The Big Twitch- More Bristlebirds and Boat Trips
After spending a most pleasant few days in the Illawarra, I
camped for a few days on my block of land at Chiltern. The house next door has
gone up in record time and though monstrous in size is not quite the monstrosity
it promised to be. Regardless of its subjective aesthetic appeal, it is still
too bloody close to my boundary so I had enlisted the Friends of Chiltern Park
to help in some screen plantings.
Unfortunately it has been a very dry season at Chiltern and it
was decided to hold over the planting until the Autumn break arrives- if ever-
so that the new trees will have some nice soaking rains to settle
The effects of the drought are becoming evident in the forest.
What is left of the understory is tinder dry, and there is very little budding
in the trees, making for a poor blossom harvest for the honeyeaters that rely on
this site in the winter. The Red Wattlebirds and Fuscous Honeyeaters seem to
have already moved out- I only saw two or three for my entire stay, and though
there has been a report of a single Regent Honeyeater coming in to drink at
Cyanide (Honeyeater) Dam it managed to elude me this time.
There were heaps of honeyeaters coming in to drink, however,
and at one stage one dead branch above the small remnant pool of water was
dripping with Black-chinned, Yellow-tufted, White-plumed and White-naped
Honeyeaters. Also feeding on the bare mud of the drying dam were two pairs of
Scarlet Robins and, unusually in box-ironbark forest, two brown Flame Robins. A
group of four Swift Parrot flew through this scene, searching
for something to eat in the tired trees- perhaps lerps?
As I left the Dam one morning I came across a pair of
Painted Button-quail reputedly one of Chiltern's specialties,
in fact they are internationally famous, (well that's what I told the local
council last year when trying to persuade them to support extensions to the
Box-Ironbark National Park, as Thomas and Thomas mentions Chiltern as THE place
to see this species) so I was doubly relieved to finally get them onto The Big
On Saturday the 4th I hit the road again, driving from
Chiltern down to Port Fairy in preparation for the next day's boat trip. After
spending the morning chiselling through the parched clay to prepare holes for
future plantings, and then seven hours driving to the coast, I was totally cream
crackered and praying that the next day's seas be smooth.
And smooth they were: the calmest I've ever known on a
Southern pelagic. The surface was by no means glassy, but there was virtually no
swell. And all this after I'd gone and bought meself a pair of plastic pants.
They indeed got wet, but mainly from the inside. (Because of sweat you dirty
minded things, because of sweat.) It was even calm enough to have actual
conversations with the other birders and I learnt that despite all my Big Twitch
efforts there were two people on the boat who have seen more species this year
than I. Rohan Clarke said he had about fifty more than me and Chris Lester
indicated he'd seen more than Rohan but wouldn't divulge how many. Mike Carter's
probably not too far behind either. Perhaps a Big Twitch Challenge is
The paradox of pelagics is that when it is calm it is
inevitably poor for birds. In my previous posting I said the April Wollongong
trip was dull, well for ninety percent of this pelagic, that 'Gong' trip was a
real ball tearer by comparison. At least we had had a few Flesh-footed
Shearwaters following the boat all day. Today we could go for an hour without
seeing an individual bird.
But the other ten percent of this trip more than made up
for it. On the way out, just beyond the harbour were thousands of Fluttering
Shearwaters in a feeding frenzy. Coming back there were still a few hundred
milling about, but this time they were joined by flocks of Gannets and
Crested Terns and a couple of hundred Common Dolphins which made for a very
impressive sight as they cavorted alongside the boat, the setting sun framing
the flat-topped Lady Julia Percy Island in the background.
At the shelf itself we stopped twice to throw out some berley
to try and attract some birds. The first stop brought in a few but not
many. The second time we stopped there was virtually only one Shy Albatross
around. It came into feed behind the boat and was gradually joined by
another, then another, then a Black-browed and over the course of an hour
we had more than sixty albatross sitting behind the boat. You wouldn't have
thought it possible. But there they were.
And best of all we had a Royal Albatross (of
the Southern variety) come and plonk itself right behind the boat. This was a
species I've only ever seen twice before and never at such close quarters, and
one that I felt I could quite easily have missed this year, so that alone made
up for the other seven hours of nothing. And then to cap it all of a Wandering
Albatross of roughly the same age came in and landed next to the Royal giving an
unprecedented opportunity to compare these very tricky species up close and
Arriving back on dry land and armed with fresh directions from
Rob Farnes, I headed off towards Portland, racing the sunset to get to
Fawthrop's Lagoon for Lewin's Rail. And sure enough, right on dusk, at the end
of the boardwalk exactly where Rob had said they would be, a pair of
Lewins Rail walked out gave me a good perve, then walked back
into the vegetation.
The next day, driving back to Melbourne I stopped in on the
natural habitat of the Rufous Bristlebird- a car park at a tourist lookout in
the Port Campbell National Park. I have seen them at carparks at London Bridge,
Loch Ard Gorge and near the Twelve Apostles and today as I pulled into the
carpark at Bay of Islands sure enough, there was a Rufous Bristlebird,
much bigger and brightly coloured than its Eastern cousin, sitting in
the middle of the bitumen. The first tourists of the day turned up five minutes
later and it turned back into a typical bristlebird, hiding in the undergrowth
giving tantalising calls.
The next week was spent stuck in Melbourne doing the ephemera
of a real life, thinking I wouldn't be going birding for a while when at a
meeting at lunchtime on Friday I got a call from Rohan Clarke asking if I was
doing anything tomorrow.
"There's a spot on the Port Fairy boat. Get on down here."
And so next morning at seven I found myself chugging out with
a bunch of LaTrobe Uni biology students. This week there were birds everywhere,
at least double the number of albatross following the boat and quite a few more
species including Northern Giant Petrel, a lone
Flesh-footed Shearwater, White-chinned Petrel and up to seven individual
Wandering Albatross. A small group of what were probably Long-finned Pilot
Whales that swam alongside the boat on the trip back in certainly made up for a
pretty darn fine day.
And I was to be on another boat trip off Port Fairy this
weekend, but its been cancelled due to the weather. All is right with the
Till next time,