Thursday, December 12, 2013

Down Under Part II

November 12, 2013 Tuesday (continued): Louise and I put Rainbow Beach behind us and set our sights for O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat in Lamington National Park.  We have about a four-hour drive ahead which puts us at our destination near sunset.  The navigation set guides us back to the main highway and then south towards Brisbane.  Louise is able to correlate the Nav set directions with our printed Google directions until somewhere south of Brisbane. The Nav set has us staying on the main highway for a ways before directing us on to secondary roads.  We quickly learn that this is going to take much longer than four hours.  Every 10-20 kilometers the highway is under construction and the speed limit drops from a nice 110 km/h to what seems like a snails pace of 70 km/h or less.   We call O’Reilly’s to let them know we will be late, estimating it will be about 8PM. They say we are OK, but if we thought we were going to arrive after 10PM we’d need to make special arrangements. We eventually get to the spot where Google & Nav set directions diverge.  We follow the Nav set since staying on highways as long as possible seems like a good idea.  Eventually we get off the high speed highway and find ourselves going through small suburban-type towns at slower than a snails pace, 40-50 km/h (~25 to ~30 mph).  As we get into a more rural setting the speed limit goes up but the width of the road decreases.  We begin to wonder if we are on the right road.  We proceed; the road quality diminishes as well as the width of the sealed portion.  The sealed (Australian for paved) portion of the road is barely wide enough for our Hyundai Elantra.   We proceed.  Louise determines that the Nav set route, after a few tens of kilometers and several turns, will eventually correlate with the Google directions. We continue while it gets dark and begins to sprinkle.  Even though we are on Lamington Park Road, there are no signs for the park or O’Reilly’s.  We feel we are on the road to nowhere! We drive for what seemed like an eternity on one of the narrowest twisty mountain roads I have ever been on.  Its saving grace was it is paved and each hairpin curve well marked.  We finally reach an intersection with direction signs; Canungra is 26 km back the way we came, Kamarun Lookout is 0.5 km to the left, and a small brown sign that simply had “OR 10” (no direction).  We would have phoned O’Reilly’s again to find out if we were on the right road, but there was no cell phone service! We decide to go 10 km more and if we don’t find anything we are turning back.  It’s bloody dark and raining koalas. After a little more than 9 km we begin to see glowing lights, then a parking lot off to the right, then a registration this way sign.  We made it at about 9pm.  Relieved, we decide that this must be the back-way in.  I peel my fingers from the steering wheel and we head inside to register.
A delightful young lady with a cheerful smile greets us. “Laurens?” she asks. We were the only guests they were expecting that evening who had not yet arrived. We share our story and she responds with a smile that the route we took is the only way in or out of O’Reilly’s and Lamington National Park.  She then switches subjects and asks if we wish to go see the tree frogs since they come out in the rain.  We decline, maybe tomorrow night, right now we are not in the mood for any damn tree frogs.  She smiles, hands us a key, tells us to drive 50 meters that way, our room is the last one on the left.
Red-eyed Green Tree Frog
We unpack the car and find ourselves in a lovely room with beautiful artwork of the local wildlife.  As our mood becomes more peaceful, we begin to appreciate the gentle rainforest rain.  I go back outside and find one of those tree frogs. They are really cool.
As we are settling in, the electricity goes out.  In the dark we use our cell phones for light to find some extra blankets and the headlamp I brought.  The electricity flickers a few times before staying out.  We decide to just go to bed.  Lulled to sleep by the gentle rain pattering on the skylights, we sleep well.
November 13, 2013 Wednesday: O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat is located in Lamington National Park in Queensland, west of the Gold Coast and south-southwest of Brisbane.  The O’Reilly family settled on this land four years before the establishment of the park in 1915.  Dense rainforest, the National Park, and BIRDS surround the O’Reilly’s.  The grounds around the retreat buildings include open grassy areas, display gardens, sections of rainforest in regrowth, the necessary paved roads (few), car parks (small), & buildings, and BIRDS.  All in all it is a spectacular place.  I first learned of O’Reilly’s years ago when Louise and I first considered a trip to Australia.  Dear friend and birding buddy, Carl Haynie had taken his family there.  Carl stated that O’Reilly’s was a “must see”!
Male Regent Bowerbird - worthy to be an icon
I wake up to the sounds on birds. The rain has ceased and the electricity is on.  I feel as if it is going to be a wonderful day.  I slip on some clothes, grab my binocs & camera, give Louise a kiss, and step outside. Beautiful sounds are emanating from all directions; it is nearly deafening but delightful.  It is very foggy with the visibility at about 50 feet.  I see lots of formless color flying about.  I head towards the loudest bird sound and see a Regent Bowerbird with golden crown, nape, & wings on a glossy black body glowing thru the murkiness – this is surreal. Yet quite appropriate that my first bird at O’Reilly’s is their icon.  Then there is a Crimson Rosella and a Satin Bowerbird.  There are a couple of little things flitting that disappear into the fog before I can raise my binoculars.   Some sort of pigeon zooms by. I hear a Whipbird in the forest. It goes on and on.  There are others wandering about looking this way & that, trying to take in as much as possible, and looking overwhelmed. It seems so unreal, like a fantasy or dream-like.  These moments and the rest of the day prove to be a very awesome real experience. 
