The Big Twitch Goes Off Like A Woomera Rocket!

To: "birding-aus" <>
Subject: The Big Twitch Goes Off Like A Woomera Rocket!
From: "Sean Dooley" <>
Date: Wed, 24 Jul 2002 03:48:03 +0800
Sorry about the delay. This is a re-send from Sunday when I was last in communication range.
Firstly I'd like to state, for the record, that though I was in Woomera the day the multi million dollar rocket crashed to Earth on it's maiden test flight, any connection is purely coincidental. I missed actually seeing it explode by a couple of hours; a pity really, as it would have been even more exciting than watching a British naval vessel bang into some rocks off Lord Howe- if they've manage to make the White-bellied Storm Petrels disappear I'll sue!
Lying just a short detour off the Stuart Highway, Woomera has been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons. But I would like to defend the Government on this one. Some people have said that detaining asylum seekers in bleak, desolate places, in the middle of nowhere is cruel and unfeeling. But consider where they have located their other detention centres: Christmas Island and Port Headland; both areas where rare Asian vagrants are most likely to turn up. They are obviously giving these new arrivals to our country the chance to really kickstart their Aussie birdlists along.
Why else would they have built the Christmas Island,  detention centre smack bang next to the tip where all those mega rarities turn up. On my visit there I saw, clearly visible to those inside the razor wire, White-breasted Waterhen, White Wagtail and Barn Swallow- species that Australian birders would give their left organ for.
But I always wondered why our benevolent government had chosen Woomera. Driving in I could finally see why, as a probable Ground Cuckoo-shrike (a bird I need) flew in over the arid plains. If I had been behind the razor wire it would have flown straight over my head. As it was, I could only look on at that compound with envy. Gee I wish I was a refugee. 
Having dealt with that disappointment, I moved on, as one must (or be arrested) and headed north adding nothing new for the year but getting a feel for the landscape- desolate yet beautiful, seemingly endless in its aridity but with extraordinary subtle changes every few kilometres.
Early one morning I arrived at a location north of Marla where all three species of Whiteface had recently been seen. I thought the plain before me, though pretty dry, still seemed too thickly vegetated for Banded and Chestnut-breasted Whitefaces. As soon as I got out of the car, a Southern Whiteface flew up into a dead tree and sussed me out. This was the last Whiteface I saw for over an hour. I did see some good birds out there including my first Brown Songlark and Crimson Chat for the year, but after walking several kilometres, I had decided my suspicions were right and headed back to the car.
Then I noticed a group of small birds moving about in the undergrowth ahead of me. One of them flew high into the air in songflight- a Whiteface! I'm sure as I got those binoculars briefly on it, I could see a chest band. The bird came to earth and the group moved ahead of me. For ten excruciating minutes they continued to flit about eighty metres ahead, always just out of identifiable distance. Then I lost them. Standing there, bereft and frustrated, I turned defeated when something caught the corner of my eye, and there, less than twenty metres away, sitting atop a small saltbush was a Chestnut-breasted Whiteface, its chestnut breast band as clear as day. It flew away in a flock of six, and I was ecstatic.
And then things got even better. As I headed back triumphant, fists pumping the air in victory, I stumbled across a feeding flock of at least twenty-two, possibly as many as forty Chestnut-breasted Whitefaces. They bounced all around me, giving an unprecedented display for over half an hour. I failed to find any Banded Whiteface though, a minor quibble as this was one of those magnificent birding moments that stay with you forever.
By the time I was finished here, I was now way behind schedule and realised that I would be driving the last two hundred kilometres or so to my planned destination, King's Canyon, in the dark. Having learnt from costly prior experience I slowed the car to around eighty kph to lessen the chances of colliding with wildlife. It saved me from wiping out several Red Kangaroos and what I feared more, a cow.
I came across one creature that was not so lucky- a recently hit Boobook Owl. It was obviously in shock as it wouldn't move off the road as another car approached. Donning a pair of thick gloves to avoid a potential bite, I hadn't counted on it gripping my hand so incredibly hard and not letting go once I picked it up. It didn't try to go me, but every time I tried to loosen its grip it only dug those powerful claws tighter. I discovered newfound sympathy for mice because once you are in a Boobook's grip it just don't let go. In the end I had to take the glove off or face the prospect of driving the rest of the way with a Boobook attached.
The owl safely tucked away, I was feeling very smug and worthy as a car approached from the opposite direction. A pair of Red Kangaroos lurched out at the car in a kamikaze run. I hit them at about seventy kmph. The first merely bounced off the roo bar and hopped away. The second was not so lucky. It bounced the other way into the path of the oncoming car. Between us we broke both its legs. The other car sailed on, leaving the roo flailing hopelessly away on the bitumen, legs going nowhere. I knew it was only a matter of time before it bled to death or was finished off by a truck. So I felt I had no choice but to put it out of its misery.
A dreadful end to what had been a glorious day.
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