an en-suite). I tried everything I could think of to no avail. I found the “emergencies only” number and called it. The manager came. He let himself in with his key. Then he explained, as if to a child, how it was not possible for this simple mechanism to jam. He used to install windows and doors for a living. He showed me over and over how this latch locked and unlocked. It could not jam. And I reminded him that it had. He said that it was just not possible.

Then it jammed on him.

Now we were locked in the cabin together. AND his mobile phone was on charge at the office. He had his wife’s mobile so he could not call her to come and rescue us! He finally figured out what his landline number was and called his wife. She came with a key and opened the door. He took the latch apart and left me a screwdriver to fully disassemble it should it lock me in again. He said that if I had any more problems, he would give me a refund.

Exhausted, I went to bed before ten. I had just drifted off as something, possibly a possum, made a scraping and knocking in the metal wall. I bolted out of the bed thinking someone was breaking in. No one was. I went back to bed and maybe an hour later I was awakened by a louder noise of a similar nature. I was up and out again. I checked outside. Nothing. This time the spring popped off the latch and I was unsure that it would effectively remain locked. Long story short, I had crap night’s sleep. And I was up at 4am.

There were a couple more dramas. One was seeing the hairiest human being I have ever beheld. He was brushing his teeth in the amenities. This guy was “circus hairy,” real sideshow stuff (and yet balding on top, go figure). Then back at the cabin, the ten-litre water box exploded as I opened the spout, jetting water as if from a fire hose onto me and the floor. Thank God it had not happened in the back of Troopi where I have opened scores of those boxes without any problems. Regardless, I was back at the ditch at first light and as the sun rose, I saw the mannikins again. Glory. I went back, packed up, and on my way off, I stopped by the ditch about 8:30am and had the best views yet. While I was Facetiming Lynn, the mannikins returned and she saw one through the phone! That was cool. I wish she had actually been there.

Me in the ditch. The first Lifer Selfie in a while and the first solo Lifer Selfie in a long while.
That was Thursday morning 12 April. I had left Lara on Friday 6 April, planning to be gone for a few days and there I was in the Top End. Amazing. I will tell y’all about the second week in the next entry. I wish I could tell you that the ‘twins’ had been left behind, but they definitely kept me company some of the time.

The book, The Year, is almost finished. It should be available in a month or so for real.

Love. Peace. Contact.

Two Troopies To Tassie Part Two

I have been gratefully buried in working on the book of the year of travel and birding called, The Year. It will be done in the next couple of months and I am very happy with our progress. My dear friend Lily Kumpe has been instrumental in bringing this project closer and closer to reality.

But I never wrote the second part of the Tasmania blog that I promised a few weeks ago. So here is an admittedly brief second entry, but with a lot of photos.

After the Juan Fernadez Petrel pelagic, Robert and I drove up to the mountains of northern Tassie to spend a couple of nights in a cabin at Mountain Valley Wilderness Holidays. It is beautiful up there with the Black Bluff Mountain backdrop for this idyllic valley setting. It was moving being there. 

It is a private nature reserve and a release area for rehabilitated animals. It is also a wonderful spot to see mammals right in front of your cabin. We did just that. Incredible. Here are some photos.


Tasmanian Devils

Tiger Quolls 
We left the magical valley and spent a bit of time traveling around Tasmania. One of the most beautiful spots, and a free camp, was in Boat Harbour Beach. Have a look...

Robert resting whilst looking for lizards amongst the rocks. 
It was uncharacteristically hot in the northern part of Tassie and after a stay at Narawntapu National Park, we went south for a night in Port Arthur. After that, I rolled up the east coast where I found another wonderful free camp in Lagoons Beach. 
Narawntapu National Park
Port Arthur cooler camping

The above three photos were at the free camp.
Spiky Bridge near Swansea

Then the next night I took a spot with a beautiful view at a caravan park. It was only 10 minutes from the ferry dock from which I would leave the next morning. Robert and I had another comfortable crossing and I am grateful.

In keeping it real, whilst in the wondrous land down under the land down under, I also dealt with some of the darkest depression that I have ever experienced. I am working on dealing with, repairing and healing my anxiety and depression. I am certainly better right now.

I will remain a work in progress for the rest of my days, and progress is the goal. If it is ten steps forward, nine steps back, that is still moving forward. It is progress. I wish you all joy and peace. I hope that in this world, seemingly gone insane at times, you can find that heart-opening activity, or places, or person, or persons who can touch your hearts with joy, peace, and healing. Look for hearts. Feed your souls. Live.
Sending much love from back in Victoria.

Tassie: Hola Juan Fernandez!

I love Tasmania. Which is not unusual since I also love most of Australia. I truly do. And when I learned that there was an opportunity to get on the 14 January pelagic out of Eaglehawk Neck, I made plans to head to the Land Down Under the Land Down Under. There is much to say about the ten-day trip, and I have just now decided to write it in two blogs. Therefore, this is Part One of what was a Two Troopy Trip to Tassie.

When I learned that there were two places available on the boat, I contacted my birding buddy, Robert, and unsurprisingly he was up for the trip. We made plans to ferry ourselves and our troopies to Tassie.

On Friday morning 12 January we boarded the Spirit of Tasmania. It was an easy crossing, although mostly rainy and grey. The ferry was an hour behind schedule and our arrival at Devonport was close to 8pm. We headed south to a free camping area that was only twenty minutes south of the ferry. We arrived tired and hungry to a very clearly stated “No Overnight Camping” sign. Damn it.

We found another free camp about 45 minutes further south and after a lot of bouncing down winding, unsealed roads we eventually arrived around 10pm at Liffey Falls Camping Area. It was a lovely spot, but it was too dark to appreciate it. The next day I had a beautiful ride down A5 toward Eaglehawk Neck. Here are a few photos from the drive through the Central Highlands of Tasmania. It is gorgeous out there.
At Liffey Falls Camping Area

Very cool and basically out in the middle of nowhere. It is worth a google and a stop if you are passing through!
We arrived in Eaglehawk Neck at the Lufra Motel where I had secured us a room. They call these rooms “fisherman’s rooms.” They are less fancy than their regular rooms, but they are quite clean, comfortable and roomy. I personally love them and have stayed in them before (and will again).
First thing in the morning we arrived at the boat greeting old, and a few new, friends. It was a bit windy and bumpy, but the seasickness patch was doing its job and I was fine. The first Lifer I picked up was a Providence Petrel that circled the boat. We saw a second one later on as well. After we were set up to berley we had lots of Storm-petrels in the slick, including four Black-bellied Storm-petrels which were Lifers for me. We had a many good birds indeed. And then... Juan showed up.

A good sign heading out of the harbour.

Black-bellied Storm-petrel

On pelagics, I very often think, “I don’t know what that bird is.” My pelagic identification skills are pretty lame. I was on the port side of the boat as a  ‘petrel’ that was very light underneath came flying directly toward the boat. I thought, “I REALLY don’t know what that bird is!” I pointed and asked, “What is that!” I turned to my friend Paul Brooks who was standing just to my left. Paul organizes these trips and his pelagic bird identification skills are amongst the best. His face was blank. He said, “I don’t know. Take pictures!” We did.

After consulting the field guides and checking the photos, it was determined that we had seen a Juan Fernandez Petrel. This was only the second sighting in Australia! The first sighting had been in 1985 off NSW. Of course this was a Life Bird for everyone! Sweet.

Paul Brooks' back of camera underwing shot that clenched the identification.
There was much joy! Lifer High was infectious and we were silly, giddy and gleeful. When we arrived back in Eaglehawk Neck my friend, Karen Dick, had organized for a group of us to go to a little café. There we had Lifer Chips! Delicious! In my opinion, Lifer Chips are an excellent version of celebratory Lifer Pie.

Robert and I also had an early supper at that café and then headed back to the motel. The next day we were going to the mountains of northern Tassie for a couple of days. I was looking forward to that, although I was really not feeling that great. But for the most part, all was well.

