Day 148 – October 30 – Cape Hillsborough

(Bert) Warm days are upon us, hot by 10 AM. I’ve suggested we start our birding at 5:30 AM. The sun is well above the horizon, the birds are singing and the morning is cool, or at least cooler. We walk along a boardwalk through a mangrove swamp, the wooden boards squeaking with each step. I don’t think the noise is scaring away the birds, though we see almost none. We are searching for fruit-doves as I’ve read that three species occur here, none of which any of us have seen before. We finish the loop trail without finding our targets.

Next Hugh drives all of seven of us to a secluded beach, secluded in the sense that it is off the beaten path, but not from campers as each of the dozen sites is filled, many of whom are using solar panels for generating electricity. We again search for the fruit-doves, finding none. The Scaly-breasted Lorikeets and Pale-headed Rosellas are nice to look at, though. We see a large nest in a tree and a tall brown outline of a raptor standing on a hidden branch above the nest. We creep closer and scare off an adult Brahminy Kite. Jim and Ralph move in closer and later Jim tells me he got good photos of the brown juvenile. I see the adult several times during the morning as it flies over the mud flats of a receding tidal sea. The Brahminy could well be the prettiest Australian kite, displaying chestnut wings and tail that contrast sharply with a snow white head and breast. I freeze it in flight with many photos and notice how very long are its wings and how gracefully it maneuvers.

We came to the beach to find Beach Stone-Curlew, a species that has evaded us so far and does again today even though this is a known location for the scarce bird. The beach is not vacant, however. We find dozens of Asiatic Whimbrels and the much larger Eastern Curlew. Two plovers run over the mudflats. One is a Red-capped Plover and the other is larger. Jim and I study the distant plover for a half-hour, eventually taking photos of it standing and in flight. Finally, we agree it is a Greater Sand Plover looking quite drab in its non-breeding plumage.

(Shari) I meet Cindy in the amenities block and realize that she had not gone birding this morning. She tells me she is dropping from a 4.5 to a 4 on the birding scale. These early mornings are taking their toll but as Bert tells me over and over again, that is when the birds are out. I notice only one rig has departed so I wonder how many other people have dropped on the birding scale. I use the quiet morning again to catch up on the paperwork that I have been putting off. Later I walk to the café for a coffee treat but they are not open nor intend to. Back at the RV, I finish the paperwork and start to gather things I want to ship home before we fly to New Zealand. At 4:30 we gather at the tables in the “bistro”. Already there are five card players intent on their game. After our meeting we are to have a LEO (Let’s Eat Out) of fish and chips. The bistro throws in a salad, all for $8 per plate. Of course, Australians never serve catsup and if asked they give one little package of tomato sauce. I ask Bert to bring our bottle of catsup for all to share. Jim has one too and we do good work of using up most of what is in the bottle.

Day 149 – October 31 – Cape Hillsborough to Benarby

(Bert) While we are waiting for Mary to join us, Cindy and I follow the sound of a loud bird that I think is calling its name, Koel. What I think is close is really far and we probably pass 40 campsites before we come to the tree we are sure contains the Koel. After standing in front of the tree for two or three minutes I still cannot see the caller. Then Cindy sees the black bird in a dark spot in the dark green leaves. It is right in front of our eyes and about 15 ft. up. I click off a dozen photos of the Koel as this is the first time I have had one in clear view, albeit dark view.

With Mary we now walk along a dirt road through the forest, hoping yet again to find fruit-doves. The forest is quiet, except far in the distance, so we see few birds. We hear a dove with a call that might have been a Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove, but it did not continue calling so we couldn’t follow it or be sure of the sender. We do better with another call, constantly repeated with short gaps between. It comes from much farther away then we first thought and eventually we isolate the bird to the canopy of one of about a half-dozen trees. Even after a half-hour of hearing and searching for the dove, we cannot see it, but we are quite sure it is a Superb Fruit-Dove.

(Shari) I can’t believe I just did that. I have almost done it a few times during the past two days but always caught myself. I thought something was strange when my key did not open the door to the RV. I tried the door and it was open. I thought in my early morning stupor, I did not lock it properly when I left for my shower. As I lumber up the steps, I notice the lights are on. My, is Bert home from birding already. I hear a voice say “How is my birdwatcher?” Looking up I see Hugh! Imagine my surprise to realize I just went into the wrong rig. Good thing he was dressed and descent. He says my number is 218 and yours is 219. Yeah, as if I am going to remember that.

