The Big Twitch- More Bristlebirds Boat and Trips

To: "Birding-Aus" <>
Subject: The Big Twitch- More Bristlebirds Boat and Trips
From: "Sean Dooley" <>
Date: Fri, 17 May 2002 19:15:35 +1000
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 into.
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 Twitch birdlist.
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 looming?
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 personal.
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 world.
Till next time,
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