The Big Twitch- Into the Outback

To: "birding-aus" <>
Subject: The Big Twitch- Into the Outback
From: "Sean Dooley" <>
Date: Sat, 20 Jul 2002 00:03:24 +0800
I left Victoria on the tenth with my total on 471, heading for Gluepot. Even though I'll be through this way again in September, I thought it was worth stopping at Gluepot as any species I saw now would save me crucial days later in the year.
Things at Gluepot seem pretty dry, but there was still plenty of bird activity. You can tell Gluepot is good quality mallee not just because of the mega rarities, but also because of all the Chestnut Quail-thrush. By no means rare elsewhere in the Mallee, I am always thrilled to come across one of these ground dwelling birds, because it seems to happen so infrequently. At Gluepot you are virtually kicking them out of the way. At nearly every spot I stopped I would inevitably turn up a pair. Same goes for Striated Grasswren- I saw them at three sites, and at one spot bore witness to a turf war between two gangs of them.
It was too early for Red-lored Whistlers to be calling and thus I dipped on them. Did see plenty of Rufous, Gilbert's and Golden though.
I'd been told that the Mallefowl stake out had been producing the goods of late. The mound looked great; all hollowed with rows of vegetation waiting to be raked in, but on six hour's vigil over the next two days, not a whiff of the birds. Walking back to the car after my third unsuccessful attempt I came across a honeyeater and thought "Gee, that Yellow-plumed looks like a Grey-fronted" and walked on without thinking too much about it. Then another hundred or so metres on I saw a typical Yellow-plumed and it suddenly dawned on me that the previous bird had indeed been a Grey-fronted Honeyeater, an addition I'd almost overlooked because I hadn't considered it a possibilty.
Onto my main target, Black-eared Miner. The bulk of their colonies are out of bounds to the public, but there are some the ordinary punter can access. Trouble is, there are so many "mongrel miners" amongst them that it can be very tricky picking out a genuine Black-eared, even if you can get onto the birds in the first place. While searching the mallee, a startled Emu bolted away from me in a hunched sprint, an odd mode of coneyance I thought, and sure enough at the base of the mallee clump it had bolted from was a nest of eight massive green eggs, the third such nest reported at Gluepot in the last month .
Eventually, in the middle of old growth mallee- prime Black-eared habitat- I tracked down a miner... a Yellow-throated. Well actually a hybrid, but one that was way more on the Yellow-throated side of the family. It was with two other birds. The second bird was a lot darker- darker above, darker on the rump, and below the chin, but still too pale to be considered a "good" Black-eared. The third bird was much more promising- my first glimpse revealed a very dark chin, but as often happens, I never got another look at it.
Back to the car after more fruitless searching, when just six hundred metres from the homestead a miner with an all dark rump flew across the road, joined by at least twenty others. They stopped to feed in the meagre flowering of a mallee tree, allowing me the chance to go through them all individually. And there it was- a genuine Black-eared Miner standing out from all the surrounding mongrels.
Exaltant, I returned to pack up camp.It had been a long time since I had seen this species, and the last (and first) time was under very different circumstances- my 21st Birthday. Eschewing the usual celebrations of drunken uncles and bad speeches I'd headed off into the mallee to try and get a lifer on my birthday. I got lost, developed near pneumonia and didn't speak to a soul for the entire day- best birthday party I've ever had.
It was onward to a brief shopping stopover in Adelaide and to pick up the toiletries bag I'd left at John Cox's house when I went for the Hudwit in March. After three months it was lovely to be finally able to brush my hair. Sure I could have bought a new brush, but that would have been disloyal to the old brush which had been in my service for years. That brush has great sentimental value to me- it used to be the dog's brush.
Dropping in on John at his house surrounded by glorious wetlands chockers with Avocets, Ducks and Native-hens, I was able to glean a great deal of information about birds in the Centre. David Harper dropped by and we finalised our rendezvous out on the Strezlecki Track in August. He is way too confident of finding Grey Falcon for my liking. Sure he's never dipped on them out there before, but this time he has me tagging along to jinx him.
By the time I'd left John's and done the rest of my shopping it was too dark to do any birding. Next morning at Port Augusta I went down to the shore to have a last look at the sea. Next time I am standing by on a seashore it will be the Gulf of Carpentaria in about five weeks time. As if to farewell me, a group of Bottlenosed Dolphins paraded past.
A brief stop just five minutes from Port Augusta at the Arid Lands Botanic Gardens saw me already in an unfamiliar landscape with unfamiliar birds. One of them turned out to be Chirruping Wedgebill calling vigorously.
Looking northwards, the whole dry continent stretched before me. I was put in thought of John McDougall Stuart who set off on a similar route a hundred and forty years earlier. Here was I, with an air conditioned 4WD and the option of staying in a motel virtually every night of my trip, yet the enormity of the journey and the harshness of the country filled me with apprehension. How must he have felt setting off with a bunch of camels, horses and blokes all of questionable quality? Stuart eventually made his target and then pretty much lost the will to live. I am hoping to for half of his outcomes. (The success, not the loss of will to live- if I wanted to lose that I could have stayed in Melbourne and followed Collingwood in the finals.)
And so I set off into the vast interior.
<Prev in Thread] Current Thread [Next in Thread>
  • The Big Twitch- Into the Outback, 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