The Big Twitch- They Said He'd Never Make It

To: "birding-aus" <>
Subject: The Big Twitch- They Said He'd Never Make It
From: "Sean Dooley" <>
Date: Mon, 30 Dec 2002 10:54:50 +0800
At the start of the year I boldly and somewhat mischievously announced that I was not only going to break the Australian birdwatching record, but that I would actually see seven hundred birds for the year. I got the derisive reaction I'd hoped for amongst the birdwatching community. Nobody thought it could be done. I always thought it was definitely achievable - just not by me. But I thought I would give it a go anyway.
And now, almost twelve months later, I find myself once again at Kingfisher Park with only three birds to get to reach that seemingly unobtainable total. First up, Bush-hen, a bird I have never seen in Australia. During the Dry Season they are so quiet and rarely seen up here that some birders believe they actually migrate out of the area. Come the Wet however and they become very obvious with their loud braying and screaming calls.
This, however, is not a normal Wet Season. There has been so little rain that the leaves on Kingfisher Park's rainforest trees hang limply withered on the branch. There has not been enough rain to bring on the Bush-hen's usual antics and though about, they remain difficult to see, staying well ensconced in the thick creekside vegetation.
Carol from Kingfisher Park told me that my best chance would be to wander down to the river after five as they can sometimes be seen flying across at this time. This I do, and as I cross the bridge something flies off to my right. It turns out to be a Black Bittern, a bird I would normally be delighted to see, but feel somehow let down on this occasion. Then to my left I hear a rustle and I catch sight of a Bush-hen, right on cue, fly across the river into the thick tangle of grasses of the river bank. A brief view, but a sufficient one, and bird number 698 is on the list. Over the next few days I tried for a better view and never got onto the birds once, which only emphasized how lucky I was on this occasion.
Now for its cousin, another Julatten specialty. These days, Red-necked Rails are being seen quite easily at Cairns (where I missed them) and at Cassowary House where one individual has lost its usual furtive habits and boldly runs out in full view in the pursuit of cheese from the bird feeders. But for many decades Julatten was the place to see it. The pool by the orchard became part of Australian birdwatching folklore as nearly every birder in Australia who had this on their list had first seen it come in here at dusk.  
I'd seen it here four years ago, not at the pool, but just outside the office where it casually came in to the bird feeders. The gardens were too dry to lure it in, and if I wanted to see it I had to emulate birder's of previous generations and sit in the fading afternoon light down by the pool.
Which I did, but the Rail never showed. By the time it was almost too dark to see, I was resigned to having to wait at least another day. I began to disappointedly meander back through the orchard, and as I did, there in the dim, a Red-necked Rail walked past only a metre or two from me. Any further away and I would have entirely missed it in the gloom. I was reminded of those Warner Brother's cartoons where the sheepdog and the wolf would clock on every shift. It walked so nonchalantly by me that I fully expected it to nod in my direction with a "Mornin' Sam".  
Bird Number 699- only one to go: the Blue-faced Parrot-finch. Over the past fifteen years, I'd made the pilgrimage to Julatten to ascend Mt. Lewis to look for this bird on five separate occasions with no luck whatsoever. Others had been seeing them recently up at the famous clearing, but only one or two and they had been rather difficult to get onto.
And so early on the morning of Christmas Eve I made my way up the mountain and parked at the concrete causeway where Red-browed Finches were feeding in the roadside grasses, but there were no Parrot-finches amongst them. Walking on to the clearing there were more Red-broweds feeding. Still no Parrot-finches. After a while I noticed something bigger fly down into the grasses. Surely this must be it. After what seemed an eternity, the bird popped its head up, green body, blue face and red rump- Blue-faced parrot-finch!
Rather than dance with elation or pump the air in triumph, I felt almost anti-climactic. Maybe it was because although Blue-faced Parrot is adorned with some amazingly bright colours, it is essentially a bit of a fat, stupid looking thing. But I think maybe my reaction was more one of relief- suddenly the pressure was off. Now I know how Cathy Freeman felt at the Sydney Olympics, the weight of a nations' expectations finally off the shoulders. That and the fact that I had a hundred thousand fans looking over my shoulder cheering me on- kind of surprised they didn't flush the birds.
And so I came down from the mountain, the satisfaction of my achievement slowly sinking in. In the grand scheme of things, (even in the petty scheme of things), seeing 700 species in a year in Australia don't mean much, but still, on consideration, it felt bloody good to get it. 
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