Marie and Chris are on their way to the next campground. It is a long day today and they leave before 7, giving me their boom gate key so I can turn it into the office when it opens at 8. Our estimated time of arrival keeps getting pushed forward. First I see a Sunday market and I just have to stop. Here I purchase some Australian animal print material. I buy enough to make two decorative pillows and a table runner. It captures the essence of Australia with all the things we have seen, artfully arranged. Next we stop for groceries; that always takes longer than we anticipate. Then we circle around town, looking for a gas station that will take the gift card we got when we returned our walkie talkies (they did not work on the same frequency as the USA ones). Last we get stuck behind a wide load traveling down the highway. It is so wide that a police car travels in front to stop oncoming traffic and another police car travels behind to prevent passing. So we diddle the last 50 km at about 40 kph. Needless to say, we are the last to arrive. I am so happy that I arranged a dinner for the group tonight. We meet at the camp kitchen for a quick meeting. Tony, dressed in orange pants and a ruffled short apron, promises our dinner will be ready at 5:30. Well, we are ready but he is not. He comes out with a carved pumpkin in honor of us. Australians do not get into Halloween like we do. Unfortunately the pumpkin tips over just as it reaches our table and spills red gunk all over Bert’s birding papers. Bert is upset to say the least. Tony brings a witch’s hat and some balloons and puts them on Cindy to wear. He also has pirate hatchets and trick or treat plastic pumpkins to complete the decorations. Finally at 6:30 the food comes, roast beef and veggies or lasagna and salad. I complete the meal with Anzac cookies I purchased from the grocery store. By now we are all hungry and when the group complements me on the meal I say, “If you get people hungry enough anything will taste good”. To be fair, the meal is very tasty and the lasagna in my opinion being the best choice. Too bad I too took the roast.

(Bert) We leave camp at 8 AM and reach our next campground at 5 PM, with many stops in between. Shari has arranged dinner for the whole group, to be prepared by one of the camp workers we met in July, a man who presumably once owned his own restaurant. Although a serious step-in manager when we met him across the desk in July, now when Shari asks when dinner will be ready he seems out of his element, vague and a bit weird. He agrees on 5:30 for dinner, but when we are at the outside tables at that time he strolls up with an empty chafing dish. The discussion now focuses on 6:15 as dinner time. Shortly beforehand he brings out a carved pumpkin in celebration of Halloween today, which is almost an unknown holiday in Australia. The gesture is nice until he drops the pumpkin and dumps a red liquid, presumably a blood imitation, over my bird checklist book. I rush to the sink and use a dish cloth to try to remove the liquid but it heavily stains my book. He seems to think nothing of the incident and continues to act either drunk or stoned. The meal comes out and I must say my lasagna is delicious. At least he did one thing right.

Day 150 – November 1 – to Tin Can Bay

(Bert) I thought Common Koels were uncommon. At least that is what I heard from a birder early in our trip. Yet one is calling day and night at our Benarby campground, I hear another at a rest stop outside Gin Gin and there are at least two more calling at Tin Can Bay.

Most of today is spent driving past cane fields, pastureland and pine forests, with a major stop at a city park. Although we drive separately, leaving at different times, we all gather at this focal point, meeting near the lagoon filled with floating Pacific Black Ducks, Dusky Moorhens and a pair of Black Swans guarding two fluffy beige chicks. Across on the opposite side a rookery is loud with nesting Australian White Ibis and Pied Cormorants. In another corner of the lagoon is a large flock of Cattle Egrets nesting in trees. What is unusual about the Cattle Egrets is their dull orange feathering. Normally the egrets are all white, but at the height of breeding they convert a few feathers near the head to orange. However, the heads and shoulders on these Cattle Egrets are almost completely a dull shade of yellow-orange, unlike anything I’ve seen of those nesting in Texas. In the same area of the park we see a pair of Australasian Grebes. Although I’ve seen them before, now they are in breeding plumage, dramatically blacker with a sharply contrasting yellow cheek patch.

The best bird for most is the Little Corella, an all white parrot that looks a lot like a Sulphur-crested Cockatoo. This is the same park where I saw the species for the first time, back in July. For what was just a short midday stop, we do exceptionally well, seeing 35 species.

(Shari) Again we are the last to leave camp pulling out at 7 AM. No matter, as I was up at 5 anyway. Last night I could not pay my VISA bill online and I knew this was the last WI-FI connection I had before the bill is due. I guess I worried about that and could not sleep. This morning all works fine and the bill gets paid. The group jockeys positions as some stop for gas and others pass. At least three stopped in the cute town of Gin Gin and I know at least two were seen in the bakery getting meat pies. We stop once for fuel and then a second time at a lagoon for birding. It must be a good birding spot as we are there at least a couple of hours. As we depart from the town, I see a McDonalds. Boy, an iced coffee sounds good about now. We stop and are also able to do E-mail for free. The day is very cloudy and it threatens rain. All day long, it looks like about 5 PM yet rain never falls.

Day 151 – November 2 – Great Sandy National Park and Frazier Island

(Bert) At Searys Creek the habitat looks lush for birdlife. The sightings are few but special, highlighted by a Scarlet Honeyeater at the pinnacle of a leafless tree, glowing like a bright red light illuminated by a rising sun and a tiny Striated Pardalote dancing quickly through the trees above a swimming hole in the crystal clear stream. We move on to a forested trail and pick up a few new birds for the trip list. A thornbill, often difficult to identify, shows its brown cap marking it as Brown Thornbill. We zero in on a loudly calling bird, finding a Grey Butcherbird. I get a poor photo on our first pass on the trail, but when we return it is still there and this time comes quite close. It swoops over my head, almost brushing my hair, and stops so close to me that my camera cannot focus on it. While others are studying a Magpie-Lark on a large mud nest secured in a strong fork of a horizontal branch, I am looking at the other side of the parking lot and find a Little Wattlebird. I motion for the others to come toward me and they get a brief, if unsatisfying, look before the bird is lost in the shrubbery.

