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.