A gentleman is pounding a stick into the ground trying to make a perch that looks more natural than the picket fence next to a bird feeder.  Within seconds, a male Regent Bowerbird occupies this ad hoc perch.  The man rushes back to his camera and starts taking pictures.  I join him.  After a few dozen shutter-clicks the man stops, looks at his images and begins cursing.  The fog is so thick at the moment that it is noticeably diffusing images at a few meters.  Wishing to distance myself from this man’s pessimism I move on.  I will let nothing, particularly someone else reality, spoil this moment.
Not Louise's hand
The fog lifts and I see people beginning to gather in front of the registration building – the scheduled bird walk. I rush back to our room to find Louise ready.  We join the small crowd and wait for the leader.  Our leader, Matt, shows up with a bag of bird feed.  He passes out portions to anyone willing.  The birds know the routine.  Before long a very British-looking lady (could have been the Queen’s sister) has a male Regent Bowerbird sitting on her fingertips eating seed from her palm. The Rosellas seem to prefer perching on someone’s head or shoulder before feeding.  Louise has three Regent Bowerbirds, a male and two females feeding together on her palm.  Then she has a Crimson Rosella nibbling away.  Yes, I too hold out my hand.  However I don’t let anyone take pictures of me with a Bowerbird or a Rosella, that wouldn’t be right!  For most of the group, this is the highlight of the bird-walk. After several minutes of this disgraceful, both avian and human, behavior our guide leads us to one of the nearby trails.  Matt begins calling out bird names of what he is hearing and seeing.  I try to stay close, picking up whatever pointers I can.  Most of what I get is bird names that I can later find a description and identify on my own.  He does provide such information as “down this track one might find the Albert’s Lyrebird” and similar directions to some of the more difficult species to be found in the area.  But his job is to entertain this group. Only a few of us have binoculars so I am hesitant to call this a group of birders.  All in all he did great.  The group was happy and I was able to derive some information that enhanced my experiences yet to come.  When Matt learned that Louise and I were from Arizona, he excitedly questioned “you have Harris’s Hawks”?  I smiled and confirmed there is a Harris’s Hawk family a few miles (oops, kilometers) from our home.  I later learn that Matt, in additions to the bird walks, runs the raptor show for O’Reilly’s.  At the conclusion of the bird-walk Louise and I have a wonderful breakfast.

We return to our room to decide what to do next.  I step out onto the balcony porch and am immediately joined by a Crimson Rosella.  Louise has a little fun with the camera.  A female Regent Bowerbird and then a male join the Rosella.  I have no food to offer so they all take off in search of some other sucker.  Then a male Australian King-Parrot drops by.  Welcome Swallows appear to be nesting under the overhang of the building below.  In the grassy area between the buildings there is a small kangaroo-like creature that Louise and I believe it’s a Wallaby. Later while checking out the Discovery Center, we determine it is a Potoroo. Wrong again, a Potoroo is a marsupial like a kangaroo but looks more like a rat.  I learn much later that we have seen is a Red-necked Pademelon, a regular visitor to the lawns around O’Reilly’s in the early mornings from the rainforest.
Laurens on the Tree Top Walk
For the rest of the day Louise and I explore several of the nearby rainforest tracks (Australian for trails) and the grounds in the immediate vicinity of O’Reilly’s.  The Booyong Track (most of it is a boardwalk) leads through the rainforest to the Treetop Walk and the Mountain Botanical Garden.  The Treetop Walk is a suspension bridge up to the lower portion of the canopy 18 meters (~60ft) above the ground and ladders leading to two observation platforms at 24 and 30 meters (~80 & ~100ft) above ground.  The view from the upper platforms is spectacular and reportedly the birding can be fantastic in the early mornings and late afternoons. We were there mid-day and had to “settle” for family groups of Grey & Rufous Fantails, Brown Gerygones, Thornbills, and Yellow-throated Scrubwrens.  The Mountain Botanical Garden was formerly an established and maintained garden with many non-native or exotic plants, nice walkways, water features, and many exposed boulders.  Nature is reclaiming this piece of land. Locally this is referred to as “regrowth rainforest”.  The surrounding mature rainforest is encroaching upon and will eventually overwhelm man’s intrusion here. For now, the relative lack of canopy meant the sunlight reaches nearly to the ground and the undergrowth, both exotic and re-established native vegetation, was denser than most other areas of the rainforest.  With the openness of the canopy, Louise and I were able to track down some of the vocalizations we were hearing, namely a pair of Golden Whistlers.  We also see a Carpet Python and large lizard-like creature that I believe is some sort of Skink.  There is an indescribable attractive power to this former garden and we return several times during our stay at O’Reilly’s. 
