Friday, August 21, 2009

Australia, June & July 2009

Galah, an Australian Cockatoo (Photo by Narca)

Alan and I just returned from 5 weeks in Australia (followed by a week of butterflying and clamming in the Pacific Northwest) with our friends Noel Snyder and Jim Shiflett. We camped the entire time, except for the last night before our flight back and two nights on Artemis Station in the remote outback of Cape York. It’s easy to do a camping vacation in Australia, since so many of their “caravan parks” have showers and laundry.

A major highlight was our stay with the Shepherds on Artemis Station, which was arranged by Noel's friend Joe Forshaw, Australia's parrot expert. The Shepherds welcomed us into their home, and we exchanged stories into the night, seated around their large dining table. Early in the morning, a Black-backed Butcherbird flew through the open windows and landed on a chairback, awaiting a handout. Laughing Kookaburras greeted the sunrise from the clothesline. A flock of 200 Galahs nibbled grass seeds in the front yard.
Black-backed Butcherbird at Artemis Station (Photo by Narca)

Male Golden-shouldered Parrot at Artemis Station (Photo by Narca)

Artemis is home to the endangered and very beautiful Golden-shouldered Parrot. Sue Shepherd has observed and monitored the parrots for many years, and all of us old field hands were highly impressed by her expertise and the subtlety of her perception. She spent two mornings in the field with us, seeking out parrots. This time of year (July) the "chickens" have all fledged, and parrot families are hanging out unobtrusively with small mixed flocks. The young have a soft vocalization, but the adults are more often silent. Sue's technique is to look first for the flock's sentry birds: Rainbow Bee-eaters and Gray-crowned Babblers. They are much easier to spot!

Rainbow Bee-eater in mangroves, Townsville (Photo by Narca)

In the photo below, Sue is showing us a recently-used parrot nest in a "witch's hat" termite mound. The termites were walling off the nest entrance, and soon it won't be visible. If the parrots nest in too large a termite colony, the termites can wall off the entrance too quickly, and seal the young inside. So nesting is tricky business!

Sue Shepherd with us at a parrot nest (Photo by Narca)

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