October 17, 2010


Dungog, NSW


Today was my big day of birding with a hired guide, Mick.† I slept well, despite the too-firm bed, was up at 5:45, and Mick was here right on time at 6:30.† For brekkie, I had the last of my smoked chicken breasts, a piece of buttered (well, it was actually canola oil spread) bread, and a mandarin orange.† I was ready to go by 6:30, except I ate the last few bites of my breakfast in the car.


The idea today was to go up into the rainforest, but first we had to drive through a lot of farm and cattle grazing land.† It was an incredible morning, weather-wise, and very beautiful country.† A bit chilly, but sunny and none of the high winds we had had for the last couple of days.† The best day of my trip so far, weather-wise, without a doubt.


Almost right away, we got onto Striated Pardalote and Channel-billed Cuckoo, which is a bird I had particularly wanted to see.† We had great views of both, and then distant flying views of Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoos.† A great start to the day.† Iíve got to make an effort to get out birding earlier, at least in some of the places I visit.† I really miss a lot by getting going so late (well, early by my home standards, but late by real birding standards).


Today was a very ďbirdyĒ day.† Some of that was because we started so early, some of it was because of the places we visited, some of it was because I had Mick to spot birds and help me identify them, and some of it was due to the fantastic weather today.† The differences in the rainforests, compared to yesterday, were huge, and it was largely due to the weather.† Yesterday was extremely windy.


We visited various sites, and got onto some very good birds.† Regent Bowerbird (male) was super.† Both Spectacled and Black-faced Monarchs were good.† Not uncommon birds, but ones I needed help with.† Rufous Fantail (maybe a picture in the next Photos).† Incredibly close and prolonged views of two Superb Lyrebirds, which I had seen before, but hopefully I got some good pictures of today.† Three scrubwrens (Yellow-throated, White-browed, and Large-billed), which I needed help with.† A couple of thornbills (Striated and Yellow) that I appreciated help with.† That brings my thornbill count to four, with one or two more to go.


I had some problems with my camera today.† I donít know what was wrong, but it seemed like the light metering function was screwed up.† Exposures were stupid, and I had to keep over-riding the settings with manual adjustments.† Sometimes it worked fine, and other times it was screwy.† At the end of the day, it seemed to be working ok, so weíll see how it goes from here.† As a result, Iím not sure which of my pictures today will come out, and it was a continual hassle all day long.† Ironically, I had considered buying a new camera for the trip.† I had had a new camera for each of my first four Aussie trips, but this time I decided to keep using the old one.† I hope it works fine from now on, but I am worried.


We stopped at Barrington House (cabins for rent), a classic birding site, and talked to a guy there who gave us permission to access the trails through their property.† We were looking for some classic rainforest birds, and we found two of the three of them Ė Logrunner (possible picture) and Noisy Pitta.† The pitta was just a fly by, but it was a great view of a very colorful bird.† In 2008, I had seen one on the ground, but seeing one flying really showed off its colors.† By the way, I may intersperse some of Mickís pictures from today.† He has a hugely more sophisticated camera and lens setup than I do, and he said he would email me some of the good pictures he got.† Iíll identify his pictures by putting his name (Mick) in the file name.† Youíd be able to tell anyway, theyíll be the good pictures.† Iím quite happy with the pictures I get with my inexpensive and small-sized camera, but they canít compare to ďrealĒ pictures from a ďrealĒ camera.† Mickís setup undoubtedly cost several times as much as mine, and weighs several times as much.† Iím sure his pictures are many times as good as mine, as a result.


We had lunch in a beautiful spot on a ridge, a place that has been good for Paradise Riflebird, a potential lifer for me.† Mick played some calls on his car CD player, and we did hear some responses, but nothing close.† It was a nice place to eat our lunch (pictures to follow), and I got pictures of a green flying insect there, one that Mick said was a cicada called a Green Grocer.†


I was also pleased to see European Honey Bees there, and again later at another site.† Australia is the last country on earth that has wild European Honey Bees still.† They have been almost wiped out in the wild everywhere else by either a parasite or by a still unknown cause (whole hives die off, and they donít know why yet).† I watched a documentary on the subject on the plane flight over.† The European Honey Bee is the most important crop pollinator in the world, and in every country but Australia, they almost only exist still in commercial hives.† I know I very rarely see one at home these day; almost all the bees are bumblebees and other native American bees.† I think the European Honey Bee is the only bee that builds hives; I know the native American ones live singly, not in hives.† So, it was nice to see wild European Honey Bees here, in two places.† The documentary showed them exporting European Honey Bees by the many millions from Australia to the USA.† It is hard to imagine container loads of bees sailing across the Pacific Ocean, to pollinate American orchards and fields, but that is what is going on.† Because of the parasite in America, most of the hives wonít survive a year, but they will do their job pollinating our crops in the meantime, then die.