There is more to come in the second part of the Two Troopy Trip To Tassie blog entries. Sending love from back at the Tiny House in Lara.

The Big Aleutian Tern Twitch

Last Monday about 1pm I was just sitting down with the computer when my phone rang. I had been out running some errands. It was my birding pal, Robert. He asked, “Are we going?”

I asked, “Where?”

He said, “Port Macquarie. Australian Twitchers Page. Liam Murphy. Aleutian Terns.”

I said, “Yes!”

They were positively identified Aleutian Terns, a first for Australia! Liam had photographed one last year, but was not originally aware that it was an Aleutian. He figured it out and went to the same area to look again this year and found a small group. The Aussie birder world was exploding.

I initially told Robert that I could not possibly get there before Wednesday. It is close to thirteen hundred kilometers to the spot and Troopi is built for off-road power, not highway speed. But I began pulling it together. The irresistible desire to do the twitch was colliding with the overwhelming anxiety of dashing off alone (I was meeting Robert up there). This created a rather difficult emotional state as I was leaving, but leave I did. By 3:30pm I had bought some supplies, packed, fueled up and was rolling down the road.

As it was a Monday afternoon, I avoided Melbourne and the Western Ring Road. I swung out through Bacchus Marsh and up to Lancefield and then finally out onto the Hume Highway. I arrived at Glenrowan Caravan Park just after seven. I am very comfortable there.

Google maps showed it to be about nine and a half hours from Glenrowan to the twitch. Nine and a half hours is at least eleven hours in Troopi-time and we would be driving the Hume into the Sydney highway cluster-fuck. Ugh. Troopi will do 110 kph, but the diesel consumption jumps dramatically once we go past about 95. Our normal highway cruising speed is around 92 (I had a cruise control installed soon after we bought her. I highly, highly recommend cruise control). I was trying to decide what I was going to do, but I really already knew. I was going to make the dash in one day.

After waking up early (of course!) I was rolling out of the caravan park before six. I hoped to get up there by five. Theoretically, I would still have plenty of time to find and see the terns (there were at least a dozen seen by Liam on Monday). It was a long, but gratefully uncomplicated drive.
Early morning Glenrowan Caravan Park
Somewhere about an hour west of Sydney, I decided to let Troopi go a bit and we did the last hours of driving close to the speed limit. I figured the extra diesel used would be worth it. We arrived precisely at five, at the same time as Liam and Robert. We all met at the corner of the road into the reserve in Old Bar, NSW. Amazing.

Robert had been there earlier in the day and had already seen the terns. He had been very considerate when we spoke on the phone. Before he told me that he had seen them and photographed them he said, “You’ll get them. No problem.” I appreciated that assurance very much.

We followed Liam to the parking ‘spot,’ then clamored down the bank and walked out into the water. The area where the terns were being seen was a half a kilometer or so across a shallow bay. It was easily waded. The bottom was solid and only occasionally did the water go above my knees. I had taken everything out of my pockets. We arrived on the large sandbar where two birders were looking at a flock of terns. 

We asked them if they were seeing the Aleutians. They said that they had seen two, but they had flown off about fifteen minutes ago and had not returned. Oh no. Just no. The next forty-five minutes were… Shall I say, stressful? I was crazy tired from the drive, running on adrenaline and with no terns there, it was like my adrenaline tap had been turned off. I tried to keep up a good front. Robert wandered off looking along another large sand bank on our left. I stayed by Liam and we kept an eye on that flock of terns. We were hoping that as more came in, an Aleutian might turn up.

And then… Liam said, “I think I have a possible...” Oh please, oh please… We walked closer. And then he said, “Yes!” The bird flew and was joined by a second Aleutian. They landed together and gave us wondrous views for the next half hour or so. They were still there when we walked and waded joyfully back to our vehicles. At my age, there is nothing that feels any better than that. Successful twitch and Lifer High! It was worth every hour and kilometer of that journey. I was and am so deeply grateful. Brace yourself... here come the Aleutian Tern photos...

Lifer Selfie. Robert and I have seen quite a few lifers together.
I stayed in Old Bar at the caravan park right around the corner. Robert and I spent the evening in that Lifer High downloading photos and charging batteries. I awoke the next morning before five just because I was still that excited. We decided to go by the Australian Reptile Park to chat with Tim Faukner about frogs and things and to say hi to my dear friend Robyn Weigel (John was not yet back from Cocos). Then we headed off to do a little exploring. We camped at Basin Campground and then at Dunn Swamp. Here is a rough representation from Google Maps of our route after the twitch and some photos from our trip.


Robert had a puncture in Capertee Valley so we decided it would be better to head to his house in Parkes. 
Robert and a very helpful guy named Emil. He lives in a bus behind Capertee Campground.

We spent Friday night in Parkes and then I drove to the Lara on Saturday. Today, Sunday, I am having a Lifer Day. I have stretched Lifer Pie into Lifer Day. I am writing this blog, and through that, reliving the twitch and the adventure. Sharing is a huge win-win for me.

Sending much love from the Tiny House.

O'Reilly's and More Returning From SEQ

So after the Hudwit Twitch blog entry, I will go back to finish the story of the South East Queensland trip. I awoke that Saturday morning, 11 November, tired and aching (knees particularly). Then Robert and I realized that we were only a little over 3 hours from O’Reilly’s and Lamington National Park. A magical land was just around the corner so-to-speak and off we went.

I first visited O’Reilly’s in January 2011. I was still a fairly new birder and I was dazzled, stunned, enthralled. It was one the places where I fell utterly in love with Australia. It will always be a place to return to for me. We spent two nights camped there. Here are a lot of photos of this wondrous place…

The obligatory O'Reilly's King Parrot selfie

The road up to O'Reilly's is legendarily winding.

Short-eared Brush-tailed Possum that was in the tree just over Robert's campsite.


O'Reilly's symbol... the male Regent Bowerbird

Ms Regent Bowerbird
Australian Logrunner in the early morning 

Wonderful Wonga Pigeons in first light...
I needed to return to the Tiny House by the end of the week, so after two glorious days, I began heading back. Robert and I drove in tandem for a bit of the journey, stopping at Cunninghams Gap for a lovely bit of tea cake. It is a gorgeous spot where Satin Bowerbirds climb around on the picnic tables trying to grab a bite.
The two Troopies

The last stay of the trip, I went to Glenrowan Caravan Park because I had heard Turquoise Parrots were consistently seen there. I rocked up at about 2:30pm and was watching a beautiful male parrot grazing in the grass within a half hour. I highly recommend this place as a caravan park and birding spot. It poured rain later that evening, but I was snug and dry in my Troopi. The next morning it was still sprinkling, but between showers I got beautiful views of four of the Parrots. I will return there soon (it is only three hours from Lara).


And White-browed Babblers were bouncing around the caravan park as well.

So, so, so I need to get working on the ‘first and a half’ rewrite on the book about the year of traveling and birding the entire continent of Australia. It is tentatively called, “The Year.” Clever, yes? I do have a way with words.

Stay tuned… Sending love from the Tiny House.

PS, I "think" that you can sign up for emails regarding new blog posts. There should be a thing on the right side of the page for that now. 

Twitching Rock Hudwit

We interrupt our regular blogging to bring you a twitch. Troopi and I arrived back from Queensland and I wrote the Black-breasted Button-quail blog entry. Yay! I was beginning to work on the entry about the rest of that trip when I heard that a Hudsonian Godwit was reported on Reef Island. I had the Thanksgiving dinner with the kids on Saturday, so Sunday morning I headed to Reef Island. It is about 2 hours from the Tiny House.

I collected Owen Lishmund at the Glen Iris Station on the way and we were on the beach near Reef Island by 10am. My dear friend, Karen Weil as well as Jannette and Peter Mannis were already there. There were several other Victorian birding friends as well and more arriving. I think it ended up being 15 or so of us. You gotta love a Sunday twitch! It was pretty straight forward as to where to look for the little godwit flock. See the below map.

