TR: Southeastern Australia/Tasmania Jan '03 (5)

Subject: TR: Southeastern Australia/Tasmania Jan '03 (5)
Date: Sat, 15 Mar 2003 21:34:15 EST

17 Jan 03
     Today was mostly a travel day--we were leaving Deniliquin for good and heading east, to Beechworth and the Victorian Alps, for some different habitat and different birds.  Since we would be heading to Melbourne after this, we had to take both vehicles, and so this was a long driving day for me as well as for Phil.  I followed him down quite a few dusty roads, and the shiny gas-guzzler turned a dusty tan by the end of the day.  We made some stops throughout, and so we saw some life birds today as well.  It turned out to be an extremely hot day--38 degrees, possibly even 40, which is well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit--a long, hot day.
     We started at 6am, though, by checking out of the Peppin and driving the short distance to downtown Deniliquin, where we birded in the park that meanders along the banks of the Edward River.  It was beautifully cool and green.  The trees, River Redgums, I believe, were gigantic and very impressive.  I got my first look at CLAMOROUS REED-WARBLER, which the others had seen previously.  We saw a PEREGRINE FALCON on a tower structure.  Don McClintock spotted a group of very handsome CRESTED SHRIKE-TITS in a shrub right next to the trucks, in the car park.  The best bird of the morning, though, was a BROWN GOSHAWK that was terrorizing the other birds in the park, moving back and forth through the treetops, causing a commotion whenever it flew.  Great bird.
     Some of the birds seen during the course of the day at various stops included our first RUFOUS SONGLARK;  YELLOW-TUFTED and FUSCOUS HONEYEATERS;  and SCARLET ROBIN (an immature, but still nice to see).  We arrived at our new home for the next two nights, the Golden Heritage Motel in Beechworth, in time to clean up before dinner.  We ate at P.J.'s Restaurant in Beechworth, a great place with good food.  A walk before dinner yielded a new butterfly for me, COMMON GRASS-BLUES, which were abundant in the garden flowers next to the motel's pool.
     After dinner, we went back out for some night-birding.  Within 20 minutes or so, we were getting excellent looks at our first target birds, a beautiful pair of BARKING OWLS.  They made some very odd, un-owl-like calls at first, in response to the tape, but Phil was not fooled, and he quickly tracked them down.  Unfortunately, things did not go quite as well with the rest of the birds that evening.  Powerful Owl eluded us.  Even more frustrating was White-throated Nightjar.  A bird responded to our tape by flying in close enough for us to see its eyeshine on a treelimb back in the forest.  Despite its obvious interest--persistent calling, changing perches--it refused to come into view.  When we tried to get closer, it continued to keep just ahead of us, as though to lure us deeper into the dark forest.  It was getting later, and everyone was tired, and I gave up the hunt, though I'm sure Phil would have kept after it until we finally saw the bird, if I had agreed--he is very persistent.  Then, off to bed.