Side scratching Australian Logrunner
While walking back from the garden we stop at the sounds of scratching and rustling on the forest floor.  I had learned that the best way to find the Albert’s Lyrebird when it was not displaying was to track down any scratching sounds heard in the rainforest.  This is also a good way to find Australian Logrunners.  What sounded like it was going to be a single large bird turned out to be four Logrunners.  And Logrunners like to scratch.  The scratching birds I am familiar with scratch forward and back inline with their bodies.  Using their stiff tail feathers for support, Logrunners scratch sideways throwing debris left and right while searching for food.  While watching this interesting foraging behavior, a fifth Logrunner appears and let out an alarm call. For the bird watcher, an alarm call typically means the end of relaxing observation with birds scattering to directions usually not suitable for further observation.  With at least this family it meant much easier observations.  All five birds “flee” in our direction.  One goes behind us.  Two cross under the boardwalk and two over.  They all pause perched up and appear to look back through Louise & I into the forest from where they came. Perhaps a snake or something spooked them.  The two humans, apparently invisible to Logrunners, were thrilled to be treated with such spectacular views of this unique bird.
In the afternoon we visit the National Park Visitor Center looking for ideas on a slightly longer trek for later in the afternoon and tomorrow before must leave this wonderful place.  Before we get over to the visitor center a young lady (who was also on the morning bird walk) waves us over to see what she has discovered.  As we approach, she points to a snake actively hunting in the tall grass.  She has no idea what kind of snake it is and hopes I know.  I become very cautious since Australia has many venomous snakes and none have a warning device attached to their tail.  The snake is beautiful, long sleek glossy black above and deep red below.  While observing and photographing the snake, I am unaware of what kind but I treat it with respect and keep a safe distance.  It turns out to be a Red-bellied Black Snake, highly venomous, fatal if one receives a prolonged bite.  They are reportedly timid preferring to flee rather than strike.  However if stepped on or handled, watch out!
Red-bellied Black Snake - the business end
Bower of a male Satin Bowerbird
Our last walk of the day is to the closest waterfall in a string of falls several kilometers away.  The waterfall itself was rather unimpressive though the trek through the rainforest is very enjoyable.  We were far away from human activity near O’Reilly’s and I believed our chances of finding some of the more secretive birds much improved.  At the waterfall there is a Rufous Fantail dancing about catching insects.  While taking pictures of the Fantail, I notice the darkening sky.   Louise & I begin a fast paced walk back towards O’Reilly’s racing both the setting sun and the impending rain.  We still take time to look at a Pademelon foraging on the forest floor and more family groups of Australian Logrunners scratching away at the decaying leaf litter.  At one point something blue on the forest floor catches my eye.  We find the bower of a male Satin Bowerbird.  The bower is a structure made of sticks & grass and decorated with colorful & shiny objects.  All three bowers we saw were decorated with blue objects, which probably mean more mature male Bowerbirds built them.  The decorated bowers along with a male’s courtship dance are used to attract females for mating.  Sounds like a sex temple.  Later we stop again to investigate scratching & rustling sounds.  I was fortunate to see a body and the long curved tail feathers of an Albert’s Lyrebird as it disappears under log.  Despite waiting several minutes, we could not detect this bird again. Though I had a very unsatisfying look at this bird, I did see one of the more coveted and difficult to see species endemic to this area.
We arrive back at our room just in time for the sprinkle to turn into a steady rain.  I put aside any plans for owling this evening.  We have a wonderful dinner and crash for the evening. [eBird checklist]
November 14, 2013 Thursday:  We spend another morning walking several of the same tracks we covered yesterday.  While walking back along the Booyong Track, we run into Glen Trelfo guiding two Australian guests.  We had talked with Glen a few times earlier before realizing his celebrity-ship.  Glen has been a guide at O’Reilly’s for more than thirty-years, has produced a number of films & documentaries concerning rainforest wildlife, has worked with the likes of David Attenborough, and is a really nice guy.  He waves Louise & I closer and has us join him and his clients.  Glen reaches into his pockets, pulls out a handful of bird feed (looked like granola to me), and places some in each of our hands.  Within seconds an Eastern Whipbird is on one of our hands trying to get at the feed.  While we all having the opportunity to feed this Whipbird, we learned that he is named Mister Whippy.  Mr Whippy lives along this stretch of the trail and comes out for a show when Glen offers feed.  Glen believes Mr Whippy is 13 plus years old.  Eastern Whipbirds are generally pretty shy or at least difficult to get a good look at.  Having a bird feeding in ones hand kind of takes the mystic away from the bird, however it is good to have such good views and I of course try to get a few pictures.  Not to be out done, a Yellow-throated Scrubwren joins the feeding party.  The Yellow-throated Scrubwren somewhat resembles a Common Yellowthroat in plumage and in behavior.  Having bright yellow under parts including the throat and a black mask, Louise & I temporarily rename this bird Yellowthroat.
