Well, I was supposed to be in Hughenden tonight. I got there about noon, though, and I just didn’t like the look or the feel of the place, and I had nothing to do for the rest of the day, anyway. So, I pressed on to Charters Towers, which was another three hours of driving down the road. This puts me only about 90 minutes from Townsville, my next destination. That will give me time tomorrow to stop at some birding sites between here and Townsville, or even to go to one or more sites in Townsville itself, if I want to, tomorrow afternoon. The downside of the decision is that the only internet access I have from my room is dial up, but that isn’t so bad. It is just slow. It took me a while to figure out how to get connected, but after solving two separate problems, I was able to do so.
The drive from Winton to Hughenden was almost straight, and the land was very flat and very dry. It wasn’t quite as desert-like as Bladensburg was, but it was pretty dreary, if you ask me. There was a whole lot of road kill along the road, which I thought was strange, because the land didn’t look very inhabitable to me, even for kangaroos and wallabies, but I guess they don’t have very high standards. Or, maybe the local ones are just dumber than average, so they run out in front of cars even more than most of their kind.
Anyway, I was expecting that today was probably the day that I wouldn’t add to my trip list, since I wasn’t planning to be in any prime habitat or to be visiting any specific birding sites. I was keeping a close watch along the road, and looking particularly at all the raptors, feeding on the road kill. The overwhelming majority were Black Kites, with a few Ravens or Crows mixed in from time to time. I was hoping to see a Wedge-tailed Eagle, a bird I have seen on previous trips pretty often, but hadn’t seen yet on this trip.
As I approached one road kill location, several Kites rose up, as usual, and they were wheeling around in the sky overhead. I slowed down to check out each one, in case one was something different, and sure enough, one of the birds started coming in for a landing off to the side, and it was clearly not a Black Kite. I stopped the car and got out, and I could see this particular bird between some bushes, and I got excited. I got the binoculars on it, and sure enough, it was an Australian Bustard, a bird that I had especially wanted to see on this trip! Very exciting indeed. They are large birds, two or three feet tall, and I expected from how they look that they would always be on the ground, so I was really surprised to see that this bird, which I had seen flying originally, was a bustard. As I was watching it, wondering if it was too far away for a picture (marginal), it took off, and two other ones I hadn’t seen took off also and flew away. A minute or less later, another one took off from the other side of the road, crossed the road in front of me, and flew off with the others. Australian Bustard! A lifer, and a bird I had especially wanted to see on this trip! I was only twenty minutes into my drive, and I was off the Schneid. A trip bird and a lifer, to boot. Four of them, too. It was really interesting to see them flying, because they were good fliers, not what I would have expected at all from their appearance.
When I left Hughenden, going east and north, it wasn’t long before the country began to change. There were trees again, and everything was greener. I stopped at a lookout point at the crest of The Great Divide (analogous to our Rocky Mountains – rivers on one side flow east, and rivers on the other side flow west) and had my lunch, which was a ham and cheese sandwich (what else?) and some outrageously overpriced potato chips, with a Diet Coke. Diet Coke is outrageously overpriced, too, costing Au$2.50 and up, in individual cans, but I had bought a 30 pack for about Au$ 15, early in the trip, so it is affordable, though still twice as expensive as I pay at home in 12 packs (on sale, but the 30 pack was on sale, too). This crest of the Great Divide was all of about 1700 feet high. Such are the mountains of Australia – not very high. It is also interesting to me that the Great Divide is only about 150 miles from the east coast, in a country that is 3000 miles across. Seems very unbalanced to me. 95% of the country is west of the Divide.
After the Great Divide, I stopped at Pentland, a nice looking little wide spot on the highway, to visit the Pentland Cemetery. I had heard it was a place to look for Button-quail. I had seen Black-breasted Button-quail (BBBQ – see Rainbow Beach Ramblings), and these were supposedly Red-breasted Button-quail. I think. Anyway, I didn’t see them, and I didn’t see anything new at the wetlands adjacent to the cemetery, either.