We drive through town, noticing a dozen or more Olive-backed Sunbirds perched on the high wires, one or two between each utility pole. They have a characteristic flight profile, showing triangles as wings and a thin wisp of a tail. The morning air uplifts must be optimal and we watch soaring Whistling Kite, Brahminy Kite and White-bellied Sea-Eagle. We reach the sandy beach, park our vehicles and carry our scopes to the broad, brightly white expanse of sand and mud. Tens of thousands of crabs form regiments of a great army, marching to and fro across the mud. Marie tries to get a closer approach and the army ducks for cover, disappearing in mud holes. Jim, Ralph and I scope the beach, checking off Eastern Curlew, Asian Whimbrel, Bar-tailed Godwit, Red-capped Plover and Curlew Sandpiper. A sea-eagle watches us from a tall tree at the edge of the beach, a great photo op. As we continue along the beach toward the point where the ferry shuttles tourists to Frazier Island, we see large flocks of Crested Terns and Gull-billed Terns and a few Sanderlings and Ruddy Turnstones. The big surprise is a Kelp Gull north of its usual range on the eastern coast of Australia. We escape the piercing sunlight and enter the shadows of the woods, adding many more birds to the day list. We study a honeyeater and decide it is the same as one we saw yesterday, dismissing it too quickly as Singing Honeyeater. Later when I study the book and range maps, I deduce these must be Mangrove Honeyeaters which look almost identical. Some of our group has had enough of walking in the sun and heat, so rest in the RV’s while we search for buttonquail where I found them a few months ago. An hour’s search, shoulders tired of carrying my heavy camera and a mouth dry for want of water brings us no buttonquail and I am ready to give up on this one.

(Shari) Half of our group goes with me to Frazer Island and half go with Bert birding. Frazer Island is another one of those World Heritage sites and is the biggest sand island in the world. I expected to see sand but surprisingly the environment is quite diverse. We catch our 4-wheel-drive bus at 7:45 and take off along a sand road to the barge that takes us to the island. Only 4-WD vehicles are allowed on the island as the sand is soft and would bog down a regular car in two shakes of a lamb’s tail. Our guide and driver has the personality of a macho man and his off color jokes and bad puns get tiresome. Good thing the scenery is good and the experience of riding the beach through the waves and streams is unique. We sail along the beach at waters edge. Hugh gets to ride in the passenger seat and says the driver was approaching 60 mph. I see no swimmers and learn that the water, although looking so inviting, is not safe. If the undertow and rip tides do not get you, the sharks and stingers will. What a shame, as the water is so blue, glistening over the white sand. We walk through a stream through the rainforest, take pictures of a shipwreck, swim in a freshwater lake and stroll along a boardwalk in the rainforest. A buffet lunch is included in the package and by 11:30 we are hungry. After lunch Ermine and I are the only ones that swim in the beautiful clear waters of freshwater Lake McKenzie. Legend has it that the lake has restorative powers and she and I both think we look and feel 25 yr. younger after our swim. After a full day on the island, covering 120 mi. round trip, we return on the barge to the mainland at 4:30. Cindy sees a bird that she does not think is on the trip list and is excited to tell the group at bird count. Unfortunately, the birding group saw the same bird and a bunch of others that she missed. Oh, choices, choices! Too bad we cannot be in two places at the same time.

Day 152 – November 3 – to Brisbane

(Shari) Wow, the dolphins are already here when we pull up at 7! They must be hungry. Norm is knee deep in water, waiting to pet them. The volunteer makes everyone wash their hands before entering the water so as not to transmit any disease to the cute animals. For the next hour they swim in and around the people, just to play. At 8, for $5 a fish, people can hand feed the dolphins. I get pictures of Marie, Ermine and Norm feeding them. Bert wants me to feed one too but I do not want to get my pants wet and my feet all sandy. He seems disappointed but then why doesn’t he feed them?

(Bert) The two Indo-Pacific Dolphins are already in shallow water next to the dockside restaurant. Feeding time isn’t until 8 AM. Ermine and Norm take off their shoes and walk a few feet into the sand bottom beach, reach out their hands and the dolphins move to them, bumping their snouts to the outstretched hands and probably hoping for a fish snack. Most of us order breakfast, sitting outdoors and enjoying the fresh morning sea air. Virginia tells me about some of the stories she heard from the volunteer dolphin handlers. I already know about the rescue some 50 years ago that rehabilitated a dolphin that then became people friendly, leading to future generations that continued to come to the dock for morning feedings. What I didn’t know is how sensitive the dolphins are to people with medical conditions. Apparently, they sense handicaps, injuries or sicknesses among the people walking into the water during feeding time and they move closer and remain with those people, in a caretaking manner. One time they settled near a woman and the volunteer handler asked if she was pregnant. To her surprise, she said yes, how did you know? The handler responds that the dolphin told him. When feeding time approaches the crowd of people has grown and I have trouble seeing Marie and others feeding a dolphin. Ermine is the last in line and I get up to water’s edge to take photos of her passing on two 5-in. fish, bite size for the dolphins.