Russet-tailed Thrush
As we are packing up and getting ready to leave, I make another short attempt to see Lyrebird better or even find a Noisy Pitta.   I find a Russet-tailed Thrush foraging in the open and am fortunate that there is adequate light for photography. This was a nice reclusive bird to wrap up our short visit to O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat and Lamington National Park.
Being that there is only one way or out of O’Reilly’s, we retrace our path down the mountains.  [eBird checklist
The "Sign"
We stop at the sign that kept us going the other night, we laugh that this was the only marker we saw on the way up that hinted that O’Reilly’s was just a bit further.  As we descend the mountains, we pass through more interesting habitats; dense forest but dryer looking than above, Eucalyptus forest, then into the valleys with grassy pastures.  Eventually get out to the main north-south highway and cross into New South Wales.  The highway route teeters between coastal plains & piedmont terrain and forest, wetland, & pasture habitats.  This is another beautiful drive.
Probable Short-tailed Shearwater
We arrive at our lodging in Nambucca Heads a few hours before sunset.  Nambucca Heads is a town along the mid-north coast of New South Wales where the Nambucca River flows into the Pacific Ocean.  We check into the Riverview Boutique Motel.  Our host suggests a walk along the river out towards the ocean and mentions something called a V-wall.  The V-wall is a V-shaped rock seawall protecting part of the town and an estuary from the ocean.  Along a significant stretch of one leg of the wall, locals (mostly) have decorated the rocks with artistic graffiti.  The themes of the graffiti ranges from silly to memorials to advertisements to wedding proposals.  This has become a major tourist attraction for the town.  Personally I am more interested in the Wedge-tailed Shearwaters floating in the water just on the other side of the rocks.  At least I believe they are Wedge-tailed.  There is a large colony of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters at Coffs Harbour less than 40 km away.  [from someone with more knowledge than I, these are likely Short-tailed Shearwaters] None of my field guides show shearwaters on the water.  Eremaea Birds (a birding atlas similar to eBird) and eBird are of little help in determining which species to expect in this area.  All the flying shearwaters are in poor light and too distant to see any fieldmarks.  So, I hope someone that knows more about identification of these species will see my photographs and help me out.
Flying-foxes flying at dusk over Nambucca Heads
While walking out to the V-wall, Louise and I find a Sacred Kingfisher.  This, besides the kookaburras, is the only kingfisher species and individual we see.  There was also another Willie Wagtail putting on a show and a White-faced Heron hunting in a lagoon.  The sun sets as we walk back to the motel.  We watch an Australian Pelican fishing in the river.  We are watching a flock of herons flying into the sunset when we see a swirling mass of flying objects emerging from the hills overlooking town. After a while some get close enough for us to see that they are bats, giant bats, oh Flying-foxes.  There must have been thousands of them.  We learn that they roost in the remnant rainforest across the road from our accommodations and we will be able to see them in the morning.  We find ourselves both hunger and tired.  We stop for a wonderful dinner at a small chef run restaurant just a block from the hotel before retiring for the evening. [eBird checklist TBD]
Flying-foxes roosting
November 15, 2013 Friday:  Before breakfast is served, I take another walk along the river.  Flying overhead I see dozens of White-throated Needletails hawking insects.  While trying to photograph the Needletails, I notice a raptor soaring overhead.  The raptor is a Brahminy Kite. The Brahminy Kite ranges through coastal habitats in northern Australia.  This is about as far south as they get on the east coast and I am feeling very fortunate to have seen this one.  At breakfast we learn from a Belgian couple that yesterday there was a Tawny Frogmouth roosting nearby.  With the gentlemen’s help we find both male and female Frogmouth with the female on a nest.  Louise & I explore the nearby remnant rainforest, part of a local park.  This is where the Flying-foxes roost.  Though the smell was pretty harsh and there was the constant concern of getting hit with smelly stuff, it was really interesting walking among these restless giant bats.  Birds were few.  We heard a family of Laughing Kookaburras laughing and then saw one play through the bat roost. There was the ubiquitous Lewin’s Honeyeater and Australian Magpies precariously nesting under the bats.  After checking out of the motel, Louise & I visit several overlooks with wonderful vistas of the Pacific Ocean and the Nambucca River estuary.  [eBird checklist TBD]
After a seemingly very short visit, we get back on the road.  We have a plane bound for New Zealand to catch this afternoon.  The story of getting to the Sydney Airport and catching the plane will be saved for some other time.  So to close this chapter of our adventure – we catch our flight!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Desert Harrier Down Under

Louise and I have just returned from wonderful three-week trip to Australia and New Zealand.  Though this was not solely a birding trip, I did plan much of the route and destinations with bird watching in mind.  The following is the first of several posts describing this adventure from the standpoint of bird watching. Enjoy!
