Monday, January 28, 2013

Introduction to Destruction

The period of time between December 3rd, 2012, and January 7th, 2013, is a bit blurry… to say the least. Those 36 days probably mark the most ridiculous, stupid, exhausting, thrilling, painful, and enjoyable road-trip of my life. Why did we do it? To look at birds, preferably as many birds as humanly/humanely possible.
Sneak Photo Peek: Here we are scanning for Beach Stone-curlews in Queensland;--an activity, like grasswrening,
that we did way more of than anticipated.
When planning this trip, the first thing I had to do was figure out who the WE would be. Easy. There’s only one person I know who is crazy enough to put up with the kind of physical and mental punishment required for such a high-tempo/low-comfort venture. His name is Jukka Jantunen, originally from Finland, now a resident of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. We met way back in 2005 when I was just a wee lad in the bird-biology world. In 2008, when I lived in New Zealand, while bragging about my recent pelagic highlights, I jokingly invited him down for some birding. Apparently he didn’t detect the sarcasm, so when he showed up at my door in Dunedin few weeks later, we embarked on a hardcore 2-week roadie around the South Island. I can’t remember much from that trip either, other than Jukka coughing up blood and trying to cure his ailment by chugging honey straight from the bottle. I think we also saw Okarito Rowi and Great Spotted Kiwi in the same night—a feat that no other birder has been deranged enough to attempt. Another time, while birding the Queen Charlotte Islands of coastal British Columbia, Jukka, myself, and two other friends, rose at 4am, caught the 5am ferry across Skidegate Inlet to Queen Charlotte City, then the 11am ferry from there to Prince Rupert on the mainland. From Rupert, Jukka drove us through the night—from 7pm to 9:30am (stopping for coffee at every single Tim Horton’s along the way)—to Oliver, BC. Why? For a bird.

So I guess you see what I’m getting at. The man has driving endurance, birding endurance, and a penchant for punishment. Great long-distance vision, which helps the birding of course, but also probably saved us from several night-time collisions with Australia’s famous nocturnal wildlife. Add this to a love of hockey, AC/DC, and wader identification, and you have a pretty solid road-trip buddy in my eyes.

Jukka: “Can my Dad come?”

Me: “What?”

Jukka: “He really wants to come. I’ve explained to him what it’s like, but he says he’s fine with it”

Me: “Well I’m all for saving money. As long as he doesn’t mind sleeping in a car for a month, dealing with hot and/or humid temperatures, and a variety of nasty bugs—he’s in.”

And so the team was set: Jukka, his 70+year-old father Pertti (who I was soon to find out did not speak English), and I. SPOILER ALERT: We all survived, and believe it or not, everyone was still pretty happy and upbeat on the last day (despite some unforeseen rental car expenses…thanks Hertz!).

In those 36 days, we drove well over 15,000 km, experiencing a mind-boggling range of temperatures, weather, enthralling landscapes, unique creatures and plants, people, food (it’s amazing how many flavours of canned-tuna are out there)…and yes BIRDS.

Our goal was 500 bird species for the trip. The route would take us from Perth, in the SW corner of the country, along the Eyre Highway to Port Augusta, up into the outback for a few days, then SE down into coastal Victoria. From there we would head up to Sydney, fly to Hobart for a couple days on Tasmania, then back up north to Lamington National Park in Queensland for Christmas Eve, before heading west into the extreme SW corner of Queensland. Finally, we’d head NE to the Queensland coast at Townsville, then head north to Cairns, play around the Atherton Tablelands for a bit, then finish off by driving the coast down to Brisbane. There are certainly 500+ bird species along this route, but as foreigners, we aren’t familiar with all the calls and songs, and obviously we don’t know where the best places are. Big thanks to Nigel Jackett of Perth, and Roy Sonnenberg of Brisbane for helping out with the itinerary. We also used the “Thomas and Thomas” site guide a bit, but more on that later.
Christmas dinner at a truck-stop in SW Queensland. No time to get fancy, there are Hall's Babblers out there!
December is a good time to try something like this in that it is peak breeding season for most birds, and diversity is highest. On the other hand, December is also BAD, because it’s summer and Australia can be pretty damn hot and sweaty in summer. Plus, the cicadas can be atrociously loud, making ear-birding either difficult or even impossible—in fact at one location I couldn’t even get out of the car as I thought my ears might start bleeding.

So now that you’ve sifted through the boring introduction part. Here’s the story—largely aided by Jukka’s brilliant photography (my camera was out of commish for most of the trip)—ENJOY!


  1. Ha, I'm totally down for a trip like this. On a smaller scale, I'm planning to hit the Okanagan with my motorcycle and a tent in the spring, once the Crow's Nest is ice-free.

  2. Awesome! Send me an email ( closer to when you're planning on heading over. Would be happy to help with the "must see" spots.