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

To: "birding-aus" <>
Subject: The Big Twitch- The Next To Last Hurrah (Part Two)
From: "Sean Dooley" <>
Date: Wed, 25 Dec 2002 16:34:16 +0800
For the rest of the morning, no amount of searching could yield any more of my required birds. By now it was very hot, very muggy, but with little prospect of any serious rain. The rainforest at Iron Range is doing it very tough. Unlike that further north at Bamaga/Lockerbie Scrub area, the rainforest plants here aren't deciduous and don't have the coping mechanisms to deal with such prolonged dry spells. The trees are so stressed that they have dropped so many leaves that you'd think they were deciduous, and the rainforest floor, normally dank and mouldy (like my socks) is thick with the crackle of dry, dead things, (like my underpants). The canopy above is also remarkably open, but the birds still remained hidden. 
In the heat of the day I made my way over to the "Green House" a couple of huts on private land next to the ranger's residence. Acting as a sort of caretaker is Steve Murphy who is doing his PhD on Palm Cockatoos. He was there with three other zoology students and they greeted me with a nice cold home brew. As we sat on the verandah of the hut, I told them what I still needed.
A high pitched call piped in the distance and he pointed out it was one of the birds I was after. The sound got closer and closer and within a few minutes I had a sensational view of a Northern Scrub-robin sitting atop a termite mound calling it's heart out. And then Steve claimed he heard a cuckoo call. I couldn't hear anything remotely like a Chestnut-breasted Cuckoo which is the one I needed up here. He said it was either a Little Bronze, or Gould's Bronze. I'd forgotten that Gould's was a chance here and had mentioned to him it was one I would be looking for around Cairns. To settle its identity, the bird flew into the tree above us, showing off rufous undertail coverts, and sure enough, it turned out to be a Gould's Bronze-Cuckoo- a total bonus bird, bird number 693.
It was now five down, still three to go. While at Steve's I made a call to John Young in Ingham to get some gen on Masked Owl. John had just returned from the Cape and gave me some helpful advice on where to try for the remaining three.
Next morning, at the crack of dawn, I was out at Cook's Hut again where John had said Yellow-legged Flycatcher had a nest and sure enough I found the male Yellow-legged Flycatcher singing away. In the dim early morning light, I couldn't discern much yellow in the plumage, but I did get the yellow legs and most noticeably I thought, was the bulky, almost conical looking bill, with its obvious cream coloured underside, a feature I hadn't thought would be very obvious.
Six down, two to go. Walking back to camp I heard a Fantailed Cuckoo-like trill. I played the tape once, to check it wasn't the similar sounding Yellow-billed Kingfisher which had fooled me the day before, and even before the first call on the tape had finished a Chestnut-breasted Cuckoo  charged in. This really is a little stunner of a bird, easily distinguished from Fantailed from which I feared would be difficult to separate.
Seven down, only Red-bellied Pitta to go. In a wet year they would be calling all over the shop, but until now I had only heard a possible distant call. After breakfast I headed up along the Walking Trail and within 500 metres heard that mournful call. After a bit of toing and froing, a dazzling Red-bellied Pitta appeared within metres of me. After a few seconds it realised I was there and bounced away behind some vines, allowing only furtive glances after that.
That was it: all the Iron Range birds on my list. I could have stayed and attempted a futile search for Buff-breasted Button-quail, but no-one had seen any this year as far as I knew, and they were always a (slim) chance around Mount Molloy. Such is the perverse nature of my quest that even though I felt like I could stay forever in this most magnificent of places, I felt compelled to leave paradise after barely more than two days, to give me a better chance of seeing the remaining five species required to get to seven hundred.
Make that four. because the next day, driving towards Mount Molloy, I stopped randomly at a patch of open woodland on a rocky slope that had potential as a Buff-breasted Button-quail habitat. Didn't see any, naturally, but I did come across a pair of Black-throated Finch, in my opinion a highly underrated species in the cuteness department.
And so, as I rolled in to Kingfisher Park on December 22nd, I was no on 697 species. Only three to go for the 700 and nine days in which to do it.
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