Bunyas & Cows

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I’m back!  Not that I was really away all that long.  Was it a matter of weeks, perhaps a few months? Time appears to have become a little disorientated in the maelstrom of preparations for retirement.

The root of the problem when I was blogging from another place was trying to simultaneously maintain three blog sites.  It all seemed perfectly logical at the time: one site for our backyard birds [Allen Road in Nanango, Queensland]; a second site [Birding the South Burnett] to cover the broader local patch; and a third [Birding Beyond the Pale] to account for all those occasions when FAY and I ventured beyond the borders of the South Burnett [supposedly even including intra-Australia and overseas trips].  And of course, there was always, still lurking in the background, the original blog – Staffordshire Stray [circa 2010].

Allen Road itself was never a serious problem; we continue to keep extensive records and if not quite daily they do extend back to April 2001. Birding the South Burnett became somewhat more problematic as political local government borders do not always match the geographical boundaries; on the linear journey between Nanango [South Burnett Regional Council] and Blackbutt [South Burnett Regional Council], Yarraman, midway between the two, sits in Toowoomba Regional Council’s jurisdiction. The South Burnett fringe areas remain blurred and often require a Google search to determine contiguous regions. Birding Beyond the Pale was basically stillborn, simply suffocated beneath the pressures of increasing workloads imposed upon Queensland teachers by the new Australian Curriculum.

Hopefully Birder at Large will bring all under the one umbrella.

And, as our first foray at large, we determined on the Bunya Mountains National Park, on the southwest fringes of the South Burnett. Where else could you experience the anguish of having a cow sit on the bonnet of your car?

It was our seventh survey of the area [the trip by Fay in December 2013, as a guest under the auspices of the Nanango Volunteers group, is discarded; amid the tea, sandwiches, cake and general frivolity, she recorded only four species].

It has been a rather inconsistent love affair. From the time of our initial visit in September 1990 there was a gap of three years before our subsequent sojourn in December 1993 but then only four months before our third visit in April 1994. Thereafter the drought set in and our fourth trip was left until January 2007, a chasm stretching back 13 years. The fifth call was in July 2011 and the sixth almost exactly two years later, July 2013.

We did however change the itinerary for this visit.

On most previous visits it had been our practice to head straight to the Park centre at Dandabah, park and walk the short to medium-length tracks emanating from there. Either before setting off, or, more often, immediately on returning, we would relax with a cup of coffee and the camera trained on Australian Brush-turkeys, Satin Bowerbirds or Red-browed Finch; in those early years, feeding was quite an extensive activity but has become rather politically incorrect in more modern times. On occasions we also explored a few of the smaller outer sites.

If nothing else [and with an ultimate Year List of only 220 species little could be more depressing] 2013 was at least a year in which Fay and I either explored new [sadly not always excessively birdy] sites [e.g. Winya Road in August – an unsuccessful twitch for Freckled Duck; Cove Road in October- an unsuccessful twitch for the Regent Honeyeater] or created our own local “circuits” [e.g. Booie Road Circuit in May; Din Din Road in November]. At the end of June 2013 we were in Chinchilla and discovered the Birding Areas of the Wambo Shire booklet; a useful little brochure derailing nine “Bird Trails”, each subdivided into a number of “sites” [from as low as one, for the Broadwater Trail, to a maximum of ten, for the Bunya Foothills Trail]. It took us a month or more but in August that year we found ourselves venturing onto the Bunya Foothills Trail, covering the first six sites [oppressive heat dictating that withdrawal was the better option]. We came away with a tally of 51 species but that’s a tale from yesteryear.

Thereafter, booklet and all thoughts of the other Wambo Trails were put aside and duly forgotten; indeed, the brochure became dislocated among a growing mound of paper rubbish.

That is until Fay reminded me that I’d committed myself to putting together a piece on the Bunya Mountains for the June issue of The Warbler [I’d sailed fairly close, perhaps too close, to the wind in completing the Yarraman State Forest article for March].

Revisiting the Bunya Mountains would be a good way to remind myself of at least some of its basic attributes but we also wanted more; a break from the set routine of Dandabah, a few simple strolls, feed the Satin Bowerbirds and rturn home. We knew there was so much more and we were determined to ring in a few changes.

We were pleasantly surprised to find the Bunya Mountains listed as No.4 in the Birding Areas of the Wambo Shire booklet. The answer had been handed to us on a plate. Coffee brewed, sandwiches packed, we set off to find Horse Gully.

There was a noticeable dearth of avifauna.

Having mused about the lack of birds at Horse Gully [Site 1 on the Bunya Mountains Trail] we made our way to Site No. 2 [a long two-kilometre stretch] and were immediately impressed by the active Yellow-throated Scrubwrens. We counted six in the bat of an eyelid; others skipped about around us. A Satin Bowerbirds called; a Green Catbird meowed from somewhere behind us but all the neck-cranking and peering failed to bring it to light.

We moved on to Site No. 3, Russell Park where we were soon challenged by an unfamiliar call, or rather, we put the then unseen bird down as an Eastern Rosella which didn’t quite “sound right.” It became obvious that there was more than one bird involved in the tree-top cacophony and the deafening screech was unquestionably coming closer. Not Eastern Rosella? Crimson Rosella then? Our experience with this latter species has become somewhat limited since moving to the South Burnett: a mere three sightings in 2013; only one in 2912. Two of the 2013 records relate to the Bunya Mountains.

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They burst into view, a flash of reds and greens. Three Australian King-Parrots, an adult pair with an immature in tow; it was the latter making the terrific din. Fay and I looked at each other in puzzlement. King-Parrots were familiar to us; they were among the foremost guests at Café Avian and while never observed in any particular abundance, we had some experience of both juveniles and immatures. We could not recall any generating that level of tumult. Fay whipped out her i-pod and tuned in to Morcombe’s app. There was no immature call listed.

We found ourselves back at Dandabah’s small café/restaurant where we mused further over the Australian King-Parrot revelation and then were totally distrcted s a flock or twenty or more Topknot Pigeons flew by overhead; that put our tally at 22 species, one of the lowest we have recorded for the Bunya Mountains.

The cow on the bonnet? Oh yes, a most surrealistic experience. It all seemed to happen in slow motion.

We were driving quietly along, mostly second gear stuff as we listened for birds. There were a few wallabies on the side of the road and I did notice the odd cow or two but they we all busily chewing the cud. Suddenly one of the nearer cows broke into a gentle trot and started crossing the road in front of me. I swerved to the right but clipped the cow’s rump and the beast literally “sat” on the front, passenger side, corner of the bonnet. It stumbled and careered off downhill to, presumably, join its bovine cohorts, complaining about tourists to the Mountains.

The cow was clearly unharmed; my bonnet will set me back $600 [around $18 a bird]!

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