MALLEE CLIFFS & MUNGO NATIONAL PARKS
Chris Coleborn
(Monday 10th -Friday 20th November 2003)

It was a privilege to go as an assistant to Rohan Clarke, (a professional ornithologist - he learnt he had been awarded his Doctorate in Zoology only the day before), into Mallee Cliffs and Mungo National Parks from the 10th to the 20th November, 2003. These two great National Parks are in South-Western NSW, just over the border from Robinvale and Mildura.

Mallee Cliffs is basically made up of various types of Mallee habitat. There is Deep Sand Mallee, (the preferred habitat of many of the especially targeted birds), Chenopod or saltbush Mallee with associated Casuarina/Callitris woodlands and some small grasslands interspersed between the various classifications of Mallee & Mosaic Mallee which is a mixture of all types, each so small that none can be said to dominate. (Rohan explained that Chenopod comes from Chenopodiaceae, which is the plant family that includes Bluebush, Saltbush, Nitre Bush and glass-worts. Thus ground covers/shrubs in this family are collectively called Chenopod.) Mallee Cliffs National Park is closed to the public, and only researchers and maintenance staff have access.

Mungo National Park is famous for its ancient dry lakes and the stark white towering sand cliffs that edge them. One section called the "Walls of China" are justly famous for their stark testimony to prehistoric mammoth marsupials that roamed the area and the first man to live in this part of our unique country. Fossilized remains of these mammoth marsupials and of the Aboriginal people who lived beside them and hunted them are found in the area. Here there are not only grass and salt herb lands but also open woodlands of Wilga and Casuarina as well as patches of Deep Sand, Chenopod and Mosaic Mallee.

Rohan had been "commissioned" to survey the Mallee areas, especially the Deep Sand Mallee for rare and threatened Mallee birds. Though some were not expected to be present, a special survey was conducted for Red-lored Whistler, Mallee Whipbird, Striated Grasswren & Black-eared Miner, including the use of a compact disc with the calls of these birds on it. Special notice was also made of the presence of Southern Scrub-robin, Shy Heathwren, Crested Bellbird & Gilbert’s Whistler. A full bird list was also to be made up both for the Parks Administration as well as the Atlas of Australian Birds Project.

Though the country was recovering from drought, recent rains had brought a real burst of growth so the bushland showed something of its Spring glory. The Spring weather held true only so far, for on several days and nights the Summer with its blazing heat and isolated thunderstorms intruded. The animal life loved it. The bush rang for hours each morning and in the cool of the afternoon with the calls of the much and varied bird-life inhabitants.

Late afternoon in Robin Vale on the 10th, Rohan Clarke, Trevor Wilson, (a Botanist from Canada who was also interested in Australian birds), and myself met together. Rohan and Trevor had travelled from Melbourne in their 4WD Dual Cab Toyota Hilux and I from Cohuna in my Navara Nissan Dual Cab 4WD. Both had canopies for our gear. We were all set to go bush!

Rohan thought seeing it was so late in the day, and as he was unfamiliar with Mallee Cliffs, that we would camp nearby on the Murray, and make our way out to the National Park next day. So, after some enquiries, we headed to a site just South of Robinvale called Walsh’s Bend State Forest, where we made our camp for the night. It took only a short time to pitch tents and throw a swag out, and then we had a look around the site. Various birds were calling, flying and swimming around. There were Wood Ducks on the River, and above our heads and among the towering Red Gums we spotted a good selection of birds. The most outstanding of them were probably Regent Parrots. A small flock of these strikingly gold and black birds with their elegant long tails but rough calls flew overhead and among the trees. Brown Treecreepers pealed their calls midst the giant trunks of the towering Red Gums all around us, and flittered among the trees. In the higher spreading canopy of the Gums, Yellow Rosella, White-plumed Honeyeater, Whistling Kite, Australian Raven, Laughing Kookaburra, Long-billed Corella, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Little Friarbird, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, Galah, Magpie, & Striated Pardalotes made their own contribution to the calls, colour and movement of the close of the day. Magpie-larks dropped down from dead branches onto the side of the banks of the rive, joining some Common Bronzewings for their evening drink. The sounds of Grey Shrike-thrush, Red-rumped Parrots, Crested Shrike-tit & Blue-faced Honeyeaters, Willie Wagtail & Rufous Whistler, added to the happy chorous of birdsong. A Red-capped Robin, with its distinctive "phone dialing" call echoed across the bushland. On the ground, Yellow-rumped Thornbills & Choughs hopped about, searching out their evening meal. Little Pied Cormorants winged past using the river as their flight-path. Above us in the light of the early evening Summer sky, White-browed Woodswallows called and chattered their happy sounds as they hawked high flying moths.

As we worked to get a meal we yarned and got to know oneanother and all the while the rose and gold of the setting sun was casting its radiance over the river and lighting the air all around us. Our meal of mixed grill and veggies was all the more enjoyable because of the setting!

It had been a big day getting ready and travelling for all of us, so we were happy to hit the hay. I noticed that some Cicada nymphs were crawling out of the ground and up some of the camping gear as I got ready for the swag. We all enjoyed a look at them. More often than not you just see the empty shell after they have shed their skin.

During the evening hour, the moon low in the sky, and the Canadian wondering at "our" Southern Cross as it hung brightly in the purple blackness of the South, we heard the staccato cry of an Owlet Nightjar echo in the forest around us. The high pitched "ting ting ting" call of a White-striped Mastiff Bat made himself known as he sought his evening’s prey above our heads. This "old bloke" had some trouble picking up the call - not like the two "young blokes" - still in their twenties. Just as I headed for bed, I clearly heard it call as it passed close overhead. In the distance, a Banjo Frog "twanged" away. Above us Peron’s Tree Frogs were calling and Barking Marsh Frogs made their presence known down by the river. All added their song to the evening chorus. In the stillness of the early morning hours, the resonant call of a Southern Boobook could be heard as he flew upon silent wings among the ghostly trunks of the Red Gums about his nightly business.

Next morning, as the eastern sky paled to a new day, I was up bright and early and enjoyed my quiet time. The others were also soon up and about, all of us keen to get on with the work before us. We had a look around, a bite to eat, packed up and were on our way back into Robinvale by 7:30am. On the way out we stopped and the liquid, spilling clear call of the Western Gerygone sounded through the woodland.

Things were still closed up in Robinvale, so we crossed the rickety old, well-worn bridge across the Murray into NSW, and called at a garage in Euston, where we topped up our water and fuel. I also had extra fuel and water aboard.