(Shari) After eating breakfast in the open air restaurant, we make our way to Brisbane. The drive is pretty as the Jacaranda trees are in purple bloom. As we approach the city, traffic picks up and both the driver and navigator have to pay attention. We are the first to arrive at camp with Hugh and Mary following right behind. Others get lost but eventually all make it and no one is really anxious to drive in the city anymore. Ralph and Virginia tried to use their GPS but Virginia is ready to throw it out. I go over to their rig to see if I can help. I notice the GPS does not show street level detail so no wonder it is hard to follow. Ralph and I try all sorts of varying solutions until I tell him to stick in the auxiliary card in place of the main card. It is my last idea and if that does not work, he has a dud. By golly, it works and now they just have to learn to trust the device, something that may take Virginia awhile to do as she is very frustrated with the whole thing.

Tonight we are having a spaghetti supper to use up all things in our refrigerator. I ask everyone to bring me their leftovers and I make the sauce in one big pan. I had hoped to cook all the noodles too, but the stove is not big enough for all the pans needed, so Ermine, Cindy and Marie cook noodles. We have a delicious dinner under the eaves of the barbeque area. At the end of it, we have a big pan of noodles left over and as young backpackers come up to the area to cook their supper, I offer them our cooked noodles. After three couples, the noodles are gone. We now only have some chicken and rice left in our refrigerator to use for supper tomorrow.

Day 153 – November 4 – Brisbane

(Bert) We meet our guide Roy at Slaughter Falls and in intermittent thinly-falling rain we hike part way up the falls, finding nary a bird. The darkening sky threatens heavier rain and our prospects look slim. Roy suggests we head out to Lockyer Valley, west of Brisbane. It turns out to be a very wise decision as we seen no rain the rest of the day and find many birds we have not seen previously in Queensland.

At our first stop we see waterbirds, but the real draw belongs to the grassland birds, yet more Golden-headed Cisticolas and a new species, Tawny Grassbird. Jim wants a closer approach for a photo, but between us and the bird is a dense stand of sharp thistles. We travel through farmlands, punctuated with a few home sites. We see a Zebra Finch on a utility wire, a Common Bronzewing at the edge of a cornfield, yet one more honeyeater, this time the Striped Honeyeater, and cutest of all is two young fledgling Tawny Frogmouths nestled tightly against one of the adults, with the other adult surveying them from a higher branch. In one of the towns we find our first Cockatiels and on a university campus we see a Red-rumped Parrot, very small and quite colorful.

Perhaps the best spot is a pond on the outskirts of the university. Perhaps it is the freshwater outlet of sewage treatment ponds, as water is being circulated. Roy says that sometimes thousands of ducks are on the pond, though we are quite happy with the hundred or so we see, as they include Pink-eared Duck, Grey Teal, Hardhead and Blue-billed Duck, all of which we have not seen previously. On another pond we find Cotton Pygmy-Geese and add Eurasian Coot to the list.

I am really surprised when we come upon a flock of Long-billed Corellas as I did not think they reached this far north. One of the last birds we see is several Banded Lapwings, including a family group hustling through a cow herd. A day that started out dismal ends with great success and our total species count reaches 88, including six life birds for me. Marie comes in with 14 added to her life list.

(Shari) I think I still have my eyes closed as I lumber into Ermine’s rig at 5:30 AM. I packed my backpack last night with all the things I thought I’d need today as by now you realize I do not function very well in the wee hours of the morning. Both of us slowly wake up over tea and coffee. I take a shower and dress before both of us work on the computer. I call various places in New Zealand, confirming our next week’s worth of activities before we head off for breakfast at an open air restaurant within walking distance. Unfortunately it has started to rain and rain hard. Up go our rain hoods, with both of us lamenting the fact that we had not brought the umbrellas.

