Coming Back Across the Back Paddock 1 [Contains NQT Reference]

To: Birding Aus <>
Subject: Coming Back Across the Back Paddock 1 [Contains NQT Reference]
From: Laurie&Leanne Knight <>
Date: Mon, 23 Dec 2002 08:05:12 +1000
In a stroke of bad timing, our departure from Albany coincided with the start of
the first significant heatwave for the season.  Even with an early start, it was
too hot [36C by 9 am] to consider poking about Fitzgerald River, so we drove
straight through to Esperance, where we saw the first cape barren geese for the

The seabreeze made for pleasant lunching conditions, then we set off through the
heat to check out the back way to Balladonia [Fisheries Rd, Parmango Rd,
Balladonia - well marked on the current StreetSmart Goldfields-Esperance Map]. 
This route saves 130km compared to the Norseman.  The first 110 km is bitumen,
then 80 km of fast unsealed road, then 50 km of slow bulldust, finishing with 20
km of reasonable unsealed rd.  From an avian perspective, there was virtually
nothing moving in the heat, and little of visual interest.

The next day we dropped into the Eyre Bird Observatory for a quick visit.  We
happened to meet Ian [one of the wardens] picking up some visitors from the top
car park [near the transmission tower].  He was of the opinion that our Forester
would be able to handle the drive into the obervatory without deflating the
tyres [and that we could always deflate the tyres if we had problems].

For those who have never been to the EBO, there is an initial steep descent
through the limestone escarpment, then about 8 km of soft sand.  As Ian had
predicted, we had no problems on the way in - mostly puttering along in 2nd Low
- with a bit of extra juice for the deeper sections.  

We met Bee at the old telegraph station, and as an exercise in outback
diplomacy, passed over the previous day's paper.  The kettle was soon on, and we
sat round an outside table for morning tea chatting to the other visitors, one
of whom mentioned that they had seen a masked owl in one of the sinkholes on the
nullarbor.  Ian pointed out a blue breasted fairy-wren lurking about the
birdbath and kindly passed round a couple of nockerlockers.

We did have a spot of bother on the return trip on the one way section - this
involved crossing channels rounding a bend and climbing a slope.  We lost
momentum crossing the hump and so were halted partway up the slope.  We deflated
the types, put some dead vegetation in the wheel ruts and shot up the slope.  Of
course this meant labourously reinflacting the tyres before slowly bouncing up
the limestone track.

On the way through to Eucla, we saw a bustard and a few major mitchells by the
road.  If you are after accommodation while travelling across the Bight, Eucla
is the most attractive option, with its ocean views and sea breezes.  The EBO is
also close to the sea if you aren't in a hurry.

The next morning we decided to spend a bit of time on the real nullarbor, and so
took the side road up to Cook, a relict town on the Trans Australia Railway
[population 2].  There weren't too many birds [other than the ubiquitous pipits
and the odd kestrel] to be seen - with the exception of what appeared to be an
immature spotted harrier.  

As luck would have it, we arrived while the Indian Pacific was in town, so the
place didn't feel so deserted.  A number of trees had been planted round the
town [some still in flower] and so there was a fair population of singing and
white-fronted honeyeaters.  They'd come a fair way across the treeless plain to
get to those trees.  The woman in the souveneir shop mentioned that at one time
an oz grebe had dropped into town - I've seen grebes in isolated waterholes in
central oz, but it is hard to visualise one crossing the nullarbor.

There are a number of roadside markers, and halfway back to the Eyre Hwy (~ 50
km from the bitumen) I saw an interesting 4 rock cairn 150 metres to the east of
the road.  Thinking it might mark something interesting [like an owl haunted
sinkhole] I set off through the shin - kneehigh saltbush/bluebush.  

About 100 metres from the road, I flushed a 20 cm caramel coloured bird that had
been lurking round an abandoned rabbit warren.  It flew low and direct for a 100
metres or so then dropped back into the saltbush.  Aha, I said to myself, and
set off to find it. However, it's hard to get an accurate fix in that sort of
country and I couldn't locate the bird again - just the odd rufous fieldwren
bouncing about.

With Leanne baking in the car [outside temp was about 42C] I couldn't take all
day looking for it.  When I thought about it, given the habitat & location,
colour, size/shape and behaviour of the bird [including its skulking skills]
there was only one species that fitted the bill.  It just would be nice to have
been able to look at the face, chest and shoulders of the first nullarbor quail
thrush I stumbled across.

Regards, Laurie [to be continued]
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