Trip cut short

Wedge-tailed eagle.

by Jennifer Carr

At the end of February, I left Ocean Grove for an 11-week drive that I had been planning for over five years.

I was accompanied by John, and our two faithful dogs. I should have known that the trip was not going to be straightforward when I misplaced the car keys, and this delayed our departure by an hour.

We stopped in St Arnaud for lunch and realised that the back door of the camper trailer was open, and on further inspection discovered that it would not lock properly. We had to take everything out of the trailer and reload it, and it still would not latch properly. We solved the problem by securing the door by using two bungee ropes – a solution that allowed us to continue to Mildura but would not be a long-term fix.

After a particularly blowy night next to the Murray River we decided to trade the camper in at the local Jayco shop, and we became the proud owners of a second-hand caravan. This delayed our departure from Mildura, which was wonderful, as it allowed me to explore the Australian Inland Botanical Gardens located just across the bridge in Buronga, NSW. It was around 38 degrees in the shade, but I still managed to spot my first ever Gilbert’s whistler, plus white-browed babblers, apostlebirds, white-fronted honeyeaters and peaceful doves.

After we picked up our caravan, we drove to Broken Hill. The landscape was so dry that I wondered how anything could survive in such harsh conditions, but I did see a few raptors including wedge-tailed eagles. There were also many white-plumed Honeyeaters.

Our next stop was Port Augusta, where I spent a memorable day at the Australian Arid Lands Botanical Gardens. I managed to see redthroats, white-winged fairywrens, a southern whiteface, and a Chirruping wedgebill.

We drove on to Coober Pedy, which was just amazing to experience as it’s such a quirky and unusual place. I was directed to the wastewater area out of town and I was stunned to hear a little grassbird calling in the middle of the desert. I also saw many zebra finches, black-faced woodswallows and white-plumed honeyeaters.

I read online that a great birdwatching spot 12km south of Coober Pedy near a memorial to the first person who found an opal in the area. I ventured out to this spot and straight away saw a chestnut-breasted whiteface, but did not hang around for long due to the very friendly, persistent and annoying flies.

The fly problem was just as severe at Uluru, but it was wonderful to finally lay eyes on this sacred area. I saw a few small flocks of Major Mitchell cockatoos on the way to ‘the rock’ which was lovely.

We then experienced Alice Springs, where I searched unsuccessfully for a spinifex pigeon but loved every minute of the search.

When we arrived in Katherine the Corona virus epidemic had obviously worsened considerably. There was consideration of state borders closing.

The day we drove from Katherine to Kununurra, Western Australia, was one of the best of my life.

The scenery around Victoria River was breathtaking, and boab trees were scattered throughout the desert.

Under the Victoria River Bridge, I saw a purple-crowned fairy wren, which made my year.

Life could not have been any better at that moment.

After arriving at Kununurra John’s brother, an ex-senior federal policeman, rang and informed us that state borders were closing, and the pandemic was becoming a very serious health problem. We camped next to Lake Kununurra and the scenery was glorious.

Comb-crested jacana and green pygmy geese were flying between lily pads on the lake. I will always remember this beautiful spot, and I knew that the next day we would be going home.

We drove into the Northern Territory the day before the borders were closing, and reached the Queensland border a few hours before closure.

It took us a week to drive from Kununurra to Ocean Grove and arrived home seven weeks early. We drove around 6000km in a month and I observed 159 species of birds including 22 new species (for me).

The highlights were seeing around 20 flock bronzewing in Queensland, purple-crowned fairywren at Victoria River, many flocks of budgerigars and cockatiels, a banded fruit-dove near Mataranka and three crimson chats in Alice Springs.

 

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