Sunday night, October 31, 2010


South Australia


Well, I had my mallee safari.† I am going to call it my Bush Adventure.† Details below.


On Saturday morning, I was up fairly early, showered, made my breakfast and lunch sandwiches, and was on the road by about 8:30 or 9, as I remember.† It had not rained overnight, but it started to rain after I got up.† It rained pretty much all the time for the first 2.5 hours of the drive.† As I approached the South Australia border, the rain finally stopped, and things brightened up.


I got near to my destination earlier than I had expected, so I phoned my guide, Bob Goodfellow, of Jolly Goodfellows Birding, from Renmark, and he said to come on over.


I had my sandwich and some chips, and Bob made sandwiches for himself, and we headed out about 1 oíclock or so, after we ate.† We drove on out to Calperum Station, which was maybe about a half hour drive, and we put our gear into our rooms at the headquarters.† The accommodations were interesting.† You can see pictures in Photos16, when I get it up, which could be in a day or two.† We each had our own little room with a single bed, and Bob had brought a sleeping bag and pillow for each of us.† I think it had been almost 40 years since I slept in a sleeping bag, so this was already shaping up to be an Adventure.


We walked around the headquarters area and saw a few birds, but nothing new for me.† Ralral Creek was running high.† Then we headed out in the car and visited Lake Woolpolool, where we saw three raptors perched in a tree.† It was hard to tell what they were, with the two leading candidates being Little Eagle and Whistling Kite.† I needed Little Eagle for my trip list, but had already seen Whistling Kite.† I moved in to take pictures, but they flew after I got one or two from a distance of one of them.† I did manage to get a pretty good photo of that one flying (Photos16 again, when it finally gets up), and we later agreed that that one was a Whistling Kite.† Since they had all looked the same to me when perched, I decided not to count Little Eagle.


After that, we headed out to the area where Bob has seen Redthroats, a bird I had not expected to see on the trip.† Bob played the call of the bird, and after trying in a couple of places, we got a response at one place, and I got a good view of a female Redthroat.† Bob has a mini-disk player and a disk of the various bird calls, and he plays them through a speaker on a ďtummy packĒ kind of strap.† Some birders donít approve of playing bird calls, but I donít mind it at all, unless it is overused for very rare birds in particular locations, or if it is obviously upsetting the birds.


We moved on and listened as we drove, and stopped where Bob heard the call of Southern Scrub-robin.† We played the call, and the birds were very responsive.† We saw both the male and female, and I even got pictures (Photos 16).† A lifer for me.


Thatís all we found that was new for me yesterday.† We went back to the Calperum Station headquarters and had a drink or two while Bob made us our dinner.† He pan-fried up a nice steak for each of us, with mushroom gravy, and we had an excellent salad, a baked tomato, and a roll.† For dessert we had a great little chocolate thing with cream to pour over it.† Bob had brought some beer and some red wine, and I had a tot of my Bundy rum as well.† I hadnít known if I would get my drinkies in the bush, but I did.


We settled down at about 10 or so, setting our alarms for about 6.† The flush toilets were in the amenities block, which was maybe 50 feet from our building.† Our building had three single bedrooms and a living room/dining room and kitchen.† All the doors opened to the covered porch (veranda to them), with no inside connections.† It was really an interesting opportunity to stay out in the bush in a place like this.† Not a normal tourist experience at all, but Bob has connections with the people who run Calperum Station, and he can arrange it.† Normally he would have had us staying at the Oak Bore Outstation, where we had lunch today, but I needed power for my CPAP machine, so we had to stay at the headquarters instead.† The Oak Bore Outstation is much closer to where the best birds are, but I couldnít stay there, so we settled for staying at the headquarters accommodations.† They arenít available to the general public, but are used by researchers and volunteers - people who are studying or working on Calperum Station.


Calperum Station was a sheep station (ranch) until the mid-90ís.† At that point, it was bought by a government agency and since then it has been in the process of being restored to its native condition, for the benefit of wildlife.† When it was a sheep station, they figured they could run about one sheep per 23 acres.† That seems incredible to me, that it would be economically viable to raise sheep on such land.† There are pictures of the environment in Photos16, although it has recovered a huge amount in the 17 years since sheep were grazing on it.† Grazing is kind of misleading, as there is no grass.† The sheep ate the bushes and trees, and really devastated the environment for all wildlife.† Calperum Station is one of five properties that make up a very large ďbiosphereĒ that is being restored and preserved now.† I may have some details wrong in that paragraph, but that is the basic idea.


