Time for a change …

Regular readers will be shocked, shocked, I say …

I’m stuck in Melbourne for a couple of days for rehearsals. That means little to do during the day, practising the saxophone would be too much to ask. Last night I took the camera out late at night and added to my night portfolio. Today I rejigged the blog and added the gallery. It will grow in due course …

Waterfalls on the Wannon …

I’ve been having a bit of a run around western Victoria and one of the highlights has been a visit to a couple of waterfalls on the Wannon River. They’re about 9km apart 16 km west of Hamilton and they’re well signposted off the Hamilton to Mt Gambier Road (B160). You can camp in the Wannon Falls Scenic Reserve.

The Wannon arises in the Grampians beneath Mt Abrupt and flows into the Glenelg River which reaches the sea in the far west of Victoria.

The geology of the falls is quite different. The Wannon Falls tumble over a hard lava bed between 1 and 2 million years old lying on top of softer rock. It’s a single drop of  30 metres into a plunge pool.

Wannon Falls

The Nigretta Falls tumble from shelf to shelf on much older rock (~400 million years) that is hard from top to bottom making it rather more spectacular to watch.

Nigretta Falls
Nigretta Falls

A Sequal …

On the last morning of our Thailand tour Polly and Paul celebrated their 4,000th bird.

Well, they celebrated too soon. When everything was entered up on the computer it turned out that the true total was 3,999. Ouch. That had to be remedied and the opportunity soon presented itself in the form of a King Eider at Cape Cod Canal. So they jumped on a plane, I’ll let Polly take up the story …

We impatiently picked up the rental car and headed for the canal. We arrived at the parking lot just as a flock of Eider flew from Herring Run. After listening to a birder/photographer tell us what she had witnessed of the birds’ behavior we went back to the car drove a short distance. We told ourselves that after the flights we needed a nice brisk walk and hurried in the direction the flock had flown. Soon the granite jetty was as tall as we were thereby blocking our view of the canal. We climbed up to the top and continued our quest. The jetty was very stable and we soon discovered most of the slabs had been cut with a flat top. As we made our way we had, of course, to stop and take quick looks at each bird we saw. We passed a great many Common Loon Red-breasted Merganser, Black and Surf Scoter. It was such a treat to see so many of these birds in breeding plumage. We paid special attention to the Common Eider. As we approached the mouth our pulses quickened while our spirits dipped. We stayed close to the mouth for around 20 minutes and then realized as 5:30 approached we were probably not going to see the bird that day. We made the difficult decision to go grab some dinner and a pint of stout. It was only then that we realized we had had no food for over 24 hours. We had skipped breakfast, there was no meal on the first flight, not enough time on our Chicago layover and only a tiny bag of pretzels on the second flight!  We would have to cross all our fingers and all our toes and hope it would stick around for another day. Paul was ahead of me, he had just made it to the sand and was turning to give me a hand. I was on the last boulder and debating whether to sit down and slide to ground. The next thing I knew I was falling, face down, onto the sand. I landed forehead first….a “graceful” face plant. Dizzy and dazed, slightly nauseated I tied to get up. A family close by had witnessed it and came to help. I was protesting that it was okay and would be all right, but as I tried to stand up I could not put weight on my left leg. Paul and I just could not grasp what was happening. One of the women offered to have her husband drive Paul back to our rental car. She her friends and children stayed with me. She kept asking how I was, checked my pulse and pupils. I finally managed to say “you have to be in a medical profession.” She smiled and said she was a Registered Nurse. When Paul and her husband arrived with our car. Her husband and her friends’ husband made a basket of their arms and “fireman carried” me to the car. They told us there was a hospital very close by and gave us quick directions, then programmed our google maps, handed me a bottle of water and offered to escort us to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical. We said we could get there, that they had already done so much. She would not let us leave until we promised that we would go straight to the ER. By this time we both knew we had no choice. Tears streaming down my face, feeling such a fool off we went.

The diagnosis – fractured pelvis. Polly spent three days in hospital where an international lineup of staff looked after her brilliantly. The airline rescheduled her trip home with no fuss and at little extra charge but there was one thing left to do …

we hatched a plan…get me out of the hospital as early as possible and go for the bird on our way to the airport. We asked the Ortho Doc if that would be okay. He said “no boulder climbing”. One of nurses was a beginning birder and was so excited…Wednesday was her day off and she was going to try for it then too!

