When I pulled into the Hi Way Inn at lunchtime today after a 600km drive from Darwin I thought I’d driven onto the set of Hitchcock’s movie The Birds. Surrounded by a fairly parched landscape at this time of year, the roadhouse has plenty of water, shade from a grove of exotic African Mahogany trees and plenty of pickings from the passers by. The roost at the Hi Way Inn is ruled by Apostle Birds (Struthidea cinerea)— at least 150 of them, making a huge racket and being the wildly social creatures they are. They squabbled over scraps, huddled together, groomed one another frantically and generally made whoopee. Apostle birds, so named because they are usually in family groups of about a dozen have quite few other common names — grey jumpers, happy families and lousy jacks, the last being name I was given for them as a kid in Queensland. From the frenzy of grooming happening they do seem prime mite hosts, or else they have a grooming fetish. The birds around the Hi Way Inn and Daly Waters are part of a separate Northern Territory population unconnected to the main populations all down eastern Australia. The Northern Territory population doesn’t get as far north as Katherine and covers maybe 20% of the Territory. At a distance they look fairly drab, but up close they are a handsome and appealing bird. Drove on to Borroloola to finish a 940 km day.

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