So, we were up this morning at about 6, and we headed out by about 7:30 or so.† I slept well in my sleeping bag, which I never actually zipped up, but only wrapped myself in it when it got cold enough during the night.


If youíll remember, I was worried all week about the weather forecast.† There had been some rain on Friday and Saturday, and showers were forecast for today.† It had not rained all night, and that was encouraging, so we headed out north, to look for birds in the bush.


We drove along and Bob listened out his window as we drove.† We stopped from time to time to look for a particular species that I needed, and the first one we actually got onto was a female Gilbertís Whistler.† I got good looks, and maybe I got a picture, Iím not sure, as I havenít looked at todayís pictures yet.† Still, the male is much more colorful so we continued to stop to look for one.† Eventually we did find one, and I not only got great looks at a male, I got a couple of pictures, although Iím not sure yet if they are in focus or not.† If not, Iíll probably show them anyway, since I am not likely to ever see one again.† Gilbertís Whistler was another lifer for me.


As we drove north on the tracks, there were puddles in the track, but not too bad, and Bobís big boy 4 WD vehicle handled them just fine.† It was very interesting to see the various techniques used in that kind of driving.† Sometimes we would go straight through a puddle, and sometimes we would drive around the edge, with the wheels on one side of the car in the water, and the wheels on the other side on firmer ground.† Usually the bottoms of the puddles were pretty solid, but sometimes we kind of slithered around.† I took a couple of pictures of one not very bad puddle, as Bob plowed through it, but there were much worse ones.† We figured the worst of the puddles were maybe 8 inches deep, but with an unknown amount of mud under that.


At some of the worst places, there were ďgo-aroundsĒ, which are places where a detour has been made around the puddle, by someone who drove right through the bush, followed later by other drivers.† So, as you approach a puddle, you have to decide which tactic to use (left side, right side, straight through) and you look to see if anyone has made a go-around.† In one case, the beginning of the go-around itself looked fairly bad, and I got a picture of Bob out of the car checking it out, before we took it.† Another interesting aspect of the tracks was that as you approached a crest, the track often split into a divided road, to avoid having two vehicles meeting at a crest, which is always a risk on a narrow road.† Sometimes the track simply got a lot wider at a crest, and the idea was that you stayed to the left.† In some places, there were signs reminding drivers to keep left.


We were driving out the Pipeline Track.† There was a pipeline put in during the 1950ís, running from Ralral Creek (picture in Photos16) north, for about 30 miles.† There were 2 or 3 (or more?) pumping stations and tanks along the way.† The pumps were single cylinder diesel pumps, so they had to take fuel out to them from time to time.† The sheep wandered through the mallee scrub all day, but needed to drink once a day and would come to one of the tanks each day for water.† It is amazing to me to see the infrastructure that was built up to raise sheep on such unlikely land.† I know on some stations they ran electricity out to the outstations, but they didnít seem to have done that here.† The larger stations could run for 50 or 100 miles in each direction, which is incredible to me.


The Pipeline Track runs north-south, and the country around there is characterized by a series of sand dune ridges that run east-west, so we were constantly coming to crests and valleys - up and down, up and down, for maybe 30 miles.† The valleys are where the puddles were.


We stopped several times in likely looking places to look for Striated Grasswren, which would have been a lifer for me.† This is one of the birds I had looked for at Hattah and the Pink Lakes, along with the Mallee Emu-wren.† We walked around, playing the call, but never heard or saw anything.† This is a bird that Bob used to guarantee his clients would see, but the 9 year drought has reduced the population drastically.† Now they are extremely hard to find.† I keep writing about what a wet year this is, and the drought has been officially declared to be over, but it will take several years for things to recover, even if rainfall is good.† For one thing, the insect population has declined drastically, and so everything higher up the food chain has also declined.† It takes a few years for the system to recover from a long drought like that.† Plants are flowering and animals are reproducing, but it all takes time.


