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!

No comments:

Post a Comment