After spending some time out on the island, I ended up watching and waiting with my friend Kevin Bartram for the godwits to fly in from their rocky roost. Kev has now unofficially named the bird, Rock Hudwit. “Hudwit” being the Aussie nickname for the Hudsonian Godwit as is Barwit and Blackwit for Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits.

One of my favourite moments from the day was my friend Adam Fry’s response when a few of us were suggesting we move in to the beach to wait for the godwits. They were continuing to stubbornly remain on the far side of the little pile of rocks. Adam said, “I kinda want to see it.” Then a short pause and he added, “And I know where it is.” And then he glanced toward the beach and said, “And it’s not there.” His timing and delivery were perfect. It still makes me smile to remember it.

This  blog entry is leaning heavily on the photos (a lot of Hudwit photos). It was a joyously successful twitch with dear friends. And twitches, and life don’t get much better than that. 

Much love from the Tiny House...

Black-breasted Bogey No More

For my non-birder readers, a bogey bird is a bird that has eluded you for an inordinately long time. It is a bird into which you have put a lot of effort and still have not been able to find. It is also sometimes called a nemesis bird. It is usually a bird most of your friends have seen, but you have not. A bogey bird is also not normally a rare bird, but it is rare for you. My biggest, badest, bogey was the Black-breasted Button-quail. It is indeed not an easy bird for anyone. But Lynn and I put in 6 full days birding Inskip Point, a well know spot for them, in June 2016 without success. They had been seen four days before we arrived, and they were seen a couple weeks after we had gone. Bogey created.

So time passed and my friend Karen Weil traveled to Noosa National Park north of Brisbane in October. She went out with my Facebook friend and birding photography guide, Matt Wright, and saw, yep, a Black-breasted Button-quail (BBBQ). I knew I had to go and try. I mean I really had no choice. Such can be the power of a bogey bird.

I contacted my birding friend and traveling partner, Robert Shore, and we decided we could meet Matt in South East Queensland (SEQ) to look for the bird on 10 November. It is almost two thousand kilometers from the Tiny House. I began pulling Troopi and myself together for a ten-day road trip. See the blog before this one regarding my heading off in Troopi by myself. Well, I am getting better at it.

Leaving Monday morning 6 November, I moved along north fairly quickly. I over-nighted in West Wyalong, NSW and Bendemeer, NSW, and then I pressed on to Dayboro, QLD. Robert and I were going to meet at the campground there. Since we had a day before going with Matt, we had arranged to go looking for King Quail with Marie Tarrant in her local patch on Thursday morning. That would also be a Life Bird for us both. 

We met Marie at 6am and began walking the paths through the tall grassy areas by Lake Samsonvale. After only a half hour or so (and seeing several Brown Quail), a small, dark quail flushed off the path, flew by us and went down into the deep grass and began calling. King Quail! John Weigel had told me to prepare myself for seeing a “flying blue potato” and that is precisely what it looked like. Gratefully, we had good views of the potato as it went past. We walked a bit into the tall grasses and listened to it calling to another King Quail while literally somewhere around our feet. We did not see it again, but I was thrilled. That was my first Lifer in quite a while.

We needed to help Marie tow her vehicle to the auto repair guy. It had one wheel that would freeze up. It was a bit of an adventure, but we were successful in the end.

Then Robert and I went to a caravan park in Maroochy River, QLD. Matt would be collecting us there at 5:30am the next morning. Gratefully, Queensland is not on daylight savings time, so to us that felt like 6:30am. I woke up at 3am and could not go back to sleep. Yes, I was excited.

Matt drove us to Noosa NP. It is a beautiful place. We were there before 6:30 and it was already a mad house of people. We eventually found a parking spot as someone was leaving. There were surfers, joggers, beach-goers, tourists and hikers in a constant stream on the path. Unbelievably, Matt said that the weekends there are much busier. Ugh. We wound our way through the people up to the area where Matt had been finding the BBBQ. It was a long and uphill trudge, but adrenaline was high and expectations were as well. It was at least a kilometer and a half to the trail where we would be searching.

Once there, Matt said that it could take ten minutes or three hours, but this was where he had been seeing them. We began looking along the 200 or so meters of track. We did not see any. We did see fresh platelets (the round, bare spots on the ground created by their feeding) and were encouraged. An hour passed, and then two, still with no BBBQ, and then three hours. I began having PTSD from my Inskip Point experience. I was stressed. This was hard birding. All of my Zen-like beliefs about experiencing the bird and enjoying the quest were going to hell in a handcart. I could not dip on this bird again. I continued up and down that track looking (later at the car, my Fitbit showed I had walked over 15 kilometers). The three of us scattered out along the trail as hopes began to fade a little.

Out of the blue, Robert declared, “I think we are going to find it.” He had been sitting on the edge of the track and I sat down in his spot as he wandered off. Just a few minutes later, Matt burst around the corner saying “We’ve got them!” I literally began running before I had stood all the way up. Robert said I looked like a cartoon character whose legs spin before it gets going. I was falling and running at the same time toward where Robert had just seen them. After only a few moments of trying to relocate them, Matt said, “Bruce! There!” And I was looking at not one, not two, but three male BBBQ’s wandering around in the scrub. Amazing. Wondrous. Thrilling. They began making platelets for God’s sake! They were right there. They seemed utterly oblivious to our presence as they went about their Button-quail ways. It had taken four hours, but we had done it. Bogey no more. I was, and am, as grateful as I can be.

Making a platelet... amazing
Robert, me and Matt... the Bogey BIrd Lifer Selfie back in the car park

Lifer high reverberated through me as we walked back to the car. What a feeling. After a lovely lunch, we spent the rest of the day and into the night, birding and then mammaling. By the end of the day, my Fitbit said I had walked 22 kilometers. I was exhausted, but what a day, a glorious day. Below are a Powerful Owl youngster and a Sugar Glider from our night time hike.

Cute as

I highly recommend Matt Wright as a guide. His contact info is on his website: Faunagraphic and his Facebook page: Faunagraphic Facebook

We awoke Saturday morning sore, tired and aching and then realized that we were only a little over 3 hours from O’Reilly’s and Lamington National Park. To be continued…

Sending much love from the Tiny House.

Comfort Zones Not Prisons

Birding is the pursuit of what is elusive yet attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope. That is an old quote about fishing, but it is perfect for birding as well.

It also gets me out to places I would never just “go” if I were not looking and hoping for birds. It gets me out period. I sometimes battle through massive anxiety to get out and go to those places. Although I have been open regarding my anxiety and depression issues, I still keep most of it buried under big-smiling selfies and new-agey views about living a genuine life. There is something to “fake it ‘til you make it,” but it only goes so far. It is often a difficult, and mostly invisible, struggle.

Nothing worthwhile that I have done in my life has begun in my comfort zones. Left to my own tendencies, I would have stayed at home, or in bars, drinking and smoking. And that is what I did for much of my twenties and thirties.

Last week I got out. I drove over 3 thousand kilometers, more than a few hundreds of those in a cocoon of anxiety that threatened to crush my spirit. But I carried on. I pushed through. This is the over-sharing kind of shit that I need to do. It is important for me to write this stuff down and look at it. I am 100% visual and being able to “see” things is the only way that I can begin to understand them. So I write for me and I share it with those who want to read it. If it helps one person understand that sometimes we can indeed push through our anxieties and conquer a fear, or fears, even just for a day or an hour, then I am very happy to share. Many people do not ‘get’ this. They don’t have to; it is not written for them.

I was an anxious child. I had a fear about going to school, although I learned to be funny and got on well once I was settled in. I have had separation anxiety issues all my life. Even when I was an entertainer touring full time, I would often go through massive anxiety as I left home. I would be fine once I was out there (sometimes it took a day or three), but I did it and in the later years, I did it mostly alone.

I’m not good at being alone. Sharing is the joy of life to me, but even as a small child I was most often alone. I have had to learn to find joy alone. Sometimes I do, more often I do not, but I am working on it. Life is a process.