So, we eventually got to the end of the pipeline, at Oak Bore Outstation.† That is where we would have spent the night last night if I hadnít had the CPAP issue.† It would have been quite acceptable, if not for the power situation.† There is actually a generator there, but Bob doesnít like to run it all night, mainly because of the noise, I think.† We didnít see another soul on the station the whole time we were there, and we needed keys to get through gates and to get into buildings.† There was water at the Oak Bore Outstation, too - rainwater gathered off the roofs and stored in tanks - and flush toilets and showers.† It really would have been fun to have stayed out there on Saturday night, although with the weather situation, it might not have actually improved things for us, in this particular case.† In fact, it could have gotten us into trouble if we had had time to get out on the northern tracks before Sundayís showers.


We went down a track for about 4 or 5 miles (as I remember) to look for an active Malleefowl mound.† We found the point to leave the track, but the mound is about 250 yards from the track.† Bob has three GPS systems in his car, each of which serves a different purpose, and a new hand held one as well.† We programmed the new hand held one for the carís location, so we could find our way back, and set off in search of the mound, which Bob had found last Tuesday, using a description and GPS coordinates provided by one of the Calperum volunteers or workers.


We made our way back into the mallee, looking for the mound, but Bob needs more time to get familiar with his new hand held GPS, and there is a question about whether the coordinates provided to him are in the same system as his machine uses.† Anyway, we didnít find the mound, and then had the adventure of finding our way back to the car.† Fortunately, the sun had been shining most of the time, and we had noted our direction with respect to our shadows, so we didnít have a problem, but it is amazing how quickly you can get disoriented in the mallee.† On a cloudy day, I would have had no idea how to get back to the car.† We heard some birds on that jaunt, and I got good looks at one bird, but never could identify it, even after returning to the car and looking through the book.† I feel quite sure it was a trip bird, but I couldnít identify it, and Bob didnít see it.


We returned to Oak Bore Outstation for our lunch, and then headed north, into some different environment, with some good target birds to see.† We stopped when we heard birds, and at one stop I got onto two new honeyeaters, Yellow-plumed and Brown-headed.† Neither was a lifer, but both were excellent trip birds for me.


Oh yes, we had had a pretty heavy rain shower as we got back to the outstation for our lunch.† It was obvious that the showers were very spotty, and we didnít know what that might portend for the rest of our day.


As it turned out, we encountered more and more puddles, and eventually came to one that seemed too much to risk, so we decided to turn back.† Bob found an alternate route, and we braved several pretty bad wet spots, but eventually ran into a place we didnít dare to try to cross on that route, either.† So, we reluctantly made the decision to turn back and retrace our steps, which meant missing the sites for a couple of key birds.† It was too bad, but getting bogged out there would have been much worse than missing some birds, and neither of us wanted to risk it.


So, we retraced our tracks, and eventually got back to his house about 5 oíclock.† In many places along the track it was much wetter, with much larger puddles, than when we had gone north in the morning.† In other places, it looked like it hadnít even rained there today.† It was interesting how much it could vary within a few miles.† The showers were ďscatteredĒ and sometimes heavy, just like the forecast said.


So, from a pure bird count perspective, the weekend was disappointing, but I have no regrets.† The experience of being out there in the bush and seeing all that great country was much more important than bird counts anyway.† I had a great time, and it was a real adventure, navigating around the boggy places and itís too bad that ultimately we had to give up and retrace our steps.† Even that wasnít easy, as it turned out, as many places were a lot wetter than they had been in the morning, and we had a number of adventurous crossings of puddles.† In all our time out there, we not only never saw anyone else, we never saw any tire tracks that would have indicated that anyone else was out there at all, on this rainy weekend.† It would not have been good to have gotten stuck in a big puddle somewhere, 30 miles from the nearest real road or any habitation.† It was a true Bush Adventure, I think.


So, when we got back to Bobís place, I headed for my new digs, which is a motel at the Barmera Country Club.† Barmera is only about 10 miles from Bobís house, and I stopped at a grocery store in Barmera and loaded up on some provisions, as my country club motel was supposed to have a kitchenette.† No internet but a phone in my room, supposedly, to use dial up from.


