Thursday, October 14, 2010


One more night here in Stockton, across the mouth of the Hunter River from Newcastle.† Iíve already been over to the office tonight to get online, so this will have to go out tomorrow sometime, probably in the morning.


I slept well again last night.† The one time I got up to pee, it started raining just then, and I enjoyed hearing the rain on the roof as I fell back asleep.† I got up at about 6:15, and it rained quite heavily from about 6:30 until 7:30, but then it stopped.


I was away early this morning, about 7:45.† My first destination was Newcastle Beach, hoping that with the tide out, I could see Ruddy Turnstone and/or Eastern Reef Egret.† I dipped on both of those, as it turned out, but at the last minute, I did get a Whimbrel, a bird I see in California and a good one to add to my trip list.


After I gave up on the coast, I headed inland to the Hunter Wetland Centre.† I had been there yesterday, you might remember, but it was crowded and expensive, so I left without going in, although I did pick up Magpie Goose and Great Egret before I left.† Well, today I learned that the cost had gone up from $8.50 to $10 since the brochure I had was printed, but the lady at the desk asked me if I had any ďconcessionsĒ, which was her nice way of asking me if I was old.† I told her I was an old American guy, but didnít have an Aussie old personís card.† She accepted that and let me in for $6.50, to my pleased surprise.


I walked around the extensive grounds for several hours, walking two or three miles, seeing some birds, and taking some pictures.† The weather had cleared up nicely after the morning shower, and it was actually somewhat too warm for me, getting up to over 80 degrees F eventually.† After I made the rounds, I asked if I could go out to my car and get my lunch and get back in, and they let me do that, of course.† So, I ate my humble lunch (ham and cheese sandwich, diet coke, and potato chips) there at a table, looking out at the wetlands.† The best bird I saw at the Wetlands was Wandering Whistling-Duck, pictures in the next Photos.† I also saw a couple of Whistling Kites, raptors that I expect I will see a lot of along the way, but it is always good to notch up that first sighting of a trip.† I saw a Scaly-breasted Lorikeet in the parking lot, too.


After that, I headed north, taking a long way around back to my cabin.† Along the way I went by a McDonalds, so I stopped and used their free wi fi to catch up a little, as I hadnít gone online this morning before I left.† The wi fi worked fine, except it was very slow, which was frustrating.† Since I had already had my lunch, I didnít buy anything, although when I was leaving, I was thirsty, so I thought I would buy a diet coke.† No, I guess not - $2.90 for a large diet coke, and it was about the size of our mediums.† I had some diet coke in the car, and I chose to have one of those instead.† I had paid 10 bucks for a 12-pack, which is outrageously expensive as far as I am concerned, and that was a sale price, too, 3 bucks off normal.† I pay about 3 bucks at home for that same 12-pack, when it is on sale, and even the ridiculously expensive ďregularĒ price is only about 6 bucks.† Things are really expensive here.† I think I have already mentioned the 16 dollar six pack of beer Ė just ordinary cheap beer.† That is due to the very high tax on alcoholic beverages, but the diet coke is just plain expensive.† It isnít just coke.† All soft drinks are the same.† A 12 oz can at a convenience store here costs about $2.50, which is why I bought the 12-pack.


After my internet stop at McDís, I tried to find a way to get to the coast, to look for birds along the water, but it turned out to be impossible.† I followed one road in the right direction, kept going when the sign indicated 4WD drive access to the beach, went past the signs that said you needed a special permit to drive on the beach, and finally ended up at some sand dunes and was still half a mile or more from the actual water.† I gave up at that point, not being willing to drive (or walk) over loose sand, even in my little All Wheel Drive vehicle.† Another place looked promising, but it turned out to be a housing development that was still under construction, and there didnít seem to be any actual beach access there, either.


So, it was getting to be about 3 PM by then, and I stopped at my local spot under the Stockton Bridge, to see if anything was there.† I have seen a number of good birds there.† Right away I saw what seemed to be two new species, although one of them turned out to be a false alarm.† Still, I added Little Egret to my trip list.† In a little while, another birder came along, and we chatted.† He told me that soon some Bar-tailed Godwits ought to fly in, and he was there to study them.† He gathers their poo and it is analyzed for some study.† He watches them for an hour or so until they fly away, and then he goes and collects his samples.† The things people do are just amazing.† Who would have ever dreamed that there was a person who was gathering Bar-tailed Godwit poo, on a regular basis?† I have no idea what the study is meant to prove; I should have asked.


Anyway, while we were talking a huge flock of Bar-tailed Godwits approached the beach, but they didnít land.† He estimated there were 800 in the flock.† I would have said maybe 300, but what do I know?† As it turned out, the flock flew around over the river for the next 45 minutes, never landing anywhere.† He said he had never seen anything like it in his long career as a birder, dating back to 1969.† But, they flew close enough several times for me get a positive ID on them, so Bar-tailed Godwit went on my trip list today.† He gave me some tips on my drive tomorrow, and I finally left about 4:15 or so.


I stopped one more place, though, one that had been mentioned in one of the ďbirding routesĒ brochures I had downloaded from the local birding club.† To my great surprise, there were a few birds roosting there, waiting for the tide to go out so they could go back to feeding.† I identified Grey-tailed Tattler and Pacific Golden Plover, both of which were new to my trip list.† I took a lot of pictures, none of which are very good, but they are good enough to verify the identification, and I emailed them to the local birder who I have hired as a guide for Sunday, to hopefully confirm my IDís.† Shorebirds (or, waders, as the Aussieís call them) are difficult to identify, and not just for me, so I would like confirmation, to save embarrassment when I put the pictures up in the next Photos.


My count for the day was another 8 species, bringing me up to 121 total for the trip.† That is pretty pathetic, really, for 8 days of birding here, although most of my Sydney time wasnít really spent birding.† Slowly, slowly, my total creeps up.


So, I finally got ďhomeĒ at about 4:45, which made for another long day (started at 7:45, you might remember).†† I know, real hard-core birders go out for much longer than that, but very few of them are birding for 45 days in a row, either.† I need to pace myself.† Besides, I am old, fat, and out of shape.


So, now I head out for a couple of days of rainforest birding.† Iíll be traveling mostly tomorrow, with one or two stops, and then try it on my own on Saturday, followed by a day of paid guiding on Sunday.† After that, Iíll leave the coastal rainforests behind and move into the interior of Australia, for a series of very different kinds of birding adventures.


Newcastle hasnít produced the numbers of birds that I had hoped for.† I tried to connect with a local birder to take me out, but didnít succeed.† I obviously could have made different decisions about where to go around here, but Newcastle is a city, and I need to get out into rural Australia.† I had considered hiring a guide here, but didnít.† I did get around quite a bit, and that is satisfying in itself.† I will always have a mental picture of Newcastle, and I like that.† A big part of being the Old Rambler is to ramble around on my own, seeing what I can see, and I did that here.


Iíll see if I can get this up on the website tomorrow morning, and maybe tomorrow night I can get the next Photos up, so as to not fall too far behind.