After breakfast we catch the bus to the city, planning indoor things like shopping as it is still raining buckets. A few days ago when Ermine dropped her camera, it cracked, so when we see an electronics store we enter and ask about cameras. Out we come with a new camera. When I pass a place that cuts hair, out I come with a new hairdo. When Ermine sees a place that sells wigs and hairpieces, out she comes with a cute hair piece. So goes our day. By noon, the rain has stopped so we walk to the river and catch a city ferry. This is a cheap way to get a tour of the city. We ride the boat from stop to stop, marveling at how pretty the city is. Getting off at the Arbor View stop, we find a restaurant and spilt a Greek crepe and a banana crepe at a table set at the side of a manmade stream of bubbling water. As we eat, we talk about the Ferris wheel that we see in the distance. Asking about it, we are told to take the arbor walk, a path that meanders along the river and is covered with millions of blooming bougainvilleas all in the color purple. Ermine at first says she will watch as I go on the wheel but then changes her mind and accompanies me. We have the enclosed gondola all to ourselves; in fact we almost have the whole Ferris wheel to ourselves as not many people are about on this drizzly day. We are given a map and for the next five revolutions of the wheel we learn about 11 city landmarks. By now it is 3 PM and time to find the bus stop that will take us home. But first I have to tell you this story that Cindy tells me later as it is apropos to my situation.

A man goes out fishing but soon his leaking boat begins to sink. He only has his life preserver and starts to pray to God for help. A yacht stops and its skipper asks if the man needs any help. The man says “No, God will take care of me”. Later a powerful speed boat stops and offers help. The man declines the help and says “God will take care of me”. Finally a canoe comes and the paddler offers his help and again the man says “No, God will take care of me”. Hours later, the man is still praying for God’s help as he is about to drown. God answers “What do you want from me? I already sent you a yacht, a speed boat and a canoe”.

Here is how that relates to me. For the past two months I have had a pimple on my forehead that has grown from pin size to eraser size to fingernail size. A few days ago it started to itch and get scaly. Since I have had actinic keratosis in the past and used a chemical peel on my face to rid it of the precancerous lesions, I was worried. With my pessimistic nature, I was already planning my funeral and was quite scared. Mary relieved my fears last night but when I saw a clinic that had a poster advertising mole inspection I just had to go in. It was like God telling me “Here is your help, now use it”. I imagine by now He was sick of my constant prayers about it. So, in I go and 30 min. later I come out minus the growth. Again, it was a form of my previous keratosis but not cancerous. The doctor just used liquid nitrogen to freeze it off. My goodness, what a relief! You have no idea just how much that had me worried. It was $65 well spent and a crowning point to a fun day.

Day 154 – November 5 – Brisbane

(Bert) Jim drives today, taking five passengers to the top of the mountain west of Brisbane. Our birding group is small today after yesterday’s big birding day and some wanted extra time to pack suitcases and clean the RV’s. Just before we step out I check the GPS for elevation, finding it 2123 ft. A large expanse of mowed grass lawn, dotted with tall spreading trees, is surrounded by towering dense rainforest. Immediately, birds draw our attention, species coming at a fast pace and many of them new to us. Within our first half-dozen birds we mark additional trip birds: gold and black Regent Bowerbird, curve-billed Paradise Riflebird, an almost black Satin Bowerbird–later finding a bower also–with females that look like catbirds, and a Green Catbird vigorously calling from the forest. On the forest trail we get good views of multiple Green Catbirds, a large, plump bowerbird that calls like an irritated cat and is no relation to those we call catbirds in North America. The 4- and 5-in. little birds that dart through the understory challenge our identification skills and I conclude we are seeing Yellow-throated Scrubwren, White-browed Scrubwren, Large-billed Scrubwren, Brown Gerygone and Brown Thornbill, all of which fit the category of LBJ’s, Little Brown Jobs. Much easier to identify are several male Golden Whistlers, although the females are so drab and so much like other drab birds that it takes us quite a while to be sure of the identification. Frequently, far in the distance, we can hear the low-pitched reverberating call of the Wompoo Fruit-Dove: WOMP POO. Too soon for my part, we quit birding and return to camp. We need to get ready for tomorrow’s return of the RV’s. After lunch, Shari and I take two boxes, mine 9.48 kg, Shari’s 7.93 kg, to the Australian post office for mailing to the U.S. With 3-mo. delivery by sea, our cost is $111.60 which converts to about US$3 per lb.

(Shari) We start packing our stuff today. We take two 20-lb. boxes to the post to ship home via the sea route. They tell us not to look for them for 3 mo. yet it still cost over $100. I did not think I bought many souvenirs but when I gathered them all together, I have a whole backpack full. A little here and a little there adds up I guess. Good thing I held myself back on the shopping or I would have more. We carry some grocery items to the camp kitchen putting the items on top of a paper marked “free food”. Others do the same and I notice the salad dressings, mayonnaise, aluminum foil and olive oil disappear quickly. No one seems to want the Old El Paso Salsa and soy sauce though. We carry out a lot of garbage too but finally we are all packed. We have a terrible dining out experience that Bert will tell you about. All I can say is I only had one bite of pizza before Bert whips the pizza box out from under me as he storms up to the counter.