November 9, 2013 Saturday: Louise and I leave Tucson just after sunset. We are chasing the red glow to the west in a jet aircraft that appears to be designed for hobbits.  We have just embarked on an adventure we had been planning to take for several years.  After a short flight to and a long layover in LA we catch an overnight flight to Australia.  We leave LA just before midnight Saturday and arrive in Brisbane 8:00 Monday morning. This week we have no Sunday. Thinking about the time zone changes, crossing the International Date Line, and a fourteen-hour flight will make one batty or in my case crazy as a Laughing Kookaburra.
Our aircraft for the long flight.

November 10, 2013 Sunday: For Louise and I this day did not exist!
November 11, 2013 Monday: Louise and I arrive in Brisbane approximately on time, clear customs (long wait), find our luggage, and clear customs again.  I read that there would be Mangrove Honeyeaters feeding on the flowers at the Brisbane Airport. There well may be, they must have been at some other flowers since I did not see them while we waited for the Apex Car Rental transport to pick us up.  While sitting in the back of the Apex van, traveling at amazing speeds through a very urban section of Brisbane, I do spy my first birds for Australia; pigeons or doves, starlings, house sparrows, a large shorebird that I later identify (and see better) as a Masked Lapwing, and an Australian Magpie.  The attendant at Apex was unsuccessful in getting us pointed in the right direction for a natural food store. I drove and Louise held on tightly as I got acquainted with driving on the wrong side of the road. After a good forty minutes of searching for any kind of grocery store, I decide to get out of the city.  Urban driving is no way to learn to drive on the left.  
I had two objectives before we head north; one to get some groceries and the other take a walk after being trapped on a plane for so long.  So far no grocery store, however upon reaching more open parkway type road we come upon Boondall Wetlands. In my research I found this sanctuary and thought it would be a good place to stretch our legs and hopefully see some birds.  Three very nice ladies in the visitor center help to find a service center along the highway where Louise and I get lunch and some supplies.
Near the highway service center, we find a small lake covered with birds. Nudgee Waterhole turns out to be an eBird hotspot.  This becomes my first non-incidental birding in Australia. Most of the birds are Dusky Moorhens, Australian Ibis, and Pacific Black Ducks and all the birds were “lifers”. [eBird checklist]
Australasian Grebe at Nudgee Waterhole

After leaving the Nudgee Waterhole and as a result of a wrong turn (there were many of these) Louise and I drive out to Nudgee Beach Reserve.  Here we find a walk out through the mangroves.  The first bird I see is a White-faced Heron and the first bird I am learning the calls of is the Noisy Miner.  As I approach the heron, a Little Egret and then an Intermediate Egret distract me.  The Little Egret is very much like the North American Snowy Egret and the Intermediate Egret appeared slightly larger with a yellow-orange bill. Much of this trail is a boardwalk through and along the edge of the mangroves. While unfamiliar bird noises are frequent, sightings of these birds are not. The frustration of hearing so many unfamiliar calls but not seeing them is tempered by the thrill of finally seeing a new species of bird.  Totally unexpected while walking along the edge of a mangrove swamp was a shearwater floating in the bordering creek.  At first I thought it was a jaeger but after closer examination it was a shearwater [likely Short-tailed Shearwater].  I snapped a couple of pictures of the bird as it drifted up stream on the incoming tidal current while facing out towards open water. It looked like it was swimming backwards.  Where this creek opened up into a bay, there were a few Whimbrel, two Caspian Terns, and many Bar-tailed Godwits.  Wow, that’s three species I’ve seen before in North America.  Also present were numerous Silver Gulls. 
Little Pied Cormorant at Nudgee Beach Reserve
I had loosely picked three species of birds I wanted most of all to see in Australia: the Rainbow Bee-eater because it is so photogenic, the Willie-wagtail because of its cool name, and the Laughing Kookaburra because it is such a cool bird.   We come around bend in the trail where the mangroves open up into a sandy grassy clearing; I hear another new bird calling from a lone bush.  I am thinking I should be able to see this bird, one bush one bird.  I glance down at the sign next to me, Bee-eater territory.  Oh, maybe that’s what’s making the calls.  There it is, it appears on a snag above the lone bush and then flies down to the ground and disappears behind the clump of grass.  I’m thinking it will reappear shortly, picking up an insect or something.  Must be one tough insect to catch. 
