October 19, 2010


The Willie Retreat

MacQuarie Marshes, New South Wales


Well, I don’t have an internet connection, and I’m eager to process my pictures from today (which I’ve had a quick look at), but I’m even more eager to write about my great day.  It was one of those incredible ones – a day for the gods.


This morning I did my last internet stuff for a couple of days, and I didn’t get on the road until about 9:15.  I got some cash before I left town.  I think I mentioned in the last Ramblings that my ATM card had been declined, and last night I had sent a message to my bank, using their online banking website.  Well, they came through and I had a reply this morning when I got up.  They told me that they thought my cash request had been declined because I had asked for more than the $300 a day I am limited to.  Well, that wasn’t a good answer, because I had specifically increased my limit before I left, and I already got $500 one day in Sydney.  Nonetheless, I did try it again this morning, for $300, and it worked fine.  At least they were responsive to my question.  They asked how long I might be in Australia, and I told them that.  I think it was the request coming from nowhereville, Australia that caused it to be declined, frankly.


I motored on up the road to the little town of Coonamble and filled my tank there, as that was the last decent sized place I would be for a while.  By decent sized, I mean it might have had a couple of hundred residents.  I saw two gas stations there, because it is at a junction of two highways.


Soon after that I had my first trip bird for the day, Black Kite.  I saw a lot of them in 2008, but only saw two today.  That was soon followed by White-necked Heron, Yellow-billed Spoonbill, Brown Falcon, and my first Emu of the trip.  It was like seeing old friends.  Not uncommon birds, but ones I hadn’t seen yet this year.


In the tiny “town” of Quambone, I picked up Grey-crowned Babbler (picture) and Rainbow Bee-eater (pictures).  It was at that point that I had to decide on my route for the day.  The “birdiest” and more interesting route would have taken me across an unpaved road called Gibson’s Way.  Last night I had called the place I was heading for (the Willie Retreat, which is a whole story unto itself, to come later), and talked to Myra, the owner.  She had told me that there was water over the road at Monkeygar Creek, and I was chicken to attempt that, so I only went as far as a place called Sandy Camp, which was about 10 miles west of the main road.  As it turned out, to my surprise, the “main road” was also unpaved, though, for about 35 miles.


I had a good idea where the roads went, but wasn’t sure, so I stopped when I came on a couple of road workers using graders to grade the unpaved road.  They had stopped for a chat, or maybe for lunch, so I stopped and talked to them about the roads.  They said that crossing Monkeygar Creek would be no big deal in my all wheel drive car, but I was leery, as Aussies are confirmed optimists.  “It’ll be right, mate” is their motto.  Their attitude is to “give it a go”.  I asked about an alternative route, and they confirmed what I thought, that I could go to Sandy Camp and then go north and connect back to the so-called main road to Carinda.


Sandy Camp was really great, as I had read.  There was a swamp area near there (there is water everywhere this year, and everything is extremely green), and I found a few more familiar birds for my trip list – Plumed Whistling-Ducks (which I had not really expected to see, as this must be the southern end of their range), Black-winged Stilt, Nankeen Night Heron (an excellent one to get so early in the trip), and Jacky Winter, an old friend that I always have trouble identifying until I figure him out each time.


I had my humble lunch there, a roast beef and cheese sandwich, potato chips, and some cookies.  After that, I headed north, chickening out on Gibson’s Way, as I mentioned.  I picked up more trip birds, including Black-tailed Native-hen, Spotted Bowerbird (an excellent uncommon bird to get, and one I had only seen once before, in 2008), and my first Peaceful Doves of the trip.  The road seemed to go on and on.  I hadn’t actually mapped it, but it seemed like I drove for 50 miles.  I was heading north, which was the direction I wanted to go, and the two road workers had confirmed that this road would eventually connect to the main road, so I just plunged onward.  The road, though unpaved, wasn’t bad at all, and I could usually go about 50 mph.  There were cattle, some sheep, and a house or a driveway to a house every several miles, so it wasn’t exactly outback, but I didn’t meet any other cars or see any people for an hour.   As it turned out, it was only 35 kilometers, which is only about 21 miles, but it seemed at least twice that far to me.


Once on the main road, I could go 60 mph or more, even though it was unpaved, so I was soon in Carinda.  Talk about small towns.  They don’t even seem like towns, although Carinda did have a pub and a gas station.  I filled up with gas, even though I only needed a quarter of a tank.  Cash only.  This is the boondocks, folks.  From there, it was a paved road, only about 40 miles, to the Willie Retreat.