As I approached Charters Towers, I saw a bird on the road in front of me. It looked black, and I figured it was another Black Kite or maybe a Raven. But, then I noticed that the tail was much too long for either of those birds. I started slowing down, and the bird ran off to the left side of the road. By the time I was where the bird was, it even spread its wings, showing a beautiful orange and black (or maybe dark brown) pattern. I knew immediately what it was – Pheasant Coucal. Another lifer that I had particularly wanted to see on this trip. So, I only added two birds to my trip list today, but both were lifers and both were ones I had especially wanted to see this time. It was a great birding day, considering that I mostly was just driving and not birding at all. I don’t imagine you noticed, but the last four birds I added to my trip list were also lifers. Totals now are 188 species for the trip, of which 26 are lifers.
So, tomorrow I plan to drive on into Townsville, where I plan to stay for four nights. I have a studio apartment booked there, on a small boat harbor. It sounds like a nice place. Broadband internet access is supposed to be available, but from what I have learned since I got here, it will probably cost me extra to use it. As I have mentioned before, the motels and other accommodation places have not yet caught on to what the American accommodation industry has realized. Over here, they are trying to make money off providing internet access, while in the US, it has moved on to be a competitive advantage – a way to get your business, not a profit center in itself. I find that interesting. It is part of a larger observation that I have made – the people here really don’t understand competition like we do in the US. Some of that is because we have a market that is 15 times as large (300 million people in the US, versus 20 million here). That means that in our larger market, there is much more competition, and that brings about a lot of differences, including service differences, and price differences. It is all very interesting for me to observe, as I travel around over here. I have traveled a little in Europe, and the same thing applies there. I believe that it is world-wide. Americans are competitive, in business and in other things, way beyond any other nationality. I think it comes from the nature of our population – we are an immigrant nation, and the people who immigrated to the US were the rebels, the independent ones, the ones who were willing to move halfway across the world to make a better life for themselves and their children. I would even say the smart ones, but that is probably controversial and not politically correct. That applies to all immigrants, in my opinion, from the first English ones to the Mexicans who sneak across the border today. They are the independent, aggressive (and smart, I think) people, the ones who are willing to take a chance and willing to work hard to get ahead. In my opinion, such is our national character.
How did I get off on all that stuff? Is this a travelogue or a political polemic? Tomorrow I hope to add at least one more species to my trip list. On Thursday, the plan is for me to meet up with Ken again. Ken? Who is Ken, you ask? If you consult your notes, you will see that Ken is the obliging Aussie birder who allowed me to stay at his house the 2nd and 3rd nights of my trip, in Mapleton. Ken and his family are in Townsville on holiday now, supposedly, and he used to live there. He offered to take me out birding, with another Aussie birder, on Thursday, from Townsville. So, I am hoping that Thursday is going to be a great day for adding to my list, since there should be a lot of new birds for me in the Townsville area, and since I would have two Aussie birders to show me birds. I am hoping it works out to go birding with Ken and his mate on Thursday.
I am staying tonight at the Cattleman’s Motel, here in Townsville. They have a restaurant attached, a steak house, big surprise. I plan to order dinner from room service, so as to avoid the 45 minute wait in the dining room, which seems required in Aussie restaurants. My problem is, do I order steak, or do I order chicken? Chicken is less expensive and better for me, no doubt, but does it really make sense to order chicken from a steak house at a motel called Cattleman’s? I may just have to go for a steak, and damn the expense and health issues.
Barry Downunder, almost back to the coast now
OK, I got room service, and I went for the cheapest steak on the menu, a rump steak, whatever that is. It was excellent, and I had the side order of veggies, which were also very good. I had the “Idaho” potato, which means “baked potato”, it turns out. All that cost about US $25, which is expensive by my standards, but in line with costs over here. Anyway, I am well fed and ready to head out tomorrow and see some more birds.