After more than a minute, it reappears flying off and disappears into the mangroves a hundred meters away.  What’s going on? I check the sign again and actually read it.  Rainbow Bee-eaters dig borrows for nesting.  A few minutes later as we are approaching the car park, Australian for parking lot, I spot a Willie-wagtail.  Willie is bouncing around the top of a fence, not only does it wag its tail it wags its entire body.  This behavior proves to be a good way to quickly identify.  And locals refer to this behavior as “cheeky”.  [eBird checklist] 
Eventually we get back to Boondall Wetlands to walk some of the trails around the visitor center.  As we are driving into the car park, Louise sees several “wrens” along side the roadway.  After parking I run back to look for what she saw.  There are no true wrens in Australia but many species behave like wrens and cock their tails.  The first bird I see reminds me of a Rufous-winged Sparrow perched up on a fence.  Not wren-like in anyway and not like anything I remember in the field guide.  So I quickly snap a couple of images before it drops from view into the tall grassy area below.  Then the Fairy-wrens appear.  There’s two of them, then there’s six, no just three, maybe twelve, … I ultimately settle on at least six.  There are two males and at least four female/ immature.  I watch one of the females feeding a nearly identical plumaged immature.  The Superb Fairy-wrens are darting about the grasses and bushes, still only for a split second.  I manage a few acceptable photographs before the group moves off.
Pale-headed Rosella at Boondall Wetlands
As Louise and I walk back towards the short trail we plan to walk, an Australian Magpie and two Magpie-larks are harassing a Torresian Crow. Out on the trail we find a Fan-tailed Cuckoo, a few Gray Butcherbirds, and several Pale-headed Rosellas.  Since we wish to get to our lodging for the night before sunset, we turn back after a few hundred meters.  Then we see it, a large bird with a grotesquely large bill and oversized head.  It’s a Laughing Kookaburra.  Louise is the first to spot the Kookaburra.  Which is quite appropriate since she has wanted to sing to me the Kookaburra song since she learned we might see them in Australia.  I told her she’d have to wait until we actually found one.  While I happily listen to Louise singing, she spots more great birds, a family of Tawny Frogmouths.  I had not expected to see these birds sitting out on an open branch in the middle of the day.  These are nocturnal birds, related to nightjars.  While I am taking way too many pictures of these “so ugly they’re cute” adult female & two juveniles I spot the adult male perched in a tree about five meters away.  I rush to the visitor center to tell the nice ladies about our exciting find.  Though they know about the Frogmouth family, two of them are kind enough to come out and talk to us about them. This Frogmouth family nested a few meters from where the male was perched almost directly over the trail.  The ladies stated that the female and two young ones had moved several meters since they saw them earlier in the day.  I wish we could spend more time here, which is a wish I will frequently have throughout this adventure. [eBird checklist]
Laughing Kookaburra
Tawny Frogmouth - mom & youngsters
The drive to Rainbow Beach would have been uneventful if not for learning how to trust the navigation set and driving on the wrong side of the road at highway speeds. I managed to see a group of Black Kites soaring over the highway and one Australian Kestrel perched atop a bush.  We arrive at Debbie’s Place, our lodging for the night at sunset.  There are hundreds if not thousands of noisy Rainbow Lorikeets going to roost in trees across the street.  I hope to wake up early tomorrow and get some photographs of them before they leave.  We finish the day with dinner at a little Indian restaurant.

Blue-faced Honeyeater at Rainbow Beach
November 12, 2013 Tuesday: I get up too late to catch the lorikeets before they leave the roost.  Apparently the Lorikeets disperse for feeding prior to sunrise.  I walk around the block and nearby neighborhood. A few of the Rainbow Lorikeets are feeding in fruiting tree throughout the neighborhood, as well as a couple of Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, and at least one each Cockatiel, Crimson Rosella, and Eastern Rosella.  A small town park across the street from our lodging has many fruiting trees and bushes.  Feeding on the fruit and flitting around the bushes are Little Wattlebirds, Noisy Friarbirds, Lewin’s & Blue-faced Honeyeaters, and Australasian Figbirds. Foraging between the bushes and in more open areas are Magpie-larks and a pair of territorial Masked Lapwings.  Flying with the Welcome Swallows is at least one Eurasian Barn Swallow.  This Barn Swallow is apparently the same species that we have in North America and is very similar to the Welcome Swallow.  The Barn Swallow has a blackish breast band below the dark rusty throat, whitish under-parts including the under-wing coverts whereas the Welcome Swallow lacks the breast band and appears dirty grayish below.  Also hawking insects were several Fairy and Tree Martins. [eBird checklist].