But, the birding excitement wasn’t over yet.  I saw a couple of birds perched on dead trees that I couldn’t ID as I drove past, so I turned back.  I got good looks at them with my binoculars, but couldn’t really identify them.  They looked like some kind of cuckoo, but I couldn’t figure out which one.  I got a number of good pictures, and when I got here to my accommodations, I pulled out both my field guides and compared my pictures to the guides.  The birds were Black-eared Cuckoos.  An uncommon bird, and a lifer for me!  When I get internet access again, I’ll send a couple of pictures to Mick, for confirmation, but I’m convinced they were Black-eared Cuckoos, so I’ll identify them as such in the next Photos.  I hope I don’t have to eat my words.


When I arrived here, I was greeted by White-plumed Honeyeaters, very common birds, but ones I had not yet caught up with on this trip.  That brought me to an amazing 18 species for my trip list for the day, including my one lifer.  Quite an amazing day of birding, it seems to me, especially since I was mainly just traveling from one place to another.  I saw tons of good birds I had already counted on this trip, too.  It makes me wonder what there is left for me to see here.


The Willie Retreat is a very interesting place, I think.  A couple by the names of Myra and Phil Tolhurst owned it for about 27 years.  Phil passed away within the last year, and now Myra operates it, which the help of family members, I think.  It is a “station”, which means ranch, and they have worked over the years to restore native vegetation and encourage the birds and other wildlife.  They provide accommodation of various types.  You can camp, you can park your trailer or recreational vehicle, you can stay in the “bunk house”, or you can rent Caroline’s Cabin, which they just started renting in this last year.  That is what I am doing.  It is a single wide trailer, with a kitchen, and shower, but no toilet.  The toilet facilities are in an adjoining trailer, and are shared with the campers, bunkhouse people, and trailer/recreational vehicle people.  I haven’t been in there yet, and it will be interesting to see what it is like.  At least it is very close to my “cabin”.  I’ll take time out now to go check it out, so I can give a report here.


I’m pleased to report that it is just fine, and only 20 steps away from my door.  In the “Rams” trailer (as opposed to the adjacent “Ewes” trailer), there is a urinal and two toilet stalls, along with several showers and a washing machine.  The toilets are water filled flush toilets, and it smells fresh and completely acceptable to me, and I am hyper-sensitive to bad smells.  It is much, much better than my worst fears, and is even much better than my best hopes.  Another victory for this exceptional day.  It is still kind of weird having a shower and sink, but no toilet, but it will be fine.


There were some small ice cubes in the fridge here, which is great.  Ice has been much, much less of a problem than it has been on earlier trips – so far, at least.  Either things are changing here, or I have just been lucky so far.  Anyway, I had a rum drink, and now I am drinking some of the box wine I got in Gilgandra last night.  I have to ration the rum, anyway, as it is so expensive.


It was warm when I got here, high 70’s outside and about 80 here in the trailer, but it is down to 76 in here now, and I have a fan running, which makes it perfectly comfortable.  I suspect it is going to get damn cold tonight, though.  There is an oil-based electric heater, and I think I will probably fire that up later, when it gets cold enough.  Pretty soon I should close the windows to conserve the heat.


While I was out walking around a little while ago, a guy who is staying in a trailer next door (it isn’t clear to me if it is his trailer, or if it is one that the place rents out) came over and we talked about the Gibson’s Way route that I wimped out on today.  He had come across there in a Suburu (which is why I don’t think the trailer he is staying in is his, although I didn’t know they rented out trailers here, as accommodations).  He said the water over the road at Monkeygar Creek was “only” 16 inches deep (0.4 meters), and he had no problem.  He was sure that my Rav4 would be even better, and I wouldn’t have any problem at all.  There is an elevated bird hide across the creek from there, and supposedly tons of birds to observe from there, so I will go look at the creek tomorrow and I suspect I will attempt it.  16 inches of running water sounds pretty daunting to me, but I think I am being really over-cautious about it.  We will see.  I’ll take pictures, one way or the other.


So, that’s my story for now.  This won’t get posted for a couple of days, of course.  I’m up to 171 species for the trip now, with 5 of those lifers.  We’ll see if there is anything else around here to get tomorrow.  Time to make myself some dinner now.  I think I’ll open one of my smoked chicken breast packs and heat up the chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy entrée thing I bought.  It will be interesting to see what it is like, since it is not refrigerated.


What a life!