The Big Twitch- I'm Not a Pheasant Shooter, I'm a Pheasant Shooter's Son

To: "Birding-Aus" <>
Subject: The Big Twitch- I'm Not a Pheasant Shooter, I'm a Pheasant Shooter's Son
From: "Sean Dooley" <>
Date: Fri, 21 Jun 2002 17:27:17 +1000

The Big Twitch- I'm Not a Pheasant Shooter, I'm a Pheasant Shooter's Son

So there I am, two days left before I am due to leave Tasmania, a huge gale ready to hit the entire State, no chance of going out to sea, little chance of getting up close and personal with any of the endemics, and I've already seen them all. What to do? The ordinary person would head to a nice quiet pub with a roaring fire and see out the next couple of days. The ordinary twitcher would sit out the next couple of days on a windswept promontory somewhere, hoping a rare seabird gets flung past in the force ten winds.

I decide to go King Island.

My reasoning? I have to go there sometime if I want to add Wild Turkey to my list (yes there is a long established feral population living on the fox-free island) and there are a couple of other plastics (Peafowl and Common Pheasant) that I can also pick up there. And in this wind, King Island stands as good a chance as any of something good like Kerguelen Petrel blowing in.

So King Island it is. I wait until dark (about twelve thirty in the afternoon it feels like this far south) to try again for the Masked Owl, but again I only hear it calling. Driving back across the heart of the island I fail to see one conveniently sitting on a roadside post as they have done for so many other twitchers I know, but I do get a brief glimpse of a Tasmanian Devil playing chicken with my 4WD tyres about fifteen KMs out of Devenport.

By the time I arrive in Devenport it is ten thirty on a Sunday night, the town has shut down, I've been nursing the car on the last whiff of fuel left in the tank, so I have to camp for the night by the bowser at the local servo.

I am awoken at six the next morning by the attendant turning the pumps on. I refill and head to airport. It is blowing a gale. There are only two passengers to King Island in the eight seater, and you get the impression the pilot would have preferred to stay home on a day like this. Take off is fine, we get blown about a bit in the air, and can't see a thing through the pelting rain and cloud, and then suddenly there looms King Island, lush and green only a few hundred metres below.

As we make our approach to land, barely fifty above the runway, the small plane is suddenly blown almost at right angles to the runway and I think to myself, "Great, I'm going to die, all in search of a Turkey- a truly noble end."

Miraculously we land unscathed and I notice the airport terminal is filled to overflowing with pheasant shooters. Pheasant season on King Island is only held over the Queen's Birthday Weekend... this weekend! How am I going to see any of the fowl I am looking for if they've been peppered with shot and harassed by hounds all weekend?

And then as if to taunt the shooters who are holed up in the terminal waiting for the weather to clear, an adult male Common Pheasant lands on the airstrip and starts feeding mere metres away from their tethered hounds and sheathed shotguns. On leaving the airport I see two or three hen birds by the airport fence. Obviously these birds aren't as stupid as we think- they'd headed for the one spot on the island where the hunters couldn't shoot.

As it turned out, the shooters hadn't scared off that many birds, and with ridiculous ease I managed to see many more pheasants, as well as many groups of Common Turkey and Peafowl on the Northern half of the island. Quite ridiculous really, these birds in the middle of Bass Strait, but they are all self-sustaining populations, have been for many years, so therefore they count towards the list which now stands at 431, although I hasten to add that I found out from some locals that they do release a certain number of Pheasant every year prior to shooting season so that the hunters will have something to shoot at. This supplementing of the wild population may partly explain why the King Island birds haven't died out like so many other colonies in Australia, but it probably has much more to do with no foxes being on the island.

That night at the pub was an interesting affair. Me the greenie birdwatcher, a few local cattle farmers and some mainland shooters. Once we'd established that I couldn't understand why they would want to shoot defenseless birds, and they made it clear they couldn't fathom why I would waste so much time just looking at them, we ended up having a great old time. You don't get many hoon pheasant shooters. These blokes are genuinely fond of the sport and of the birds and wildlife in general, and were conservationists in their own way, so we found we had a lot more in common than one would have initially thought.

The next day was calmer and I explored other parts of the island. I am surprised at how much I like King Island it being ninety percent cleared, yet still retaining a wildness seldom encountered in many of our mainland bush areas. Didn't manage to see anything of particular value, though for a while I thought I might be onto the endangered King Island race of the Brown Thornbill, but could eventually only find Tasmanian Thornbills. Dusky Robin is also far more common here than they seem on the rest of Tassie. And despite all the howling winds, didn't see a single pelagic apart from Gannet.

Back around Devenport (after a much calmer return flight) The highlights of a rather leisurely afternoon were another Wedge-tailed Eagle and a pair of Banded Lapwing, a bird I'd forgotten lived in Tasmania.

On the ferry back to Melbourne I arose before dawn, to take in the sights as we entered Port Phillip Heads and to my surprise discovered two Prions resting on the deck, perhaps exhausted by the storms. But as the dawn's light increased and more and more people began strolling the decks I became more concerned about their condition. Even as we approached to dock in Melbourne they made no attempt to fly off. When I tried to encourage them to fly, one clambered up to my shoulder and the other burrowed its way under my legs. They probably could have stayed on the deck, rested and flown off as the ferry made for the open sea in the evening, but I thought it best for their safety to hold on to them for the day and release them later. And also, as I'd never had prions in the hand, I was perplexed as to their identity- I was beginning to think that at least one of them might have not been a Fairy Prion.

Once home, birds in tow, I set about trying to identify them- and got it completely wrong. Having just seen hundreds of prions off Port Fairy, you'd reckon it be a doddle, but I ended up having to take them to Mike Carter who immediately identified them as Fairies. How embarrassing. I released the birds later that day at Mornington and one immediately flew off, obviously refreshed. The other refused to budge,and would not take any of the food I offered, so the next day took it to an animal shelter. Haven't heard back from them so that could mean bad news, but it convinces me that the bird (which was 10% lighter than the first bird which was also underweight) would not have survived if I'd left it on the ferry.

The next weekend, my last in Victoria for many a month, I decided to try add the few Vic species I still needed. I could have gone east for Masked Owl, Spotted Quail-thrush and Olive Whistler, or west for Orange-bellied Parrot and Sanderling, but I went north. I dipped again on Barking Owl and Regent Honeyeater at Chiltern, and wasted an entire day driving around the Barmah and Gulpa Red Gum forests looking in vain for Superb parrots. I knew they moved out of the forests in Winter, but as I had seen them feeding by the roadside between Deniliquin and Gulpa last August I figured I was in with a chance. But June ain't August. I learn another valuable lesson.

From now on I can't afford too many more mistakes such as we are almost at the half-way mark, and I am heading into territory that is much more unfamiliar to me. I spend next week around Perth, then after that I head off for pretty much the rest of the year. Today is the shortest day of the year, a reminder that the year is rapidly moving on and the full enormity of my undertaking lies before me- and it looks like the Pies are going to have their best season in a decade. Maybe I should have stayed in Melbourne this Winter.

Time will (all too soon) tell.





<Prev in Thread] Current Thread [Next in Thread>
  • The Big Twitch- I'm Not a Pheasant Shooter, I'm a Pheasant Shooter's Son, Sean Dooley <=

The University of NSW School of Computer and Engineering takes no responsibility for the contents of this archive. It is purely a compilation of material sent by many people to the birding-aus mailing list. It has not been checked for accuracy nor its content verified in any way. If you wish to get material removed from the archive or have other queries about the archive e-mail Andrew Taylor at this address: andrewt@cse.unsw.EDU.AU