Thursday, October 28, 2010


Ouyen, Victoria


Well, I had a rather different kind of day today, and I’ll tell you all about it, later in the program.  (I learned that trick from TV news.)


I slept fairly well last night, despite the hard bed here, and I was up at 5:45.  It is still completely dark at that time here.  I had made my breakfast and lunch sandwiches last night, so I managed to get out of here at 6:45.  That sounds like a long time, but I needed to check my email and take care of the rest of my morning necessities.


There were three routes I could have taken this morning, to get to Wyperfeld National Park, where I wanted to go today, and I chose the most direct one, although Google Maps didn’t prefer it.  It turned out to be another case where Google Maps was just plain wrong, and the route I chose was fine.  It was paved all the way, and I was able to go 55 to 60 mph, even while being cautious about kangaroos.


I had expected that the biggest bird I would see on this trip was Emu, but as I approached the park, there was an Ostrich in a field next to the road, bigger than life.  I don’t know if it was “wild” or not, of course.  There was a fence around the field, but I don’t know how high a fence is needed to keep an ostrich inside it.  Emus get over fences by running at them and hitting them at full speed while jumping, and flopping over them.  I don’t know if ostriches do that or not.  Just this week, there was a big discussion on my Aussie birding mailing list about ostriches, and whether they could be “counted” or not.  It seems that there were a lot of ostrich farms back in the 90’s for a while, and when the businesses never took off, they just turned the ostriches loose, and the birds have survived and reproduced in various places in the country.  Birders count “feral” birds (that is, ones that are turned loose, are introduced, or escape and breed on their own) after a period of time, and it is always a point of discussion which ones can be “counted” and which ones can’t.  For the record, I am not going to count the ostrich, but it is still the biggest bird I have seen on the trip.


So, I found my way to Wyperfeld National Park.  I had visited the park in 2004, but not this part of it.  There is a southern part and a northern part, and I had visited the southern part then and now was visiting the northern part.  It is not mallee, but is open forest with grasslands.  I found it much more attractive than the mallee scrub areas of Hattah-Kulkyne.  It was a beautiful sunny day, with temperatures in the 50’s when I started, getting up to the low 80’s eventually, by the middle of the afternoon.  The flies weren’t as bad as in the mallee, but they were bothersome once it warmed up.


I started off by going down the Meridian Track, heading for Casuarina Campground, where there were supposedly several species I could use.  I was skeptical, of course, as they always talk about all the great birds that have been seen at a place, at one time or another, but that doesn’t mean they will be there when you are there.  The Meridian Track is unpaved, but is a very good dirt road that any car could use with no problem.


I got some pictures along the way, but no new birds.  My biggest hope for the day was for Striped Honeyeater, which supposedly is usually around the Casuarina Campground in the spring.  Well, not this year, it turns out, at least not today.  There was one campsite being used, and they packed up and left soon after I arrived.  I’m afraid I don’t get this camping thing, but some people obviously like it a lot, and good for them, I say.  I’m more of a motel kind of guy, though.  As Christina says, her idea of roughing it is when the ice machine is out of order at the Holiday Inn.  I’m with her on that.


I walked around the campground area, looking for birds, and there wasn’t anything around.  So, I walked up the track a little, and I did get a little action.  A group of babblers came through, and I tried to make them out to be Chestnut-crowned Babblers, which I still need, but decided they were only White-browed Babblers, which I had seen before.  I did manage to get one very poor photo, which I guess I will include in Photos14, as I don’t think I have any other pictures of this species yet.  They are attractive birds, but they jump around constantly, so are hard to photograph.


Then I hit the jackpot, though, and saw some Splendid Fairy-wrens.  That was my second most likely candidate for a trip list bird for the day.  I had great looks at both males and females, and then got a whole bunch of pictures that I really like.  There are nine species of Fairy-wrens over here, and this one is arguably the most attractive (especially if you like blue).  I plan to put a number of pictures in Photos14, as I like them so much.  So, I had my trip bird for the day by 9:30, and now I could relax and just enjoy the beautiful day.


But, wait, I promised that today was different, and I would tell you all the details.  And, I will.  But you will have to wait just a little bit longer.


After the fairy-wrens, I wandered around a bit more, then got back in the car and drove a little farther down the Meridian track.  I saw some little birds in the road, and got some pictures of Southern Whiteface, a bird I had seen several times earlier in the trip, but had never been able to photograph.  After a while, I decided to turn back, and to head for a place called the Pine Plains Lodge, mainly because it sounded like the tracks would be pretty good on that route, and also because I thought I might find a place there to eat my humble lunch.