(Bert) For dinner we decide to walk about two blocks to a Domino’s Pizza restaurant, still not having eaten a pizza we liked and are ready to try an American branded pizza. We select The Godfather pizza and sit at a table to wait for it to be prepared. A sign proudly announces 3 min. to make the pizza and 10 min. in the oven. I see an electronic display with names, mine included, announcing the progress of the pizza. Deliverymen are constantly banging a door against my chair when they leave, so we move to another table, but this one is dirty, so I go to the counter and ask for a wash cloth to clean the table. My name moves to the top of the list and it states our pizza is done. I hear my name called, but the clerk tells me it was not my name. Meanwhile, a customer who came much later than me gets his pizza. Jim shows up and orders a pizza for carry-out. After 5 min. more, my name disappears from the list and still I have not been called, so I ask one of the workers about it. One goes to another and then another and the guy who is cutting pizzas comes up to tell me my pizza is being remade and should be ready in 3 min. I think they gave my pizza to someone else, though they will not admit it. Meanwhile, Jim is told his pizza is being remade also. My name does not reappear on the list, although Jim’s is still there. After about 4 min. Jim is handed his pizza but he acts surprised that he got his before mine. The clerk quickly realizes she was giving Jim my pizza. Finally my pizza is done and so is Jim’s. I take the pizza in a box to where Shari is sitting and she asks me for napkins, so I go back to counter to ask for napkins, since none are at the table or on the shelf. Surprised at my request, the pimply-faced kid hands me a single folded sheet of a brown paper towel, like that dispensed in bathrooms. Back at the table, I try to pick up a piece of pizza, but find out most of the pizza is not cut into pieces. I go back to counter for a knife and am told they have no knives. I go back to the table, pick up the pizza box and pizza, put it on the counter, raise an edge of the pizza to show that it is not cut and ask them how I am supposed to eat it. Lifting half the pizza out of the box causes the other half to tip from the narrow shelf and it slips over the edge on to their register counter. My complaint and the tipping pizza angers the pizza-slicing man and he orders me out of the restaurant. I say, “Not unless I get my money back”, which he promptly refunds and we walk out of the restaurant. So, I still don’t know if Domino’s pizza is as good in Australia as it is in the USA.

Day 155 – November 6 – Lamington National Park

(Shari) Today we return our RV’s. Bert and I have lived in ours for more than four months and it is a little like saying goodbye to home. Always worried about arrangements, I wonder if our bus to O’Reilly’s will show up. I scheduled pickup from the RV rental outlet and it is now 15 min. before pickup time. As the Aussies say, “No worries” and I need not as the bus arrives a bit early. I must say that all arrangements so far have worked smoothly and as expected. Our 2-hr. trip up Green Mountain turns into 3 hr. as we get caught up in slow traffic, making me reconsider our 5:30 pickup on Tuesday to the airport. Realizing that we will arrive too late for lunch, we ask the driver to stop at McDonalds. Within 20 min. we all order, are back on the bus and eating our burgers and fries. I think all are relieved they are not the ones driving through this heavy traffic and negotiating the narrow winding curves of the mountain road. Many sections are one-lane with “prepare to stop” warnings posted on the side. I hear Marie ask about halfway, “Are we there yet?” Another echoes, “How much longer?” Yet we continue up and around for another 20 min. before we see daylight beyond the close-canopied forest and as Jim calls it “civilization”. I reserved 3-bedroom mountain villas for the group and now we settle in with an afternoon free to get our bearings and relax. Some bird, some play cards at tables overlooking the mountains, others nap. I think all agree the accommodations are first rate. Each bedroom has its own private bath and we share a large central living area with fireplace, dining and kitchen area adjacent to an all glass wall and doors to a large wooden deck complete with hot tub. Someone asks how long do we get to stay and Cindy answers, “Not long enough”.

(Bert) A long morning of returning the RV’s and then a long drive takes us to Lamington National Park. After settling into our rooms, I hike uphill to the registration building to arrange our birding tours the next two days. Jim and Ermine accompany me and within minutes we see dozens of bright birds: red and blue Crimson Rosellas, blue-black Satin Bowerbirds, yellow and black Regent Bowerbirds, red Red-browed Firetails, and red and green Australian King-Parrots. I anxiously look forward to tomorrow’s birding.

(Shari) The only negative to the deal is the long walk uphill to the dining room for the included meals. But we all make it there and then treat ourselves to half-price cocktails with names like Crimson Rosella and Green Mountain before we start our 2.5 hr. 3-course dining experience. We are directed to a private room with a square table in its center. Each of us are handed a menu from which we can pick a starter, a main course and a dessert. Bert has the duck pate, porterhouse steak with mushroom sauce and mango Crème Brule. I only have the steak as I intend to sneak my fork over to Bert’s plate for a taste of his pate and Crème Brule. Each of us watches what others ordered so we can pick wisely again tomorrow night. I am surprised that the conversation never gets around to birds. We tell a lot of animal stories. Jim’s “Abandon Jeep” story, in my book, takes the prize as best although I still like my skunk and mothball experience. Lively tales of incinerated embalmed cats, burning cattails, listening to a C-Cap device instead of snoring and frozen raccoon mistaken for salmon keep the group entertained.