18 Jan 03
     Today we started again at 6am, our usual time, but today waking to a hazy sunrise and the strong smell of smoke.  We spent some time wandering around for a little while in the vicinity of the motel.  We were rewarded shortly by satisfactory looks at some GANG-GANG COCKATOOS, a specialty of the area.  Then, off to the Beechworth Bakery for breakfast treats (and an autographed cookbook of Aussie goodies), then a drive to Alpine National Park in the Victorian Alps.  Usually, Phil said, he goes to Mt. Buffalo for this day of mountain birding, since it's much closer, but today Mt. Buffalo was on fire, as indeed half the countryside seemed to be.  It was scary, having smoke haze blotting out everything in the distance, wondering which way the wind would be blowing and how close the fires actually were.  But when we got to Alpine, the air was much clearer, and the day was spent in spectacular mountain scenery, and with some more excellent birds.
     Stops along the way there yielded us our first AUSTRALIAN KING-PARROTS as well as PALLID CUCKOO, the first cuckoo of the trip--followed shortly thereafter by a nice BRUSH CUCKOO, our first life bird in the park itself.  I am not sure of all of the areas of the park we visited, but we did visit Lake Cobbler in the afternoon, so we were in the general area of the park that is south of Mt. Buffalo.  The scenery ranged from great to breathtaking, and we stopped several times just to take photos or even just to admire the view.  I'm glad I got to see this part of Australia.
     Several birds stand out in my memory from today.  One was RED-BROWED TREECREEPER, another species that I think we would have had a very difficult time identifying without Phil's assistance.  The red brow is not very obvious, and the bird was at first glance quite difficult to distinguish from White-throated Treecreeper.  CICADABIRD was another good find, if I do say so myself--I spotted this one, almost motionless deep in the foliage, and everyone ended up seeing what turned out to be our only one for the trip.  Another really great bird was a PILOTBIRD that Phil lured to a streamside log just below us, where it came out several times, giving everyone brief but excellent and very satisfying looks.  We also saw our old friend the RED-CAPPED ROBIN, but today he had some company on the day list, since we also saw both ROSE ROBIN and FLAME ROBIN, beautiful males.  We got better looks at GANG-GANG COCKATOOS when we found a small group of them feeding next to the road, right out the windows of the truck. It was wonderful to see them so close, with their terrific and odd forward-curling, wispy crest.  And we also saw a couple of wonderful honeyeaters--WHITE-NAPED, and, especially, the beautiful CRESCENT HONEYEATER.  This last bird sang and sang but refused to come across its little glen to our side, and when it did, remained frustratingly out of view.  I had about given up, but Phil worked us up and down the bank until finally we all got wonderful looks at the snappy male, singing with mouth wide open, at very close range.  For me, one of the nicest birds, in one of the most beautiful settings, of the whole trip.

19 Jan 03
     Today would be our last day with Phil.  We headed out from Beechworth at 6am as usual, this time heading west and north, ultimately toward Chiltern.  We arrived after 20 minutes or so at a (State?) Park--Don's notes, unfortunately, don't say which one!  After about half an hour of searching, Phil located a pair of CHESTNUT QUAIL-THRUSHES.  Again, these were really excellent birds to find, and we felt very fortunate to be able to watch them multiple times for the next half hour or so.  Despite our having spent the past week with Phil, he still kept showing us new birds, another appearing ever hour or so during the morning, like clockwork:  8:15am BLACK-CHINNED HONEYEATER, with blue eye markings instead of the red of yesterday's White-naped;  9:30am WHITE-BELLIED CUCKOO-SHRIKE, a nice contrast to the Black-faced variety that we had seen several times already;  9:52am one of the great birds of the trip, excellent looks at ground-dwelling SPECKLED WARBLERS, a bird I had very much wanted to see;  10:17am TURQUOISE PARROTS--beautiful.
     Another drive, with a stop at an Aboriginal site, very interesting, but unfortunately we didn't have time to walk the kilometer or two of trails that would have taken us to the rock/cave painting site.  On to Chiltern Forest, where the dam was completely dried up.  Phil managed to find us a small water hole, and we saw our life LITTLE LORIKEETS in this area.  And finally, as the clock ticked down to our last short minutes with Phil, the last life bird we would see with him sailed overhead into view--a spectacular SQUARE-TAILED KITE.  After we were done "wow"-ing, we headed into Chiltern, where we had lunch at the Mulberry Tree, a great little outdoor shaded garden with good food.  Then, back to the Golden Heritage in Beechworth.  We had already loaded the monster that morning, so we thanked Phil once again (and once again again, Phil--THANKS!), said our farewells, and headed down the highway toward Melbourne.  In six and a half days, Phil had taken us to see 218 species, and hear an additional 4 others--a wonderful week.
     The ride to Melbourne on the Hume Freeway was uneventful, and didn't take as long as we thought it would.  We arrived at the Tullamarine Airport Motor Inn and checked in, then had a short break before dinner.  Ever on the prowl for more life birds, I left the guys in the rooms while I stalked the motel grounds.  I was rewarded with one exotic--EURASIAN TREE SPARROW--but couldn't seem to locate any flowering eucalypts.  Not surprising, given the drought, I guess.  Finally, just west of the motel and on the other side of the fence, one of the last large trees I scanned turned out to be in full flower.  I waited for a while, and soon some lorikeets chattered in, climbing like monkeys through the blossoms--PURPLE-CROWNED LORIKEETS.  Very cool, very satisfying to watch them then at my leisure, just outside the restaurant doors.  Time for dinner and bed.

Bill Benner
Old Brookville, NY
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