Well, the country club motel is a huge disappointment.† It is a very dated 1960-ish place, and it reeks of mothballs.† I hate smelly places, and this one disgusts me.† When I checked in, I asked about the kitchenette.† It turned out that ďkitchenetteĒ didnít include either a stove or a microwave!† Not only that, but cooking wasnít allowed, which seems completely absurd to me, for a place that advertises a kitchenette.† I couldnít believe it, and I said I was very disappointed.† The desk clerk said she could move a microwave into my room from another room, and she did so.† It wasnít clear to me why they didnít just give me that room, as the place is totally empty as far as I could see.† I would guess that it is a larger room, and more expensive.† There is an air conditioner/heater unit, but I had to decide at the front desk whether I wanted heat or cooling, and the clerk set the temperature.† They donít let the guest do that, which is something I have never ever heard of before.† The phone turned out to be so old fashioned that it has no socket for a normal modern phone jack, so I donít know why the email I got even talked about dial up.† As it turns out, I had run into this same problem before, in very old motels that have not upgraded their phone systems, and I had bought an adapter on my 2004 trip that allowed me to eventually get connected by dial up here.† Without that special connector, there is no way you could connect by dial up, though.† As I said, the place is a huge disappointment, but I will only be here for about 15 hours, and I worked around the microwave and phone issues, and I will just have to live with the smell.† I have the sliding glass door open to try to air the place out (hopeless, Iím afraid), and the heater is cycling on and off, keeping it at about 67 F in here.† Normally, I would feel guilty about running the heater with the door open, but in this place, at $105 a night, I donít mind.


I heated up a couple of my microwave meals that donít need refrigeration.† They are quite tasty, although pretty expensive at about $4.50 each for about 250 calories of a well-balanced meal for me.† Two of them is sufficient, with my drinks and peanuts before dinner, and some cookies for dessert.† I got some ham, and some cheese, and my bread should still be ok to make some sandwiches for my brekkie and lunch tomorrow.† Tomorrow I will stop at another grocery store and stock up for the next couple of days, as I am headed for another pretty remote place.† It is a long drive tomorrow, maybe my longest day of the trip.† Google Maps says it is about 260 miles and about six hours of driving time.† That doesnít sound like much at all, by US standards, but it will wear me out, Iím sure.† I expect I will have my sleepy times, too, but I can always stop as much as I need to, if it is really only 6 hours of actual driving time.†† At my next place, I am supposed to be able to get wi fi, at some exorbitant charge, no doubt.† If I can get in early enough, maybe I can get Photos16 done and up to the website.† Iíll see if I can get this up tonight before I go to bed, using the funky dial up connection I have here.† I have to put the computer on the bed and sit on a chair next to it, because I didnít bring my long phone cord.† I know, I crab a lot about ice and internet access, but the internet access is especially important to me.† There was a small ice tray in the fridge here, but it wasnít really even adequate for one decent drink.† I hope the little fridge will freeze some ice cubes overnight for me, so I can keep my newly bought food cold tomorrow on my long drive.† Ah, the challenges of traveling in my own odd way.† I do have my little requirements and desires, ice and internet access being two of them.† A non-smelly room is another one, as is a decent bathroom. †A microwave is also highly desirable, and a fridge is a necessity.† It is so hard to be the Old Rambler, you know.


So, looking back on my Bush Adventure, I have decided that I am disappointed, because of the bird numbers, but I have no regrets at all.† Several factors caused my disappointment.† First, I was overly optimistic about mallee birding.† It is indeed tough out there, and it takes several days to see all the special birds, let alone all the ones I had hopes for.† Second, the weather today and this week worked against me.† Too much rain in the last few days, too cold today, and too windy today, too.† Third, the drought really devastated the area, and it hasnít had time to recover yet.† Fourth, in this wet year, many birds have stayed in the interior and havenít moved into the areas they normally would be found in by this time of year.† My expectations were built largely from trip reports from previous years, and this year is very different.† All those factors combined to make my actual bird count low for the weekend (and the whole trip, for that matter).


But, I have said many times, my ramblings are not at all only about the birds.† Birding is an excuse for me to ramble around Australia, and I love it here.† Yesterday and today I got to see things I would never have seen or known anything about, and that is great.† It was also a hell of a lot of fun, and I enjoyed Bobís company very much.† Despite the low bird count (5 species, of which two were lifers), it was a great weekend, and Iím sure I will never forget it.† Now it is on to see more of the state of South Australia, and Iím looking forward to that.† This is the first time I have been in this state, so it will all be new territory for me for the next ten or twelve days.


Iíll see if I can get this up on the website now, and then I will be more than ready to hit the sack.


The Old Rambler