We left the hospital at 10:00 and headed for the canal. Paul parked the car and went to scout. He came back breathless and excited. He had not gone far enough to see it, but had seen photographers and spotting scopes. We hurriedly got me transferred to my wheelchair headed to the spot. There was the King Eider in all his breeding splendor! We told the others there a very short version of our tale and one of them volunteered to take pictures of us. After about a half hour of continued viewing we were getting ready to go when we heard a familiar voice, it was Ellie the RN, and beginning birder. We got her on the bird, visited a little and headed toward Boston and the long journey home.

photo Paul Neldner

I wish you a speedy recovery, Polly.

Review of the Rockjumper Thailand Tour …

The tour ran from February 19, 2017 until March 7. The southern extension kicked off the next day and finished on the 13th.

The leaders were Uthai Treesucon and Keith Valentine and they were excellent.

Uthai Treesucon
Keith Valentine

The itinerary and accommodation were well chosen, transport was handled well. The food was good.

A group size of twelve could present problems but Rockjumper briefs participants on etiquette and on this occasion things ran very smoothly. How the organisation might have handled a crisis was never put to the test.

It is a hardcore birding tour, if your spouse is not a keen birder it would be tough for them. There is no associates program, days are long, the focus is intense. And for the birder very productive. The final tally for the tour was over 500 species, I saw 471 different birds and some good mammals. If you carry a camera you will bring back some very nice photos but it’s not the tour for the dedicated bird photographer the tempo is quite different from their requirements. One of the group has put a very large collection of their photos up <HERE>. If you’re preparing for a trip you could test your diagnostic skills on them.

So to mark Rockjumper’s report card … A+. I’ve already booked another tour. The next one is to Bhutan. What about the participants?

Most were repeat Rockjumper clients which says something about the company. The guys were gentlemen bird watchers, always polite, tolerant and cooperative. The girls on the other hand … I don’t know how many times I found myself examining the backs of their head through my binoculars. No, I exaggerate the group was remarkably congenial. There were tales of other trips and a lot of good humour. We were occasionally entertained by the sayings of Polly’s Mum one of which was …

If you’re looking for sympathy you’ll find it in the dictionary between shit and syphilis …

which is well worth remembering.

It is axiomatic that …

  1. There is an arsehole in every group and
  2. They are totally unconscious of the fact.

So it follows that if you can’t identify the arsehole it must be you.

I therefore tender my apologies to the fine men and women that I traveled with. I enjoyed it.




Thick head …

Tigers to the left, Possums to the right. The distance between Bali and Lombok is just 25 km but Asia’s woodpeckers, barbets and trogons are on one side, Australasia’s honeyeaters and cockatoos on the other. Huxley’s modification to the line tidies up a few problems, an excellent example being the genus Pachycephala, a literal translation – thick heads, more flatteringly known these days as the Whistlers. There are 32 species (following the Handbook of Birds of the World in this instance) and all of them are found to the east of Huxley’s version of Wallace’s Line.

When an Australians go birding in Asia they are confronted with not just with new species but whole new families. It can get confusing.

I’d been in Thailand for three weeks. New species were raining down the whole time. It was possible that I was missing the derisive laughter of the Kookaburra or my wife, or maybe the scent of eucalyptus. We were birding in the mangroves when I saw it, a little Aussie expat. It warmed the cockles of my heart springs …

Mangrove Whistler

I’ve seen Golden Whistler and Rufous Whistler in my own back yard and six other species in Australia. Some Whistlers have made it way out into the Pacific to the islands of New Caledonia, Tonga and Samoa but only one species straddles the mere 25 km that separate Lombok and Bali, the Mangrove Whistler. And it didn’t stop there, it can be found all the way up the Malayan Peninsula and then along the Asian coast from Vietnam to India.

Mangrove Whistler

It was then that I knew it was time to come home.


Sri Phang Nga …

Our last patch of lowland forest, Sri Phang Nga National Park spans 246 square kilometres along a range of hills parallel to the Andaman Sea coast. It is just part of a larger forest which is big enough to sustain Great Hornbill, White-handed Gibbon and Dusky Langur. The forest is on a grand scale but access is limited , it is worth an extended visit but be prepared to cover the same ground repeatedly, although the nature of tropical birding is such that your encounters will be varied because of the high diversity of species and low density of most individuals.

Let me whet your appetite …

Abbott’s Babbler
White-rumped Shama
Malayan Banded Pitta

Streams in the park hold a diverse range of fish, tossing in a little food can bring a spectacular response.