The Big Twitch- The Next To Last Hurrah (Part One)

To: "birding-aus" <>
Subject: The Big Twitch- The Next To Last Hurrah (Part One)
From: "Sean Dooley" <>
Date: Wed, 25 Dec 2002 15:31:23 +0800
Before I headed to Far North Queensland where hopefully enough ticks lay lurking in the rainforests for me to reach 700, I thought I would try one last time for Grey Falcon. In a motif all too familiar I drove a long way out of my to look at a spot where somebody else had had no trouble regularly seeing them in the past.
I arrived at Bladensburg National Park with only an hour of light left and called in on the Ranger's Office. The whole area had not had any rain since January and was looking parched and uninviting. By the reaction of the ranger I may also have been the first visitor since January- he obviously hadn't seen anyone out there for a long time and was eager for a big chinwag. I was itching to get out looking for Falcons and as he told me there was only one waterhole with any water left in it, I bid farewell, leaving him to the creaking of the tin roof of the old homestead for company.
I should have stayed chatting. The waterhole was reduced to a brown puddle attracting very few birds aside from a few cautious Common Bronzewings- hardly a smorgasbord for a Grey Falcon. There were very few birds of any species and the mass die offs from lack of fresh feed and water would have occurred a few months back so now there was not even carrion for the predators. Looks like Grey Falcon has beaten me.
Into Townsville (a mere seven hundred kilometres on) and I realised that Dave Harper who was on holidays would be in the vicinity. I gave him a call asking where he was and he replied, "Townsville Common looking at an Oriental Cuckoo." I said I'd meet him there in five minutes. This was a bird I still needed and to be honest held out little hope of seeing, though they are apparently more abundant this year.
The bird had flown by the time I arrived, but next morning we were out there again not seeing it when we bumped into a local birder, Steve Guerrato who told us there had been a few hanging around Anderson Park in the middle of Townsville's suburbia. I knew the place well as my cousins had lived nearby during the 1980s and I had seen my first Great Bowerbird and many other good birds in this rather uninspiring looking park.
The Bowerbird' bower was there. The entrances were festooned with white shells and green shards of glass, whilst the side wall was decorated with the blood red of Coke bottle tops- a feature wall! Even Bowerbirds are watching lifestyle television these days.
And the Oriental Cuckoo was there, several, perhaps as many as nine. After so many years of birding and never seeing this species, here they were as plain as day in the middle of a duff looking suburban park. There was even a hepatic female amongst them. A Black Bittern flushed from the lagoon just to round things off. A very pleasant diversion that netted me bird number 688.
I had visited Iron Range on Cape York back in September, always planning to go back for those Wet Season migrants, Red-bellied Pitta and Black-winged Monarch as well as the five birds I had missed out on, and if I could get these I would be up to 695 leaving me with a further five to pick up around the Cairns area. 
I had planned to fly in, as usually at this time of year, road
access up Cape York has been cut off by Wet Season rains. But as it had been so dry I thought I might be a chance of driving. A few calls to the locals told me it was very dry and all roads were open. But even if I got in, there was always the chance that the monsoon would kick in and I would be stranded until possibly as late as April.
Deciding to splash through or splash, I nervously headed up the Cape. My fears were unfounded as the roads and tracks, though in some places a bit more eroded than three months ago were very drivable. In fact most of the creek and river crossings had less water in them than last time I had passed through. The Claudie River at Rainforest Camp at Iron Range had actually stopped flowing altogether.
It was very hot and sticky, but only a couple of showers fell in the time I was up there. On nightfall, Marbled Frogmouths and Large-tailed Nightjars began calling with great vigour. I had flushed the Nightjar on arrival but it was the Frogmouth I was after, In the area around Cook's Hut were at least three pairs calling madly in the rainforest, but as I had been told, they never came to the edge of the forest so if I wanted to see them I had to go in. Eventually I found a small track (or more open patch) which allowed me to negotiate my way
through the thick, dark rainforest. And sure enough I very soon had a crippling view of a very sexy Marbled Frogmouth perched just metres from me. One down, six to go.
Next morning I refamiliarised myself with all the strange calls of this northern rainforest and managed to locate Green-backed Honeyeater in the vicinity of Cook's Hut. Two down. Then later in the morning, along the walking trail I saw something odd moving in the foliage. I put up my bins to focus on another Green-backed Honeyeater- but that hadn't been what attracted my attention. And then coming into view, on the same branch, was a Black-winged Monarch, the only one I was to see. But I only needed one. Three down, four to go.
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