Thursday Evening

Wow, I’ve just come off one of my greatest birding days ever, and I’ll try to do justice to it here, but first I want to flash back to Charters Towers yesterday morning and catch up chronologically.

I was up fairly early, as always on the trip so far, and I nipped out to McDonalds to get some brekkie, and I brought it back to my room to eat it.  I did some internet stuff, using dial up, and I got away about 9 or so.  I had kind of delayed because I had seen an Optometrist shop in town, and I wanted to see if I could get my glasses fixed (see Ramblings 16).  Yes, they fixed them right up and didn’t charge me anything.  Good deal.  I was on the road by 9:30, with only a 90 minute drive in front of me.

Fairly soon, I picked up Wedge-tailed Eagle for my trip list.  It is amazing that I hadn’t seen one before this, but at least I finally did see one.  A magnificent bird.  Usually you see them soaring around high up in the sky, but this one had been feasting at a road kill, with Black Kites, and I got a good look at him as he flew up into a nearby tree, to wait for me to pass, so he could go back to his meal.

I stopped at a birding site about 30 kilometers (18 miles) from Townsville, because I had read in two places that interesting birds had been seen there, including some finches I had never seen.  Well, I spent an hour or more in the area, and I never saw any interesting finches, but I did pick up a trip bird, Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo, and then I saw a lifer as well, Blue-winged Kookaburra.  There were other birds around there, but they were all ones I had already seen on the trip.

I did see an interesting lizard there, though.  I took a lot of pictures of him.  He was on the road, soaking up the sun (such as there was, it was intermittently cloudy and threatening rain).  He was maybe two feet long, and he was sitting up with his head well elevated.  See the next Photos for at least one picture of him.  He had what looked like a frill on his neck, although it wasn’t extended.  I have since learned it is indeed called a Frill-necked Lizard.  The most surprising thing to me, though is when he finally moved along a ways.  He got up on his hind legs, tucked his front legs back by his side, and ran on two legs, standing almost upright, head held high.  He kind of wobbled back and forth as he ran.  It was a big surprise to me.  I tried to get a picture of him doing it, but I don’t think any came out; he was too quick for me.  I haven’t looked at them yet, though, and maybe I have a partial shot of him running upright.

After the lizard, there were some lorikeets chasing a couple of larger birds around, and I would have liked to look more, and try to identify the two species, but about then it started to rain, so I moved along.  It really poured for about ten or fifteen minutes, but then it stopped, and that was all the rain I saw that day.  The rain washed some of the mud from the muddy tracks at Bowra off my car.

I went on in to Townsville and found my apartment building.  My room wasn’t ready yet, so I drove around, to orient myself to the neighborhood and the downtown area.  I got gas (petrol) and stopped at the Visitor Information place and got a map of Townsville, since I will be here for four nights.  I also located the local Woolworths (for groceries) and a local liquor store (for beer).  Townsville is a small city, with a population over 100,000, so it is a very different environment for me to be in, compared to all the out of the way places I have been until now.  The city has a definite subtropical feel to it, reminiscent of Hawaii, but without the big city feel of Honolulu.  Cairns is about the same size and has that feel even more, as I remember from 2002, my first trip.  In 2002, I only stayed in Townsville one night, and I didn’t do any birding around here, so all the places I will visit in the next couple of days will be new to me.

I went back and my room was ready, so I checked in and moved all my stuff up to the 8th floor, where I have a nice view out over a small boat harbor.  They had luggage carts, which was a huge help, with all my stuff I travel with.  I settled in a little and went out and got groceries and beer, then settled in to my new digs for the night.  This is probably the nicest place I will stay on this trip, and I enjoy being in a nice place.  They do indeed have wireless internet access, and they do indeed charge extra for it, as I had expected.  I paid Au$50 (about US$43) for four days of access.  Expensive, but the internet is so important to me when I travel this long, I decided to go with it, and not mess with dial up, which would have cost me Au$1.00 each time I dialed in, for the phone call, as well as for the actual time.  It is very nice to just have access all the time, like at home.