We headed along the Balranald Road, and turned north to where the unmarked entrance to Mallee Cliffs is to be found. Most of the morning was spent in reconnaissance work, checking out the vegetation types and where the most likely place would be to find the special birds we were targeting. At the same time it was to spy out a place for a campsite, as well as to enjoy some birding and animal spotting as we went along. A dead Brown Snake on the road was worth a stop and look. It was a buzz to see Major Mitchell’s Cockatoos take off from beside the road, with their shy cry and flash of white and pastel pink in the sunlight, as we entered the Park area. At the first dam to which we came, we enjoyed some great sights of a pair of Banded Lapwing who had four freshly hatched chicks, one still wet from breaking out of its shell. It was a bit of a high for Rohan to take some photographs, and get some more experience with his high tech digital camera and special lenses.

We also enjoyed some great views of a pair of Blue Bonnets with three or four fledglings, begging for food, and a flock of White-fronted Chats. Leaving my vehicle, we all hopped into the "work" vehicle and touring around we soon were seeing the habitat and special birds and animals of the Mallee and Western Plains. Mixed small Mobs of Eastern, Western and Red Kangaroo were all through the Park, hopping lazily away. Emus would dash on sight of us. By a dry dam we first heard then saw a Red-backed Kingfisher among the more common birds. In a couple of places of Casuarinas and Mallee with patches of Desert Cassia and flowering Eremophila we saw White-faced Honeyeaters & Gilbert’s Whistlers who were also loudly calling. A flock of agitated Chestnut-crowned Babblers scampered around the Hop and Acacia bushes. Trevor had not seen many of these birds, but he had a good eye, an excellent ear for their calls and a sound memory, so that he was soon fairly reliably identifying the different birds, and very pleased to be seeing so many new ones.

For our base camp we settled on a patch of thick, tall Cattle Bush with lots of Casuarinas, and not too far off some Callitris and Mallee, situated at 34º 14' 38S X 142º 42' 10E. It was a pleasant place to look out on, walk around and to find good shade in the heat of the day. We were camped here until Sunday 16th. We started an area bird list straight away, and were soon getting some good birds down, including a pair of nesting Red-capped Robins near our camp. Their telephone dialing call was one of the first to be heard in the mornings, and one of the most regular during the day. Other birds we particularly enjoyed seeing here were Crested Bellbird, Splendid Fairy-wren, Varied Sitella, Black-eared & Pallid Cuckoo, Hooded Robin, Collared Sparrowhawk, Gilbert’s Whistler, White-browed Treecreeper, Spotted Pardalote, Australian Ringneck, Apostlebirds, Striped & Brown-headed Honeyeaters, Rainbow Bee-eaters, White-winged Triller and a surprise among this type of country, a young Malleefowl just a bit bigger than a Common Bronzewing. It was scratching and feeding in litter under a low bush, before taking off running as fast as it could. In the area there was also a light sprinkling of flowering shrubs, adding their distinctive and striking contribution to the beauty of the Mallee in Spring. Apart from the yellow flowering Acacias & Desert Cassias, (really a type of Sienna), there were the pale pinkish spotted flower of the Eremophila Longafolia, and Twin-leaf Eremophila and also several types of bright red flowering Greavelia. The fresh shoots on the trees and bushes, especially the bronze, red and striking olive shades of the Mallee all added to the freshness and wonder of the bushland.

On our first night at the campsite, we decided to see what night animals we could locate. Apart from spiders we didn’t find much on the walk. Back at the camp Rohan "had to mend" a mist net, and in erecting it snared a Lesser Long-eared Bat. We all enjoyed a look at him. While doing that we also noticed on the ground a beautifully marked little Beaked Gecko, its pure white underside in striking contrast with the rusty fawn of the top with spots and other markings. Rohan is licensed to net and band birds, and is experienced in netting and handling bats as well.

Rohan next morning led us on the first of our surveys. He explained the set up before we began, and had a talk about safety etc. I was impressed with the thought and preparation he, and no doubt others too, have put into the system. Each surveyor had basic equipment, which was checked off each day before heading out on the surveys. There were the basics of suitable clothes, hat and shoes. You needed sufficient snacks & water for the day - at least 2 litres, an emergency kit of elastic bandage, (especially needed in case of snakebite), matches, whistle etc. There was also navigational gear - both a GPS and compass and also in case of a real emergency, an EPERB. One also needed one’s binoculars, a CD player and speaker to play bird calls and a folder of record sheets. A transect was set off a road of about 4 kilometres into the bush, with an Easting and Northing reference being given.

On starting into the bush, one recorded the date, time, Easting & Northing position as well as Latitude and Longitude. The CD of bird calls was played and care taken to listen and look for a response from any of these species. As one walked along note was made of habitat type. Each change of habitat was noted. Threatened species apart from the targeted ones were also especially noted and their Easting/Northing reference & time noted. All birds seen or heard were recorded too. Every 500m one would stop at the scheduled reference point and start all over again. At about 4 kilometres there was a right or left hand turn, another 500m transect and then the seven or eight 500 metre stops on the way "out".

On the first trip Rohan accompanied Trevor and myself and drilled us in the system and then left us to find our own way out using the system, and surveying as we went. Trevor navigated for a time while I recorded, then we swapped and I navigated while Trevor recorded. At times we would stop our surveying to just enjoy some interesting distraction, like the remains of a Shingle-backed Lizard. Were the shingles on the back really bone? That would mean they would almost have an external skeleton, wouldn’t it? One most interesting distraction for us all on the way in on the trial run, was when I flushed a female Chestnut Quail-thrush, and upon investigation, discovered its nest at the bottom of a low Triodia bush. It was a depression in the ground lightly lined with some leaves and grass. The two eggs were an attractive buff colour under some dark and paler brown spotting. The Mallee Cliffs Park was a good place for the Chestnut Quail-thrush. There were many excellent sightings had by us all.

To arrive back out on the track at the exact spot after a 7 to 8 kilometre walk using the GPS was always a satisfying thing and one wondered anew at the technology we have today to be guided through such isolated bushland in our vast land by a system of satellites thousands of kilometres away and apart.

After the transect surveys, we would sometimes do 2ha, 20 minute Atlas surveys for the Birds Australia project. Rohan also sent in all bird sightings from the transect walks to the Birds Australia Atlas Project. We had our own little system for doing it. Rohan would play the taped calls of the special species for which we were searching, while Trevor and I would cover three quarters of the 2ha area, and Rohan, as soon as he had finished the taped calls would cover the remaining quarter hectare. We picked up some interesting birds on these surveys too. Crimson Chats & Inland Thornbills were but a few of the many species we saw.

