Australia Travel Diary - p 6Devil's Marbles (69196 bytes)

16 July 2002
Now begins the long drive south into the desert, the "Dead Heart" of Australia - 1000 miles of 2-lane blacktop.  Hours of ennui are interrupted by moments of terror from the infamous road trains.  In this country they link as many as four trailers to an 18-wheeler to create a monster 175 feet long.  Passing one of these behemoths in rolling countryside really puts the excitement back into driving.   This doesn't happen often, fortunately, because most of them drive faster than I do.
    To break the monotony, I stop at Devil's Marbles.  It does look like someone stacked up these giant rocks, 10 -20 feet in diameter, just for the heck of it.   The natural process that created them is complicated - it took a while, because some are up to a billion years old.  In fact, many of the oldest rocks on the planet are found in Australia.   And they have a river south of here that hasn't changed its course much in 300 million years.
Mistletoebird (47258 bytes)

17 July 2002
I'm spending the night in a chalet (actually a single-wide trailer) at Wycliff Well Caravan Park.  Wycliff Well calls itself the UFO Centre of Australia because of all the sightings.  This makes sense when you think about it.  If the aliens need a remote spot on the planet to fly about unhindered, central Australia fits the bill.  The UFOs do get out of line occasionally, following people in their cars at night, scaring the wits out of otherwise stouthearted Aussies.  My chalet is covered with paintings of aliens who look a lot like the Creature from the Black Lagoon.
    A short walk leads to an artificial lake around which are wonderful birds:   Yellow-throated Miner, Australian Ringnecked Parrot, Budgerigar, White-plumed Honeyeater.  Especially common are the Mistletoebirds, whose diet consists of fruits of the parasitic southern hemisphere mistletoe (Loranthus).   Their droppings on limbs contain the sticky seed which germinate and infect the next host plant.

Zebra Finches (55792 bytes)    

    Drinking and bathing at the lake's edge is a new estrildid, the Zebra (rhymes with Debra here) Finch.  I approach carefully:  one slow step every 5 sec, pausing 10 sec after each third step.  Eventually I am within 20 feet of these tiny colorful birds.  The bathing party ends in wild panic and flight when the birds hear a series of shrill whistles warning of a predator, in this case a Brown Goshawk.  This call, which I believe is given by the common Magpie-larks (actually ground-dwelling flycatchers), invariably sends all birds scattering, be they finches, honeyeaters, or even parrots.  It seems to be a universal warning signal among birds here.


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