The REALLY Whacked Out Woodswallows - long

Subject: The REALLY Whacked Out Woodswallows - long
Date: Wed, 31 Oct 2001 12:09:32 +1100

Well, after last years muddling effort the Whacked Out Woodswallows decided that a change of route on the Sunday leg of the Twitchathon was called for.  And didn't it pay dividends?  A score of 218 was always going to hold us in good stead but with glorious weather and glorious birds other teams were likely also to be racking up good scores.  We were particularly worried about the Thickheads, the Homebrewers and the Toilet-thushes (Keith - what happened mate?).  The Champions we thought we had covered (sorry Alan).

We (myself, Carol Probets and Mick Todd) started at the same place as last year in the Macquarie Marshes.  We spent the Saturday morning checking out spots for specials on the afternoon run.  Typically, we missed a number of good birds seen before but not after the start - Painted Honeyeater at Sandgate State Forest, west of Gulargambone, Black Falcon south-east of Quambone (always likely that this wasn't going to be seen again) and Red-backed Kingfisher and Little Crow in Quambone itself.

Our starting point was quieter than last year but with Brown Goshawk our first bird followed quickly by Marsh Harrier, Banded Rail, Black-faced Woodswallow, Glossy Ibis and Cockateil we were doing OK.  A Spotted Harrier disappeared at about 2 minutes to 4 o'clock - isn't it always the way?!  Within a kilometre of the start a small bird with a bright red rump flying off the fence caught our attention.  Diamonds Firetail, always a good bird to get early.  This was quickly followed by Southern Whiteface, another great bird, Rufous Songlark and Horsfield Bronze-cuckoo.  White-browed Babbler, Grey-crowned Babbler, Blue-faced Honeyeater, White-winged Triller.  Great to be getting our woodland birds early.  Blue Bonnet, Ringneck, Red-rumped Parrot.  Missed last years Mulga, and those Red-winged Parrots remain elusive.  Zebra Finches flying across the road in front of the car - no need to even slow down.  A Pipit/Bushlark on the fence.  Have to stop for that one.  A Pipit ... wait, Brown Songlark calling ... there it is!  White-winged Wrens on the fence.  In Quambone, no kingfisher but there's the Black Kite circling in the same spot as earlier, same spot as last year in fact.  (I must take the string off that bird!).

On towards our woodland patch with a fast sinking sun.  Arrive at Sandgate State Forest with 20 minutes of sunlight left.  White-browed and Masked Woodswallows, Bar-shouldered and Peaceful Dove, Common Bronzewing.  To the Painted Honeyeater spot.  Silence!  But the other woodland birds are there including Chestnut-rumped Thornbill and Western Gerygone.  The sun is down without the Red-capped Robin.  There is is!  Relief!  Darkness falls and I try my impression of a Barking Owl.  No reply but I keep trying, there's precious little else we can do but wait for the nocturnal birds.  A couple more woofs and Michael swears he can hear a reply way off in the distance but no-one else can.  Moving closer to the phantom bird I try again.  This time Carol also hears it, then clearly, but still distant, a Barking Owl is heard calling.  Another answers.  Time is getting away and we have a long drive, do we wait for a possible Spotted Nightjar or move.  The consensus is that we move.  A couple more stops.  I hear an Owlet Nightjar that the others miss.  Carol has a frogmouth that we miss.  On the Castlereigh at Gulargambone a Boobook is calling.  On a sign near Gilgandra a Barn Owl sits waiting for us.   95 species, what a start!

Two and a half hours sleep at Allyn River in Chichester State Forest we wake to a magnificent dawn chorus.  Rose Robins, Brown Cuckoo-dove, Wompoo Pigeon, Noisy Pitta, Green Catbird, Bassian and Russet-tailed Thush.  White-headed Pigeons and Topknots flying over.  Satin and Regent Bowerbirds, Rufous Fantail, three species of scrub-wren.  This is fantastic!