Day 156 – November 7 – Lamington National Park

(Bert) At 5 AM Jim and Cindy are enjoying morning coffee out on the covered balcony overlooking the valley below when a Crimson Rosella joins them. It comes up to another chair and perches on the backrest, perhaps expecting a treat for its visit. A female Regent Bowerbird approaches up to the balcony railing. As soon as they get up to leave, the Regent Bowerbird and a pair of Pied Currawongs come to the table and inspect the binoculars and field guides they left lying behind. The bowerbird rests atop the upright binoculars and knocks them over, which sends the bowerbird flying away in fright and Cindy chasing toward the expensive binoculars in equal fright. We watch the antics of the birds for the next half-hour before meeting our birding guide for today. Duncan is outside our villa and with most of the group gathered we walk toward breakfast, taking the long way on the paved road and birding slowly en route. I’ve given Duncan the list of Lamington birds, crossing out those we have already seen in Queensland. It will be a challenge to fill in the missing species. We start with hearing a distant Wonga Pigeon perpetually calling wahwk wahwk wahwk so loudly that it seems nearby. Duncan tells us
“wonga” means “delicious” in the native aborigine language. We find Large-billed Scrubwren and Yellow-browed Scrubwren among other LBJ’s, add Logrunner to our trip list and at three different locations we see a bower built by a Satin Bowerbird. One seems incomplete and undecorated, so I doubt he will attract a mate. The second is much better constructed and the bowerbird is actively adding more sticks to the construction. Jim, Ralph and I all get incredible videos of the bowerbird in action, picking up the stick, carrying it to the bower, tilting his head and carefully stacking it vertically in place. At the third bower we see the most ornate. This one is fancifully decorated with a wide array of blue objects, and only blue objects. He should be able to attract a harem of mates.

(Shari) Boy, I need Mary and Chris and Hugh and Virginia to give me the needed encouragement along this trail to the dining room. It seems steeper than it did last night and it must take me a good 20 min. I am surprised that no one from the group is eating breakfast yet at 7:30. I pour some coffee and get toast and wait for them to arrive. The breakfast buffet will be enough to last until dinner for sure. Hot eggs, bacon, sausages, tomatoes and cold cereals, lunch meats, cheeses and fruit abound as well as Danishes, pastries and desserts. After brekie, as the Australians call it, the group birds with their guide and I take the boardwalk through the rainforest. The neatest feature of this walk involves a skywalk on a swinging bridge above the canopy. Warily, I cross it from station to station, listening to its creaking boards and hoping its suspension cables do not break. I read about three birds and listen for their calls. I surprise myself when I recognize all three: whipbird, catbird and Wonga Pigeon that never quits calling work work work work work.

(Bert) After breakfast we keep seeing birds we want to study, as well as a few other oddities, like an Eastern Water Skink and a fungus that looks like its name, Eggbeater Stinkhorn. We watch a thrush and Duncan first calls it Bassian Thrush, but then sees additional, very minute, features that make him change is ID to Russet-tailed Thrush. We are delighted to hear a Rose Robin, though it takes us a long time to catch glimpses of it high in the canopy. The real show stealer of the day, however, is the family of Whiptails. Duncan introduces us to Mr. Whippy, and to Mrs. Whippy, and then to Little Whippy. Through habitual visits by the guides over a period of 5 yr. the family has become tame and will come up to outstretched hands to collect a treat compatible with their diet. We have spent much time in the past month trying to see Eastern Whiptails and although hearing them is easy, seeing them is a challenge and getting a good photo has been very difficult. Not so with the Whippy family who pose prettily.

In the afternoon we spend hours looking for Glossy Black-Cockatoos and although we find none, we do find other species we haven’t seen before, including Variegated Fairy-Wren, Red-browed Treecreeper and Bell Miner. Other sightings are interesting to, such as the Funnel-Web Spider that dashes out of its nest and hides again as fast as a camera shutter, a Red-bellied Black Snake lying in a crevice of a rock, a Red-necked Wallaby as well as a Red-necked Pademelon. One creature we could have done without is the Shellback (or Paralysis) Ticks which try to hitch a ride on our skin.

(Shari) For some reason my joints ache today when I walk down the path to the villa. When I stretch out on the bed to rest my legs, I promptly fall asleep. After awaking, I feel really groggy so I decide the afternoon is time to rest. I update road logs and write journals before again making the uphill trek for dinner, getting there just as the group sits down in a different private room from last night. Tonight I order the Atlantic Salmon with Chocolate Indulgence for dessert. Six others have the Chocolate Indulgence as well, so that must have been the best dessert last night. Bert has the lamb with roasted fingerling potatoes and a shrimp appetizer. No one is very social after dinner and I think everyone just heads for their room and crashes.

Day 157 – November 8 – Lamington National Park

(Bert) On the way to breakfast this morning we add another species, White-headed Pigeon. We have been in its range for many days now and have searched areas where it has been seen previously, all to no avail. Now a small flock rests in clear view on the paved road in front of us. Unlike its name, these handsome Rock-Pigeon-sized birds have white feathers descending as well on the shoulders, breast and belly, with black wings and tail.