Our host Debbie suggests we take the walk out to the "sandblow" before we leave town. She says this is a very scenic spot where one may see the rainbow-colored sands that give the area its name.  Even though this was a walk for scenery, I took advantage of the situation and birded.  Upon getting out of the car I learned where many of the Rainbow Lorikeet forage for the day.  The canopy of the Eucalyptus forest was full Rainbow Lorikeets with a scattering of Scaly-breasted Lorikeets.  I never saw the Scaly-breasted Lorikeets perched, just flying past.  The 600-meter walk out to the sandblow is through a Eucalyptus forest.  I find several Noisy Friarbirds, one of which is very cooperative from the photographic standpoints.  Noisy Friarbirds look like miniature vultures with the head and neck un-feathered & black. I also find a flock, probably a family, of Brown Gerygones, as well as a male Variegated Fairy-wren and a female Scarlet Honeyeater. Louise and I both hear rustling in the undergrowth.  It sounds like a larger creature and I begin thinking about a Brush-turkey. I’ll have to wait a few more hours for the Brush-turkey.  Louise finds the source of the rustling. It is a Goanna. Goannas are very large lizards and this one is huge by my standards.
Cockatoo upside-down
From out on the sandblow, between glimpses at the vista, I catch a view of an Eastern Spinebill and watch a calling Sulphur-crested Cockatoo fly back & forth across the open sand.  I am not sure what the Cockatoo was doing but I took the opportunity to take a few distant flight shoots of the bird.  While reviewing my photographs at home a few weeks later I find in one of the shoots the Cockatoo is flying upside-down.  How strange! [eBird checklist]
Our next stop is Inskip Point, which is about 20 minutes north of the Rainbow Beach and is a local birding hotspot for Black-bellied Buttonquail.  Bottonquail create shallow circular depressions in the in the leaf litter called platelets.  While we find plenty of platelets indicating the presence of Buttonquail, we do not see any.  We do see many other birds and have a great time walking through the forest and along the beach.  Louise & I walk and bird for two & half hours. Birding get more fun as both of us get more familiar with many of the more common species like Lewin’s Honeyeater, Olive-backed Oriole, and Australian Figbird.  Louise finds another Goanna, this one is huge at about two meters long. 
Though they look rather threatening we learn from a local ranger that unless the Goanna is cornered it is rather harmless and afraid of humans. We find Bar-shouldered Doves taking dust baths and sunning.  A female Leaden Flycatcher appears to be tending a young in her nest.  There are several family groups of Silver-eyes with the adults feeding their fledgling young.  Louise is the first to recognize the call of an Eastern Whipbird.  I see and manage a poor photograph of the male.  We find a Rufous Whistler and the first of many Eastern Yellow Robins.  In quick succession we find three birds that I am clueless to their identity.  I record verbal notes with Louise’s input and photograph them.  Later I learn that we had seen Brown Thornbill, Rufous Shrike-thrush, and Varied Triller.  A Rainbow Bee-eater poses for photographs in the same dead snag that a
Rainbow Bee-eater at Inskip Point
pair of White-breasted Woodswallow is allopreening. Out on a mudflat I see more Whimbrel, a Far Eastern Curlew, Red-neck Stints, Lesser Sand Plovers, and a pair of Red-capped Plovers.
  In the distance I see gulls and terns that I leave unidentified.  We walk out on to the sandy beach and approach several of the gulls. Identification of the gulls is easy; red bill, legs, & orbital ring, white eyes with black iris, pale silvery gray mantle. These are Silver Gulls, one of only three gull species regularly occurring in Australia.  The other two species are larger and dark mantled. Before we get back to the car, we notice several small birds very actively flitting through the brush.  They turn out to be a pair of Red-backed Fairy-wrens.  While I am attempting to photograph the Fairy-wrens I find that there is a different species in the viewfinder.  Now I’m photographing a White-browned Scrubwren.  I leave the Scrubwren and cannot re-find the Fairy-wrens so turn back to head for the car. 
White-breasted Woodswallows
There’s a pair of Bee-eaters in my way and they alternate taking food to a nest borrow.  I photograph them from a distance that they seemed comfortable continuing to service their unseen young.  Their borrow entrance was about a meter from the edge of a road. Before we get a kilometer down the down we see a Willie-wagtail foraging along roadside.  Not satisfied with my previous photo opportunities I take many photographs of this wonderful bird as it dances around catching insects. [eBird checklist]

Before we start traveling to our destination for the evening, we stop for another walk.  I had researched several more places to bird watch in the Rainbow Beach area.  One of them, the Bymien Picnic Area trek to Poona Lake, seemed most interesting and doable with the little spare time we had.  This is a trek (Australian for a walk or hike) through coastal rainforest. We were greeting at the trailhead by several Australian Brush-turkey.  The thick undergrowth, closed canopy, and darkness of this forest sharply contrasts the forest we had just walked through at Inskip Point.  We hike for nearly two hours, hearing many birds but seeing very few.  We catch views of Pale-yellow & Eastern Yellow Robins, and a tail wagging bird that we identify from our notes and poor photographs as a Rufous Wagtail.  We hear but do not see Eastern Whipbird and Wompoo Fruit-Dove as well as many sounds that will forever be left unidentified.  There was one particularly annoying call that taunted us for the longest time.  We finally see the source of the noise, our first Green Catbird. [eBird checklist]
Australian Brush-turkey checking our tire pressure
The time has come for us to get on the road and head towards our lodging for the night, O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat about five hours away.  Like our previous stops near Boondall Wetlands, I wish we could spend more time in this area. More of my photos are being uploaded to my Australia Set on Flicker


Thursday, November 7, 2013

Eared Quetzal in Madera Canyon

Thursday 11/7/2013:  It was six years, one week, and two days ago, that is 28 Oct 2007, that I found an Eared Quetzal on the Agua Caliente Trail in upper Madera Canyon.  Louise and I were hiking, enjoying the beautiful autumn afternoon, and not really birding when I began hearing a unfamiliar bird call.  After tracking the call down and getting a brief look at the bird, I determined it was an Eared Quetzal.  This was a significant day from a number of standpoints: personally, professionally, and for the birding community.  Though I had lived in Arizona for more than 8 years at this time, I was not part of the local birding community.  Up until this time I did not report any of my sightings, did not attend field trip, or participate on counts.  From a professional standpoint, during the following days the seed of becoming a birding guide was sowed.  And for the birding community, the “Patagonia Roadside Table Effect” occurred where birders searching for one rare species find more rare species. In a few days following my original quetzal observation a Crescent-chested Warbler and an Aztec Thrush were discovered.  Not to mention a few more observations of the quetzal.
