Visit to Central Australia

Nov 29th, 2010, 10:28 PM
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Visit to Central Australia

We flew out of Cairns heading for Alice Springs. Then we flew back into Cairns. A minor problem with one of the generators but one that could not easily be rectified in the Alice so a return to Cairns was the economical thing for the airline. Thus we were late flying in. I grabbed a vehicle while Maria bought groceries for four days and we hit the road. The people at Central Car Hire (08 8952 0098) were not only friendly but had equipped the car with a second spare, knowing that we were heading into remote country. The diesel vehicle came fitted with long range and an extra fuel tank, giving us a huge range. They also had water available if Maria was not already making that a priority. One can survive without food but not without water.

As it turned out in was the abundance of water which was our greatest threat.

I was heading into the desert to work with the kids from Murputja Anangu School. Their teacher, David Hartland had inspired them with bird watching. This visit was in return for their visiting me in the rainforests and swamps of north Queensland. I had volunteered my time when I knew these kids were looking for somewhere to bird watch and spotlight. We all had a great time and I was not only asked to visit and work with the kids in their country but the school was willing to pay for my services.

Maria was attending a conference of the Continence Foundation of Australia.

Erldunda was our first night's stop. The room was spacious but the security lights outside proved a problem until Maria came to the rescue with some clothes pegs. We never travel without them. They prove useful for holding all sorts of things closed.

Frogs were calling loudly from the little waterhole across the road but proved very elusive. A bird walk in the morning turned up many species including pairs of Mulga Parrots which had been described to me the evening before as “Golden Shouldered Parrot.” Those are now rare in their restricted range on Cape York Peninsula.

Next:- our time at Murputja
AlanJG is offline  
Nov 29th, 2010, 10:29 PM
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Erldunda to Murputja

Heading west on the Lasseter Highway we added finches, doves and a Peregrine Falcon to the list. Outstandingly beautiful are the Crimson Chats but although we saw many I did not get a decent photo of one.

Even from the vantage of a 4WD the country looked green. Only when one stepped out did the red sand come into its own. The harsh blue skies were missing too as we saw clouds on every day.

Mt Conner and Lake Amadeus were their usual highlights of a trip through this part of the world. Viewed from the famous red sand dune lookout, one to the north and one to the south, they compliment each other wonderfully reinforcing the feeling of an ancient land. Our road took us south from here.

There was some water on the road and we decided to pause for lunch so to be fit for any eventualities. Our host, who had been collecting another visitor Uluru, came to a halt beside us before heading off. The birding was wonderful, Crested Bell-birds were calling all around us. Crimson Chats continued to tease me every time I pulled out my camera and a Peregrine Falcon zoomed past. Black and White birds dominated the scene, White-winged Triller, Hooded Robin, Pied and Black Honeyeaters, Pied Butcherbird and the white backed race of Australian Magpie.

The school is located beautifully in a small amphitheatre with houses for the staff. Nearby is a police barracks and the generator for the two neighbouring communities from which the students come.

With a packed lunch we headed out each day to survey the birds in the different habitats we visited. The teachers and kids took time to explain many cultural sites of significance, greatly adding to our experience. We visited a sink hole cave, a couple of sites important to the Emu Dreaming and a waterhole where most took a swim.

Some of them are very switched on to their birding.
“Look, Black Honeyeater.”
“Where?”
“There you look.”
Me, “Use the clock and which bush.”
“Little dead bush. Three o'clock. Look he moved, two o'clock.”
Second child, “No, you lie. Look the eye. He blue; Pied Honeyeater.” And he was right of course. There was no ill humour in the exchange and we were soon off after another sighting. This one proved more problematic. We had the poor little bird surrounded as it skulked in a small Eremophilla. I was calling the kids to yell out any identifying features they could get onto. Eventually with reference to the field guide we decided it was a newly fledged Red-throat.

Each afternoon and morning Maria and I took walks around the area. Sunsets through storm clouds were promising but the clouds either joined to blot out the sky or melted away.

The day before we were to leave there were two storm fronts which passed through. Consulting the maps we read, “Road subject to flooding,” three times along our route. With more rain over night it was with some trepidation we set off. As it turned out the low lying areas had missed most of the rain. We did see duck swimming on the road.

The Western Brown Snake comes in a variety of colour forms but most of the ones I have seen were a dull brown. Spotting a black and gold one I swiftly turned the car around and headed it off. The snake threatened the vehicle but I was too slow to get the camera out and focused before it slipped away. Maria was not happy about my chasing it. The snake took refuge in a fallen dead mulga and we resumed our journey.

Sometimes we were amused by the signposts which seemed more to break the monotony than warn of hazards. At home we have a stretch of windy road with 232 bends in 19 kilometres. Here a sign warned us of 20 kilometres of winding road. Perhaps we had taken a detour unknowingly as we did not remember traversing such a section. After six kilometres and the 16 bends we stopped counting.
As an English lady once told me, all these things are relative.

Next Alice Springs, what I got up to while Maria worked.
AlanJG is offline  
Nov 29th, 2010, 11:24 PM
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Oh Alan, this is so interesting!