Our guide today is Glenn, who we meet just before breakfast. I show him our wish list, less the birds we added yesterday. He recognizes those left on the list are rare or waterbirds down mountain from where we are–and therefore not easily reached in a half-day trip as we have planned today–or are few in number. So, that leaves him with the few-in-number category. We postpone breakfast and he starts with the one we most want to see, the Albert’s Lyrebird. Although the location of several birds is well known and they can be heard without much effort, seeing one is a much more difficult task. Yesterday, someone reported one seen at 5:10 AM, so Cindy left early to position herself at the top of a thickly wooded hill. After a long fruitless wait, she gave up. Now she joins us again, since Glenn has a different plan. Like a general strategizing a major attack, he positions at the top of the mountain those unwilling to struggle through the vines and understory bushes of the steep slope. Cindy, Norm, Ralph, Chris and I follow Glenn along the forest edge some 200 yd. away and then we stumble our way down the slope for another 100 yd. Periodically, Glenn stops and listens for the lyrebirds. He points out one of the many calls that lyrebirds can emit, this one sounding like a dog barking from a great distance. Glenn warns us that our search may be fruitless, that at best perhaps only one of us will see the lyrebird. We can hear three males barking from different points. One is farther downhill, a second is just below those that stayed on top and the third is near us now. We focus on the third. We walk laterally across the slope. Glenn positions Cindy, we walk until she is just out of sight in the dense woods and Glenn positions me. Thusly, he continues across the slope with our small army of birders now forming a thin line of soldiers armed with binoculars at the ready. With Glenn’s signal we march uphill, or rather, I should say we stumble uphill, twisting around vines, tripping over roots and brushing against bushes and avoiding grasping trees that might house friends of the poisonous Funnel-Web Spider we watched yesterday. The target continues calling briefly, then goes silent and a minute later announces its new position. Without seeing the bird it has escaped our trap, passing somewhere between Cindy and me. I meet up with Cindy and for a microsecond, she sees a dark shadow disappear from high in a tree. The bird must have traveled above us while we were watching the ground. Glenn and the others join us, and now Jim too, who had been off birding by himself. Glenn repositions our platoon and we begin the forward advance again. Within minutes I see the lyrebird flee our trap and I call to the others. We move quickly to the spot last seen. I get a second look and we redirect to that position. Cindy sees the bird. I get a clear view. Jim sees it clearly and aims his long lens on the target, but slips on a root, falling over. Now I have an excellent view of a large brown-backed bird with a gray head, rufous throat and a very long tail, with all body parts liberally crossed by intervening vines and branches. I align my camera and the focus captures the twigs, with the fuzzy bird in the background. Amazingly, in spite of all our tromping through the forest, the lyrebird stops to scratch for food in the soft soil. I try more photos, still fuzzy. Ralph and Glenn catch up with us and get brief views. And just as quickly as the apparition appeared before us, it disappears in the forest. We have just witnessed an Albert’s Lyrebird, confined to a very small range of mountain forest in this part of Australia and one of only about 2500 birds known to exist in the world. What a thrill!

We think about going for breakfast, but when we come across a Paradise Riflebird we stop for photos. Then we stop for a Yellow-throated Scrubwren that recognizes Glenn’s deeply-pitched voice and flies to him for a handout, Glenn being a personal friend for several years. After breakfast, we continue birding with Glenn, but since I’ve already told such a long story about just one bird, I’ll hold off on stories about the Sparrow Hawk nest, the too-high-in-the-canopy Spotted Pardalotes, the nesting Buff-rumped Thornbills in the She-Oak tree, Glenn’s stories about the pioneering O’Reilly brothers, the 1000-year-old Grass Trees, and …

(Shari) I start a load of wash before Ermine and I head to the dining room for breckie. Only Mary and Hugh have beat us to the table as the rest of the birders have not arrived as yet. We learn that Mr. Michael O’Reilly is making toast for the group and chatting with them. Now that is what keeps the quality of this place high. Too bad Dominos Pizza did not have such a thing the other night. Today we can order from the menu as well as retrieve items from the buffet. It is smoked salmon and scrambled eggs for me and Eggs Benedict for Bert. After visiting the gift store, Ermine and I walk back to our villa. For the rest of the day, I finish the wash, finish the road logs, finish the journals, finish logging the expenses, and finish rearranging the suitcases for the airplane. We feed the birds from our balcony and take more pictures of the beautiful Regent Bowerbird, the Satin Bowerbird, the Crimson Rosella, and the King-Parrot. I think I may have another favorite bird. I love the Regent Bowerbird with its beautiful black and yellow coloring. This place has been magical and I love the view from our deck. The scene seems to change depending upon the clouds in the sky. It is like watching the waves in the ocean or a fireplace, simply mesmerizing and relaxing. The walk up the hill for dinner however is not relaxing. Four others called for reception to pick them up. Smart in my book! My choice for dinner tonight is a trout starter and roasted lamb. I am too full to have desert.

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