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…