The Big Twitch- Escape From Victoria!

To: "birding-aus" <>
Subject: The Big Twitch- Escape From Victoria!
From: "Sean Dooley" <>
Date: Mon, 15 Jul 2002 03:26:37 +0800
Arriving back from what turned out to be a highly successful trip to the West, I had only a few days in which to pack and get ready for my biggest trip of the year so far. In fact, from this point on, I will be only back in Victoria for a week or so in late September, so once I left, I'd really know that this was crunch time.
Which perhaps, somehow explains why it turned out to be so damned difficult to actually leave. I guess subconsciously I must have been delaying my departure, for as long as I remained ensconced in Melbourne there was a feeling of normality in my life.Once I left, I knew this was it, no turning back- crash through or crash.
That would explain how it seemed to take an inordinate amount of time to pack. What it doesn't explain was how the birds were somehow in on the delaying tactics. Before I left I felt I needed get a couple of remaining Southern species ticked off as there was a chance they would be much harder to find in September.
First of these turned out to be relatively easy. All Winter, as I'd been doing my monthly Seaford Swamp surveys I'd been expecting to see Australasian Bittern. I see them regularly every Winter, but this year, none. I was due to leave on Saturday 6th for a Port Fairy Pelagic which gave me only the preceding Friday to do my survey and go for the Bittern. In case I dipped at Seaford, I had the key for Edithvale (a more reliable though more difficult to access site for this species) lined up.
I needn't have worried because, as it has happened so often in the past, Seaford came up with the goods. And sure enough, a single Australasian Bittern flushed from some emergent vegetation and flew off over the reed beds, giving me a good view of those massive green feet as well as giving me bird number 464 for the year.
The Orange-bellied Parrot, however, was a different story. After seeing the bird in April, but not being able to tick it as I only got a silhouetted view, I'd still not been able to get onto it, despite several attempts.
And so it was I trudged out Werribee way for yet another crack at the OBP, this time with Peter Lansley. The plan had been to go for them on the way down to Port Fairy boat trip, and then continue on to Central Australia. (How's that for cutting it fine?) but the boat trip had been cancelled due to bad weather- lucky for me as I hadn't finished packing.
That bad weather hit us as we stepped out of the car. Through the horizontal rain Peter picked out a neophema sitting atop a saltbush shivering its orange belly off. Within minutes, the new "you beaut" pair of hiking pants I'd just bought to see me through the deserts and the tropics, were soaked through. They do dry quickly though- if you can find a spot out of the driving, icy rain to dry off.
By the time we had trudged to the spot where the bird had been, it had quite sensibly sought shelter. To rub in the misery a pair of Blue-winged Parrots flew over just to raise our hopes briefly. But despite spending the rest of the day hanging around, all I had to show for it was my first Brolga at Werribee, and a frozen nose that took about four hours to thaw out.
Packing was delayed the next morning as I went out to the site again, this time much earlier, and as it plays out in your birdwatching dreams, as I arrived a flock of about sixteen neophemas settled by the roadside. Getting out of the car I could hear Blue-wingeds calling, and then a bit later, Orange-bellied. But do you reckon I could get onto one? After what seemed an eternity, finally a juvenile Orange-bellied Parrot popped up into the frame of my scope.
At last, bird number 465! Now I could finally finish packing. But such was the difficulty in leaving Victoria, I didn't actually get going until the next night (Monday). As I headed off, another cold front blasted through, with winds up to 80kmph throwing the fully laden car around the freeway yet as soon as I crossed the Divide, the weather eased and by the time I had arrived at my overnight stop at Kamarooka, north of Bendigo, the sky brilliantly clear and calm. To add to the thrill of the first night out, I came across what turned out to be a Barking Owl  sitting in a roadside tree. Our Twitchathon team had sussed this area out many times for this species, with little luck in finding a reliable site close to our route, and here it was exactly on the route we usually travel, at about the same time of night. If only it had been there last October.
It was to one of our Twitchathon sites that I turned the next morning to pick up another couple of species- Purple-gaped Honeyeater and Shy Heathwren, which I was very happy to see as otherwise it was a rather quiet morning in the whipstick. Then north of Swan Hill I picked up Chestnut-crowned Babbler at another of our Twitchathon sites.
I arrived at Hattah with just enough time to head out and look for Mallee Emu-wren. As usual, they did a good job of keeping themselves hidden. Some people see them on the nature walk on the entrance to the main campground. I did better than I usually do here- I actually saw three species, about two more than I usual. Right on dusk, at a site on the Konardin Track I finally got onto the birds. That didn't mean I actually saw them. For half an hour in fading light they would call ahead of me in a trioda clump, then scarper off across bare ground to the next spiky clump before I could get my bins onto them.
Next morning I was out at the same spot at dawn. The temperature was literally freezing, or at best only one or two degrees above. The emu-wrens were out, tantalisingly always in the bush just ahead of me. My hands were sticking to the icy metal legs of the tripod- as if I was ever going to get a shot of them- and it wasn't until the sun had risen over the ridge and I began to defrost that a female Mallee Emu-wren popped up long enough to be identified. Unfortunately the male remained hidden; a pity, as the morning sun would have really made the blue throat a dazzling site. But I had the bird, and could finally leave Victoria.
A stop a bit later at the Buloke woodland at Yararra saw me add White-browed Treecreeper and then within the hour I was out of Victoria, finally escaping its clutches.
The inland of Australia now lay ahead, stretched dauntingly before me.
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