Each day we rose early, mostly before the sun was up. The weather was warming up quickly, and on one particular day we knew it was due to be in the mid 30’s, so Rohan thought an extra early start would see our work done before the heat of the day. We set off as we did each day, somewhat excited at what the day would reveal, delighting in the scents, sounds and sights of the early day. Birds, lizards and other animals such as Kangaroos and Butterflies - the Wood White and Oggs’ (a small blue) Butterfly made the Mallee come alive with movement, colour and sound. This day it seemed to get hot very quickly. By the half way mark I was feeling it, but soldiered on in the work. The birds were all still and quiet, and recorded numbers dropped. On getting back to the meeting place we would all have a quick catch up on the different birds and sights we saw, but this day it was looking for a shady tree and something cool to drink. We decided we would return to an old homestead site where a derelict meat house still stood, and with some trees around it we would get full shade. Rohan remarked, as we drove along to the meat house, "Boy these birds looked stressed out by the heat, and its only in the mid 30’s. They must have to acclimatize to the warmer weather after the coolness of Winter. I reckon we do too!" So we sat in the cool, drank water, cordial, tea and coffee, chatted and worked on Atlas forms. Though it was hot, it was a time of camaraderie as we sat in the shade and leisurely worked away at out tasks, the desultory conversation just lazily flowing along. It did seem we were feeling the heat - just too soft after our cool winter.

As the day drew on, we went to another spot near the old homestead site and looked at what was obviously a very old Mallee tree. Its rootstock was huge - at least 9 metres around the base, and its branches, from their size, obviously of great age. It must have been at least hundreds of years old - most certainly predated European settlement. We became misty eyed as we dreamed dreams of days long ago, never to be repeated, when a Western Quoll may have chased a Numbat under its branches. Or one moonless night a Western Barred Bandicoot may have dug for grubs beside its roots while a now extinct Pig-footed Bandicoot hopped by like a miniature deer. Who knows what tales it could tell of Aborigines and perhaps even the mega marsupials that once roamed the land ... ahhh! Rohan took some pictures and made a note of it to inform the Parks people of its existence in case they were not aware of it.

We had decided that we would go to the one dam in the area with a bit of water in it for our evening meal. Originally we had thought of camping near it, but the country all round was exposed to wind and sun, and having a "goat trap" affair all around it, several kangaroos and emus had become caught in it, and died making it rather malodorous and uninviting. Trevor reckoned he would have skeleton Kangaroos and Emus haunting his dreams if we camped there. But now there was an attraction to this rather uninviting body of water. Seeing it had been a hot day, and a hot still, dark night coming on, we expected to see some Spotted Night Jars and bats. On the way to the site, as the hot sun sank into a cloudy, stormy west, we were amused to hear on the radio that the weather would have been about 45ºC that day! So much for our theory that the birds and we were just a bit slow acclimatizing to the warming weather.

On arrival at the dam site, we noticed a family of Australian Ringnecks. The two parent birds were feeding several young, and trying to get a drink in before it got too dark. Looking at one of the immature birds we were struck by its colouring. It was almost a uniform green grey colour all over. Rohan mentioned that this odd morph turns up from time to time in some of the parrots.

The chef that night was Rohan who was quite a hand at preparing Risotto - I especially enjoyed the Kalamata Olives in it. After a sit and rest as we contentedly ate our meal and had a cold drink, we made our way over to the dam in the twilight & set up some nets one end of the dam. We were curious what bats might be in the area. As we set the nets up Spotted Night Jars started swooping in, their steady, silent wing beats barely making a whisper as they seemed to momentarily stop flying and scoop up a drink with their bill before taking up their flight again. It was a magic moment seeing them all around us in the twilight. There must have been at least six or seven at one time. They were amazing.

In the purpling twilight, the bats started to come in over the dam, sonaring for insects. For a time the area over the water was an incredible hive of activity. Bats zooming around among the Spotted Night Jars, who must have wonderfully refined night vision, for the Night Jars very ably avoided the nets. It was not so with the bats - what a night it was! Soon the bats were being caught in the nets, and so many there were that first one of the nets had to be closed, and then the other greatly reduced until we had carefully removed the bats, examined them, and after identification, released them. The most common was probably the Lesser Long-eared Bat, quite a few being trapped.

We also caught a much more rare bat when we snared a Greater Long-eared Bat. Comparing it with the Lesser, it was obviously a larger, more thickset and robust animal. There was wonder and excitement, as we would approach each individual in the net as to what species it would turn out to be. Several Inland Broad-nosed Bats turned up, and were interesting to examine. One was considerably smaller than another, and much more docile. For a moment we wondered if we had not snared a Little Broad-nosed Bat. However, when the forearm length was measured we found it was in the range of the Inland, and so presumed it was simply a young Inland Broad-nosed Bat.

Another species we snared was an Inland Freetail Bat. It was striking to observe the difference in the tails and webbing between this species and others. For a moment we wondered if we had caught a. Southern Freetail Bat. One of the obvious deciding characteristics used to distinguish some bats is their penis size (also the shape of the glans penis - but this can be too difficult with conscious bats because it involves the retraction of the foreskin). But Rohan expanded my scientific nomenclature with the terms "big dick" and "little dick"! The Inland has a small penis,< 5 mm, while the Southern has a long penis,> 9 mm! Fortunately for us we had caught a male and could make the identification.

While the Long-eared and Broad-nosed Bats may not have won a beauty contest, the little Inland Forest Bat, of which we snared a couple, was much more attractive to human ideas of attractiveness. We noted that Rohan kept referring to "Kate" quite a lot on the camp, "Kate this" and "Kate that". We started to get the impression Kate was rather special to Rohan. Well, in Rohan’s opinion, "Kate would have loved these little critters". He even used an endearing term that he imagined Kate would use to describe them, and seemed to think it most appropriate, but embarrassment restrains me from mentioning it. We will leave it as an "in word" for Rohan and Kate! I did think of my daughters though, and how much they would have loved to see these "dear little things"!

We were fortunate enough to trap two Chalinolobus bats, the most beautiful being the strikingly marked diminutive Little Pied Bat, with delicate facial features and with beautifully uniform black fur on its body and a most striking and attractive strip of white along each flank beneath its wings, meeting in the public area, forming a "V" shape. It must have been on its southern most limit at Mallee Cliffs, for it is not recorded south of the Murray River. We also caught several Gould’s Wattled Bat, so named, as Rohan explained, because of a fleshy lobe at the base of their ear near the corner of their mouth. Their appearance, without the white strip, was similar to the Little Pied; only they were much bigger, and more aggressive, emitting a continuous buzz when caught in the net and when held in the hand.