My buddy Ken from south Queensland called me about 6:30, as planned, and told me the plans for the next day (today, that is).  It turned out that there were four of us birding together today.  I was a little apprehensive because they are all expert Aussie birders, and I am just the opposite, but it all worked out great.  They picked me up at 7:30 this morning, and we headed on out.  My companions were Ken, John, and Jo.  Jo is the author of a book I bought for this trip, about where to look for birds in North Queensland, so I was birding with the elite today.  We took her car, as it turned out, but John and Ken took turns driving.

The first place we went was out to the place where I had spent over an hour and not seen any finches and had only picked up two new species, the place where the Frill-necked Lizard was.  It was earlier in the day, which is a big difference, but I also had some expert birders with me this time.  We didn’t see the Blue-winged Kookaburra or the Red-tailed Black-Cockatoos that I had seen the day before, but I added six species to my trip list, of which 4 were lifers.  A great start to the day.  Two of the lifers were finch species I had tried to see there, too – Chestnut-breasted Mannikin and Black-throated Finch.  I’m not going to list all the lifers, let alone the trip birds for the day, as there were too many to list here.  I’ll only mention a few highlights.

We moved on, in a pattern we kept up all day.  Drive to an area, then drive along slowly and listen and look for birds, stopping when we saw or heard something, and also stopping at places that they knew of from previous trips through the area.  I like that type of birding, because I am too old and too out of shape to go crashing around through the bush all day, especially in the heat.  It was comfortable in the morning, probably in the 70’s, but by the afternoon I was feeling the heat, which was maybe low 80’s.  The mozzies (mosquitoes) showed up in the afternoon, too.

I just kept seeing great new birds all day long, and our “day list” that we were keeping kept rising.  They weren’t new for the trip for me, but we saw Brolgas in a number of places – those are the large cranes that I had pictures of in a previous Photos.  I took more pictures today, as I really like Brolgas.  We also saw Australian Bustards in several places, and I got some pictures of one of them, if they turn out.  We stopped in a tiny village and got some lunch.  I had a Steakburger, which is a hamburger made with a thin piece of steak.  It had a number of things on it, including sliced beets, which is normal over here, but I have never seen in the States.  Everyone had some snacky things along, and we each snacked as the day went along.  I had prudently made a ham and cheese sandwich for myself this morning, which got me from my early brekkie to lunch.  For brekkie, I had heated up a chicken and veggie pie from Woolies, and that made a good start for the day.  I had a tangerine, too, and a couple of slices of cheese.

Perhaps the best bird of the day was a Yellow White-eye.  We all got excellent looks at this little beauty.  There were at least 3 or 4 of them, and none of the others had seen them this far north before.  It wasn’t even on my list of possible birds to see on the trip, as they are generally not seen in the places I am going, except for this small population near where we were today, and even then, these were 15 or 20 miles farther north than anyone there today had seen them before.  So, it was an excellent bird for all of us, and I am very pleased to have gotten such a great look at one.

So, anyway, by the time we headed for home about 4 PM, the group Day List had grown to about 109 or 110 species.  I hadn’t seen all of those, but I imagine I saw over 100 for the day.  That made it my third 100 plus day, all of which have been when I was with Aussie birders.  I added 24 to my trip list, of which 12 were lifers.  Outstanding results, way more than I had hoped for.  That brings my total to 215 for the trip, of which 39 are lifers.  It will keep getting harder and harder to add species, but I will have some expert help in a week or so, in Cairns, and there are a lot of new ones up there to go for.  So, I am feeling optimistic about my lists.

So, that is my story of my great day of Aussie birding.  Now I have 8 days on my own again, in new areas, with lots of things to try for.  We’ll see how I do in those 8 days.  Then I have parts of three days in a row scheduled to bird with Aussies, in Cairns, and that should give me another good boost.  So, the trip goes on.

The trip has passed the halfway point now, though only just barely.  I still have lots of great birding left, and great country to see.  In 2002, I visited most of the general areas I will visit for the rest of the trip, and that will cut down the lifers I can see, but I know a lot more about Aussie birding this time, and I have a lot more information about specifically where to look and what to look for than I had back then.  Much of that is because there is so much information available on the internet these days, but Jo’s book will also help a lot this time round.  The two birders I am supposed to bird with in Cairns, and the half day I have booked with a guide near the end of the trip will also be really helpful, I am sure.

It might be a couple of days before I post another Ramblings, but maybe I can get a Photos up tomorrow night.

Barry Downunder, after a really great day of Aussie birding