I was the unplanned youngest (9 years younger than my brother) and as a child, I never “fit” in my family of origin. I understand this now. It certainly had a part in shaping who I am. That said, I am genuinely very proud of who I have become, even though there are these uncomfortable parts that I am sharing about here.

I self medicated my fear for years. However, as many of you know, I have remained sober since a rehab stay beginning on 16 April 1990. And I still do not smoke. I actually had a drag on a cigarette just this past weekend at a music festival. Yes, it tasted good, but amazingly, the magic was gone. I won’t take another and certainly will not start back smoking. I am actually glad I took that drag.

So with a bit of time open last week without any medical appointments, I decided to go out amongst it solo camping in Troopi for the first time. I say, “solo” as it was just me in Troopi, but I was driving in tandem with my old friend Robert Shore who was in his own Troopy camper. As I have said many times, Robert is like family to me. Lynn and I birded with him at various times across all of Australia. It was great to go out again.

First I had a 9-hour plus drive up to Robert’s home base in Parkes, NSW. It is where the famous radio dish from the wonderful film, “The Dish” is located.

We left Parkes the next day and drove up to have a look at Kooragang Wetlands near Newcastle for King Quail. They were not around. As the day was ending, we started north looking for a free camp. We found one by the “Ayres Rock” servo, a service centre with a fake Uluru on top of it. It was a fine spot to camp with toilets available and it was free.

Free camping by the "Ayers Rock" service centre.

The next day after a glance around Port Macquarie looking again for King Quail to no avail, we headed into the rainforest. We drove about 40 kilometers of logging track into Werrikimbe National Park to arrive at the Brushy Mountain Campground deep in amongst it. It was glorious. Then we hiked to the areas where our target bird, the Rufous Scrub-bird, was known to have been heard, and occasionally seen. We heard a couple, but none were close to the track. 

There was a beautiful old covered shelter with two massive picnic tables and a fireplace. As night was descending Robert started a fire and as the temperatures dropped considerably, that fire was much enjoyed and appreciated. We had our supper at the table with the fire crackling in the background. After dark we went out and looked at some frogs including a lovely green Barrington Tops Tree Frog.

From where I had parked Troopi, I could lie in the bed and actually watch the fire out the window from my bunk as I went to sleep later that night.

At first light we were down the track and again heard ‘distant’ Rufous Scrub-birds with no success, or real hope, of seeing them. As the forecasted rains began in earnest, we headed back to camp. Under the shelter, sitting by a revitalized fire, we talked about birding and about where we were.

The point was this. We had not seen either of our target birds, but that was all right. Those birds were only a portion of what we were doing. They had led us out there amongst it. We were deep in the wondrous rainforest of New South Wales. It was beautiful (even in the rain and fog) and I was there. I had to allow the appreciation of that into my heart. I did. And in writing this, I am reaching out to it, and I am touched by it yet again.

Here are a few photos on the way back. We did hear the Scrub-bird again, clear and close to the road on the corner of Oxley Highway and Knodingbul Road. But it was impossible to get down the mountainside slope to it. 

Sunrise from my last morning leaving NSW. I stayed in a caravan park to get a shower and was greeted by this morning view. Glorious.

There is so much more I could say and so much more for which I am grateful. And so much more that I hope to share in the future. I am very glad that these words connect for some of y’all. And if not, that’s okay too. More to come soonish…

Sending love from back at the Tiny House.

I Love Orange-bellied Parrots

Last Friday I was looking down a track in the northern part of the Western Treatment Plant and saw a jewel in the grass. It was so green and bright that at first it called to mind an Emerald Dove. Of course I knew that it would not be an Emerald Dove and as my bins went to my eyes, the back of a tiny Orange-bellied Parrot appeared. I did not expect to see one of these beautiful birds, and as much as I loved looking at it, I wish I had not. That little bird should have been in Tasmania.

According to its leg bands, he was a mainland released male from earlier this year. He had a silver band with a Y on his left leg and a red ring on his right. He was actively feeding on the tiny grass heads and seemed happy, although a tad woebegone. I was deeply moved. I stood for about 35 minutes basically where I had stopped when I first saw him. I just kept taking photos and marveling at, and loving, this tiny treasure. I did not want to disturb him and he allowed me to spend a little time with him. Just the two of us.

Here he is...

Eat well my little friend... get strong.

Num, num, num...
Eventually, moving slowly and quietly, I called my friend Dez Hughes (the Wader Whisperer) who was only few kilometers away. He headed up to see the parrot. However, minutes before he arrived, it had flown up, around, and disappeared into cover in the same general area. As Dez stood there with me, it flew up and out again, giving him great views of those vibrant blues and greens (and orange-belly) before it landed again disappearing in the scrub. We left the area.

I first saw wild Orange-bellied Parrots in June of 2012 at the Borrow Pit at the WTP. There were three. I was a fairly new birder and I fell in love with these wondrous little parrots as I would. I took Lynn and my twelve-year-old granddaughter, Mandy, to see them. We had amazing views and I took copious photos. Below are a few from that day.

I do not know if these critically endangered little parrots can survive. There are only a handful left in the wild. Literally. There might be less than thirty maybe? I do not know exactly.

Time is passing. I find being sixty-four years old unbelievable. But when I look at the changes I have been through and that I have seen in this world, I reckon I have to believe it. I hate to think that one day there may be no wild OBP’s left. I am so glad that I got to show them to Mandy over five years ago and I am so glad I got to see them then as well. However, I wish I had not seen this little guy there where he should not still have been. I wish he had gone to Tasmania weeks ago.


I literally just now read that a male OBP that was seen at the WTP on 21 September has arrived at the breeding grounds in Melaleuca, Tasmania on 29 September! And my little buddy was eating constantly. Maybe he was storing up energy for a big flight. I will not give up hope. Maybe he is going to get to Tassie after all. I hope so with all my heart.

To help these birds click here: Difficult Bird Research Group

Sending love from the Tiny House.

Northern Shoveler ~ SA Twitch!

Last Saturday evening there was a post on the South Aussie Birding Facebook page about the sighting of a Northern Shoveler. My buddy, James Cornelious, alerted me to this. I began seeking more information. My friend, Kay Parkin, suggested a dash for it as it might quickly move along. I decided to go the next morning.
The white spot in the middle is Norman the Northern Shoveler
Troopi is still in the shop awaiting a used replacement fuel tank to become available somewhere. So I was off in the Prius at sunrise Monday heading for South Australia (and saving enough in fuel to afford a room). It was about seven hours to the spot. Around two thirds of the way there, I began getting reports that the duck had not been seen that day. I considered cutting my losses so-to-speak and heading back home. My new Facebook friends, Eddy and Jenni, texted saying that they were going to check out the surrounding areas later in the afternoon since the day before the duck had been seen in the arvo. I decided to carry on.

I checked into a little cabin at the Keith Caravan Park ($100, I recommend it). Then I drove about 40 minutes to the “ponds” near Tilley Swamp. There was no one else around and no Northern Shoveler either. It had not returned. As dusk approached, I left the ponds and drove back to the cabin.
Keith Caravan Park cabin... works for me.
This is what was odd to me. I was not disappointed. I was honestly okay with not having seen it. I had kind of figured it was gone. A group of serious birders had spent the whole morning searching the area and had dipped. The smart money was on that it had departed for good. I am sure I would have been disappointed if I had missed it by an hour or something, but it had not been seen all day. I did not have that ‘dipping sadness' that can be so crushing. But I figured I would go have a look in the morning. Who knows?

The next morning I was up before five and put the kettle on. I was loading the car as the dawn chorus was coming alive. Sweet. I love that. At first light I was driving west to the spot. With the sun rising behind me, I arrived by the ponds and parked off the edge of the road. With my bins, I scanned the pond on the right, no Northern Shoveler. Then I scanned the first pond on the left (south) and it was not there either. Then I caught a glimpse of bright white in the pond just behind the south pond. I got the scope out of the car quickly.

