Tuesday 15 April 1986

AUSTRALIA March/April 1986: Javan stop-over

Part VI  Javan stop-over

This finishes the blog of an Easter 1986 trip to Australia, which I had now left and was about to embark on a 4 day stop-over in Java.  It is based on scant notebook entries and vague memories and this part is illustrated with a very few digitised images of slides taken at the time - the weather and habitat did not allow for much more.

On 11 April I caught the mid-day Garuda flight from Darwin to Jakarta via Bali where a number of people got off the plane, unsurprisingly as it was a popular holiday destination for Australians.  At Jakarta I seemed to be the only westerner who was not going on to Europe. I was not surprised.  Neither was I when my bag did not appear on the carousel – being a rucksack it is usually either first or more often last off - but my anxiety grew as all the other passengers departed with their bags and I was getting quite concerned when the carousel was switched off – it seemed so final.  I was looking around for an office in which to make enquiries when I saw it being carried across the other side of the baggage area by a porter.  Somewhat relieved I quickly reclaimed it and negotiated with a taxi to take me into the area of town where I could find a cheap hotel.  As a westerner I stand out and sometimes attract unwelcome attention as it is, but arriving in a new city with a rucksack as it is getting dark makes me feel particularly anxious.  I had no need to be as the first hotel I came to offered me a cheap room and despite having no common language indicated where I could get a meal and how to get to the station in the morning as I wanted to catch a train to Bogor.  I slept surprisingly well despite now entering the more adventurous part of the trip.

I was up as it was getting light on 12 April and made my way to the station where I did not have to wait long for a train to Bogor.  It was an uneventful journey and not very crowded.  On arrival I was pleased to see that the station was very central.  The bus station was not far away and after a short wait I caught a bus that was going to Bandung.  After a long climb up the flank of Gunung Gede it crossed the Puncak Pass and shortly after, where I was dropped, a side road led to the Cibodas entrance to and headquarters of Gunung Gede National Park.  I walked the last part, uphill under gathering storm clouds, and it seemed a lot further than 3-4 kms.  There was a rather grand entrance gate and then a small village with a big car park and lots of stalls.  It was early afternoon, I found a guesthouse, dumped my bag, bought some unmemorable food to supplement the ‘convenience’ biscuits I’d become accustomed to in Australia, and headed into the park.  At the entrance hut I obtained a permit but was told I needed a guide.  I was only going to walk to the waterfall and managed to persuade them that I did not need a guide to do that.  They relented and I headed into the National Park.  So far so good but I’d only started along the trail when the heavens opened and it rained heavily all afternoon.  At the waterfall I disturbed two Lesser Forktails but only had unsatisfactory flight views while later a White-crowned Forktail showed no better.  I did see Sunda Whistling Thrush, Sunda Minivet, Indigo, Little Pied and Snowy-browed Flycatchers and Mountain Leaf Warbler but a few birds went unidentified – a combination of brief views and a make do 'field guide' being a piece of paper with two-line descriptions of the birds I thought occurred.  The rain finally eased as I headed back to my hostel.  There were a lot of birds to see, and a certain forktail to get better views of, and with only a day and a half I was keen not to any waste time.  That included leaving the National Park during the day to find food so although my biscuits were holding out I bought a few more things that evening.

On 13 April I was up at dawn and made my way through a Botanical Garden to the start of the trail.. The hut was unmanned so I went straight in without any guide or the need thereof discussions.  I spent all day on the trail to the Waterfall with a brief excursion up the main trail but being a Sunday that soon became busy with local hikers.  Many wanted to stop and tell me their life histories or ask me mine, in Indonesian, which I would have thought it was soon obvious that I did not understand.  They were incredibly friendly and not at all threatening but smiling inanely at locals soon became tiring and when I heard a group approaching it was often easier to quietly step off the trail and let them go by without seeing me.  Birding became more difficult from soon after midday when the heavy rain started again and lasted all afternoon.  Despite visiting the waterfall several times I only managed another flight view of a Lesser Forktail, ding no better with White-crowned either.  Picnicking locals probably did not help in that respect and some remained even when the rain was at its hardest.  Despite these and the lack of field guide frustrations I had a good day and saw Javan Hawk-Eagle, 2 Javan Tesias, 4 excellent Sunda Flycatcher-Warblers, Pygmy Tit, Red-tailed and White-bellied Fantails, a pair of Snowy-browed Flycatchers at a nest, 15 Chestnut-backed Scimitar-Babblers, Pygmy Wreb-Babbler, Pearly-cheeked Babbler, 10 Blue Nuthatches, Kuhl’s Sunbird, a pair of Pin-tailed Parrotfinches and what looked like another species of parrotfinch.  At the time I assumed it would be Bamboo Parrotfinch, the other species I knew occurred, and was quite pleased to have gone from having seen none to two parrotfinches in a day.  When I checked my limited information I realised the bird did not have a tawny-breast and later my memory and very crude notes matched most closely a New Caledonian Parrotfinch, perhaps an escaped cagebird or more likely a complete misidentification on my part!

