The Big Twitch Hots Up

To: "birding-aus" <>
Subject: The Big Twitch Hots Up
From: "Sean Dooley" <>
Date: Sun, 8 Dec 2002 10:57:45 +0800
After an astoundingly good two days in Broome, where the total rocketed to 654, I found myself pulling into Derby, somewhat dazed, ready to take on the Kimberley. But the astonishing birding was not yet done with as news filtered in of the Isabelline Wheatear at Mount Carbine. Making a few enquiries it seemed that the bird was genuine and it was hanging around. Even though my budget would be stretched, I simply couldn't resist going for this Australian first.
The first plane I could get wasn't until the next day (Nov 20th), so that gave me a day and a half around Derby. Derby (pronounced to rhyme with "Herbie" not "carby" which I constantly got wrong, much to the chagrin of the locals) is not the most prepossessing of towns. It is hot, very hot, and surrounded on three sides by desolate salt pans. But the birding is as hot as the weather. Down by the wharf, where the largest tides in the world flood in every day, a Great-billed Heron was feeding on the incoming rush of water.
Many will remember the stoush over the outfall at the Derby Sewerage Farm. This area, once a magnificent five hectare swamp brimming with birds has been emasculated to a one hectare patch (and the local water board is up for an environmental award for reducing the wetland by eighty percent- I suppose 20% is better than nothing at all). The remaining area still attracts a vast array of really good birds. Flocks of Barn Swallows flew above mobs of Yellow Wagtails, Brolga, waterfowl and waders including: Long-toed Stint; Wood Sandpiper; Swinhoe's Snipe; and most specially, a big fat Ruff, a bird I very much doubted I would see this year at all.
George Swann had seen a Gargeny out on the Gibb River Road and even though I would be going through there in a few day's time, I thought it would be best to try for it now. And after driving three hundred kilometres to Mount Barnett, I thought I was too late as there were only three ducks on the wetland. Two were Black Ducks and the third, blow me down was a female or possibly young male Gargeny. This was another bird I seriously doubted ever seeing this year, and I realised it was also the 700th bird I'd seen in Australia. It took me twenty-one years to reach six hundred and less than two years to get to seven hundred, that must be some sort of record in itself. (I'm sounding rather record obsessed aren't I? I'm actually far more well adjusted than this would suggest and really don't need these arbitrary milestones to justify my pitiful existence. Honest. Really.)
That night I camped at Windjana Gorge which, like the rest of the Kimberley had pretty much shut down for the Wet Season. Around here I added Black-tailed Treecreeper, Bar-breasted and White-gaped Honeyeater. And so when I flew out of Derby via Kununurra and Darwin to Cairns, my list was at 660.
The red-eye from Darwin rolled into Cairns at dawn and I rolled up to Mount Carbine about two hours later. Why on earth a rarity would want to hang around this bare, cow pat strewn dead badlands dustbowl is beyond me. After travelling all this way, my tension levels were pretty high when the bird was not immediately apparent. Twenty minutes of searching proved fruitless. I needed to use the toilet and the only one on offer was the dilapidated structure by the sad, grassless cricket ground. And as I approached, the Isabelline Whatear flew up from within metres of it.
As a rarity, the wheatear was everything the Blue and White Flycatcher wasn't. it was not colourful, it was not pretty, it was not in an attractive locale, but it was a new bird for Australia. And to be honest, its upright stance and active feeding method did give it a certain charm. While I was watching it a couple of local birders turned up and told me about a dam out the back which held Freckled Ducks. We went and had a look and saw the ducks and a cow that lay exhausted after just giving birth, but we didn't see anything much else.
Back at Kingfisher Park I bumped into Chris Tzaros who was on his first trip up to this part of the world and was absolutely buzzing with the excitement of so many new ticks. He and his partner Julie were off to try for Rufous Owl so I joined in the search and after an extensive search we finally got a great view of a pair Rufous Owl looking imperiously down at us. I also picked up the very cute Buff-breasted Paradise-Kingfisher but no such luck with Blue-faced and Black-throated Finches, though I will be back in this area in a few weeks to try again.
Next day I was due to head back West but Ron at Kingfisher Park told me Dion Hobcroft was arriving that morning to go for the Wheatear and was probably out there as we spoke. So I headed out to Mount Carbine again to say G'day and to try for better video footage than I had got the day before. When I arrived, there was no sign of either Dion or the bird. Turns out he was over at the Freckled Duck dam finding a Grey Wagtail. I drove off and only found out about his find when I was back in WA. Doh.
Oh well, you win some and you lose some, and with a total of 663 species, I guess I shouldn't really be complaining.
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