The Big Twitch-

To: "Birding-Aus" <>
Subject: The Big Twitch-
From: "Sean Dooley" <>
Date: Tue, 18 Jun 2002 11:26:44 +1000
G'day all,
Just to prove that I am not only a crass twitching fiend with no redeeming qualities whatsoever, I participated in the Swift Parrot/Regent Honeyeater survey on the 24th and 25th of May. I didn't ask for any special consideration, or to be sent to some birding hot spot, just to be allocated a site like anybody else, regardless of whether there were likely to be any birds, because it is just as important to find out where the bird aren't as much as where they are.
And didn't the organisers bloody well oblige. My areas were the Brisbane Ranges and the Clunes area, and not only did I not see a Regent Honeyeater (not unexpected)  nor a Swiftie (a possibility) I didn't even see a single lorikeet of any description nor even a flowering tree. It has been a very dry year, and nothing is flowering in the Box-Ironbark. No wonder all the nectar feeding nomads have headed for the coast.
As I pulled into Clunes on the Friday night, it looked like the main street of the town was being resurfaced. Turns out I had driven onto the set of the new Ned Kelly movie. There has been a minor controversy about this film being shot in Clunes as the residence of the towns in Kelly Country have kicked up a stink saying that because their towns aren't going to be used, the film won't be authentic. But I can guarantee wherever they film it, the birds calling in the background can't possibly be authentic 1870's birdlife. Back then, the Kelly Gang roamed the country bordering the forested foothills of the Great Dividing Range and the woodlands of the Box-Ironbark country. where the great gold rushes had already depleted much of the landscape and broadacre clearing was well underway- Emus, Bustards and the White-footed Rabbit Rat would be already gone.
But as the Kelly's rode through the bush they would still have been serenaded by huge squawking and screeching flocks of Regent Honeyeater and Swift Parrot, and the Turquoise Parrot was about to undergo its huge population crash (it has since made something of a comeback), whilst today's ubiquitous species such as Crested Pigeon and White and Straw-necked Ibis would be virtually unknown. And if we were to re-film the story in the same locations in another hundred years, there's a pretty good chance that the calls of the Regent Honeyeater, Grey-crowned Babbler, Hooded Robin and many others will also be absent.
I headed down from the Clunes area to be present at yet another Port Fairy boat trip. This was a private charter organised by Frank Mitchell who kindly invited me along. All this Big Twitch stuff may have addled my brain as I am actually beginning to really enjoy these boat trips. This one was the most enjoyable by far. The weather was calm- I've never known smoother seas off the South Coast, and the birds were plentiful and coming in behind the boat in good numbers. New for the year were Cape Petrel and White-fronted Tern but we also got great views of Buller's, Wandering and Yellow-nosed Albatross (maybe as many as two hundred of the last inshore) as well as big numbers of Wilson's and Grey-backed Storm  Petrels and my best ever view of a Common Diving Petrel which unusually, belted alongside the boat for the best part of a minute. Another highlight was the sight of a Barn Owl of all things, flying steadily towards land sixteen kilometres out at sea.
I was booked into the regular Port Fairy pelagic the next week but first I had to head back to Chiltern to plant the trees I was meant to plant in May. There had been a smattering of rain, and though the ground was bone dry, there was the promise of more rain to come. Spent the first day of June with one eye on the Red Box I was planting, and the other out for a stray Regent Honeyeater to fly past, but alas, no luck, and then it was another seven hour drive to Port Fairy.
As I've got more used to going on pelagics (this was my tenth for the year and my fourth off Port Fairy in five weeks) the big worry has become not whether I'll be sick or not, but whether I'll fail to add a new species to the list. This trip didn't disappoint on this front as I added Southern (Great) Skua and Slender-billed Prion to take the list to 418. More disappointing was that if I was a more competent birder I could have added another three (Southern Giant Petrel, Antarctic Prion and Grey-headed Albatross) over the last two trips. I had reasonable views of particularly the latter two species, and have no doubt they were those species, but for me I need to get exceptional views of some of these seabirds in order to absolutely clinch the ID in my mind, so therefore I won't be adding them to The Big Twitch list. Hopefully I will get them again on later boat trips, perhaps on the Eaglehawk pelagic off Tasmania, for that is where I am off to next...
Stay tuned,
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