Gunung Gede - early morning with the clouds coming in but before the stalls opened
Gunung Pangrango, not as high as Gede but a more typical cone volcano shape
Cibeureum Waterfall
lower slopes of Gunung Gede, the rest was usually hidden by clouds during my visit

I had a final day at Cibodas on 14 April but given the likely weather and the need to get back to Bogor, which I did not particularly want to do in the dark, I decided to stay until early afternoon or it started raining heavily.  I was up at first light and made straight for the area just short of the waterfall where I had flushed the Lesser Forktail.  I tucked myself away in the vegetation where I could see a small section of the stream and waited, and waited and waited.  Eventually, but perhaps not after more than an hour, a female Lesser Forktail flew upstream and landed in view for long enough for me to get my binoculars onto it and a bit more.  A decent view at last although it was soon off.  I had another quick walk up the main trail but had no luck with Blue-tailed Trogon and probably did not go far enough to reach the best area for them.  I did see 3 Eyebrowed and 2 Pygmy Wren Babblers, 2 Javan Tesias, 4 Red-fronted Laughingthrushes, 6 Blue Nuthatches and a good view of a White-crowned Forktail.  The rain started at midday so I headed out, picked up my bag from the guesthouse which had been great and walked down to the entrance gate where I had been told I could get a minibus down to the main road.  This I did and from there, after a wait, a bus to Bogor.  By now it was raining heavily and most of Gunung Gede was hidden by low cloud.  I arrived in Bogor late afternoon and found a basic hotel near the Botanical Gardens as it was starting to get dark.  It was still raining hard.

central Bogor in the rain
15 April was my last day and I was up at dawn and heading for the Botanical Gardens.  The gate was locked when I arrived just before 07:00 and a sign indicated that it did not open until 08:00.  I walked all the way around but a high wall prevented me from finding anywhere I could sneak in.  Not only was I missing the best part of the day but I felt that I had to leave at 10:00 anyway - very frustrating.  At least the gardens opened on time and I spent two hours walking around.  In fairness the gardens probably did not deserve much longer.  While there I saw 8 Black-necked Fruit-Doves, male Grey-cheeked Green Pigeon, Blue-eared Kingfisher (shamefully misidentified as Common!), male Hill Blue Flycatcher, Scarlet-headed Flowerpecker and 7 Black-naped Orioles.  I returned to my hotel well satisfied, collected my bag and headed to the station.  On the train back to Jakarta I was befriended by an English speaking local who was telling me of the cheapest way to get to the airport from the railway station.  It involved taking two local buses but the potential for me not getting off at the right place to change seemed too great for the amount I would save by not getting the tourist bus.  He did not seem to understand that I was prepared to spend a pound or so extra to avoid any potential hassle or delay.  Affluent foreigners, I’m sure he was thinking, even those dressed like a vagabond!  That was pretty much it, I caught the ‘expensive’ bus to the airport and my Garuda flight to back to Gatwick was without incident.  It had been a great trip, especially the times with Paul Noakes, John McKean and Chris Corben.  The last two’s hospitality had been brilliant too.  Gunung Gede had been great as a (slightly) more adventurous alternative to staying on Bali although as I’ve been back to Gunung Gede twice and still not made it to Bali perhaps in the long run it was not the best move.

[blogged May 2014]

Friday 11 April 1986

AUSTRALIA March/April 1986: Darwin

Part V Darwin

This continues the blog of an Easter 1986 trip to Australia, based on scant notebook entries and vague memories and illustrated with digitised images of degraded slides taken at the time.