Each fall since, in late October through November, I have made a point of searching the upper reaches of Madera Canyon for Eared Quetzal. Today was one of the days; I was hunting quetzal.  My intension was to checkout a couple of the Arizona Madrones trees that were full of berries along the Carrie Nation Trail.  The first such Madrone is just below the first stream crossing.  Last year it was host to a Varied Thrush.  This morning it was host to several American Robins and Hermit Thrush as well as a Red-shafted Flicker.  I continued my trek up the trail, past the second & third stream crossing, heading to a group of Madrones that were full of fruit last week and hosting a good number of birds.  Likewise this morning, however the quetzal I had dreamed about being there was not.  I watched these trees for thirty minutes or so, two male & a female Williamson’s Sapsuckers and my second Townsend’s Solitaire were probably the best birds among a few American Robins, several Red-naped Sapsuckers, and many Hermit Thrushes.  I continue up the trail enjoying the wonderful weather, the falling leaves, and my favorite view along this trail.  My mind begins to wander from my quetzal search; I begin thinking about an up coming trip to Australia and New Zealand.  Before my mind get anywhere near the land-down-under, I hear “kwreeee chunk” call behind me.  I turned around without seeing anything until I hear it again (2-3 seconds between calls).  Through a few twigs I got an obscured binocular view for about three to five seconds of an Eared Quetzal.  As I start reaching for my camera it called again and flies up the slope directly away from me. Two Steller's Jays also took off at the same time and generally headed the same direction.  I was originally about 100 feet from the bird when I observed it and the bird was about 50 feet off the trail.  I head back down the trail in the direction of where the quetzal disappears.  I listen for any sounds that might reveal the quetzal’s new position. After about twenty seconds I hear another call, it sounds distant.  I am not prepared for an off-trail scramble, plus I am alone and no one knows that I am up here.  It is not a good idea and probably futile to pursue.  
The quetzal is definitely not an adult male, I believe it is an adult female based on the darkness of the hood.  Though my view was somewhat obscured I could clearly see the transition from the dark gray breast to red belly without a separating white band, the under tail appeared unmarked white, and the shape was all quetzal (small head, thick body, broad tapered to a rounded end tail). In flight directly away, it looked dark; dark gray head & neck, dark green back, & blackish-blue rump & upper tail.  Only saw the white in the tail briefly when it spread its tail in a slight bank turn.  Coordinates: 31d 41.966m, -110d 52.584m. 
I try to send a text message to Andrew Core. Even though my phone is showing several bars, the text fails to go through.  I try several more times from different spots along the trail, no luck.  I decide to finish the trek and linger in this area again on the way down. 
Above the entrance to the Carrie Nation Mine, an immature Sharp-shinned Hawk seemed to be on guard.  For a Sharpie it allowed a rather close approach and a fairly long period for photo opportunities.  To the bird’s credit, it was backlit and in the shadows. 
Heading down trail, which is easier for birding, I linger in the area of the previous quetzal sighting.  No sight or sound of my quarry.  I loiter around the group of fruiting Madrones; many other birds but no quetzal.  I notice the time and remember that I have quite a few things to do before my departure in a few days.  I expedite my pace yet still enjoying what has turned out to be an especially wonderful day in Madera Canyon.
Back at the parking lot I get my message off to Andrew, only an hour and half after first trying.
Before leaving Madera Canyon, I stop at Madera Kubo briefly to check on a reported Blue-throated Hummingbird and at the Whitehouse Picnic Area for the Red-breasted Sapsucker.  No on the hummingbird, yes on the sapsucker.