Sorry about the delay. This is a re-send from
Sunday when I was last in communication range.
Firstly I'd like to state, for the record,
that though I was in Woomera the day the multi million dollar rocket
crashed to Earth on it's maiden test flight, any connection is purely
coincidental. I missed actually seeing it explode by a couple of hours; a
pity really, as it would have been even more exciting than watching a
British naval vessel bang into some rocks off Lord Howe- if they've manage
to make the White-bellied Storm Petrels disappear I'll sue!
Lying just a short detour off the Stuart Highway,
Woomera has been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons. But I would like
to defend the Government on this one. Some people have said that detaining
asylum seekers in bleak, desolate places, in the
middle of nowhere is cruel and unfeeling. But consider where they have located
their other detention centres: Christmas Island and Port Headland; both
areas where rare Asian vagrants are most likely
to turn up. They are obviously giving these new arrivals to our country the
chance to really kickstart their Aussie birdlists along.
Why else would they have built the Christmas
Island, detention centre smack bang next to the tip where all those mega
rarities turn up. On my visit there I saw, clearly visible to those inside
the razor wire, White-breasted Waterhen, White Wagtail and Barn Swallow-
species that Australian birders would give their left organ for.
But I always wondered why our benevolent government
had chosen Woomera. Driving in I could finally see why, as a probable Ground
Cuckoo-shrike (a bird I need) flew in over the
arid plains. If I had been behind the razor wire it would have flown straight
over my head. As it was, I could only look on at that compound with envy. Gee I
wish I was a refugee.
Having dealt with that disappointment, I moved on,
as one must (or be arrested) and headed north adding nothing new for the year
but getting a feel for the landscape- desolate yet beautiful, seemingly endless
in its aridity but with extraordinary subtle changes every few
Early one morning I arrived at a location north of
Marla where all three species of Whiteface had recently been seen. I thought the
plain before me, though pretty dry, still seemed too thickly vegetated for
Banded and Chestnut-breasted Whitefaces. As soon as I got out of the car, a
Southern Whiteface flew up into a dead tree and sussed me out. This was the last
Whiteface I saw for over an hour. I did see some good birds out there including
my first Brown Songlark and Crimson Chat for
the year, but after walking several kilometres, I had decided my suspicions were
right and headed back to the car.
Then I noticed a group of small birds moving about
in the undergrowth ahead of me. One of them flew high into the air in
songflight- a Whiteface! I'm sure as I got those binoculars briefly on it, I
could see a chest band. The bird came to earth and the group moved ahead of me.
For ten excruciating minutes they continued to flit about eighty metres ahead,
always just out of identifiable distance. Then I lost them. Standing there,
bereft and frustrated, I turned defeated when something caught the corner of my
eye, and there, less than twenty metres away, sitting atop a small saltbush was
a Chestnut-breasted Whiteface, its chestnut breast band as
clear as day. It flew away in a flock of six, and I was ecstatic.
And then things got even better. As I headed back
triumphant, fists pumping the air in victory, I stumbled across a feeding flock
of at least twenty-two, possibly as many as forty Chestnut-breasted Whitefaces.
They bounced all around me, giving an unprecedented display for over half
an hour. I failed to find any Banded Whiteface though, a minor
quibble as this was one of those magnificent birding moments that stay with
By the time I was finished here, I was now way
behind schedule and realised that I would be driving the last two hundred
kilometres or so to my planned destination, King's Canyon, in the dark. Having
learnt from costly prior experience I slowed the car to around eighty kph to
lessen the chances of colliding with wildlife. It saved me from wiping out
several Red Kangaroos and what I feared more, a cow.
I came across one creature that was not so lucky- a
recently hit Boobook Owl. It was obviously in shock as it wouldn't move off the
road as another car approached. Donning a pair of thick gloves to avoid a
potential bite, I hadn't counted on it gripping my hand so incredibly hard and
not letting go once I picked it up. It didn't try to go me, but every time I
tried to loosen its grip it only dug those powerful claws tighter. I discovered
newfound sympathy for mice because once you are in a Boobook's grip it just
don't let go. In the end I had to take the glove off or face the prospect of
driving the rest of the way with a Boobook attached.
The owl safely tucked away, I was feeling very smug
and worthy as a car approached from the opposite direction. A pair of Red
Kangaroos lurched out at the car in a kamikaze run. I hit them at about seventy
kmph. The first merely bounced off the roo bar and hopped away. The second was
not so lucky. It bounced the other way into the path of the oncoming car.
Between us we broke both its legs. The other car sailed on, leaving the roo
flailing hopelessly away on the bitumen, legs going nowhere. I knew it was only
a matter of time before it bled to death or was finished off by a truck. So I
felt I had no choice but to put it out of its misery.
A dreadful end to what had been a glorious day.