I had occasion to wish a similarly engaging programme outside or incorporated in the school activities, was available for some of the young Aboriginal boys & girls in NSW far north west a couple of weeks ago.

Do you speak Pitjantjatjara?

Anyone as curious as I was about the School might be interested in this link. I found the Annual Report interesting, humbling, poignant and hopeful.
http://www.murputja.sa.edu.au/school.htm

I read the first few lines of your bushwalking, pushed my chair back & grabbed my "Central Australian Field Guide" with one hand and my Dad's old green copy of Neville Cayley's, "What Bird is That?" with the other to find your birds.

Looking forward to the next episode.
Bokhara2 is offline  
Nov 30th, 2010, 12:35 AM
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Bokhara2, thanks for that feed back.
Maria and I hope to mentor some of the kids. We'll make this a personal project if the kids, community and school wish it.

I have started belatedly posting a few pictures here http://alanswildlife.blogspot.com/20...sit-birds.html

No I do not speak the local language, mostly Yankunytjatjara, but Maria has picked up a few sentences. I learnt a few words relating to the birds and animals we were seeing but languages are not my long suit.

I post some more pictures on my blog tomorrow if everything goes at least somewhat to plan.
AlanJG is offline  
Nov 30th, 2010, 01:33 PM
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If you want more on central Australian bird news check out these two sites
http://www.pbase.com/sjmurray/image/130754029
http://aussiebirding.wildiaries.com/trips/10375
AlanJG is offline  
Nov 30th, 2010, 07:18 PM
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After calling out the names of the birds to my husband I had to turn my laptop so he could see your photos Alan. I can see the wheels turning in his head about how a trip to Central Australia could be arranged.

Sounds like a very interesting trip!
Toucan2 is offline  
Nov 30th, 2010, 11:11 PM
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Very beautiful country and at the moment particularly so. Sorry, I went bird watching today and wrote no more or posted any more pictures.

One thing I did was to search for a easier way to a Golden Bowerbird site. Not steep like the current access but stinging trees and wait-a-whiles make it not worth while when one considers it is four times the distance in dry weather and twice what it would be in the wet. Now that is almost like walking up hill to school both ways but relates to how close one can get a vehicle.
AlanJG is offline  
Dec 1st, 2010, 06:39 PM
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Ah, the infamous hike to the Golden Bowerbird site.
Toucan2 is offline  
Dec 1st, 2010, 09:24 PM
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Toucan2, the old bird went missing and the two new ones I take people to are a little farther and a lot farther. In the wet weather the slopes get very slippery.

If planning a trip to the centre I suggest you contact Mark Carter at DesertLife: Bird Guiding in Australia's Red Centre
T ++61 (0) 447358045
[email protected]
http://www.desertlife.com.au


Alice Springs Reptile Centre which has some very good displays. www.reptilecentre.com.au/reptiles.htm
AlanJG is offline  
Dec 2nd, 2010, 05:21 PM
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Well, I've been working out Maybe I will feel braver next trip. Australia trips may be in the rather far off future at the moment. We are probably sticking to this continent for a bit as we have two parents that are in not very good condition at the moment.

Thanks very much for the suggestions though. I keep a running file of that sort of thing. You'd be surprised what I can refer back to from years gone by.
Toucan2 is offline  
Dec 2nd, 2010, 10:49 PM
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The Australian birds are beautiful. Many years ago I bought a book called The Slater Field Guide to Australian Birds which I always bring to Aussie when we come - except July this year, silly me. Saw the most birds this trip which I could not identify. I am looking forward to coming back next July and hopefully seeing more birds around Darwin and Kakadu. The first thing I shall pack is THE book.
dotty is offline  
Dec 3rd, 2010, 01:08 AM
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Toucan2, good on you!
Dotty, if you are after a guide in the Darwin area I highly recommend Denise Goodfellow. She is a real character. While some have suggested that Crocodile Dundee was modeled on me I think it would fit Denise better. But I'm not sure if she ever owned a Bowey Knife either.

Denise Lawungkurr Goodfellow
PO Box 3460 NT 0832, AUSTRALIA
Ph. 61 08 89 328306
Mobile: 0438 650 835

Birdwatching and Indigenous tourism consultant
PhD Candidate
Vice-chair, Wildlife Tourism Australia

