The Big Twitch Reaches 400, Part 2

To: "Birding-Aus" <>
Subject: The Big Twitch Reaches 400, Part 2
From: "Sean Dooley" <>
Date: Wed, 17 Apr 2002 23:00:11 +1000
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 Stafford.
"Yep Dools, I've just seen the bird..."
".... disappearing into the horizon on Moreton Bay."
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 ago.
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 after later.
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.
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