As I am going on a twitch I have a lot of time to think. I was in the car alone for close to seven hours on the drive over. And I picture in my mind various scenarios of rocking up and seeing the bird. What that will feel like. I picture seeing the bird in my mind. This is not magical thinking. I do not think I can manifest the bird by visualizing it. But I do imagine seeing the bird and how wonderful that moment can feel. That moment feeds my passion for this type of birding. It don’t get much better than seeking and then finding. Not for me anyway.

I set up the scope and focused it. There was that moment. The glimpse of white morphed into the beautiful white chest, and then the iridescent deep green head and rufous sides of a male Northern Shoveler. It was the “That’s It!” moment in twitching that makes it all worthwhile. I was looking at the bird! I drank in the experience. I breathed that bird. I took recording shots as best I could. I was approximately four hundred meters from the duck and the land was fenced and private, but the scope views were crystal clear gorgeousness. There was no one else around to see me glow and I was glowing with excitement and genuine joy. I walked to the middle of the road partially up the hill behind me and with one dot of signal I texted Eddy and Jenni. I sent one word, “YES!”
Lifer Selfie. Norman is somewhere in that pond over my right shoulder.
I resumed staring at, and appreciating, the duck. Then I went back to the road and I sent Philip Peel a message asking him to please post to Facebook that I had refound it and the location. I managed to get a back-of-the-camera phone pic to go though! Then I went back to staring at the duck.

There were other cool birds around. A couple of dozen Black-tailed Native-hens were bobbling about in the paddock just in front of me. They are beautifully goofy birds. I was standing so still viewing the Shoveler that they ended up walking over within a few meters of me. When I did move, they freaked out in their wonderfully goofy way. It was like they were saying, “Run! It’s a monster! Run! RUN!” I love them.
A few of the several hundred Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos in the area
Lifer Pie in the form of Ice Cream (and I had a cookie too).

There are so many wonderful parts of a twitch. And at the culmination of a successful twitch there is Lifer High. It strikes me the first moment I see the bird and then it reverberates and reverberates. I feel giddy and giddy is good! That wonderful feeling can echo through me for days afterwards. I feel it right now two days later sitting at my table in the Tiny House. I am so grateful. I did it. I twitched Norman the Northern Shoveler. Yeah, I gave him a name. I love that bird. As I would.

Before I left for the long drive back to Lara, Luke and Kathy Leddy rocked-up to view the bird and then Eddy and Jenni arrived (having set land speed records to get there). So I was able to share a bit of the delightful giddiness of Lifer High. This was all due to Facebook. Social media: don’t go birding without it.

And... the book about the year of traveling all of Oz is coming along very well. I will keep y'all posted. I am hoping to have it completely finished by Christmas.

Peace. Love. Birds.

Lil' The Little Stint ~ Twitch!

Lil' and one of her Red-necked Friends.
When Simon Starr found Syd the SIPO, he also inadvertently "discovered," Lil’ the Little Stint as well. Here is what happened.

For those of you who read my blog (and of course I am only talking to those of you who do), I wrote about Syd’s rediscovery in the last blog entry. After the word got out, many Aussie twitchers descended on the sleepy little hamlet of Jam Jerrup to park at the end of Foreshore Road and go out looking for Syd. Sometimes he would be near to the carpark, other times, he would be somewhere near the sandy point of land over a kilometer to the south. That point is referred to as “Stockyard Point.”

It is a very flat area so the tide makes quite a difference in the makeup and size of the “beach.” At high tide the beach toward the point disappears. At low tide, miles of mud flats are exposed. You do NOT want to walk out there. You will sink. And the waders can be scattered far and wide across them. As the tide rises and covers the mud, many of the waders head toward the point, especially the little waders such as Double-banded and Red-capped Plovers, Red-necked Stints and Curlew Sandpipers. They can arrive by the hundreds. Mostly folks were looking for Syd and did not scan closely through the masses of these little waders. But on Sunday, 25 June, Scott Baker and Paul Peake did just that and Scott spotted a Little Stint amongst them! Consulting with Kevin Bartram, the i.d. was confirmed. This was one week after Simon found Syd. The second mega rarity there in a week. Amazing.

Lil’ (her very unofficial name) is in breeding plumage and stands out fairly well, but she can also be easy enough to overlook. On 23 June, Geoff Glare took photos of the flocks of waders at the point and upon later close examination discovered the Little Stint in his photos. Used by permission, here is one of those photos. Lil’ is there. I promise you. See if you can find her.

I was at Stockyard Point again on Saturday the 24th and most probably “saw” Lil’. I really saw, and took some photos of, a beautiful Asian Gull-billed Tern, affinis race. It is a subspecies not yet officially split from Gull-billed Tern. I also saw my pal Syd. On the way back the tide had come in and we had to go inland to get back to the carpark.

The little very white tern right in the middle.
When Scott’s amazing discovery hit Facebook it was about 2:15pm on Sunday. I seriously considered making the dash, but I really could not have gotten there in time. It would have been almost dark. So I planned to go over the next morning. Choosing my departure by the tides (low at 8:30am and high at 3:40pm) I left home at the civilized hour of 9am. My friend Carolyn, who also lives in Lara, rode with me. I collected my buddy, James Cornelious and our friend Owen Lismund at a train station on the way. We knew that we did not need to hurry and we rocked up at Jam Jerrup about 11:30am. The tide was still way out. Too far out.

Twitchers waiting on the tide...
A few other birders began arriving and so did rain showers. We waited a bit longer and started to the point about noon. We had a nice walk down the beach (thanks for carrying my scope, James). The tide was still too far out. We could see hundreds of waders about a kilometer over to our left. We waited. And then… little groups of waders started showing up to the sand spit in front of us, and then more, and more.

By about 1:30pm we had a lot of waders to look through, but still more came. The bird was spotted by James Mustafa. Bill Twiss and I both grabbed quick looks through his scope before the flock re-shuffled. It was the Little Stint, but not really a “lifer look.” We all moved to the right to get a better view over a rise in the sand. I was standing by James who was scanning with my scope when I saw a small, russet coloured stint. I got James on it. Seeing it through the scope he proclaimed, “That’s it!” And friends, it was. I had re-found it. Not that that sort of thing is important, but with so many young eyes, and more experienced eyes looking, I felt damn good finding it. Sweet as.

Lifer Selfie with James and Carolyn
This is now Tuesday evening and I have been having a Lifer Day. It is an invention of my own. It is like an all day version of Lifer Pie. I am allowing myself a “happy day.” Truth be told, I am not given to that, even though it might appear that I am. But for a while today, fuck it, I was indeed happy and for that, I am grateful. Birds, you did it for me again. Thanks, Lil’.

PS, I wrote the majority of this blog at my old family dinner table! Older than I am, but it was just too big for the Tiny House... our dear friend and brilliant wood-artist, Julian Beattie, made it smaller for us. I love sitting at this table. I have finally found my spot. I will continue to work on the "book" of the year of travel and birding right here at this table. I am grateful.
Peace. Love. Birds.

Twitch! Syd The SIPO

In early January 2017, as I was sorting the last minute details for our final move to Australia, a New Zealand visitor arrived on the coast of northern New South Wales. He had already visited Victoria, although no one there had noticed he was a Kiwi. The friendly Victorian bird-banders had given him a silver bracelet and a red flag with 1N on it. Many of my friends dashed up (or over, or down) to NSW to see him, but I wasn’t back yet.

He had been banded in August of 2016. Since it was again winter, the very clever Simon Starr (Firetail Birdwatching Tours) went to the place where this visitor had been flagged hoping that he would come back again. And like a Grey Nomad returning to Queensland, he did. Simon found Syd hanging out with the numerous Australian Pied Oystercatchers near a place called Stockyard Point by Jam Jerrup, VIC.