On the way I noticed the first of the locusts.  I have been hearing about the locust plague on the TV and radio.  They are spraying, and that is controversial, of course, but these little devils can devastate a field of crops, evidently.  This was the first time I have encountered them.  They were hopping across the road in places, just these little dots, moving together.  I got some pictures.  Most were only about half an inch long, but some were more like an inch, and I understand that they will all get at least that big, once full-grown.  Frankly, they kind of gave me the creeps.  I wouldn’t have wanted to walk through a patch of them, although I’m sure they wouldn’t hurt you – they just seemed creepy somehow.  I didn’t even like stopping the car in the middle of a patch of them.  Spray the hell out of them, I say.  I have seen helicopters on my trip, and have been told that they are up there spraying.


I decided to take a shortcut to Pine Plains Lodge, and it involved a track called the Wool Track.  It looked to only be about 2 miles, and would cut off 4 or 5 miles of the better tracks.  It was ok for my high-clearance All Wheel Drive vehicle, but I wouldn’t have wanted to do it in a conventional 2 WD car.  I had to straddle muddy ruts in places, and it was sandy in other places.  I needed the high clearance of my car, too.  I don’t like it when there is long grass growing in the middle of the track – I’m afraid that it will catch on fire from my exhaust pipe, especially when I have to stop in it.  Anyway, the Wool Track did save me some time, but there was an added bonus.  I saw a number of Australian Pipits along that track.  They kept flying up and landing on the track in front of me.  Then, suddenly there were a couple of birds, and they obviously were not pipits.  They were button-quail, two of them.  They flew ahead and landed on the track, then scurried off to each side.  The only ID I could get on them was that they had white on their tails.  As it turned out, that was enough.  Only one of the two species of button-quail that is found at Wyperfeld has white on its tail – Little Button-quail.  Score!  A surprise lifer for me.  In my spreadsheet, I had that species at only a 20% chance of seeing on the trip.  The day was shaping up great – two species so far, and one of them a lifer, plus a number of pictures that I thought I would like.


We still aren’t to the “different” part of the day, but we are getting closer, so stay tuned.


Soon after that, I saw a couple of parrots fly across the road and land in a tree that was maybe 50 yards off the track.  I got out my scope and they were Regent Parrots, which I had not photographed yet.  So, I slowly made my way across the grassland, taking pictures from time to time as I advanced.  As it turned out, they were remarkably stable and didn’t fly away.  I got some really nice pictures of the male and will include a couple in Photos14.


So, now we are coming to the unusual part of my day.  The Pine Plains Lodge turns out to be an incredible lodge that a couple has built in the middle of the national park.  They lived there for many years before the national park even came into existence, and when the park was opened, they built this lodge.  This was in the 90’s.  The lodge is built with hand-hewn logs from the local native pine trees, and they have finished it wonderfully.  It has three double bedrooms and two or three bunk rooms, so it can handle a group.  There are separate male and female shower and toilet facilities, and a great kitchen and two living areas, each with a big fireplace.  There is also a wonderful covered BBQ area out back, and another place for an open fire, with seating around it.  Everything is furnished really nice and is clean and orderly like you wouldn’t believe.


But, I kind of skipped over how I learned all of this.  They have a sign out front that says inspections are welcome, and to call at the homestead.  So, I drove up the homestead, and when Susan came out, introduced myself and said I would like to see the lodge.  Not at all characteristic of me, but that is what I did.  She was really gracious and was more than glad to show me what she was obviously very proud of.  Later I met her husband, Adrian, and he is a real Aussie outbacker type guy.  They are a really classic Australian outback couple, about 70 years old, I would guess.


After Susan showed me around, in great detail, I asked if I could sit somewhere on their place and eat my lunch.  She then invited me to have lunch with them and some friends that were due to arrive any minute.  Very uncharacteristically of me, I accepted.  Oh yes, there was another wrinkle, too.  She was also expecting a group of 25 schoolkids to show up any time.  They had booked the lodge for the night.


So, the kids showed up before the friends did – 25 of them, with 4 adults, which consisted of three teachers and one mum.  Susan went off to get them settled, and left me to introduce myself to her husband Adrian when he showed up, and then later to her four friends, when they showed up.  I introduced myself to the friends as the surprise lunch guest, and they seemed mystified.


