Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Day 3 - Morning Walk at the zoo and on to Lightning Ridge

Sunday 19th September
I sleep really badly and am almost inclined to skip the early morning walk at the zoo. But its 5 am and I can hear mum up and about downstairs. I drag myself from the bed without enthusiasm and begin the process of dressing, packing up and quietly loading the car. We’re on the road and in the queue at the entrance gate by 6:35. We pay for our walk, park and get assigned to one of several groups heading off and being lead by volunteers from zoo friends. A bit of a delay as we organize a wheelchair for mum and daughter and I manage to miss the bit about the African hunting dogs, but eventually we’re on our way. We’re all set and the walk really gets underway.

The route is adapted to the circumstances of the times, and with all the construction, at the moment the tour is heading down the back route and up through the behind the scenes area. First stop is the black rhinos.
The buses from the zoofari lodge are ahead of us and the keeper is feeding the rhino some branches. The differences between the black and white rhinos are explained and eventually, having taken our time here, we move along. Up through past Barbary sheep pens and camel pens and on to the giraffes. Quite a good herd and a number of babies among them. Our guide has a bag of carrots which are fed to the giraffes and gives a great opportunity for photos.
We also visited the enclosure for the white rhinos and the difference between white and black rhinos is explained, it having nothing to do with their colour of course. It’s all about their lips.
A stop at the Eland enclosure gives an opportunity for our guide to explain that the black bar on the backs of their knees helps them to locate eachother in bad conditions and that in dust storms where they cannot see eachother, eland communicate with eachother by clicking their knees! Wow!
There’s a stop at the hippos and while there’s nothing much doing with the hippos determinedly dozing, at least they are visible. Their enclosure is undergoing a revamp. Dredging and new fencing so there’s not much in the way of water in it at the moment. When they finish and let the water back in it will be 5 star hippo facilities, but the down side is that it gives the hippos max opportunity to just sit under the water where they cannot be seen.
Moving right along we stop for some entertainment from the white handed gibbon. As strong as six men their strength would not be guessed at from their slim proportions. And next door we have the siamangs. They wait for the groups to assemble and then they put on another fabulous display for the crowd. The groups are all back together at this point and I take the opportunity to listen in on the commentary from several different guides, all of which have something interesting to impart.
By this time the zoo is open and we are nearing the end of our tour, so with thanks to Sharon, our guide, we head our separate ways. I need to go check out of the accommodation which we should have done yesterday but I didn’t. Oh well. It’s only a short drive and I’m back meeting up with Mum and daughter at the cafĂ©. Mum’s tucking into a pie. Not something I would choose at this sort of outlet, but each to their own.
We have hung on to the wheelchair for our wander in amongst the spider monkeys, lemurs, meerkats and aviary. These are located around the Savannah picnic area. This is a wonderful space with electric bbqs, extensive play equipment and some toilets. In the redeveopment it appears that this will be accessible without paying zoo entry, encouraging locals to utilise the facilities.
Heading first to the meerkats we stop at the army memorial. Apparently the zoo sits on the site of the old army camp from WWII. Interesting.
We spend some time talking to a volunteer observer at the meerkat enclosure. She is helping out by recording events in the enclosure. This is necessary because a new female has been introduced and there has been some ructions as a result. We get lots of interesting information about the meerkats and recent events re the new female. All very interesting indeed. We have been very lucky to be here when a volunteer was here to talk to us.
Conscious that time is moving on and I want to be at the otter feeding on time, we move on to the aviary and find it has a number of very beautiful birds. Diamond Firetails flit past you with their flashes of brightest red. They perch and we can see the beautiful black with diamond spotting along their wings. They are truly a gorgeous bird.
One of my most treasured birding memories was during my first visit to the Capertee Valley we were driving along in a farmers wheat paddock with the windows open and a small flock of diamond firetails decided to amuse themselves by flying alongside. You can never get a better view of a firetail than that.
Back in the aviary, a couple of turquoise parrots in great condition fly right in front of me to land nearby. Superb parrots sit at a feeding station and forage on the ground. It is awesome. I head along the path and find a mallee fowl happily steering clear of trouble. Nearer the exit a couple of white browed woodswallows are perched within easy viewing. Lovely birds, woodswallows like to roost in large communal groups where they snuggle up to one another. Acrobatic flyers they feed on the wing and are very impressive to see in a flock by a dam as we did out in the pilliga driving the birding routes of Baradine. We make our way out. We pass on the wombat and echidna and head back to the car.
Our next stop is to the Asian smalled clawed otters. Feeding will be happening soon. On the way around the loop again we find the addax herd is out and they have the cutest little baby among them.. aaaah..
We park as close to the otters as we can. Mum’s not feeling well but she drags herself in. Otters are as cool as meerkats. Daughter reminisces as we walk about seeing the sea otters at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. They were soooo cool. There’s quite a crowd waiting it is hard to get an even reasonable viewing spot. The otters are waiting too, bounding around and standing up against the fence looking for the keeper.