I arrived in Darwin after dark on 7 April and phoned John McKean, at the time the top Australian lister.  He invited me over and I got a taxi to his house on the outskirts of the town.  The taxi driver had an impressive spotlight mounted on his wing mirror to check house numbers.  If we’d had similar on our hire car in Queensland I’m sure Paul Noakes would have used it to great effect.  I had not met John McKean before but we got on really well.  I had three and a half days before my flight to Bali left Darwin but needed to visit the Garuda Office to reconfirm it (I actually wanted to change my stop-over from Bali to Java).  We discussed what I’d not seen and the best use of my time and John very kindly agreed to put me up and take me out if I paid for his petrol, a very generous offer which I was pleased to accept.

A whirlwind day’s birding round Darwin with John McKean on 8 April netted me 11 new birds but little time for photographic opportunities.  We started at Cameroon's Beach where I was very pleased to see 2 superb Beach Stone Curlew (they were as good as I was hoping) and also White-breasted Whistler, Mangrove Gerygone and Red-headed Honeyeater.  We moved on to Beromash Sewage Farm where there were 4 White-headed Shelduck but not a lot else.  Leanyer Swamp added 10 Black-necked Storks, 4 Red-kneed Dotterel and very fortuitously 5 superb Star Finches.  Another two Beach Stone Curlew were present at East Point which was also good for Australian Pratincoles and we finished a long mornings birding at Buffallo Beach where there were 2 Great Knot and a Broad-billed Flycatcher.  We’d also seen 30 Red-tailed Black Cockatoos, at several sites, and 6 Red-backed Kingfishers.  Back at John’s he gave me the keys to his car so I could go into Darwin to the Garuda Office.  I jumped in and realised it only had two pedals.  An automatic and I had never driven one before.  I went back and told John but he was completely unfazed by it (I suppose it was a bit of a wreck).  Amazingly helpful and trusting.  I drove in without mishap (the brakes were a bit ropey too) and was able to change my stop-over.  I’d discovered that there was a National Park within 3-4 hours of Jakarta (Gunung Gede) where Lesser Forktail occurred and felt that was a more ambitious option than three days on Bali looking for the starling although it took until halfway around Australia for me to contemplate doing it.  Late afternoon, after I’d changed my stop-over, we went to the Elizabeth River where, from a road-bridge, John taped in two Mangrove Robins.  A very good day, but I felt a bit out of my depth at times.

Australian Pratincole

We left early on 9 April and drove to Pine Creek where we saw 2 Hooded Parrots on an old runway, 25 Cockatiel, 6 Diamond Doves, White-rumped Miner and Green-backed Warbler.  From there we drove east along a dirt road towards Kakadu National Park stopping for a flock of Masked Finches, Common Bronzewing, Bar-breasted Honeyeater, Black-tailed Treecreeper and Little Wood-Swallow.  Another stop involved a short route march into an area of woodland John knew where he found a superb roosting Rufous Owl.  We continued but our progress was halted by not being able to cross the South Alligator River which was in flood – a result of a very wet period before I arrived (presumably the same weather system that I had encountered rather too often in Queensland).  We were not the only vehicle unable to cross although as the general consensus was that the river wasn’t dropping in a hurry we were in a better situation than a couple stuck on the other side.  I had less than two days before I left Australia and didn’t want to spend most of them on a riverbank waiting for the river to drop.  This seemed a very real possibility so we abandoned the idea of going to UDP Falls and headed instead for the Victoria River, about 200 kms west of Katherine.  We stopped in the cemetery at Pine Creek seeing 6 Great Bowerbirds and then made steady progress.  The last part of the journey was in darkness but did produce a Spotted Nightjar on the road.  We camped by the road house where we got a meal.  It was disappointing not to be going to Kakadu but there were some special birds in this area too.

We were up at dawn on 10 April and pleased to be warmed by the sun.  The main bird I was hoping to see was Lilac-crowned Fairy-Wren and we quickly found three in tall grass near the river’s edge and Yellow-tinted Honeyeater and 2 Yellow-rumped Mannikins nearby.  We headed up onto the Victoria River escarpment, where the views were superb, seeing 4 White-quilled Rock Pigeons and single roosting Boobook and Barking Owls.  We then started the journey back to Katherine but made plenty of stops for birds seen by the road which included 2 Australian Bustards, 2 Spinifex Pigeons, flocks of 15 Cockatiels and 25 Budgerigars, 2 Ground Cuckoo-Shrikes, Rufous-throated Honeyeater, 4 Pictorella Mannikins and 3 Gouldian Finches.  Nearer to Katherine we saw 3 pairs of Brolgas, looking very stately as cranes usually do, and a Black Bittern.  On the way back to Darwin we saw 2 Great Bowerbirds near Pine Creek and had time to call in at the Adelade River, seeing 3 Mangrove Whistlers, and Humpy Doo.  During the drive we had also seen 60 Little Whimbrel, 8 Brown Falcons and 6 Red-backed Kingfishers making it a very good day.