I was birding with some of my dear Aussie Tribe in the beautiful Brisbane Ranges Sunday arvo when I got a message from Simon regarding his discovery (thank you my friend). He had posted the details of his success on Facebook and called to give me the full story. I considered bolting for the site immediately, but it was down on the other side of Melbourne on Westernpoint Bay, so I decided against it. It would be a bit over two hours drive from Lara at the best of times. So I went Monday morning and that was not the best of times.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I do not do big cities (unless I have to). I loathe big cities. Traffic is one of the biggest reasons that I do. Very few things are worth driving through the Big Smoke in the morning, but a South Island Pied Oystercatcher is one of them. A drive that, at normal times, would have taken about two hours took over three hours. I collected my good friend, Oakley Germech (part of the tribe) at a train station near the freeway. Once I had battled my way out of the congestion there, we were gratefully heading away from the traffic flow and toward the twitch.

I had expected to be at Jam Jerrup by 9am. It was close to ten when we finally arrived. We bumped into Dave Stabb, who I had met in January 2011 at the WTP (I have met the best people at the pooh farm! This is not a joke, I really have). I had not seen him since then, but we both remembered each other. He remembered me as Bruce from Virginia (as I was at the time). It was good to see him. We have now exchanged information and will keep in touch.

After checking out a small group of Pied Oystercatchers north of the parking area, we parked and gathered our things to begin searching. Oakley was just ahead of me, starting down on the beach, as a flock of twenty-some oystercatchers flew past toward the area where we had just been looking. I asked Oakley, only partially joking, “Was it in that group?” And he answered seriously, “I think it might have been!”

We headed north up the beach toward where the flock had landed. I said that I thought I had it, but I wasn’t sure. Then in a few moments Dave had his scope on the leg flag of an Oystercatcher. We all read it, “1N!” We had found the SIPO! And we had I.D.ed it first by its flag! Soon Scott Baker, Dan Ashdown, Deb Oliver, David Adam, Mark Hill and others joined us and everyone was taking photos, and rejoicing in the successful twitch. These were lovely moments. I am exceedingly grateful.

Facebook exploded with photos and joyful postings as more people twitched the bird. Kevin Bartram, who saw it later the same day, commented on my post, “You didn’t scare it away?” Later when he had posted about having seen it, I asked him the same question. We joked a bit and he ended up calling the bird, “Syd the SIPO.” I liked it and began to spread it around. I hope it sticks. Here are some photos from the day (the photos of the people and beach are Oakley's).


Lifer Selfie with Oakley... Syd the SIPO Successful Twitch!
The following partial song parody is only amusing if you are familiar with Jim Croce’s song, "Don't Mess Around With Jim" . So here you go, sung to the tune of the original…

Don't Mess Around With Syd

Venus Bay got its, “Chuckles”
Darwin’s got its gull.
Stockyard Point got a Pied Oystercatcher
Whose legs are a little small
His bill is long and his wings are strong
But I reckon that he got lost
And when the twitchers all get together at night,
They call Syd the SIPO boss…

A little history of the bird: It was banded on 6 August 2016 there at Stockyard Point, VIC. It was misidentified as an Australian Pied Oystercatcher. It was seen again in that area on 22 August and still misidentified as an APO. Next it showed up at Broadwater Beach in NSW last January where birders finally correctly identified 1N as a South Island Pied Oystercatcher. It was twitched by many (but not by me until this past Monday). It was first seen again in Victoria by Simon on 18 June 2017 and received its 'official' name from Kevin Bartram on 20 June becoming, Syd the SIPO. 

By the way, I had fish and chips and gravy, with a yo-yo cookie dessert as my Lifer Pie treats. I am so grateful.

Peace. Love. Birds.

Murray-Sunset Magic

I had really wanted to get out to the western edge of Victoria and look for Red-lored Whistler and Striated Grasswren (the striatus one). The RLW was not a bogey bird, but it was one that I had previously put quite a bit of effort into without success. The same goes for that grasswren. With a bit of work, luck and info from Mark Carter, Lynn and I had gotten the “Striated” Sandhill Grasswren subspecies, oweni, out in the Red Centre. However, despite excellent gen from Tim Dolby and others, we had dipped on the ‘regular’ Striated at Murray-Sunset earlier in that year of birding. My buddy, Bill Twiss, also wanted both birds (one a lifer and one a Victoria tick) and a few others of that mallee region. So we made a plan to go out there for a few days.

On Tuesday morning, 23 May, I headed out to meet Bill in Ouyen, Victoria on the far eastern side of Murray-Sunset NP. After a anxious start, with Troopi having an “issue” that was gratefully resolved quickly at the local auto repair, I left. That did put me a couple of hours behind schedule and I arrived in Ouyen about 3pm. We decided to drive to the western side of the park on the main roads and enter the 4WD tracks from there. We left Bill’s car parked at the Ouyen Pub and drove west. As we entered South Australia, it was getting dark. We decided to stay in a tiny 10 dollar a night caravan park in Paruna and go into Murray-Sunset first thing the next morning. We were safe, sound and Troopi was running fine. I was grateful.

We took a route about 30 kilometers straight across through Meribah to the junction of Millewa South Bore and Pheeny’s Track in Murray-Sunset. This route did not show on some of the maps, but it turned out to be a good unsealed road. We were soon birding on the Millewa South Bore Track.
On the corner of Pheenys and Millewa South Bore Tracks.
We followed the suggestions of my trusty, beat-up but indispensible, copy of Tim Dolby and Rohan Clarkes’, “Finding Australian Birds.” As the book suggested, we stopped and listened every so often when we were in what looked to be the right habitat. We were looking for mallee woodlands with a sparse, open canopy, some good understory, and some spinifex. We tried several spots before, lo and behold, we had a Red-lored Whistler! It was an immature male. It visited us, singing beautifully a few times, over the next fifteen or twenty minutes. The bird consistently perched frustratingly backlit, or slightly obscured by branches. However, I had very good looks through my bins as I followed it and I managed a couple of recording shots. I was very grateful! Red-lored Whistler! YES! Lifer Pie coming soon.


After our RLW success, we tried a few more spots along the South Bore Track. We found one of the coolest spiders I have ever seen. It was Red and Blue! My friend Lily informed me later that it was a Red-headed Mouse Spider. It seems that it was marching down the track on a mission to find a girlfriend. I read that they hold their long pedipalps (carrying the mating organs) extended forwards when they are looking for a lady spider in her burrow. As you can see in the photo, he was holding his pedipalps out. We followed him at least 15 meters and finally left him still heading south on the track. I hope he finds his girl. I drove very carefully around him as we moved on.

It gets dark early and the day was definitely getting away from us. We decided to do the Pink Lakes area in the morning. As we headed out of the park toward Pink Lakes, we stopped in Pinnaroo. We ended up staying there in a nice (cheap) little caravan park and having a celebratory meal at the pub. The fish and chips were really good.
Before leaving the park we also had a lovely little group of White-browed Babblers

And a Common Burrowing Cockroach with really cool feet.
Speaking of “Finding Australian Birds,” I talked with Tim Dolby that evening regarding the Striated Grasswrens at Pink Lakes. He suggested a specific area for us to look. I cannot overstate how generous and patient Tim has been over the years with information and advice. He is a treasure. First thing Thursday morning, we headed over to Pink Lakes.
It has been literally all the way around AUS and more with me. Indispensable. Do not leave home without it!
We stopped at an area just the other side of the lakes on Pioneer Dr. Parking Troopi on the roadside, we walked basically north. We were walking in to a point about 500 or 600 meters in from the road. The technology of the map GPS on my phone was guiding us (and comforting to have) as we headed deeper into the bush. Tim had suggested birding by walking sort of a “grid” pattern. Going in several hundred meters and then to the side, and then back out. We were about two thirds of the way back to the road when we (even I) heard a Grasswren. We stopped and looked at each other in excitement and disbelief. We heard it! And then there it was running across the ground! YES!

A pair of Striated Grasswrens ran, hopped and flitted around us for about ten minutes. One eventually perched up on a dead stick giving us wondrous views. After about a minute of posing, it hopped back down and was off. We left its area in peace. Bill and I fist-bumped and grinned like idiots. We had a bit of mobile signal and posted a back-of-camera shot on facebook. I was, and am, incredibly grateful.