At the scheduled time the keeper arrives and starts flinging green prawns around in the enclosure. Some into the water, some into the rocky area across to the side. The otter pair (a partnered male and female) race like demons to the food and position themselves one in each area and are going for it for all they are worth. The one near the pool swims down and grabs several prawns and heads back up onto the step to munch away enthusiastically. Otters are very active animals and need a lot of sustenance. This is their fourth feed for today.

The keeper makes his presentation and it’s all over fairly quickly, which is handy as we want to have a look at the Indian rhino.. which I should be calling by its proper name, hmm, I think that’s something like greater one horned rhinoceros or something cumbersome like that. At any rate this Asiatic rhinoceros is way cool. It’s armour plating is more well, more like armour plating and it moves as the beast walks. These rhinos came so very close to extinction, but over the years the program for recovery has been pretty successful and there’s now a few thousand of them. At one point we are interested to read the remaining rhinos in Nepal were protected by 1000 troops. Pretty impressive effort there by Nepal. Well done.

Time is getting uncomfortably close to the Cheetah talk and that is way over on the other side of the zoo. Mum is really feeling crook now and is obliged to stop by the path. She manages to rid herself of just a little of the contents of her stomach, she’s hot and really not doing too good, but she feels a little better. We definitely blame the pie. I wish I had been there to stop her buying such a thing. Pies can be risky and you need to be choosy about where you buy them. Buying a pie somewhere like the outlets here is like buying a pie at a servo. Not a good plan. Not a good plan at all. I hope mum doesn’t get really drastically ill.

Anyway, we head on as quickly as the 10km speed limit will allow, over to the African section. Park the car and I dash up the path to the cheetah talk. Mum was going to wait and see if from our report if they are really king cheetahs, but as there’s no time before the talk she drags herself in keen to see a king cheetah. It is a very interesting talk. The four young cheetah on display are two spotted males and two king cheetah (striped) females. They are just awesome. Cheetahs are sooo cool. I am so glad we made it to the talk. We loiter for a while until the keeper is one his way, listening to questions being asked and admiring the female cheetah who is pacing in front of the water filled moat and giving a cute sort of squeak, begging the keeper for some more tasty treats. Apparently these guys aren’t stupid either, and without the treats offered by the keeper they would probably just hang out over at the back of their large enclosure near the bamboo.
Just one more stop to make. Daughter is determined to see the maned wolf. One our way round past the lake we spot a pair of purple swamp hens and their family of 6 fluffy black chicks. The chicks are all feet and they look like a wind up toy as they walk along their short little legs rotating these enormous feet.. or like a cartoon where they have the legs rotating in full circles, they are seriously cute.

At the maned wolf display Grandma is too unwell and tired to worry about it. It looks like the entrance to the enclosure is really close to the parking area, but there’s a long boardwalk ramp in to a high viewing platform. We look around the enclosure. No joy. We’re just on the verge of leaving when daughter looks back and there it is. These animals come from South America and live alone rather than in packs. I am rather surprised to find it is a very very beautiful animal. I mentally name it Eva after Eva Peron! I tried determined to get a shot which may do it justice, but I don’t think I really succeeded. Long legs like a race horse, black socks, white tail, elegant silky looking coat. Glad to meet you Eva! We find also that mum was right. I do like the smell of the enclosure. It does indeed smell like mint bush or sidonie lavender. Yep, it’s Eva Peron in there alright.