So, the seven of us had a jolly lunch party, me and my new Aussie friends.  It was a bring-your-own lunch, as it turned out, so I had my roast beef and cheese sandwich and a little of their salad and a small piece of Adrian’s homemade bread.  They even opened a bottle of champagne, and I had a couple of ounces of that.  Now, don’t you agree that that was a very unusual kind of day for the introverted Old Rambler?


All in all, that took about two hours, but I had already gotten two new birds today, and I didn’t really have anywhere else to go anyway.  Eventually, I excused myself with apologies for eating and running, and I drove on to a huge sand dune area of the park called Snowdrift.  The kids and their keepers had already gone on ahead to there, and they were sliding down the dune on pieces of plastic or something.  See Photos14.


By that time it was about 3 o’clock, so I headed back to my motel in Ouyen, which I found out today is pronounced Oh’-yen by the locals.  I had heard a woman on the radio call it oo-yen’, but Susan assured me that it was Oh’-yen.  They seemed to call it just “O” when talking about it.


On the way back, there seemed to be more of the hoppers (locusts) than ever, and I took some more pictures.  Creepy.  Once I got out of the park, it was wheat growing country.  It must be what they call “winter wheat”, planted in the winter and now it is almost ready to harvest, in the spring.  It is not irrigated, so the rains have to fall, or the crop fails.  Adrian said this had not been an extremely rainy year here locally, but it had rained regularly, so the wheat was doing ok.  When I was here in 2004, I took a picture I really like that I call “The wide brown land”, which is one thing that Australia is called sometimes.  I plan to include that picture in Photos14, and I took a new one today that I will call “The wide green land”.  I was here at exactly the same time of year in 2004, and the difference is striking.  I think the wheat crop failed that year, if I remember right, but it looks good this year.


So, I got back to my motel about 4, after stopping at the grocery store for some mayonnaise and some bread, but my adventures for the day were not over yet.   I turned on the computer, and the wi fi didn’t work!  Oh no, not again!  What is it with Aussies and wi fi?


I called the 24 hour tech support number, and they told me they would work on it.  I ended up calling three times, over about three hours.  In the meantime, I did connect using dial up, but it was painfully slow and I got dropped once.  Eventually, the owner of the motel came to my room and explained that their own computer was down, and that the wi fi depended on their computer.  His wife had taken the computer to Mildura, which is about an hour up the road, and she had phoned back to say that the computer was ok, and they thought a cable was bad.  She was headed back here with the computer and the new cable.


That was an hour ago, and I haven’t heard anything else from anyone.  If they don’t get the wi fi working tonight, then I will connect again with dial up and see if I can get this posted to the website that way.  I won’t even try to get a Photos up, though, as dial up was so slow.  It is also getting late now, and I might not get the photos all processed in time anyway.  Tomorrow, tomorrow, and tomorrow.  Manana it will all be right.


As far as tomorrow is concerned, I’m not at all sure what I will do.  There is a weather front moving in, and they are saying rain will develop by the end of the morning.  I do not want to be out on any kind of dirt road in the rain or after any rain, and all the places I might go, just about, would involve dirt roads.  I guess I could go back up to Hattah for the third time, but I don’t know what I could see there, without going out onto the unpaved tracks.  I’m not even supposed to be driving my rental car on that kind of track, and I sure as hell don’t want to get bogged out there, all alone.  Many of those dirt roads would be very slippery when wet, too, I’m sure.


So, tomorrow might be something of a down day.  A down day sounds fine to me, at this point, anyway.  It will be too bad to have my first day of not seeing a new species for the trip list, but I don’t know where I would go to find something new, given the weather forecast.  I just hope the rain isn’t too bad, so my weekend “safari” with Bob isn’t too badly affected.  I can do a lot of planning tomorrow, but it will be a lot easier if they get the wi fi working.


News flash!  The wi fi is up and running.  So, I can process my pictures and get them up tomorrow.  Other than that, I don’t know what I will do tomorrow, but as I said, a down day sounds pretty good about now anyway.  Maybe there is a local museum I can go to.  (That’s a joke, folks – I don’t do museums, clubs, theme parks, or much of anything when I’m on a birding trip, except look for birds.)


I’ll post this tonight, and tomorrow I’ll work on Photos14, update my spreadsheet, and do some planning.  What a life!  And what a great day it was today, with my lunch party with my new Aussie friends.


Oh yes, my count is now up to 210 species, with 7 of those being lifers.