Australia Travel Diary - p 4
5 July 2002
My last bird at the Grevilleas is a jay-sized
Blue-faced Honeyeater. Honeyeaters are the most abundant and successful birds in
Australia - 67 species are known. As nectivores they occupy about the same niche as
our hummingbirds in the Americas. Most honeyeaters are large, however, with little
of the color and iridescence of hummers. In fact some of the dullest birds in
Australia are honeyeaters. Like hummers they are aggressive and fearless around a
flowering tree or shrub, paying little attention to a birder.
7 July 2002
Today the Victoria Highway takes me west.
For 200 km (120 mi) between Katherine and the Victoria River there is little sign of
civilization - not one house or roadside stop. Dirt roads occasionally lead off to
distant cattle stations; every 5-10 minutes I meet another car. Man, this is
8 July 2002
Mornings along the Victoria River are cool and sunny,
just perfect for birding. As the day starts to warm one notices a pesky fly or two.
By noon they are an unbearable swarm, landing constantly on my hands and around my
eyes and mouth. Soon everyone is giving the "Aussie Salute," which
consists of waving a hand in front of one's face to ward off the flies. I often wear
a mosquito net and rag gloves on late afternoon birding forays.
One of the most charming birds here is the Striated Pardalote (rhymes
with oat). It is a true Aussie - the four species in its family evolved here, and
are not closely related to any other bird in the world. These wren-sized birds glean
insects from trees, and are now nesting in holes dug out along the banks of the
Victoria. Their 3-note call, heard constantly, somehow sounds to me like "kiss
my a--, kiss my a--." Easy to remember, at least!
9 July 2002
The highlight of a second trip to the Victoria is a
flock of about 75 Star Finches. Unrelated to our northern finches, they are
estrildids, a group that evolved first in Africa and has invaded Australia on 4 separate
occasions. The Stars are nervous as they come to drink at the river. When one
flies off, the rest assume that it knows something they don't, and likewise make a mad
dash for cover.