The Big Twitch- Broome: A Clean Sweep

To: "birding-aus" <>
Subject: The Big Twitch- Broome: A Clean Sweep
From: "Sean Dooley" <>
Date: Fri, 6 Dec 2002 22:47:54 +0800
Arriving in Karratha, the list clocked up to 638, I had planned a well earned night's rest, a leisurely drive to and birdwatch around, Port Headland, and then a not too taxing drive through the edge of the Great Sandy Desert to Broome. Adrian Boyle's message about a Blue and White Flycatcher turning up in Broome changed all that. I rang him immediately. It was ten o'clock on a Saturday night and he was out celebrating. He absolutely insisted that I had to get to Broome immediately as this was such a spunky bird, to miss it would be a crime against twitching.
And so, even though I had already been on the road for seventeen hours, I couldn't resist and began the long drive to Broome. Now for those of you concerned with my welfare, or more sensibly with the welfare of other road users, I can assure you that the adrenaline rush I received from this news was far more powerful than any stimulant you could ever buy over or under the counter. And I did actually pull over just outside Port Headland for a big sleep of an entire two hours.
And by about half past ten the next morning, I pulled into Broome Bird Observatory, stumbled out of the car and was greeted with the news that the bird had last been seen about two hours ago. (Damn, I knew I shouldn't have had that sleep.) A quick search of the Observatory grounds failed to produce, though I did see Yellow White-eye without even registering it was a new bird for the year. So there was nothing for it than to retire to the shade house and watch the fountain where the bird had been initially seen.
As I began to focus on my surroundings, I realised that there were a lot of people around. They hadn't all flown in specifically to twitch the flycatcher, but were here for the wader banding fest that was to begin the next day. The flycatcher was just an unexpected bonus. Frank O'Connor was there and he was regaling me tales of the bird, making me blue and white with envy. I decided I should get my camera in case it turned up again and as soon as I left, I was recalled with cries that the bird had turned up again.
And there it was, a stunning male Blue and White Flycatcher, the first live Australian record. This is how all mega rarities should be. Very confiding as it flitted about and just oh so gorgeous. The satin blue of its back when caught by the intense Broome sunlight simply shimmered. This was an absolute treat of a bird.
But the fun didn't stop there. Having had my fill of this stunner of a bird, I headed to Adrian's place where I was going to crash and catch up on some well needed sleep. But he had other ideas. A huge rainstorm had just hit, amazingly for the tropics dropping a load of hail. Adrian was worried that this rain would encourage the birds to begin to move out of Broome where they had been gathered and out onto plains. He insisted we simply had to get down to the sewerage farm before it was too late.
And so continued what would turn out to be possibly the greatest 24 hours birding in my life. We arrived at the Sewerage Farm relieved that the only birds that had left were the Oriental Plovers which I had fortunately seen the day before in Onslow. Within seconds we had two Swinhoe's Snipe lined up in the scope obligingly posed for close study of this most tricky to identify species. That was soon followed by sightings of Yellow Wagtail, Little Curlew and Long-toed Stint.  And what did Adrian get most excited by? A probable eclipse plumaged Chestnut Teal. Apparently they are very rare up here, so everyone was happy. And before it got dark we had added Dusky Gerygone and Yellow-tinted Honeyeater.
Up very early to catch the right tides, we were out on the muddy shores of the famous Roebuck Bay soon after sunrise to be greeted with great views of feeding waders including Redshank and Asian Dowitcher, whilst in the mangroves behind us we picked up Mangrove Grey Fantail and White-breasted Whistler.  Nearby I saw my first Lesser Crested Tern for the year. Things were going pretty well, the numbers on my wish list rapidly dwindling.
Determined to get them all, Adrian took me out onto the saltmarsh to try for Yellow Chat. They weren't in their usual spot. Everything else had come so easily, I knew it would all fall in a heap sooner or later, and even though we had only been looking for twenty minutes I could tell this was that moment. But moving five hundred metres on we saw some small birds fly up to the fenceline, and yes, there they were, Yellow Chat, with even a male in full chesty glory.
For Sanderling, the last bird on my wishlist, we thought we would have to travel further afield, but a quick check at a wader roost just near the Observatory revealed a solitary Sanderling amongst the thousands of Stints, Knots, Curlew, Sharp-tailed and even Broad-billed Sandpipers. Returning to the Observatory in triumph and to get more long looks at the divine Flycatcher, a small group of Long-tailed Finch came into the bird bath to drink, giving me an incredible sixteen additions to the list within less than twenty-four hours.
I had planned to stay in Broome for a few days, and as sensational a spot as it is, there were no more likely possibilities for me there. So next morning, with the list now on a staggering 654 species, (650 being the Asian Dowitcher) I reluctantly left Broome and headed into the Kimberleys.
It doesn't get much better than that.  
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