"Bus birding?" I thought, as the 17-or-so of us assembled at 6am around the flash little commuter bus in the dark at Rankins Springs Hall on Saturday, October 7.
After climbing aboard we were soon on the road, to shortly drive into one of those flaming wide-sky sunrises in which Australia's inland seems to excell. From then onwards, I had absolutely no idea where we were. Occasionally I would ask in which direction Rankins Springs was (my only point of orientation), but as there were three or so pointing fingers indicating contradictory compass points, I gave up caring.
The first stop was at a small dam, which turned out fruitful indeed for bird sightings, of which I will cherry-pick only the ones that were special to me. Here was my very first viewing of Turquoise Parrots; a pair, leisurely feeding on grass seeds on the wall of the dam. Then a wonderful close encounter with a pair of Hooded Robins, the male a smart, sharply defined black and white. The top bird here, though, improbably spotted some distance along a track, was a pair of Barking Owls. One of these remained in a low Kurrajong tree regarding the awed assembly with a mixture of golden-eyed curiosity and indifference.
Throughout the day there were many such rewarding sojourns, in which I gradually became a convert to the idea of “bus birding”, one in which someone else does the driving while I enjoy the scenery. There’s also the pleasure of chatting away as we travel, often for quite some distances.
At one large wetland, we observed many and varied birds, such as Black-winged Stilts, Red-kneed Dotterels, Yellow-billed Spoonbills – even Red Kangaroos. But the best – and yet another first for me – was a very active flock of Black-tailed Native Hens.
At one spot there was a spectacular avian aerobatic display between an Australian Hobby and a smaller harasser, while at our feet a brown snake slowly vacated the very spot where we had just been milling around at morning tea! Ah, then later there was the majestic Spotted Harrier, soaring slowly right above me.
After a lovely lunch, we returned to base for a rest before taking off for a very special sighting indeed. The setting sun was ideal for viewing the enormous nest of a Wedge-tailed Eagle. This was built in a fairly small White Cypress Pine. Our luck was in, as we could sometimes see the single fledgling moving about within. However, just as we were about to leave, one of its adult parents mysteriously appeared standing on the edge of the nest, regarding us imperiously, till the light began to fade and we took our leave. To me, this is as good as it gets!
A final twilight stop at yet another dam, to be bid good-night by a pair of Glossy Black Cockatoos, a Black Swamp Wallaby, and an earth-moving Echidna; then back to the Hall for a grand barbeque dinner (yum).
The group went out again on the Sunday, but Susan and I had to get back.
Everything about the organization - especially the victuals, was superlative, a great credit to the Lachlan Fold community in general, and Helen and Mark in particular. Apparently the bird list for the two days exceeded 130 – impressive by any measure.