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John Gilbert diary entry

10 November 1844 - 12 November 1844

Page 110. Volume 1

a course of N. α E. and 11 miles travelled over. Obser=vations this morning makes us 25=54=N at the edge of a Water hole in the back water close to our Camp I found the nest of Estrelda ruficauda, built of the soft tops of grass and lined with a few feathers. it contained four Eggs white the nest placed in the thick sedgy vegetation growing on the

banks and almost overhanging the water87.


Monday Nov 11 We made about 7 miles in a N N W course but in such a winding direction to avoid the creeks and chains of Lagoons and Scrub which occurred so frequently, that we scarcely ever made a mile without being stopped by one or other of these impediments, we several times got upon the clear open grassy Iron bark hills, which now seems to recede from the banks of the Dawson in fact it was a matter of doubt with us whether we saw the Dawsons main stream at all since leaving our Camp but on the contrary were following numerous back waters. we made a very late start in consequence of our horses having again taken back to old feeding grounds; and it was late in the afternoon when we halted on the banks of the largest sheet of water we have hitherto seen, it is nearly in the form of the letter S that is to say as far as we could see it. the length from about N α S and upwards of a mile in extent, and about from 2 to 300 yards in breadth at the widest part88 when we camped we had to prepare for a nights rain which appeared threatening over us and which at a little before sunset commenced, and rained heavily for about two hours accompanied with Thunder α Lightning at right angles near our camp came down a creek from the W.E89 which prevented us tracing down the large sheet of water, the banks were not very high the utmost being perhaps 8 feet, but clear of reeds or any other vegetation, excepting Brigalo scrub all along each bank, numbers of Pelicans, Cormorants Plotus90, and Ducks were on the water, but the breadth of the water enabled them all to keep beyond the reach of our Guns, a pair of Ichthyaetus leucogaster91 were soaring over the pool. Days Dist. 10 miles. Pelican Camp.

Tuesday Nov 12. As yesterday we were completely foiled in our attempts to keep a straight course. at almost every attempt we were stopped by numerous beds of swamps chains of Lagoons, α creeks innumerable. at first we kept on in an N E course for 2 miles over Iron bark grassy hills, and in attempting to make a little westering [sic] we came upon the large creek running from the N.E. this we were enabled to cross without difficulty, then striking off in a N W direction we expected to make the Dawson and for 4 to 5 [possibly is "6"] miles were pushing our way through

Note 87

The camp was known as Opossum Camp - or, as Leichhardt records in his Field Book, "camp between river and Backwater, with an Opossum in the camptree". McLaren, with help from local landowner Bob Lethbridge, estimated this to have been at GR 831 444 (Taroom sheet 8846). Gilbert's discovery of the nest of a Star Finch Neochmia ruficauda reiterates Schodde & Tidemann's remarks (1986) about the serious decline of this attractive little bird, once known in swampy areas throughout coastal New South Wales and Queensland. The species is now confined to parts of the north coast and eastern Cape York. This enormous withdrawal in range is almost certainly due to habitat disturbance, and to trapping for the cage-bird trade. The clutch of four eggs Gilbert found in a nest at the edge of a waterhole close to where they camped on 10th November, and the unknown number of eggs in another nest he found on the Robinson River on 18th November may be represented by some, or all, of the following Gould Collection eggs: two eggs from New South Wales (BMNH 1962.1.418); seven eggs from Queensland (BMNH 1962.01.422) in the NHM in Tring, Hertfordshire; three eggs from “Australia” now in the Western Foundation for Vertebrate Zoology in California (WFVZ 179514).

Note 88

On the 11th of November the campsite was at GR 808 527 (Taroom sheet 8846), on the east side of the northern of two large lagoons on the Juandah and about 8km south of the present town of Taroom. In modern times silting has much reduced the width and depth of these lagoons.

Note 89

Gilbert probably meant from the S.E., which would apply to one of the Juandah anabranches.

Note 90

Plotus” were Australasian Darters Anhinga novaehollandiae.

Note 91

“White-bellied Sea Eagle Haliaeetus leucogaster.