See why they are called the Pink Lakes?
As it was only late-morning, we decided to pack it in and head for our perspective homes. With the wonderful birding “high” going on, I drove us back to Ouyen and we went our separate ways. Both our main targets were achieved and Bill added a beautiful look at a Mallefowl on the roadside (as well as two other brief glimpses in the bush- so SA and VIC).

Troopi will go anywhere, but she is slow on the highway and does use a bit of diesel. A five-hour drive can take about six. On the way home I did not stop for fuel. I switched to the sub tank and made it back to the tiny house in five and a half hours. I was tired but exceedingly grateful. It was about 1400 kilometers, two nights camping and a wonderful experience. And most importantly, I got out amongst it! And... I got Red-lored Whistler and Striated Grasswren! I am so very grateful.
My Lifer "Pie" supper of Brisket Burger at Millars Restaurant back in Lara, absolutely delicious!
Peace. Love. Birds. Gratitude.

Epic Sunday Pelagic Mega

Before this last Sunday’s trip, I had done five pelagics in Australia. One was out of Wollongong, NSW, one out Eagle-hawk Neck, Tassie, and three out of Port Fairy, the most recent being this past March. I had certainly gotten some good birds, but in general, most of my pelagic trips were fairly ordinary (Long-tailed Jaeger and Little Shearwater not withstanding).

For me, something important was missing. Ever since I became a birder I have been fascinated with albatrosses. In the Patrick O’Brian books, Dr. Stephen Maturin speaks of them many times in glowing terms. And of course, I longed to behold the true king of the Albatrosses, the Wandering. They have a wingspan of over 10 feet. They are truly the most magnificent of all pelagic birds. I had not yet seen one.
Look at those wings!

Since it is less than three hours from Lara, I decided to do another pelagic out of Port Fairy. I managed to get a space on the 23 April trip, but I was just getting over a bad cold and decided that I should not go. Those who went had a great trip with both types of Wandering Albatrosses and other awesome birds. I contacted Neil, who schedules the trips, and asked for a space on the next one. I was able to get a spot for Sunday 14 May. Yay!

I arrived in Port Fairy late Saturday arvo and checked into The Stump pub/motel. It is very basic, but I had stayed there on the previous trips (better the devil you know) and it is only 5 minutes from the boat. I ate a sandwich in my room and then wandered over to the pub to see who was around. I immediately bumped into Kevin Bartram, Scott Baker, and then Simon Starr- all good friends through Facebook and brilliant birders. I got a text from my dear friend, Bill Twiss, saying that he was also going as well. Bill has had several very good sea birding trips, so he is a bit of a “pelagic whisperer.” It was shaping up to be a good group out there. I retired to my room, applied my behind-the-ear seasickness patch and went to bed.

After a fitful night’s sleep (not unusual for me), I got out of bed about 4:30 and began to administer caffeine to the best of my abilities. After getting down a couple of mugs, I headed over to the boat. It was just past 7am when we chugged out to sea. It was a little bumpy out there, but the patches were doing their job. I did not feel well, but I had no trace of seasickness. Such are the patches for me.

We were still within sight of land when I missed what would have been my first lifer of the day. A Diving Petrel appeared, dove and then disappeared. But shortly after that, a tern was spotted that was tentatively identified as a White-fronted, and then as a Common, and then an Arctic. Photos taken by Scott Baker later confirmed it as an Arctic and thus it was my first Lifer of the day! Although, I would not know this for sure until the next day.
On the way with Kevin Bartram, grey beards...
We continued out over 50 kilometers to the spot where we would stop and begin to berley (chum). Almost immediately I heard the word that I had listened for on all the past pelagic trips, “Wandering!” And a young Wandering Albatross came gliding by the boat and into my heart. I was about to post this blog entry, when I realized that I needed to write more about this moment. To behold this graceful, winged behemoth is one of the highlights of my life. I have seen many magnificent birds, but none have filled me with more awe and appreciation. I was thrilled to my core and I am grateful! But it got even better.

Soon the boat was surrounded by Albatrosses and other sea birds. We had Shy, Black-browed, Campbell, Northern Royal, Wandering and NZ Wandering (Gibson’s). We had Northern Giant Petrel, Fairy and Antarctic Prions, and Wilson’s, White-faced and Grey-backed Storm-Petrels among others. It was wondrous! But after a while, our birds began to leave us and we spotted a trawler several kilometers further out. It was swarming with birds. We headed over to look.

In amongst the hundreds of birds in the air and on the water behind the trawler, Kevin Bartram, and or Scott Baker, noticed a dark Petrel. It flew up and by our boat. The word, “Westland” began to be shouted. It stayed with us, landing on the water and flying around the boat. It was indeed a Westland Petrel, the first record of a living bird in Victoria. Even the hardcore pelagic birders were getting a tick. We had us a MEGA! There was much joy. I am so grateful to experience this beautiful rarity!

It was a day of seven Lifers for me. They were… Arctic Tern, both Wanderings, a Northern Royal, a beautiful Cape Petrel, Antarctic Prion and Westland Petrel. Yes, Westland was the Mega, but the Wandering Albatrosses really stole my heart (Cape Petrel is pretty damn special too). My Aussie life list is now 684. I am only 16 away from that magic number, but they are only numbers. It is the birds and the experiences that matter.  Here are more photos beginning with the stunning Cape Petrel.


The long trip back to terra firma seemed shorter than usual. Once back in Port Fairy many of us had a quick cuppa and a nibble at the coffee house. Then I accepted Bill Twiss’ kind invitation to stay the night at his and Debbie’s house in Warnambool. I was quite tired and still “woggy” from wearing the patch, but I slept well and contentedly (unusual for me). I am so very grateful.
Lifer Selfie with my dear friend, Bill Twiss

Peace. Love. Birds. Gratitude.

WTP Gratitude

The world famous Western Treatment Plant is where I first truly identified as a birder. It is now minutes from my doorstep. It is hard to fully realize, but I do know that I am grateful.

My friend, James Cornelious, and I did a bit of birding around the WTP Friday afternoon. Then on Sunday, James, Oakley Germech and I birded there with Karen Weil for her birthday! Lynn was still a bit under the weather and did not join us. However, we all went back to the tiny house for a lovely visit at the end of the day. And it was a wonderful day indeed. I am grateful for my friends!

We had a lot of good birds on both days. We had White-bellied Sea-eagles, Musk, Blue-billed and Freckled Ducks. There was a flock of gorgeous White-winged Black Terns (that defy my photography abilities). We also saw many of the usual suspects as well as the resident rarity, Terek Sandpiper.
White-bellied Sea-eagle with the You Yangs in the background.
We also had two beautiful Orange-bellied Parrots fly over us just as we were beginning to leave the Borrow Pit. I stopped at the edge of the carpark and Oakley said, “Let’s have one last look.” And just as he began that look, two OBPs came flying toward, and then over both vehicles. Oakley shouted something. Although his exact words were lost in the excitement, they included, “Oh My God!” and possibly the phrase, “There they are!” Regardless, he alerted us all and we all saw them. I have no idea whether they were released birds (more likely) or birds that had arrived from Tassie (present in the area). It did not matter to me. I just loved seeing these small, critically endangered gems of the parrot world again. And what a fitting Birthday present for Karen! I am grateful.

And we also had two magnificent Brolgas fly over us on Sunday. These massive cranes are one of my (admittedly many) favourite birds. I saw my lifer Brolgas at the WTP on 2 January 2011, a date that added 17 birds to my early Australian Life List. I do remember that day, Ruff and Terek Sandpiper were among the new birds for me. It would be 6 years before I saw another Ruff in Oz.

Here are some photos from Friday and Sunday at the little piece of heaven we sometimes affectionately refer to as the Poo Farm. I am grateful for the Western Treatment Plant.

White-winged Black Terns, beautiful, but not as impressive when I photograph them.