Victoria River escarpment

On 11 April I borrowed John’s car for my final morning around Darwin and visited East Point, Leanyer Swamp and Karima seeing 2 Brown Quail, 25 Australian Pratincoles, 75 Little Whimbrel, 20 Grey-tailed Tattlers, Blue-winged Kookaburra and Brown Whistler.  The latter was the last of about 285 new birds and I’d seen just over 350 species.  I bought some biscuits as I wasn’t sure what Java would offer and resisted the temptation to get a couple of jars of vegemite, something I’d bought when I had arrived, instantly hated but persevered rather than wasting a whole jar and was now quite keen on.  John dropped me back at Darwin Airport for my mid-day flight, he had been a superbly generous host and I would not have done half as well as I had without his expert knowledge and untiring enthusiasm.  I promised to let him know how I got on in Java as he too was very keen to see the Enicurus (forktail).  He did the following year and we kept in touch for a while but I never saw him again.  He later moved to America but tragically died of a brain haemorrhage, far too young.  A top bloke.

Little Whimbrel

Monday 7 April 1986

AUSTRALIA March/April 1986: Cairns (coastal)

Part IV  Cairns (coastal)

This continues the blog of an Easter 1986 trip to Australia, based on scant notebook entries and vague memories and illustrated with digitised images slides taken at the time, some of which have since degraded.

The 2 April was another wet day and we had a quick look around the Crater, seeing many of the species seen the previous day, before driving to Mission Beach for the afternoon.  Our target bird here, in fact the main bird for the trip, was Southern Cassowary.  Lacy’s Creek was a traditional site but we had heard that the worst cyclone in living memory had, over a large area, flattened a lot of trees earlier in the year, closing trails and making it very hard for cassowaries to find fruit.  There had been stories in the press of hungry cassowaries appearing in gardens with one or two people being injured by their kicks.  On arrival at Mission Beach we asked in the Post Office if anyone knew of any recent cassowary sightings.  Someone told us of a relative who had been kicked by one but that had been some weeks ago and not nearby.  We got no information on recent sightings but it was suggested that food might have been left out at Lacy’s Creek.  We decided to go there and hope for the best.  We arrived and immediately spotted a large cardboard box in the car park.  I wound down the window and was about to start scanning when Paul spotted an adult running towards us.  My amazement and delight changed to consternation as it stuck its head through the open window.  In tow it had four large young and a sub-adult.  Clearly their hunger had overcome their caution.  The box was full of apples but they were too large for the cassowaries to eat as they mainly swallow fruits whole.  I got out of the car and started cutting them up into manageable pieces.  It was a very surreal experience crouching down in the open next to a notoriously secretive bird that was of a similar size to me, but with much more dangerous feet.  The cassowaries eventually wandered off, melting into the surrounding forest despite there being more horizontal than vertical trees.  We tried to go down one of the trails but soon gave up as progress was impossible.  Even the surviving trees had had most of their developing fruits ripped off by the cyclone leaving nothing for the cassowaries.
Southern Cassowary welcoming committee at Lacy's Creek, assumed to be a female (they are larger and brighter than males)
with two of her four youngsters
me cutting apples into a swallow-able size 
sub-adult cassowary 'helper'
my most wanted bird in Australia, I was not disappointed
cyclone damaged Lacy's Creek
the trails were impossible to negotiate
no fruit appeared to have been left on the trees that were still standing
we were very fortunate that the cassowaries had taken up residence in the car park, if we had been relying on creeping along forest trails to find them we would definitely been out of luck

