Trevor Ford saw the bird late Easter Monday afternoon, April
Fools Day. He identified it as a Laughing Gull, second winter bird.
I heard about it on Monday evening. Probably only the sixth
record for Australia. This was a bird I hadn't factored into my original list of
700 when I was planning The Big Twitch. I simply couldn't afford to miss out on
this bonus species.
But I didn't want to waste all that money and time for a huge
dip. Better to wait and see if anyone finds the bird on Tuesday.
Tuesday, April 2, 1000 hours. I receive the call from Andrew
"Yep Dools, I've just seen the bird..."
".... disappearing into the horizon on Moreton
I was almost relieved. If the bird didn't come back, I
wouldn't have to go for it.
Tuesday April 2 app 1700-1800 hours. Calls from Andrew
Stafford and Paul Wallbridge confirm that the bird has re-appeared on Bribie.
Wed, 3rd April, 1730 hours. I touch down in Brisbane. There is
not enough light left to go for the Gull. I make my way to Paul's place, enjoy
his and Wendy's hospitality and wait for the dawn.
Thursday April 4, 0800 hours.
Arrive at Bongaree jetty, Bribie Island accompanied by Paul
who has suddenly taken ill and can only be cured by taking in the airs at
Bribie. We begin looking.
1200 hours. Still no Laughing Gull. We've seen Osprey,
Brahminy Kite, 5 species of tern, Mangrove Gerygone and several
other anxious twitchers, but no gull.
1330 hours. Decide to walk to Buckley's Hole again as there is
no sign of the bird at Bongaree. All morning we could see masses of gulls behind
the trawlers out in Moreton Bay. Now the trawlers have gone in, but the gulls
don't seem to be returning to roost.
Approaching 1400 hours. As we approach the Bongaree jetty, a
new group of birders stand on the foreshore, bins all focussed at a small
flock of gulls. Surely they couldn't have it? It wasn't there half an hour
But yes, there it is, Laughing Gull-
bird 391 of The Big Twitch, 641 on my Australian list. I have time to get
my video camera and get some reasonable footage of it doing what gulls do
when they aren't feeding- just sitting there. But before I could get any closer
shots it is disturbed by kids playing on the beach and
flies off, this time along the passage.
Another successful twitch. Then like all my successful
twitches this year, the bird hangs around for weeks afterwards, weeks that I
could have leisurely (and more cheaply) gone for them.But what's that saying
about birds in the hand? A bird on your list is one that you don't have to chase
And now that I have seen the Laughing Gull, I can try and add
a few more Brissy birds that I dipped on in February, Paul suggests we try
Toorbul Point and what a suggestion. The tide is right, nice and high, and we
see a spectacular array of roosting waders at exceedingly close quarters. I add
a stunning Broad-billed Sandpiper to my list, but just as
impressive are all the other waders entering into the full flush of
breeding plumage: Bar-tailed Godwits, Great Knots, Curlew Sandpipers and Lesser
Sand Plovers amongst others.
The next day I am off early- my ultimate
destination Inskip Point to try for Black-breasted Button-quail even though
I have no gen at all apart from remembering someone telling me somewhere, that
Inskip Point was an excellent site for them. But first its out to Sherwood
Arboretum where I would have got Bush Hen and Little Bittern if I had gone for
them in February instead of rushing off for the Kentish Plover which was still
there two months later. No luck, but I did see a remarkable number of birds
for what is a small suburban park, 39 species in less than an hour including one
addition for my list, Forest Kingfisher.
Next stop, the Uni of Queensland where I got onto three
Bush Stone Curlews just hanging around the car park,
wagging an engineering class I suppose, and then up into the hills where at
Boombana Forest Walk where I got a great view of a Noisy Pitta-
last time the bird managed to position itself between Andrew Stafford and me at
every opportunity. Lunch at the Mt. Glorious Tea House added no new birds, but
what a setting, dining amongst King Parrots, White-headed Pigeons, Pale Yellow
Robin and others, giving the Paluma Tea House a run for its money in terms
of getting up close and personal with rainforest birds. Out through the Samford
Valley and a Spotted Harrier was cruising around Lake
Samsonvale, whilst cutting back through Brisbane's northern suburbs I was
astonished and delighted to have a Square-tailed Kite cruising
around above my head as I stopped on The Gympie Road at Kallangur.
By the time I arrived at Inskip Point (north of Rainbow Beach,
immediately opposite the southern tip of Fraser Island) I was beginning to think
this was a bad idea. The light was fading fast (but I still had the next morning
to look) and the whole campground area was swarming with dudes. It was school
holidays and there were kids and dogs running everywhere- surely not conducive
for a wary button-quail. Then I saw a covey of eight Brown Quail walking
unconcerned through the chaos of the campground. And right on dark, right in the
middle of the walking track I saw a smaller quail type object- most probably a
male Black-breasted, but by now it was too dark too see.
Out at first light the next morning and there it was, a male
Black-breasted Button-quail in virtually the same spot. And I
thought these birds were hard to get onto. I had enough time to check out the
waders roosting on the sand spit and managed to add a couple of breeding
plumaged Greater Sand Plover, bird number 399.
I couldn't add another bird before flying out. Another two
trips to Werribee to try and get onto those Pec Sands I'd disastrously dipped on
failed to produce the goods. It was left to my old stomping ground, Seaford
Swamp to come through for me with Flame Robin on
the 9th of April.
Number 400 could so easily have been a Great Shearwater or
South Polar Skua, but as I was first reserve on the Port Fairy pelagic and for
once nobody dropped out, I missed out on both these cripplers. Mike Carter
organised another trip for the following weekend which was cancelled due to a
bad weather forecast, but the only thing bad about it turned out to be its
accuracy as it turned out to be perfect weather. Another boat that did go out
(not birders) reported that there was a massive amount of krill about and they
had never seen so many big whales or seabirds off there before.
Oh well, what might have been. But The Big Twitch is not about
regrets, its about looking forward, ever forward. (Because if I look back too
much I will think "What the hell was I thinking?") I
now have my Winter campaign to plan: Tassie, The Centre, more pelagics. After
three months I am more than half way to my target, but they start to get a lot
harder from here on in.
Will keep you posted.