With the maned wolf viewing out of the way, it’s time to say farewell to Dubbo and head north to Lightning Ridge. I don’t know how we managed it but we failed to stop at the Cooee Centre in Gilgandra. I really am amazed because I really wanted to do that. Oh well, I guess we will have to come back for that!
It’s a straightforward drive north. The road is lined with shrubs smothered in yellow. From the road it appears to be beautiful golden wattle. It is certainly putting on a display. Its great to be on the road again.
After a while, we come to what I now refer to as Gulargambone parrots. At first there is one, depicted flying. A bit further on there is a group of two.. still flying… then closer still to Gulargambone there are three flying parrots.. once you get into town the parrots are perched in the town. Made from corrugated iron, I really enjoy looking out for these birds which from our previous explorations, seem to be erected on all the various routes into Gulargambone. They were a great idea. Quite unique.
Heading up towards Walgett we are roughly following the course of the Castlereagh River. We cross it at Coonamble. The last time we were in Coonamble it was hot and dry as a bone. There’s been a couple of floods through since and everything is much greener. Daughter excitedly recognizes the servo where we had an ice cream on our last visit. Man that was a lovely cold treat on a hot dusty day.
As we approach into the Walgett district it is rainly lightly. There is standing water on either side of the road. Mum and I begin a game of spotting water birds. Pacific Heron! White Ibis! Two more pacific heron! Straw necked ibis! Pacific Heron flying… no, sorry, that’s a white faced heron. On and on we go I’ve never seen so many pacific heron in my life. Keeps us entertained for the drive! Crops are looking happy. It’s a cheerful drive with wipers running. We make a stop for something or other, probably to change drivers, and take the opportunity to photograph the roadside environment and the beautiful view up the highway. We really love he grasses that line the route..

We cross the Castlereagh again further north and it is flowing high. Vegetation which is clearly not usually in the river stands with feet submerged. I think of the poetic references to this iconic river as we excitedly snap a photo or three. .. actually pretty much all rivers in Australia are iconic aren’t they? At any rate I’m gradually ticking off those that are in NSW at any rate.

Drawing ever nearer to Walgett daughter is rather taken by the road sign to Come by Chance. Have I ever mentioned we are easily amused?

Finally we arrive in Walgett itself and add to our growing collection of town name signs.

It’s getting dark as we head on from Walgett to the Ridge and lightly raining. I’m sleepy and only indulge in opening my eyes for an occasional glance as the scenery round about. Luckily, daughter is taking a turn at the wheel!
Arriving in Lightning Ridge we find a respectable small town with street lighting and to all immediate appearances, quite like many a small town.
We check in to the Bluey Motel. It’s clean and comfortable. A bit of an aroma from, I believe, the cleaning products, which mum is a little concerned about, but which with an airing is no problem. Mum isn’t hungry, but daughter and I head over to the bowling club across the road for a spot of dinner. There's not too many options around for an evening meal so the decision regarding where to go is not a difficult one. The girl on the desk is very diligent about checking ID for confirmation of postcode. Daughter has left her ID behind so goes back to get it. I wait and amuse myself by admiring an awesome painting in the lobby. By local artist John Murray it is a desolate outback scene with variegated wrens here and there. Devoid of Murray’s usual wry humour, well, at least in any way that is obvious, it is very striking.
At the bistro, I go for a pork schnitzel and veges, daughter goes the lamb roast which she reports was very nice. My schnitzel was nice and the veges not overcooked which is always good. LLB from the bar for daughter, I stuck with water. Drinks are good value too at only a couple of dollars.. maybe $2.80 for a schooner of LLB.
We waste no time retiring after dinner. It’s been a long but very enjoyable day. Still, one has to be very tired to not check email and here at the Bluey we have free wireless internet. This place is outstanding value for money and you couldn’t have a more hospitable hostess.

Finally it's lights out and we rest up for what turns out to be a brilliant couple of days in the Ridge.

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