All the bats were infected with quite large numbers of very obvious red mites, which scampered around in their fur, and though not attached to their skin, were very difficult to remove. They showed no interest in moving from the bats onto our hands as we held them. After identification we gently left them in the palm of the hand held vertically and they would top it, and then launch themselves into flight.

We could also hear, and distinguish by size as they flew around us, some White-striped Mastiff (or Freetail) Bats. We were unable to trap any of this species though. It was great to see so many varieties of bats, and to know that this National Park is a sanctuary for so many of these and other species of plants and animals.

After a full day of activity and often into the night, it was easy sleeping under the darkness of the indigo sky, ablaze with stars. If one stirred in the night, often the call of the Southern Boobook, Owlet Nightjar or the Tawny Frogmouth could be heard, or even that friendly and confiding little bird who has to keep so active, even to calling out in his sleep, the Willie Wagtail!

Little Crows & Australian Ravens were the two corvids seen on our surveys. We would also come across an occasional Brown Falcon and the odd Collared Sparrowhawk with its staring eye and square tail then the generally larger Brown Goshawk with its frowning eye and round tail. We were surprised, on the whole, at the paucity of raptors.

Rohan was our best Malleefowl spotter, notching up a couple of sightings, though we all found active Malleefowl mounds, and duly noted them on the record sheet. There were not a wide range of Thornbills, Chestnut-rumped being fairly common, the occasional Inland Thornbill and the one that was most common and companionable, the sprightly and very active little Weebill. Their cheerful calls of weebit, weebit, so like their name, accompanying us on our walk. There were only a few Yellow-rumped and Yellow Thornbill sightings. Crested Bellbirds were often heard, more rarely seen, as were Gilbert’s Whistlers. In the thicker Mallee White-browed Babblers scurried about, with their shrill, noisy calls, their more quiet cousins, the Chestnut-crowed Babblers preferring the more open country. Surprisingly, at least for me, the odd Crimson Chat was to be seen in the densest Mallee, usually where a small patch of grass or Chenopod was to be found. They obviously were passing through to more suitable country. Sightings of the odd Black-eared, Pallid and Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoos were seen and enjoyed. Quite large flocks of White-browed & Masked Woodswallows made the bush alive with their movement and calls. There was only an odd Dusky Woodswallow among them.

Yes, each day was interesting and challenging. Keeping to the transect, using the GPS, and navigate one’s way through the thick Mallee, where it is so easy to become disorientated, was challenging. There was real satisfaction in being able to do this. There was a sense of ongoing expectation because one never knew what bird one might see, or what other animal would appear on the scene, or what striking plant would catch one’s sight. Was that bare patch vaguely seen through the Mallee trees and lower supporting shrubbery and Triodia a Malleefowl mound? At the conclusion of each day’s survey we would compare notes and tell tales of our "adventures".

In the ten days of the exercise, we spent about five of them night surveying. It was great to get out after the heat of the day, the cool breeze blowing as we spotlighted either the grasslands or around the tracks through the Mallee. The night of the 12th was warm, moonless and still. The little creatures were more likely to come out on such nights. They would seek the safety of the darkness, with which they would be veiled in the absence of the moon. In the stillness of the night there could be no wind rustling and moving grasses and shrubs by which predators could disguise themselves and strike these little ones. This night we confined ourselves to an open, dry grassland area, slowly driving around it searching in the headlights and with one held spotlight for whatever shone or moved. There were many spiders, obvious by their eyes coldly reflecting the light as it struck their eyes. Myriad of insects fluttered around, reminding us that though a dry land and a dry season, it was a very rich habitat with many species of plants and animals adapted to these conditions.

It was, I guess you could say, "controlled pandemonium", when we would spot a little animal scuttling across the plains, weaving and jumping to hide from the searching light. The cry would go up, "There is one!" The vehicle would come to an abrupt stop. One or two would run from the vehicle with torches to corner it, while the spotlight operator would try to keep it covered. Then the expert Rohan would handle the creature while identification was made. We found four Fat-tailed Dunnarts, several pregnant females and several males. They are unique with a fatty swelling at the top of their tail, and big, dark eyed and fine featured little faces. There was also another little marsupial we thought, that was different in appearance to the Fat-tailed Dunnarts, but it eluded us. What species was it? Remains unknown to us. It was one of those mysteries of this sort of work.

Another night we spotlighted at Mallee Cliffs along the sandy tracks of the Chernocheb Mallee, and were pleased to find several species of the little delicate, but hardy Geckos. One needed a keen eye to spot these little bright-eyed and attractive little reptiles as they scurried along on the track before the oncoming vehicle. We were able to pick up and have good looks at a Tree Dtella and a Beaded Gecko as well as a couple more Beaked Geckos. It was interesting to compare the Beaded and the Beaked Geckos. They were superficially quite similar, in their attractive sandy colouring, with mottled and spotted markings. The exception seemed to be the shape of their heads and mouths. Great nights - and getting up at dawn, one slept well each night after these adventures in the wild.

Sunday was a rest day. I very much appreciated it, for while the other blokes had a sleep in to recharge their physical batteries, I looked to a quiet time of reflection and worship of Him to which all around me shouted His wonderful reality and worth. It was good to be still and know He is God, to think upon His Word and to listen to a CD sermon by Mark Shand. A quiet walk in the bush was to remember the days of old when our first parents walked with the Saviour in Paradise, and a promise of a better day when in the creation without the curse, once more shall we be able to walk with Him. That afternoon we packed up and moved over to Mungo NP.

I had read and heard a lot of Mungo, and was fascinated by what I had read. There had not been good communication somewhere along the line and the head ranger was not expecting us, so Rohan had to fill him in and when all was cleared, we set out for our camp site in a closed off area to the public for our surveying. On the way to our site we had to pass through one of the vast, dry ancient lakes. We travelled with great white sandy "walls" meandering from horizon to horizon on one side. The spectacular dry lake beds are now covered in low scattered samphire and saltbush. While the temperature was around the 40ºC mark there was still birds flying up from the low-lying bushes. Rohan in the lead came to a sudden halt. I knew why too. Some Orange Chats had flown over. Searching around, we flushed not only Orange but Crimson & White-fronted Chats, plus the occasional Richard’s Pipit (or should it be Australian Pipit now), and if memory serves me correctly, a Brown Songlark. How striking are the male Orange Chats. While there is a beauty no doubt to the male Crimson Chat, their vivid red colouring seems to have a matt quality, while that of the Orange Chats has a wonderful glistening, shining quality - high gloss - about it. As the Orange Chats perched on the branches of low shrubs and survey the world around them you could see them shimmering almost iridescent gold.