Meanwhile, back at our lunch site, Mick had wandered up the road, looking for the riflebird.† He called me up the road, and we looked for a while, playing the call on his mp3 player, and he even saw one (a male) fly across the road, but I couldnít ever see it.† Back at the car, we were getting ready to go, when a female Paradise Riflebird flew in, and we got incredibly good views of it.† The male is all black, but with patterns of blue-black, and the female is brown and black and grayish.†† I hope I got some pictures; it was a beautiful bird.† It has a long, down-curved bill, and I think the female is maybe prettier than the male, although I havenít ever actually seen a male, except in pictures.† It was my only lifer of the day, and I was very pleased.


From there, we tried other places and kept seeing birds, some new and some ones I had seen before on this trip.† Some of the good ones we saw were Rose Robin, Topknot Pigeon, Wompoo Fruit-Dove (pictures, I hope), and White-headed Pigeon (pictures almost for sure). †I should have some pictures of Satin Bowerbirds, both male and female, too.


Wow, I just realized as I wrote this, looking at my list for the day, that I had forgotten to write down two of the real highlights of the day!† What an oversight!† At one of our stops, we saw two raptors in the sky above.† They were two goshawks.† Brown Goshawk, which I had seen only once before, way back on my first Aussie trip in 2002, and Grey Goshawk, which I had never seen.† We had great views of both of them, flying overhead.† So, I had two lifers today, not one, as I reported above - the Paradise Riflebird and the Grey Goshawk.† Fantastic.


So, all in all, I added 26 species to my trip list today, two of which were lifers.† That brings me to 152 for the trip, of which 4 have been lifers.† Last night, I had told myself that 6 new trip birds today would be ok, and 12 would be great.† What can I say about 26?† It was a fantastic day of birding, a definite highlight of my trip.† Thanks very much, Mick.


So, on to housekeeping issues.† I had my last smoked chicken breast for brekkie today, and I had a thick ham and cheese sandwich I had made myself for my lunch.† I was worried about dinner, but then I remembered the three slices of pizza left from last night, so that has been the heart of my dinner, along with some nuts, while I have been typing this, followed by the last of my chocolate-orange cookies.† This morning I turned the fridge down, and today managed to make enough ice to handle one and a half drinks, and I had my last beer, so Iím not alcohol deprived.† I got online with my dialup program and caught up on email.† Iíll go back online and see if I can get this up tonight, and maybe I will even work on some of my pictures from today, or maybe I will just read until bedtime and do the photo work tomorrow evening.† Iím guessing it will be tomorrow night; this was a big day.


Tomorrow I have a five hour drive, which sounds really easy by American Interstate standards, but it will all be on two lane roads, and Iíll struggle to stay awake and alert all the time.† Iíll probably resort to coffee, my stay-awake miracle drug of choice.† The only problem will be finding a place to get some, unless I decide to use the electric teapot here to heat water and make a slug of instant coffee to take with me.† I might do that, and I could always drink it cold later, if I needed to.† I have a plastic jar thing, with a lid, bought in Sydney, which I could use to carry it in.† I can get some milk over at the office; they offered it to me when I checked in, but I declined.


Tomorrow I leave the east coast and head inland.† I missed a lot of the east coast birds I might have seen, but I also saw a lot that I thought were low percentage chances.† When I get time, Iíll go through my spreadsheet and see how I am doing.† My impression is that I am doing well compared to my expectations, but Iíll need to examine the numbers closely to really know.† Certainly the trip so far has exceeded my expectations in terms of enjoyment, and that is the most important thing anyway.† I will move into the next stage tomorrow Ė the inland of New South Wales, a new area for me, and in a year in which it has had more rain that it has had for at least 15 years, and probably a lot more.† The real Adventure part of the trip still lies ahead of me.


One other note that occurs to me Ė an additional reason Iím really glad that I hired Mick today is because the roads we were on today, many of them unpaved, were not signed well, and I would have had a hell of a time trying to get around.† It makes me wonder about the rest of my trip, but I donít think it is going to be as much of an issue as today would have been.


So, thatís my report for today.† I think I will get this up on the website, put a note up on Facebook, and read until it is time to go to sleep, which will be less than an hour from now.


What a life!