Australia Travel Diary - p 7
18 July 2002
Alice Springs is a nice desert
town, a mini-Tucson without cacti. Near the business district I spot a MacDonald's
and cut across three lanes of traffic to reach it. West of town are two new
"lifers," Crested Bellbird and Crested Pigeon, as well as a flock of Galah
parrots feeding by the roadside. Australian parrots occupy a remarkably wide variety
of niches. Some are nectar-feeders, others frugivores, and still others, like grass
parrots and these Galahs, come to the ground to feed on grass seed. Is this because
there are no sparrows in Australia?
19 July 2002
West of Alice, Acacias
are the dominent vegetation. Because of the arid climate, their leaves are
needle-shaped, just like those of pine, to which they look amazingly similar from a
distance. With the red sandstone cliffs as a backdrop, this could easily be Utah or
New Mexico. More convergent evolution.
A nice assortment of Centre birds lives aound the Ormiston Gorge
campground in West MacDonnells National Park. Most common are Western Bowerbirds,
Southern Whitefaces, Dusky Grasswrens, and of course the honeyeaters: Black-chinned,
Spiny-cheeked, and Grey-headed. The latter supplement their nectar diet by feeding
on aphids that infest eucalyptus leaves. Splendid Fairy-wrens are anything but in
their drab eclipse plumage. A new estrilid, the Painted Finch, comes to the river to
drink, but is too shy for a photo.
In the campground are Spinifex Pigeons, who eagerly flock to a dripping faucet.
According to the park ranger, feral cats are a menace to pigeons and other ground-dwelling
birds in Australia. The aborigines are doing their part - they consider cats to be
good "bush tucker," and can track them for miles. How do you
catch a wild cat? Seems cats are adapted for the sprint, not long-distance running,
and soon become exhausted if the hunter continues the chase. To see how feral cats affect
wildbird populations, a wildlife biologist here recently used an aborigine to track
them. One cat that they tracked killed 47 birds in a single day, mostly to lick
their blood. That was surely one really good hunter on a lucky day, else how can
there be any ground-dwelling birds left here?