From the dry lake bed we went up onto the "escarpment", and entered the Mallee on an "authorized vehicles only" track. There was another sudden halt. This time the exit from Rohan’s vehicle was a lot more dramatic! Pulling in behind them, I learnt they had seen a small flock of Pied Honeyeaters fly across their path. We hopped through a fence and sure enough, we soon had a couple of these striking birds perched in the dead branches of some Mallee and Casuarina where we could get a good look at them in the afternoon sun.

We explored a bit, before settling on a campsite under a big Wilga tree. With the temperature rising and threatening to be extra hot the next day, we were on the look out for the most full shade we could find. Several days were spent in this area of the southern section of Mungo surveying the Mallee for the special birds we were after. While we failed to find any of the extra special Mallee birds, such as Striated Grasswren, Red-lored Whistler etc., we did find some of the other target birds, such as Chestnut Quail-thrush, Gilbert’s Whistler & Crested Bellbird. The absence of any sizeable area of Deep Sand Mallee appeared to restrict the birds. We came across a good selection of other birds here though, such as Red-backed Kingfisher, Spotted Nightjar, Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo, Australian Ringneck etc.

One of the special sightings was of a young Spotted Nightjar still in its nest. I was surveying my transect when one of these silent, long winged birds rose from the ground almost at my feet. Immediately I thought of a possible nest, so carefully cast around for eggs or young. While it was almost at my feet, so remarkably cryptically coloured are their young it took me a moment to focus on a young bird. It was about the size of a small fist. The Mallee sand is reddish brown, and the colouring of the Spotted Nightjar young is so similar, a bright reddish rusty-brown colour, that they blend in astoundingly well. With their eye reduced to a mere slit, they look just like a lump of sand or a rock. With Rohan so interested in photographing items of interest, I took a GPS reading of it, thinking it was only a short distance from a dam with a track leading to it, so he would probably be interested to come and get a photo. Casually back at camp, I mentioned that I had found a Spotted Nightjar’s nest with a young in it, avoiding looking at the flash of interest in Rohan’s eye. "I don’t suppose you got a GPS reading of it, did you?" he just as casually asked. I got a big grin when I said that I just happened to do that thinking he just may be interested in taking a photo. We resolved that later that day we would go back to the site and get a photo.

We also had some adventures of another kind. Starting at the Mallee Cliffs site I began to get very itchy around the ankles and lower leg. I thought at first it was some reaction to the Triodia spikes. However, I had never had such before and was puzzled by it. The first night at Mungo it was getting really annoying. I asked the others, "Have any of your fellows got itchy ankles?" Trevor said he didn’t think so, but such is the power of suggestion, that Rohan began to almost immediately start to scratch his ankles and wished I had not mentioned the subject! I had a bad time of it that night. It felt little critters were crawling up my legs into my crutch, around my waist and under and on my arms. I was constantly being woken by the itch. Next morning I found that there were red spots up my legs and around my waist etc., etc. Rohan was also complaining about the itch and even Trevor acknowledged something was starting to bite him. Rohan had a close look at his red itchy lumps, which reminded him of a bit of a nightmare time he had with some scrub itch up north in the Torres Straight, which was caused by a little mite. Sure enough, there were little red critters in the middle of each lump - ruddy mites had colonized us! Itch, itch, itch!

That afternoon we headed to the Ranger’s office so Rohan could get more details of the next section of our survey area, and we took advantage of free showers there to clean up and try to do something with the mites. I had a bottle of Tea tree Oil, some Red Tiger Balm and some extra strength Insect Repellent. After a thorough soap up, out with the Tea tree Oil and slop and slap all over. The other two were only too happy to doctor themselves too. That night and for several nights after, it was Tea tree Oil, Tiger Balm and Repellent to each spot. Rohan with disgust declared it to be just as bad as the scrub itch he had up north. Ah well, it added to the adventure of the trip, and certainly helped make it memorable!

We travelled to the dam near the nesting Spotted Nightjar, and soon had tracked back to the nest site, where Rohan could get some photos and Trevor got a buzz out of having some great views of this special young bird too. We had an enjoyable tea at the old dam site as the sun slowly faded away to the west, and thought we spotlighted on the way back to camp, we were not able to pick up anything much.

Around our campsite in the southern section of Mungo we enjoyed seeing a good range of birds. Masked Woodswallows, White-browed Woodswallows & Tree Martins, hawked in the air above and around the tree tops, their chattering and gregarious calls echoing around us. Occasionally an Australian Raven would fly over with their throat hackles showing as they made their "death rattle" calls. In the Mallee about 50m to the north of us, Yellow-plumed Honeyeaters, Rufous Whistlers, Jacky Winters, Crested Bellbirds, Hooded Robins, Grey Butcherbirds, Red-capped Robins, Willie Wagtails, Spiny-cheek Honeyeaters, Singing Honeyeaters, Grey Shrike-thrush, White-eared Honeyeaters, Striped Honeyeaters & Grey Currawongs let us know of their presence by their calls, or else showed themselves as they moved to the edge of the Mallee.

In the more open bushland in which our swag and tents were situated, we had Galahs, Striated Pardalotes, the really beautiful Mulga Parrots, Pallid Cuckoo, Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo, Rufous Songlark & Brown Treecreepers kept attracting our eye as they moved and called around us. One late afternoon a Hobby arrived in a rush and perched in a tree above us. We were expectant that it would take a swoop at some of the smaller passerines around us, but with a rush of wings it suddenly took off at a great rate almost vertically into the late evening sky - a high flying moth became an ’hors-d’oeuvre for dinner, or was it dessert? At night, once again, Owlet Nightjars &, Southern Boobooks called - they were quite common in both Parks. On the last day we heard a Chestnut Quail-thrush calling. My hearing is beyond accurately locating such calls now, but Rohan got a "fix" and we were able to observe, as we had several times on this trip, a male in all his glory sitting in a Mallee tree singing his heart out.

On Tuesday 18th we travelled from the south of Mungo to the north where there is a new area just acquired by Parks NSW - the Wallandra Lakes. There are large tracks of Deep Sand Mallee in this area and it was hoped that we might find some of the special birds for which we were surveying.

On the way north we drove across an extensive dry lake bed covered in low shrubbery and grasses. Just after Rohan’s lead vehicle passed a spot in front of me and my vehicle, an incredibly long, thick Brown Snake came out onto the track. It was quite arrogant and assured and reminded me immediately of the Inland Taipans I had seen further north. I tried to signal them, but they were too far ahead. Later, when I explained about it, Rohan was really miffed that he had missed it, for he felt the description certainly suited an Inland Taipan, and if so it would be a significant sighting this far south.