http://www.denisegoodfellow.com.au
http://www.earthfoot.org
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/baby-dreaming
http://birderstravel.com
AlanJG is offline  
Dec 4th, 2010, 11:37 AM
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Hey, Alan, thank you so much for the info about Denise. I have been on her website already. Although I must confess to finding it a little confusing, I eventually found a couple of short tours that sound interesting. I wonder if my ornithological nephew has been to Darwin. I like to be one bird ahead of him and thought we had done it when we visited Atiu, off the coast of Rarotonga, last year, but no, he had been there with a cruise ship on which he was lecturing, only a few weeks before us! He's shortly heading to Antarctica with another cruise ship for 6 weeks - maybe this time I'll get my photo of a penguin sliding down the ice!! Sorry about the sidetrack.
I enjoyed your posting from the point of view of the children too. What an amazing school Murpujta sounds, and what a great experience for the children teaching you and Maria about the culture, and together discovering the birds. Hopefully experiences such as this will encourage the parents to ensure their children continue with their education.
I chuckled at your flying back into Cairns before long - we missed our connecting flight to Alice when there was a problem with the plane! Something about Alice and planes, perhaps?
Your description of the whole area including Mt Conner, which we missed because of the low cloud, made me want to return. Don't think we have time to revisit the Uluru area next year sadly. Perhaps another vist will be in order . . . Maybe your next instalment will convince me!
dotty is offline  
Dec 4th, 2010, 07:27 PM
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Dotty, have you been to this part of Australia, the Atherton Tablelands? If ever you do, maybe we can get you a bird ahead of him.
AlanJG is offline  
Dec 4th, 2010, 07:28 PM
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Alice Springs

Maria's conference was at the Lassiters Casino and we stayed down the road at Crowne Plaza. Maria had rung them to make sure that we had a double room but they said as the booking had been made by her professional association she must contact them. She did and was told that it would be fixed. It was not and the hotel was full. I was disappointed. Still we had a room.

Off we walked for Maria to register. Imagine my chagrin when on entering the venue one of the organisers was making statements about how they were not only perfect but able to multi-task at an exceptional level because they were women. I held my tongue about it being a pity that such talented people had not learned to count to two.

The restaurants in the hotel were full that night as one conference was finishing and another just starting. We ate at one of the bars and enjoyed ourselves so much that we ate there ever night of our stay. The buffet breakfasts were good but the standard of pastries was sometimes excellent. The staff were friendly and helpful but on our last morning they were overworked as not only was the hotel full but being a Sunday people form town and the attached gym were wanting to eat there too.

Each morning bar one, I would head out early for birdwatching and return just in time for a late breakfast. In the evenings the two of us would visit viewpoints, the Old Telegraph Station, the Olive Pink Botanic Gardens. Although named for a person the colours are apt.

For birdwatchers the Sewage Works are a must. A key can be obtained form the Power and Water office in the Todd Mall. At the botanic gardens there is a Western Bowerbird with a well maintained bower near the shelter shed. This structure is not a nest. It is the Armani suit or Ferrari car of the bird world. He is saying that while he may not be much of a partner he'll produce sexy sons.

The Alice Springs Reptile Centre has some wonderful displays of local snakes and lizards and a crocodile. They give short talks and you can handle a few of the animals. Some of the visitors take some convincing but most are happy that they overcome their fears. Snakes have the most sensuous feeling skins!

On the Saturday afternoon I had a picnic packed, picked up Maria form the conference and we headed west. At Finke River Lookout we set up for lunch after watching a few birds. Minibuses of tourists came and went as we ate. This was fine except for a group which got out and lit up their cigarettes near us and up wind. Fortunately one of them spotted our discomfort and took the others with them to stand in the shade down wind of us.

At Ormiston Gorge we made a couple of short walks as the loop track would have had us swimming 100 metres in very cold water. At the Ochre Pits we met friends of a friend. Once again showing that those who have to rely on six degrees of separation live very insular lives. Here the ochre layers
are very colourful and vertical. Locals still use them as pigments.

We made a few stops for me to find Spinifex Bird but without success. Next stop was Big Pool where we had a good look around before we headed back into town. We had both been to the more well known spots of the West MacDonnells so wanted to see some other places.

The last morning we went to the Desert Park. There are wonderful displays and audio wands to help with the interpretation of the habitats and history. The nocturnal house is well presented but it is best to be there without the crowds which go with their staff. With well maintained grounds there is quite a lot of wildlife outside the displays.

We caught a taxi to the airport after dropping off the the car in town and enjoyed the gardens outside after checking in our bags and sorting out our seats so we could sit together.

An uneventful flight home and drive up the range. We had a wonderful time but home is a great place to return to.
AlanJG is offline  
Dec 4th, 2010, 07:37 PM
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Last of the pictures posted here:- http://alanswildlife.blogspot.com/20...it-plants.html
AlanJG is offline  
Dec 5th, 2010, 12:32 PM
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Enjoyed the pictures. Sounds a wonderful trip Alan (and I don't think you should deny Maria the mistletoe).
Toucan2 is offline  
Dec 6th, 2010, 11:27 PM
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I too enjoyed your photos and descriptions, Alan. It was interesting reading about places we visited in Alice, and interesting to see the Ormiston Gorge loop track needs swimming expertise still. Thank you for your commentary.
I am hoping we will make a third trip to Cairns in the not too distant future - will let you know if and when we do. Still got to find my platypus in the wild, which I think you said in another posting you could organise!
dotty is offline  
Dec 7th, 2010, 01:50 PM
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Dotty,
The platypus have bred early this year. So have most birds. there is still some platypus activity and this should start to build up again as the hungry females start leaving their burrows after hatching and feeding their young.
AlanJG is offline  
Dec 23rd, 2010, 04:12 AM
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The main town in Central Australia is Alice Springs, however this area also includes all of the desert lands surrounding it.
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