The Big Twitch- A Mint Franklin's

To: "birding-aus" <>
Subject: The Big Twitch- A Mint Franklin's
From: "Sean Dooley" <>
Date: Thu, 1 Aug 2002 11:43:59 +0800
My dilemma- hang around the Alice spiking myself amongst the spinifex for Spinifexbird (that now most decidedly of evil species) or get the hell down to Adelaide before this Franklin's Gull defongerated. [Defongerate:- to bugger off quick smart: The Barry Dooley Dictionary]
I got the call on my way north out of Alice, heading for the Grey Honeyeater site. Another five kilometres and I would have been out of mobile range. I immediately swung around to the airport. Who would have thought that there was only one flight a day to Adelaide. I wouldn't get in till well after dark. (Though this was irrelevant as the bird was only turning up in the early mornings.) I now had several hours to kill.
I swung around north again, figuring that even though it would be the middle (and therefore the hottest) part of the day, not the most conducive time for seeing elusive desert species, it was worth a shot.
In one of those golden birding moments, I pulled up at the "Thomas and Thomas" site at Kunoth Well. (I had some recent gen that suggested I should try nearby, but I thought I would use their site as my reference point.) The first bird I saw as I got out of the car was a Grey Honeyeater or more precisely, a pair of them, possibly even two pairs, calling their heads off and chasing each other around all through the Mulga around me.
I know dozens of birders who have slogged and sweated out in the heat of the desert and still not seen this bird so this is as sweet as it gets. And to top it off, a group of Slaty-backed Thornbills decided to play within mere metres of me, while I finally found my first Diamond Dove for the year at the Well itself. The whole episode was a total relief as it was by now getting pretty hot, and there were some cantankerous looking cattle lurking about.
Back to the airport, and I felt like I could have flown to Adelaide myself. But the plane had been delayed three hours. I still had half an hour of daylight left, so where else would I head but that infernal hill above Heavitree Gap. Dipped on Spinifexbird again, but once more got great views of Dusky Grasswren and a startled Euro. (Crap joke number 257: Q: Why did they name the new Pan-European currency after an Australian Outback Kangaroo? A: Because it bounces up and down and is only found where the going gets rocky.)
Finally arrived in Adelaide, sitting behind Meg Lees, fresh from her defection from the Democrats. Imagine her surprise upon landing, to be greeted by a massive press corps. They ignored her and proceeded to ask me what I thought my chances of Franklin's Gull were, and whether I thought I would crack the 500 before the end of the month. Boy did she seem put out.
Eventually arrived at the Harper Family residence well after 11:30PM. And then to make myself a really popular guest, had the whole family up at dawn in order to get out to Salisbury in time for the Franklin's Gull show. Being a flashy American, this bird didn't disappoint. I reckon the entire Adelaide birding community must have been there for this matinee performance - I counted thirty after the first few twitchers had started to drift off.  The bird was there in full stage make-up, black hood, its breast looking rosy in the morning sun, showing up our drab local seagull talent for the plain old bucolic hicks they are. It strutted, it flew around, even accepting breadcrumbs from an adoring fan, - a true professional.
By eight o'clock most twitchers had dispersed. they obviously hadn't been waiting twenty years to get this one. Watch out Lansley, I'm now in the Five Gull Club- only four to go. Not satisfied with one successful twitch (this is The Big Twitch after all) I conned David Harper to take me down to Tolderol to try for the Little Stint that had been reported there. 
We arrived via an unsuccessful attempt for Malleefowl in the Ferries MacDonald Conservation Park. No luck, and no footprints where they are normally seen. Could the birds here be yet another statistic of our fragmented habitat? We reserve these little pockets of good habitat in a sea of clearing and then scratch our heads when local populations crash for no apparent reason. Hopefully though, these Malleefowl are alive and well and healthy, sensibly avoiding this rabid twitcher.
On arrival at Tolderol we were met by Colin Rogers and John and Heather Cox who informed us that the reported Little was actually a brightly marked Red-necked Stint. While they couldn't produce a Little Stint, they did produce Elegant Parrot  of which several displayed themselves to their optimal cuteness in the afternoon sun.
And on the flight back to the Alice the next morning, after a night of typical Adelaide hospitality (for those of you not from SA, that is actually a good thing), I reflected on another successful twitch. Of course if I had done a similar twitch to get on the Southport pelagic I would have added a further four birds to the list. Then again if I had twitched the June boat trip off Southport I wouldn't have added any.
Oh well, back to the desert.
Sean Dooley, July 28, 491 species.  
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