Leaving my vehicle near the turn off into the survey area we were due to go to, we travelled together into the little town of Pooncarie on the Darling River. There was a need to top up with fuel and water, and to make a few phone calls. It was good to be in touch with the family, and to know all were well at home. We were amazed at the huge amount of water obviously being used by this little town for large tracts of lawn and exotic trees. It is no surprise to see that there is a shortage of water in the Darling-Murray System when it is used so extravagantly and unwisely. While the lawns and exotic trees make an oasis of the town, and pleasant too, it could be just as much an oasis with the use of native and drought resistant trees and shrubs and thus save a lot of water. I reckon that the increasing shortage of water will force communities such as this to rethink such matters.

Getting into our next campsite meant crossing a couple of quite high soft sand ridges along the track into the Park. On the highest one Rohan had to fall back and get a run up, while I had to let some air out of my tyres before we could cross over and on into the Park.

After a bit of a drive around, and realizing that the hot weather was expected to be with us a few days yet, we sought out a stand of Black Box in a bit of a water course near a Mallee ridge on one side and a Casuarina, grassy flat on the other. Our GPS reading for the site was: 33º 21' 47S X 142º 54' 44E. Setting up camp that night we heard a rather unusual call we concluded was that of a Southern Boobook. It was not a call I had heard before that I could remember, and it reminded me of a young bird calling, begging for food.

We had two days of survey work in this area, both in the morning. Though hot, it was interesting work as usual. The Mallee here was Deep Sand Mallee, with extensive areas of Chenopod, Mosaic, Casuarina and grassland patches. There were large Triodia patches in the deep sand areas too, and though we thought we might possibly find Striated Grasswren here, we were not able to locate any nor any other of the special Mallee birds such as Red-lored Whistlers, Black-eared Miners etc.

I am very familiar with Gilbert’s Whistlers, they being so common in the Terricks near where I live, and having surveyed them so much there and in other Mallee areas. I concluded I had heard them in a few places in surveying this north section of Mungo, but the others had not reported them and so there was doubt as to my identification. I later tried to track down some subsequent calls, but with my hearing I was not able to fully identify the direction their call came from, and so was not able to do so. They were not Rufous Whistlers, (I am familiar with their calls) which were also in the area. Discussing it with Rohan, we tried to get a response from playing the Gilbert’s Whistler taped calls, but could not do so either. On the last morning there was a somewhat unusual call a bit like a Gilbert’s Whistler. I thought it not quite the call of a Gilbert’s, but with Rohan we managed to track it down. It was a White-eared Honeyeater calling from the top of a tree - making one of its more rare calls. I am still not sure what I was hearing - this uncertainty at times is no doubt part of survey work too, but frustrating in a sense because one wishes to be accurate for such reporting, as well as to be educated in the different bird calls.

One of the interesting sightings for me was a male Crimson Chat I saw in very thick Mallee, sitting in the top of a Mallee tree and preening itself. I would never have thought to see it in such habitat. While there were not so many sightings of the special birds of the Mallee further south, we started encountering some other special inland species such as Grey-fronted Honeyeaters. It was satisfying to see them several times and in one place with newly fledged young. These species being new to Trevor, it was a pleasure to be with him, not only to enjoy fresh sightings of them for oneself, but also to enjoy the infectious excitement these were to him as first encounters.

On the afternoon of our second last day of surveying, it was so hot and the sun so strong that we rigged up a tarpaulin among the trees at our campsite for full shade. We all had slowed down with the heat and so were content to just sit and talk. I was content to work away at filling in Atlas forms for Rohan on all the transects I had done, while we chatted on this and that. There had been a free flow of conversation on wide ranging topics since we got together. Earlier Rohan had casually mentioned that his boss, or "supervisor", Mike Clarke at Latrobe, went to Church. It did make me prick up my ears. As we sat chatting on this and that, I casually asked, when there was a break in the flow of conversation, whether evolution in their circles at university was seen as a theory or fact. I think the question threw the boys a bit. Trevor said he understood it to be only a theory, but Rohan said he felt it was really an established truth.

We discussed various questions and related matters, including the question of origins and of there being a Creator - a Creator who may be known. Of course, Jesus of Nazareth came into the matter as well, and both seem to acknowledge the historical reality of that person. As we talked I said that there were several areas where I understood evolution to be flawed and an inaccurate basis for the understanding of science and thus ultimately of all of life and its purpose and fulfillment. One was that the mathematical possibility of anything approaching the order and design that is so obvious in all the natural world around us is simply too incredulous. It needs, I think, more "faith" than that of believing in a personal Creator. I mentioned several secular and highly qualified men who have made this point too in various published books. Also we discussed the matter of micro and macroevolution. There is no question that we can observe changes within a species - microevolution - but I expressed the view that to establish from the fossil record that there has been a change from one species to another, such as dinosaur to bird - macroevolution - lacks all credible evidence. Of course, as Rohan pointed out, we could quote different "experts" who do not agree to buttress our different arguments. That is true, and really shows that in many ways, one’s faith presuppositions are what are really operating, rather than empirical science.

The thing is though, as I sought to raise, is that we are confronted with a real Person, Jesus of Nazareth, who made the most astounding claims about himself and ultimate reality. Trevor was open to wonder at the mystery of this person and the Bible, but Rohan felt that on the basis of his encounter with "church" & "religion" as a child, he had no interest in it at all. Yet, (he paused), he wondered when he came to die would he think the same thing? It made me a bit sad that this fellow who is such a lover of life, full of the wonder of the world around us and who desires to attain to as great a level of knowledge of it as he can, can at the same time, dismiss these weighty matters and Jesus, on the basis of a boredom and dislike of churchianty & religiosity he developed as a child. God knows I detest such things myself. I sought in a friendly way to encourage Rohan, in his love of life and to do some sincere and serious surveying at an adult level of Jesus, his person & claims, who said he was the way, the truth and the life and, he said, he came that we may have fullness of life. So, we didn’t only talk birds, trivial matters and the issues of illegal immigrants, we got stuck into the big questions and answers too! It was good to interact with thinking and intelligent blokes.

