More South West Adventures

To: "Birding-Aus" <>
Subject: More South West Adventures
From: "Sean Dooley" <>
Date: Thu, 4 Jul 2002 22:42:00 +1000
The Big Twitch- More South West Adventures
Heading south from the Mulga towards Perth, as soon as we hit the wheatbelt near the town of Wubin we found a freshly roadkilled Western Corella along with two live birds in a nearby paddock. On a global level this species is rare, but locally (the northern race at least) its range is actually expanding, thanks to the opening up of the wheatbelt. This was brought home to us as we were watching the birds when a couple of local women drove past. They asked if we needed any help and looked stunned that we would be bothered looking at what they considered to be a nuisance bird. One of the women said that if we wanted, we were welcome to go onto her property where a colony nested along the creek, adding, "and you're quite welcome to take all the noisy buggers with you."
It was on to Northam to get one of the most ridiculous ticks of "The Big Twitch", the Mute Swan. Some birders wouldn't even bother adding it to their list, arguing its only a "plastic" species. I admit there is something ridiculous about a White Swan in the middle of Australia, but up close, they are a beautiful bird, and they obviously pose no threat to our native swan, so I am more than happy for their continued existence. I don't advocate introducing species, but once established, in an already altered environment I don't see the harm. Shoot every Mallard on sight as they could genetically swamp our Black Duck, but Mute Swan, they don't hurt anybody. Except for that little girl that got too close trying to feed one.
As we drove into Perth we detoured to a patch of forest in the Darling Range where I quickly added Rufous Treecreeper. But the highlight of this site, in fact possibly the birding highlight of the trip for me was a bird I can't even add to the year list- the Western race of the Crested Shrike-tit. We found a pair quietly feeding in the crown of the eucalypts- exceedingly handsome birds- and if they are split out in the future, could automatically become one of Australia's rarest species, as there are very few places this bird has been seen in the last decade.
I couldn't help thinking as we watched them stripping bark, oblivious to our presence, that if I were to do another Big Twitch in ten or twenty years time, it may be impossible to find this bird at all. I wonder how many other species will be similarly impossible to find. Quite a few more I fear.
Thirty eager birders gathered at dawn at Hillary's Boat Harbour the next morning, ready to head out to sea. After a very warm welcoming to newcomers from Frank, we were informed by the skipper that the forecast was poor and we may have to turn back much earlier than planned.
"Bloody wimps," I thought, "Don't know what a big sea is." And was still thinking this as we passed Rottnest Island where a pair of stunning Humpback Whales made their way within metres of the boat. But once we were past Rottnest, the seas really began to boil, the swell not knowing which direction it wanted to go, making for an exceptionally bumpy ride. There is no way we would have gone out in conditions like this back in Victoria, but luckily we were on a massive seventy foot boat which seemed to handle the conditions pretty well.
Not that everyone would agree with me. At least a quarter of those on board were violently ill with sea sickness- I haven't seen that much vomit flowing since my High School dance. I was fine though, and way too interested in the birds to be able to offer too much sympathy for the afflicted.
Though there weren't huge numbers, the variety was impressive. It started with the first of half a dozen Great Skuas, then I finally caught up with Southern Giant-Petrel and within an hour or so the first of many Soft-plumaged Petrel. This was the bird I had come specifically to see and it didn't disappoint with upwards of forty being seen. At this stage the trip was already a success. Then it just got better. One, possibly two Kerguelen Petrels zoomed past amongst the Soft-plumaged and Great-wingeds. I had this species on my wish list, but was despairing at my chances of actually getting it.
And it got even better. A small, loose group of Prions were located. The common Prion back east, the Fairy Prion is extremely rare here and sure enough most birds identified were Slender-billeds. I think I also spotted an Antarctic, but as no-one else got onto the bird and I didn't see the crucial undertail pattern, I can only claim it as a possible. But the absolute highlight was a single Salvin's Prion that did a circuit close by the boat. This was a species not on The Big Twitch radar so I was naturally overjoyed to see it. It was well worth the battering we received on the homeward journey.
The next morning, I had enough time before flying out to head out to Wungong Gorge to look for the remaining endemics I needed. Frank had arranged to meet a Finnish couple from the boat trip there, to show them some WA specialties so I thought I would tag along. As he was up the road showing them Long-billed Black-Cockatoos I found my main target species, a Red-eared Firetail. Of course, by the time they got back it had nicked off, and we couldn't relocate it. I did add Red-capped Parrot and Western Spinebill and we also had good views of White-breasted Robin, Western Rosella and probably the most brilliantly plumaged of all Australian birds, the Western race of the Splendid Fairy-wren.
As I was gawking over this little beauty the others finally got onto the firetail, putting off my exposure as a horrible stringer for yet another day. But just to raise doubts, after they had driven off, the Western Wattlebird that we had failed to find flew across the road in front of me. This is one of those birds that is currently regarded only as a race, but, like the Shrike-tit, may be given species status in the near future. So if I can see enough of these types of birds, even if I fail to reach 700 this year, a change in taxonomic regime may see me rocket past that figure at some future point.
But for now I leave Perth on 463. I have four days to load up the 4WD, tick off the last couple of Victorian species I still need, and then it's off up north for pretty much the rest of the year. The business end of the season has begun!
Next report will come from the road,
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