The Big Twitch Rolls On

To: "Birding-Aus" <>
Subject: The Big Twitch Rolls On
From: "Sean Dooley" <>
Date: Fri, 8 Mar 2002 19:02:36 +1100
The Big Twitch Rolls On- Or "Why a Grown Man Needs a Pair of Plastic Pants"
Friday the twenty-second of February sees me heading up the long stretches of the Hume Highway for my second Wollongong boat trip of the year, and I get overwhelmed with a sense of how mercenary this is all becoming. Having seen much of the seabirds to be seen at this time of the year, the purpose of my trip is purely to pick up any species I may have missed. I will drive up, spend a day at sea, hopefully adding a Gould's or White-necked Petrel to the list, head in the car and drive home again. So clinical. So perfunctory.
This sensation is with me the next day as we chug out to the continental shelf so to allay these thoughts, I try and hug a Wedge-tailed Shearwater. The mongrel tries to take the top of my finger off.
Its a good thing I hadn't tried to get all warm and fuzzy with the Fleshy-foots or Pomarine Jeagers that Milburn and Lindsay managed to catch- their beaks are truly evil weapons. But the highlight of the day turned out to be avoiding the powerful snap of the Black Petrel that they managed to snare.
Its not often you get to see a lifer at such close quarters,  and what a beauty. It would have to have one of the most handsome head and bill of all the Petrels. And  for those of you who are uncomfortable with bird banding in general I can assure you that the Black Petrel didn't seem too traumatised by its ordeal as it followed the boat for more than hour after its release, coming close enough in we could have caught it again if we so desired. Other highlights of what turned out to be a pretty good trip were Striated Heron in the Harbour, a pair of Caspian Tern out at sea which got "Gong" regulars particularly excited, and at sea, Long-tailed Jaeger and Red-tailed Tropicbird, and again good sightings of marine mammals including Pygmy Killer Whales and Risso's Dolphins.
So I headed back to Melbourne with the list on 323, and a sense that I wasn't becoming as hard-hearted and mercenary as I thought because even though I'd only added two species to the overall list, I'd really enjoyed and appreciated many of the beasties we got to see.
I stopped in the next day briefly at my small block of land next to the Chiltern Box-Ironbark National Park where no matter how hard I tried I couldn't get a pair of White-bellied Cuckoo-shrikes to move fifteen metres onto my property so I could add them to my block list. The block next door has been sold and much to my growing horror, a massive home and workshop are being built immediately adjacent to my fenceline and the National Park itself. The owner/builder was working on construction while I was there so I thought I'd wander over for a chinwag and introduce myself. In the two months since he'd bought the land he'd managed to knock over some of the few remaining trees on his block and bulldozed all his remaining tree stumps.
Rather than antogonise him by complaining about the destruction I tried a different tack as he seemed like a nice bloke, and instead smiling, asked him if he wasn't planning to do anything with the stumps, could I take them to set up as nest sites for roesllas and Turquoise Parrots. He said yes. We stayed on decent terms. He now knows that old tree stumps can still be useful as habitat. And he doesn't think I'm a rabid, anti-development, un-Australian greenie bludger. He just thinks I'm an idiot.
Come next weekend and its another boat trip. This time Port Fairy, the first to go for the year, though as we headed out into the big swell and "sloppy" conditions the next morning I suspect a few of us were thinking this wasn't perhaps such a good idea. The day wasn't windy at all, but the seas were still boiling, though it did abate as the day went on. Still managed to get absolutely soaked through, and as I had no change of clothes, was unable to get out my wet trousers until I got back home about ten o'clock that night. My next big investment will be a pair of plastic pants.
We did manage to still get in some pretty groovy birding including a White Goshawk by the side of the road both on the way down and on the way back. Out at sea, we had a particularly good day- I saw 24 species beyond the harbour and I know that I missed one or two. The pick of the birds were my first view for the year of Common Diving-petrel for me the big numbers of White-faced, Grey-backed and Wilson's Storm Petrels coming in and dancing around the boat, as well as very close views of the magnificent White-headed Petrel, and best of all a Sooty Albatross that breezed in and did a couple of lazy swoops while it checked us all out, giving sensational views to all.
I've spent much of last week moving house, so very little birding has been done, but I did get down to do my regular survey at Seaford Swamp on Tuesday. The best wader areas now completely dry, and not being able to find any crakes skulking in the remaining good habitat, it was a fairly average return for waterbirds, but there was an interesting build up of bush birds. Well, maybe seeing twenty-one Brown Thornbills isn't interesting to twitch hungry readers, wanting all the thrills and spills of hard core twitching. In fact if any of you told me you had just seen twenty-one Brown Thornbills my excitement level;s wouldn't exactly be peaking either, but twenty-one Brown Thornbills is double the previous highest count, and that sort of thing does excite the side of me that enjoys going to the same site month after month whether it's got lots of birds or not. And don't get me started on the seven Brown Goshawks that were all hanging around together- that's something I've never seen, anywhere.
And that was about to wrap it up for this report, but then a last minute phone call from Paul Peake saw me out again at Bunyip State Forest for another spotlighting adventure. No Masked Owl, but we heard several Powerful and Sooties had good views of Southern Boobook (finally) including on eating insects on the road.
And now it is off to Christmas Island where hopefully tropical cyclone activity will throw up all sorts of Asian vagrants and all thoughts of Brown Thornbills will be forgotten.
See ya, Sean 
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