On the last of the survey days thunderstorms were forecast. It was very humid and hot the night previous. I was glad to have my gauzed swag, which was open to the air on three sides and gave a bit of a draught. A tent would have been quite stifling I reckon. As we set out that day, there was a heavy bank of dark clouds in the west and coming our way. It became darker and distant thunder and lightening could be heard and seen. Scattered storms were sweeping across the Mallee. About half way through the survey, just at the turning point of our transect, light rain set in and I lost sight of the sun. Though I had a GPS, and previously had no trouble in following it, the loss of the sun threw out my "internal compass", and I had real trouble keeping to my transect with the GPS. I could not work out which direction to go to correct my drift, and was going in circles. In the end I got my compass out, and once I had north, it was as simple as walking to keep to the set route. I was amazed again at how dependent I am on the sun to navigate my way around and do so unconsciously.

I appreciated observing how Rohan reacted to challenges. I was impressed with his bush skills and in particular his navigational skills - no mean feat in dense Mallee and wilderness areas with few roads and detailed maps. He was thoughtful and thorough in all his planning. Laughingly, he told us that on undergoing an aptitude test for suitability to spend a time on Macquarie Island, he was informed by the testing Psychologist something along the line that he would not be suitable as an officer in the armed forces. From my own time in the army, I can appreciate that Rohan has too much an independent mind to fit the classical mould of a forces officer. Of course, in times of conflict, such men are often excellent leaders and innovative and successful in such conflict. But they do not readily fall in with the conformist mentality of many career officers.

One observation of his reactions was the last day of surveying. It had been overcast and showery - easy to be disorientated. That was the day I walked in a couple of brief circles. After I got back to our finish point Rohan was, as usual, first "home". We sat and chatted for a while, and I went for a couple of walks. We waited and waited for Trevor. He was delayed considerably longer than he ever had been in returning. It was hot waiting for him too. I was beginning to wonder if somehow he may have become disorientated and was in need of help. I could see that Rohan also, without expressing it, was somewhat concerned too. I tried to helpfully ask a couple of questions that might prompt some thought as to what ought to be done next, and also to chat on this and that to keep things relaxed.

We drove up and down in case there had been a misunderstanding of what was the finish point - still no sign of Trevor. Rohan set a time limit to how long we would wait, and then had a contingency plan in place. I appreciated that he had thought out the matter well, and also that there was quite a lot of responsibility he was carrying. But while there was some pressure, he seemed to perform well under it. Anyway, after some driving up and down the track, and some blowing of the vehicle’s horn and some "cooeees" Trevor came with a rush out at our set finish point, happy and well. He had simply dawdled seeing it was our last day to especially enjoy everything. There was no cause for concern. It was good to hear Rohan also learn from the experience, that a delay can be quite innocent too, and to allow reasonable time for such things. I reckon he has the potential to go far in academic and leadership positions - though truth to be told, I also reckon he is a somewhat shy fellow. Notice how when something moves him he adopts a nonchalant air, and retreats behind those sunglasses? It was an easy thing to follow him as "the boss".

In the somewhat diverse habitat of our camp at Wallandra Lakes section of Nth Mungo, we noted a good range of birds. Each day some Major Mitchell’s Cockatoos would glide over head in the later hours of the day, their pastel colours shining in the gentle light of the late afternoon sun. We presumed they were going to water. Each day we would have the Grey Butcherbirds and a few of their early bird companions wake us in the dawn chorus, such as the Willie Wagtail, Magpie & Galahs, who seemed to delight in screeching from the trees immediately over our sleeping spot. In the distance the resonant call of the Crested Bellbird would echo. The Owlet Nightjar, whose various calls would often sound in the night if one happened to wake, would at times be heard at dawn as it went to its roosting hollow. Southern Boobooks too would call until sunrise, especially at our campsite. A Collared Sparrowhawk sped by one afternoon seeking its prey, and the lonely cry of Banded Lapwings out on the grassy flat to the west of us was heard several times, as was the ascending, at times frantic calls, of the Pallid Cuckoo. In the Mallee off to the north and east of us we heard and/or observed Weebills, Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters, Chestnut-rumped Thornbills, Grey Shrike-thrush, Hooded Robin, Mulga Parrots, Yellow-throated Miners, White-fronted Honeyeaters, Common Bronzewing & Brown -headed Honeyeaters.

We had two nights of surveying this area. On the first night we spent some time on a grassy plains area, but there was little to be seen - a few insects and spiders. We then decided to try along some of the patchy Mallee tracks. Along the way we spotted a little mammal bounding along beside the vehicle. There was the flurry of the stop and then we all did "our thing". Trevor would be out with the torch, Rohan to do the chase and catch it, and I to hold the spotlight from my position sitting in the vehicle window. Rohan thought at first he had caught a House Mouse. It didn’t take him long though to realize it was a Dunnart and as we went over its characteristics, we realized it was a Common Dunnart! I was really pleased to pick up this first sighting of this species, not only for personal satisfaction, but because it would help in surveying the Terricks plains where we commonly had the Fat-tailed Dunnart and the possibility of the Common. Not having ever seen the Common up to this point, I was unsure of my ability to pick the one from the other. But the differences are quite clear, especially the lack of the fatty swelling at the base of the tail on the Fat-tailed Dunnart. Seeing this new little fella was great! I felt like doing a "Toyoto" jump of victory in the air! We also saw some Scorpions up to about 4-5cm long - the biggest I have seen.

It had been a hot day - the last day of surveying. As the day cooled a little - only a little for it was also humid with great thunderheads churning to the west of us and isolated storms breaking over the country to the west and south - we heard the sort of begging call of the Boobook again. Rohan was prompted this time to explore the trees beside the camp. We followed and helped to look in several hollows, but all were empty. Later, the call came again, and Trevor noted a shadow surreptitiously flit into the trees beside our camp. As Rohan went to investigate he flushed a Boobook from them, and then noted in a hollow higher up the tree a young Southern Boobook. One had actually just fledged, and was sitting in a low Black Box about three metres from the ground. They were great views, and Trevor, who had not seen many Owls, really went "high" on them. The camera was out and the young fledged bird captured in the nicest way. It was the start of a really enjoyable evening of wildlife observations and surveying.

We had not explored at night any of the Deep Sand Mallee, so it was decided that we would head off and spotlight along the tracks that cut through this habitat. Being so hot and humid, Rohan had high hopes that we would find some reptiles. After tea we enjoyed setting out in Rohan’s vehicle for the Deep Sand Mallee, the breeze created by driving along most cooling. I did the normal stint of sitting in the passenger’s window with the spotlight and searched beside the track while Rohan covered the roadway in the vehicle’s headlights. For a time things were fairly quiet, but then things did move when I spotted a snake by the side of the road. In a flash, Trevor and Rohan were out, and Rohan had it by the tail. On joining them, Rohan was holding the snake so that its head was allowed to touch a low bush, and it would anchor itself by its head and thus not try to rise and bite the hand that held it. Rohan initially was not sure of the species, though he was kicking himself because he reckoned he should know it. Some photos were taken and observations made. The "penny" dropped later - he did know it - it was a Curl Snake. We had some good views of it, and noted that it had been damaged in several places fairly recently. Perhaps some predator had attempted to take it.