A quick breakfast and lunch packed and we are off again.  Stopping on spec at some slightly different habitat we are no sooner out of the car when a yaaaass comes from above.  Paradise Riflebird.  It calls again, there it is, high in that HUGE eucalypt.  A few more stops and the new birds keep coming.  On to Barrington House for that elusive Pale Yellow Robin (yep, we missed it again) but Spectacled Monarch, Brush Turkey, Sittella and White-naped Honeyeater keep the tally climbing.  A stop for a suspicious looking bird (only a Galah) but a Torresian Crow calling nearby - a great bird in the Hunter.

Running into the Hunter Thickheads was a bit of a bummer but we soon get clear and continue to pick up good birds.  Let's hope the Thickheads don't hear that Coucal!  A predetermined woodland stop yields the expected Double-barred Finch, White-throated Gerygone and Leaden Flycatcher but also a single Speckled Warbler and a lonely Buff-rumped Thornbill.  Next stop, the required Fuscous Honeyeater was easy but wait, a Koel.  A pattern is emerging.  Not only were we getting our expected birds at almost every stop but we were getting extras as well.  Surely out luck has to run out sooner or later!  We now have all the forest birds we were hoping for.  Do we stick to our route or divert to another where we can pick up a certain three new species.  The decision is an easy one.

Heading for Raymond Terrace we pick up Black-winged Stilt and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper on a roadside wetland.  White-bellied Sea-eagles calling.  Onto Grahamstown Dam where Musk Duck and Great-crested Grebe have lined up for us. A quick scan and the telescope comes out.  Yes, Hoary-headed Grebe.

Right, how about our waders and some lorikeets.  The Tillegerry Peninsula is the place to be.  It's low tide and the waders are feeding.  Not much to be seen, Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, Red Knot and Grey-tailed Tattler.  Striated Heron is a good one and Caspian Tern is always nice to get.  Over the car swoops a flock of needletail.  You beauty!  At Lemon Tree Passage are Rainbow and Scaly-breasted Lorikeet, the really big birds turn out to be Channel-billed Cuckoo, a Figbird obligingly flys over.  More waders at Fullerton Cove although the only new ones are Avocet.  Not much new at Stockton Sewage Works but on the adjacent beach is a Pied Oystercatcher and out to sea plenty of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters.  Onto Stockton Sandspit and more waders are added as is Mangrove Gerygone.

We have plenty of time and plenty of birds, do we gamble?  Newcastle Beach on a lovely sunny Sunday.  The traffic will be horrendous.  It was!  Parking on the adjacent hill we get the scope out.  No Sooty Oystercatchers but Ruddy Turnstone and Common Tern will do.  
After much debate regarding tactics we decide to hit the wetlands and pick up the sure things.  If we then have time we can go onto Ash Island for the two extra species we know we can get there.  Wandering Whistleduck were easy at Market Swamp.  Tawny Grassbird surrendered at the Newcastle Wetlands Reserve.  We just about gave up on snipe as one flushed.  Our luck was holding.  Plenty of time for Ash Island.  Marsh Sandpiper and White-fronted Chat as expected and bonus Whiskered Tern thrown in.  

We get to the Wetlands Centre with 50 minutes to the finish time.  We simply can't think of what else we could pick up elsewhere!!  Brown Honeyeater is quickly on the list and on a small island in the pond are the hoped for Red-kneed Dotterel.  218 species with 40 minutes to go.  We wander around the Wetlands Centre.  To much water for easy crakes.  Try the Emuwren spot.  No luck.  No Chestnut-breasted Mannikan.  We are clutching at straws.  Nothing for it but to sit back, relax and double check our list.

Full time and we are relaxed.  Wonder how the Grey Toilet-thrushes got on?

As usual the post-twitchathon BBQ is full of stories about the ones that got away, the great birds seen and "we'll get you next year!".  

Congratulations to all the teams that participated.  I'm sure a bundle will be raised for the Cowra Woodlands project.  The Whacked Out Woodswallows will be back next year.


David Geering
Head Woodswallow

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