Musk Ducks are very cool
Pair of White-bellied Sea-eagles in Lake Borrie
Terek Sandpiper... such a cool bill

Black-faced Cormorant at the "cormorant jetty"

Peace. Love. Birds. Gratitude.

Gratitude and the You Yangs

Gratitude, blogs and Facebook communication… I cannot overstate how important the birding community continues to be in my life. These souls that I have met and bonded with through the pursuit of this noble passion are some of the most wonderful, sincere and genuine beings I could want along on this journey through the cosmos. I need, and count on, y’all. A couple of years ago my dear friend, Ash, “challenged” me to write three things a day for which I was grateful and post it on Facebook for ten days.

I found that this was a positive thing for me and I continued to write them after the time was over. Those posts turned into the blog, “Living Gratitude.” Which in turn became “Living and Birding Gratitude” where I blogged about the year of birding and travel around the entire continent of Australia. It is from these that the "book" about that year is being written. I have gained so much from writing these blog entries. It is amazing and humbling when I find that they have touched or connected with others. I am very grateful and moved when that happens. I will continue to write and I will continue to work on my own gratitude.

I seek my truth and write in as genuine a way as I can within certain limitations. Of course there are details that do not need to be, or cannot be included here. I also hope that what I post can sometimes be entertaining and enjoyable as well. For myself, sharing in general is an integral part of life, just as is travel and getting out amongst it. Without these I am not alive.

This past Tuesday and Wednesday I popped by for short visits to the You Yangs Regional Park, or the Youies as they are sometimes called. These are the small mountains, made up of granite ridges, that rise about 320 meters above the plains between Geelong and Melbourne. They are less than 10 minutes from my door. I love them.

I saw a few cool birds there including a Speckled Warbler and a gorgeous male Red-capped Robin. That robin has special birding significance for me. It is the bird Sean Dooley is holding on the cover of his book "The Big Twitch." That book was one of the reasons I got into birding. The RC Robin is also on the cover of the new and wonderful, "The Australian Bird Guide." I can see both books from where I am sitting and I am grateful for them.

The little dam on Big Rock Road... absolute heaven. I would rather be birding in Australia
than anywhere else in the world. 

Beautiful little female Scarlet Robin 

Speckled Warbler 

A particularly gorgeous Spotted Pardalote that insisted on having its picture taken. 
And often Eastern Yellow Robins will insist that you make their photos as well.

Peace. Love. Birds. Gratitude.

Letter-winged Kite In Victoria

Health-wise, we have had a bumpy start here in Lara. Nothing 'serious' thank heavens! But Lynn had a chest thing that turned into laryngitis, and then she caught a nasty, long lasting cold. I acquired that cold around Easter and was sick for about a week. Also, not to flog a sad horse, but depression had been gnawing away at my life force. I mention this only to share with others who fight the “blues.” You are not alone! And even wacky, theoretically fun people are not immune to the dark forces of depression and anxiety. However by Monday, I was feeling much better physically, although tired and rundown in general. And then on Tuesday, Dan Ashdown and Owen Lishmund found the Kite.

On the first of March, I wrote a comment on a photo of a beautiful Letter-winged Kite posted by Mark Carter. I said that it was… “at this point, my number one avian desire.” And that was the truth. I have long, long wanted to see an LWK. That raptor to me is legend. It is a bird of Big Years. It was the 800th Aussie tick for my friend Jen Spry. It was a bird of the Strzelecki Track and the Birdsville Track, a denizen of the most desolate outback. Well, the boys had found one in Victoria only about three and a half hours north of Lara.

Dan’s report hit the Facebook Australian Twitchers page at 12:18pm. I saw it about fifteen minutes later. Dan and Owen are both excellent birders. There was a photo. There was no doubt. There was indeed a Letter-winged Kite in Victoria! It was in something called the Terrick Terrick National Park the Meadows. I Googled the route and location. I considered it. But the clock was ticking and I was not really up to snuff. At that point I would not have gotten there until around 5pm. But honestly, if I had not been just getting over this cold, I reckon I would have pulled it together and shot up there. But instead I waited… gathering more information and following the story on Facebook. Several other friends did make the dash and had seen and photographed the bird. I decided to leave the next morning.

The road where the bird had been seen was reported to be 4WD necessary, so Troopi and I headed out at 6:30am. There had been a lot of rain down here and leaving town I encountered a closed road that added some time to my trip. I finally arrived at the beginning of Davis Road about 10:30am. We rolled slowly down the very muddy, slippery road to the area where the bird had been seen. There was a vehicle ahead and there was a guy with binoculars. Yay.

I pulled over and asked, “Have you seen it?” And he answered, “Yes, but not for about ten minutes now.” The twitcher's nightmare.

The birder was Mark Buckby and he had watched the bird for over an hour that morning, but had lost track of it. He had last seen it heading west. He spent the next couple of hours looking for the bird with me. His camaraderie and encouragement, in what had become a howling wind, was much appreciated. Finally he packed it in and left the area. The Kite had not returned.

I spent the rest of the afternoon looking and hoping. Neil Macomber (Birdswing Birding Tours) and a client arrived and searched with me for a little while. According to my FitBit, I walked over 15 kilometers. The wind was, as I said, howling. For the rest of the afternoon I did not see any raptors. Toward dusk the wind lessened slightly and a few Black-shouldered Kites showed up again, but no LWK was to be seen.
Troopi in the distance patiently awaiting my return yet again.
Tired and fading fast, I took a “basic cabin” in a caravan park near Echuca. I grabbed a bite and hit the bed early. First thing the next morning, I started back over to the Letter-winged spot. As I turned onto the quiet highway, I saw a lone vehicle rolling toward me. It was a familiar looking high-top Troopy. My old friend Robert Shore had driven down from Parkes, NSW.

The two troopies headed over to the Meadows. As we started down Davis Road, Robert stopped and gave James Mustafa a lift. He had been walking-in after parking his 2WD car at the beginning of the muddy road. They followed me to the spot at the north end of the reserve where Mark had showed me it was possible to easily cross the irrigation canal. It was also the area where Mark had first seen and photographed the kite the previous morning.

After about fifteen minutes of searching, an elanus-type kite perched on the fence behind us. There were a few Black-shouldered Kites about, but there was something different about this bird. It seemed slightly larger. Snapping photos and zooming in showed that the eye looked correct for Letter-winged. I said as much. There was black in front of the eye and not behind it. I was hanging back as the bird flushed. LETTER-WINGED KITE! My heart flew with that bird. I stared at that gorgeous jet-black marking on the under-wing that I had looked for, and hoped for, on so many Black-shouldered Kites over the years. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. I managed to take some photos. Grateful does not even come close. Experiencing this bird is now a part of my heart. Others have gotten better photos, but no one could have been more thrilled.

One of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

We saw it a few more times as it perched up in the brush. Sometimes in the company of Black-shouldered Kites. My friend, Simon Starr of Firetail Birdwatching tours arrived and also got good looks before the bird flew off, once again, to the west.

After I was sure that Simon was on it, I did not continue to follow the bird. I walked back to Troopi alone, and for a few moments allowed the elation, euphoria, relief, fatigue, and sheer joy of experiencing this magnificent bird to roll down my cheeks. Yes, real men cry, although we’re usually sort of quiet about it.

As I write this, the Letter-wing Kite has not been seen since the four of us saw it that morning. Much as I had done on the day before, my friend Warren Palmer arrived and missed it by not more than fifteen minutes. Timing is everything. I am so grateful that I was able to stay another day and see this legendary bird. I hope that some of my friends who are going to look this weekend can re-find it and experience it as well.
Letter-winged Kite Lifer "Pie" (after a wonderful Fish and Chips Lifer Dinner!).
I just had to add a few more photos. I will relive this experience for a long time.

Black-shouldered Kite above and the Letter-winged Kite below. One of the spots where it perched.
There was something in its left talon... could not tell what it was.

That long black mark under the wing... even now the photo makes my heart jump!
Peace. Love. Birds.