When we came to the high Deep Sand Mallee, with their Triodia covered undulating red sandy dunes, we began to find a fascinating range of animals - especially Geckos. First we came across a couple of Beaded & Beaked Geckos, which we had already enjoyed seeing, and enjoyed to see once more too. Then came the first of about 6 or so of a most beautiful and delightful of Gecko species, the Jewelled Gecko. They were a pale, most attractive olive green, with delicate features and a creamy underside, covered on the body by white spots fringed by black surrounds. They are only found in areas of deep sand where Triodia grew, and tended to live in the Triodia. Interestingly too, most were heavy or gravid with eggs. Rohan explained that with the damp humid conditions they would be coming out to lay. We found one male and spent time getting some great photographs of him on the sand and in a Triodia or Spinifex bush. (It was the first time that I can recall hearing the use of the word gravid. I was using the word pregnant - which didn’t sound quite right. Interestingly though, I looked up the word gravid in my Oxford Dictionary, and it says it is a zoological term for pregnant! It seems though that the term is used for animals heavy with eggs and the term pregnant is reserved for animals that bear their young live). Seeing these little Geckos was one of the highlights of the trip for me - and the Bats & Common Dunnart. The other I simply greatly enjoyed!

Another spectacular sight the searchlight illuminated was a titanic struggle between a huge Scorpion of at least 5+cm and a huge Centipede of about 15cm long! The Scorpion had grabbed the Centipede by the head, and the battle of these titans was truly great! Neither seemed powerful enough to prevail. The Scorpion would again and again raise and strike the Centipede with its sting. The Centipede would raise its tail and seek to grab the Scorpion with its pincers. But neither could gain the advantage - though I reckon the Scorpion would win in the end. We were fascinated by it, and Rohan got some great photos too - I wish I could get to seen some of the photos of this trip! There would be some beauties among them.

To put cream on the cake of the evening, we also came across several Smooth Knob-tailed Geckos. Compared to the other Geckos we had been seeing these were huge. I had previously only seen photos of them. With their great, dark, liquid eyes, gentle colouring and incrediblely shaped and designed tails with its knob, they were most striking. There were some more photos and time to observe and enjoy them in the cool of the evening.

On the way back to camp in the small hours of the morning, we were also pleased to come across a Black-striped (or Short-tailed) Snake. Once again, we took time out to have a close look at it, learn from it, and simply find pleasure in such wildlife.

There was another adventure on the way back to camp that night. An insect decided to explore the Eustachian tube of my ear. The noise of its shuffling, and snapping of its mandibles was so loud! I frantically tried to get it out, and called on the boys to remove it - it seemed it was just inside the entrance. They looked and couldn’t see anything. Rohan tried syringing it with water, but nothing came out of it. There was nothing for it but to suffer the thing until it expired and hopefully discharged.

The boys seemed to have slept well that night, though that dratted insect rustled and made such noises in my head so much that my sleep was quite disturbed. It was not painful, only vastly annoying and distracting.

Friday the 21st dawned very muggy weather wise, with threatening storms in the west. After a friendly breakfast and pack up, we made our way slowly back to the main road, doing a few bird surveys on the way, particularly trying to sort out the Gilbert’s Whistler’s calls and enjoying some really good views of Grey-fronted Honeyeaters.

We had decided that we would go to Pooncarie, then onto Mildura where nearby we would have a look at the Dry Land Botanical Gardens, before going on our several ways. Rohan was to stop at Mildura, and I had offered a lift to Trevor onto Swan Hill where he would catch a bus/train to Melbourne. We re-inflated our tyres in Pooncarie and made our way onto Mildura with the most spectacular cloud/light formation that signaled the front of a huge band of storm clouds coming from the west. It was so spectacular that the boys could not help stopping to take photographs of it. I reckon I would have taken photographs of it too had I my camera with me. Nearly all the way along, "flutter, flutter, scratch, scratch" in my ear!

After a time at the gardens just before Mildura, without picking up anything notable bird wise, we realized that our trip together had come to an end. There were words of thanks and appreciation and reminders of undertakings given, and so we bid adieu.

Because of the very disturbed sleep I had had the night previously, the trip to Swan Hill was very tiring for me. I really needed to stop and sleep but Trevor, coming from Canada, had expressed his hesitancy to drive in Australia, and I felt I could not ask him. Yet I had to push on to get to the bus so Trevor could go onto Melbourne. We had a good chat on the way, so that kept me going.

Trevor got the bus/train from Swan Hill to Bendigo - just! We may have dawdled a bit too much chatting on the road from Mildura to Swan Hill and we arrived with only a few minutes to spare, only to be caught up in a great line up of cars undergoing police breathalyzer testing!! We both burst out laughing! I was expected to be chased by a police car as, realizing that unless we got around the line up we would miss the train, I did a smart U turn and slipped down another street to avoid the testing. But all worked out with a minute or so to spare.

After Trevor was away, I had a "cuppa" and a bit of a rest. However "that insect" was still occasionally fluttering in my ear at 4.00 pm when I reached Kerang. So I dropped in to see the Dr. They had four goes of flushing and vacuuming my ear before a little moth was drawn out. Then they saw a "thin black thing" down the canal. "Could it be a hair growing?" says I. The Dr is adamant that hair does not grow more than half way down the Eustachian tube, and "that foreign body must come out!" So with all these state of art instruments and specialized tweezers they grab it and pull hard. I just about went through the roof. And he did it about four times ... trying to pull it out. It felt as if the Eustachian tube was being pulled inside out. We have left it, and as far as I am concerned, it is a "vagrant" hair happily out of its normal range and is welcome to stay there, even if the Dr thinks it is still maybe a "foreign body".

It was good to be home and to catch up with the family once again. Though my health problems made the time away challenging, and I really had to pace myself to cope, and it took me a week to recover, I still very much enjoyed it! I found it most stimulating. It was great not only birding wise, but also the extra-curricula activities at night and their success was a great bonus. (I am still enjoying the recollections of the new mammals & reptiles I saw). It was a great time, not only for the stimulus and experience of observing and having the opportunity to study in some detail a variety of our remarkable and unique wildlife - but also because of the privilege of a time of friendship. I am very thankful to the Creator and Sustainer of it all.