We camped near Mission Beach and returned to Lacy’s Creek on 3 April.  The extended cassowary family were very much in evidence and we enjoyed much of the morning with them.  We then drove north to the Goldsborough Road with brief roadside stops.  Birds seen included Black Bittern, Azure Kingfisher, Black Butcherbird, Spectacled and Black-faced Monarch and Cicadabird.  
it was hard to resist taking more photos of these superb birds
their plumage seemed to be much better looked after than is the case for most other flightless species
the youngsters had pretty impressive feet too and it was easy to believe that a well placed kick could cause serious damage
a Macleay's Honeyeater came to check out the apples although may have been more interested in the insects they had attracted 
We started at the Goldsborough Road on 4 April getting good views of Double-eyed Fig-Parrots and another Azure Kingfisher.  We then returned to Cairns, with a few unproductive roadside stops, and returned the hire car which had served us well.  We spent the afternoon in the rain on Cairns Hill and Esplanade seeing 4 Lovely Wrens, one an immaculate male, on the hill, Rufous Night Herons on the Centennial Lakes and my only Large-billed Warbler at White Rock.  The 5 April was another wet day which we spent birding Cairns on foot covering the Esplanade, Botanical Gardens, Hill trail and Airport pools.  Highlights were White-browed Crake, a new bird, on Centennial Lakes, 20 Great Knot, a poor view of Red-crowned Fruit-Dove and a tail-less White-tailed Paradise Kingfisher on Cairns Hill.

looking south to Cairns from half way up Cairns Hill
view south over Cairns from the top of Cairns Hill

We took a day trip to the Great Barrier Reef on 6 April.  We first headed out to Green Island, seeing 5 Rainbow Bee-eaters flying over about half-way out.  We had an hour on Green Island and a quick walk around produced 30 Pacific Reef Herons and 3 superb Red-crowned Fruit-Doves.  Back on the boat we saw 12 Lesser Frigatebirds over Green Island and 6 Brown Boobies on the way to Michaelmas Cay.  As we approached the Cay we began to see Brown Noddies and Sooty Terns.  Much to our frustration the tourist boat then stopped for a buffet lunch and we were then taken on a half hour glass bottomed boat tour.  I’m sure it would have been very interesting but my attention was squarely with what was flying over, trying to check Brown Noddies for Black and Sooty Terns for Bridled.  We were finally landed on the beach, about an hour later than I would have liked, two hours if one excluded the hour on Green Island, although the Fruit-Doves had been nice.  Michaelmas Cay was amazing with fearless breeding seabirds covering most of it in a roped of area one could walk to the edge of.  We saw 2500 Sooty Terns and 2000 Brown Noddies from which we picked out 2 Black Noddies.  We also saw 2 Masked Boobies, 30 Black-naped, 400 Crested, 10 Lesser Crested and a Roseate Tern while 10 Turnstones on the beach added a feeling of the familiar.  We had the opportunity to go snorkelling but I was happy just watching the terns - it was like being in a David Attenborough programme.  Our time on the Cay was over far too quickly and we returned to Cairns seeing a probably Fluttering Shearwater on the way.  It had been an excellent day.

Leaving Cairns
Green Island
Michaelmas Cay
me off Michaelmas Cay

terns on Michaelmas Cay
The terns appeared to be somewhat segregated with the slightly more numerous Sooty Tern predominating in this area.  Their noisy was incessant - Wideawake being a very appropriate alternative name

Brown Noddys occupied this part of the cay

me on Michaelmas Cay

Sooty Terns and Brown Noddys
terns over umbrellas - by now most of the others on the trip were in full beach mode 
Sooty Tern on its nest - it appeared to be little more than a shallow scrape in the sand

Brown Noddy and preening Crested Tern with Sootys

Brown Noddy on 'nest', part of egg just visible
Brown Noddy and egg

many Brown Noddys were roosting on the beach

as were smaller numbers of Crested and Lesser Crested Terns
Crested and Lesser Crested Terns, juveniles of the former preferring not to stand, with a low flying Brown Noddy
Crested Terns
Black Noddy, we managed to pick out two
they were blacker, smaller and slimmer than Brown Noddy
with a more lethal looking bill

a Turnstone was a nice reminder of home
On 7 April I had the morning birding around the usual sites at Cairns (Esplanade, Botanical Gardens, Hill, Airport).  Highlights were an adult and two juvenile White-tailed Paradise Kingfishers and the family of four aptly named Lovely Wrens on Cairns Hill.  I left Paul, he had been a great travelling companion and superb birder, and caught the afternoon flight to Darwin.