You'd reckon that after seeing seven hundred species for the
year, I'd be looking to put the feet up and ease off on the birding intensity.
Not blooming likely. This was North Queensland after all, and I was still a
chance of getting something good to add to the list.
To this end, after
having safely ticked off bird 700, I headed down to the coast to Newell beach
where I had heard Del Richards had seen a Red-rumped Swallow about a week
before. About nine hundred metres along the road to Newell, I saw some swallows
roosting on roadside wires. There were both species of Martin, Welcome Swallow
and at least ten, possibly as many as fourteen Red-rumped
Swallow coming into roost. This was a species I never held much hope
out for seeing, but there they were, a new bird for me, and bird number 701 for
the year. I managed to get a few shots of them including on with all four
species lined up in a row.
Next day was Christmas Day. I was alone and
away from home so how to celebrate the day? Just for a change I thought I would
go birding. I decided to do a Big Day. After joining in the morning birdwalk
with Andrew from Kingfisher Park, I had already seen around seventy-five
species. The wheels then began falling off after I spent way too much time
moseying around the rainforest up on Mount Lewis. But it was just so lovely up
there. I managed to see all the specialties except Golden Bowerbird, including
really great, prolonged views of a pair of Blue-faced Parrot-finches. They
were far more tame than they had been the day before and allowed a really
close look as they fed on the seed heads of some big purple flowered,
The wheels then literally began falling off when I got a flat
tyre coming down Mt. Lewis- my twelfth for the year. It was now quite hot and as
I sweated changing the wheel, singing a new Christmas Carol, "The Twelve Flat
Tyres of Christmas" I couldn't help pondering whether God was punishing me for
not observing his son's birthday in the proper manner. If so, the punishment
didn't work as the day managed to be probably my best Christmas ever, with me
finishing the day on 158 species having made it to the coast, but unfortunately
ran out of time to go for any dry country birds.
I took it fairly easy Boxing Day, but in the evening joined
Andrew and Carol and a local ranger in some spotlighting out in the backblocks
of Julatten where Greater Glider, (a rare mammal this far north) had recently
been reported. No luck with the Glider but we did find a Quoll's lair replete
with incredibly pungent odour and piles of plucked feathers. Driving back Andrew
caught a glimpse of something out the window, and on reversing we got onto, a
Masked Owl! Not only was this bird 702, it was a lifer for me,
having eluded me in several states for many years.
I had been planning to look for these birds at Ingham, and
failing that, near Brisbane on New Year's Eve, which would have ended the year
with a nice symmetry as I had kicked off the year list on Jan 1 with
another Tyto, the Sooty Owl. But remembering that saying about birds and
hands and bushes I was damn glad to have finally cracked this
species. As it was, I found two more examples of this
powerfully impressive species out near Ingham a couple of night's later, as
well as a Grass Owl at "Tyto Wetlands".
The day before this, with no real possibilities for ticks left
in North Queensland (apart from something remarkable like another Grey Wagtail,
or House Swift or something else- and I did bump into two different birders who
had seen possible rare swiftlets, one a possible Glossy Swiftlet at Finch Hatton
near Mackay, the other a couple of all dark swiftlets which may have been
Uniform Swiftlet just south of Cairns) I decided to combine business with
pleasure and head out on a reef trip. The very slow boat I took is one of
the few that goes both to Michelmas Cay and the Outer Reef.
There were only ten people on our boat, and as they were all
going to be snorkelling, I thought I would have the seabird colony on the
Cay all to myself. But as our little tub labouriously trundled along I could see
the mega tourist boat, laden with noisy holidaymakers looming ever so
quickly towards us. We just beat them to the island, but within minutes the
sands open to the public were chockers with tourists, but within a few more
minutes they were all happily swimming in the water leaving me to watch in awe
the thousands of nesting terns: Sooty, Crested and Lesser Crested and Common
Noddies. I couldn't manage to find any White-capped Noddies, and what at
first from a distance appeared to be a Masked Booby turned out to be a nestling
Brown Booby that was much much bigger than its parents, but a single Least
Frigatebird obligingly hung around.
By now, the 28th, it was time to get moving if I wanted to
squeeze in any more ticks for the year. My best chance of new birds was to head
back to Darwin to try for the Black-headed Gulls that had turned up just after I
had left, putting in en route another effort for Carpentarian Grasswren and Grey
Falcon. But I had neither the funds for a plane flight, nor the energy to
backtrack two and a half thousand kilometres. Maybe if I was stranded in the six
nineties I would have considered it, but now I had reached my original goal my
enthusiasm was far more muted and commonsense seemed to be creeping back into my
And so, with the painful reluctance,-grief almost- of leaving
an old friend, I left Kingfisher Park, Julatten and North Queensland bound for
my one remaining possibility. As I headed South rather than count the kilometres
I counted off the birds whose range I was now departing. No more Atherton
Scrubwren, farewell Victoria's Riflebird, Cassowary and Pied Monarch. A bit
further on and adieu to Sunbird. And so it went until the afternoon of the 30th
when I arrived in Brisbane.
I met Andrew Stafford and we headed out to the legendary
Sherwood Park. Within seconds we had Bush-hen. This time I got a great close up of its head, all vibrant lime green
with a flash of tangerine cere- it really has to get with the program: those
colours went out of fashion about three summers ago. And then within about ten
minutes we had mind blowing views of a male Little Bittern
right out in the open, perched above the waterline hunting. After all
the grief and disappointment this bird had caused me all year, I just couldn't
believe how easy it was to see this day. What also surprised me was how after
364 days of birding and 702 prior species, seeing this 703rd still managed to
give me a huge adrenaline rush. Perhaps my aversion therapy theory of this year
hasn't worked and I will wake up in the New Year still afflicted with this
accursed birdwatching habit.
Little Bittern was to be my last new bird of the year. Try as
I might, I just couldn't conjure a Streaked Shearwater off Point Danger the next
day and so my total remains on 703. I wound up the New Year with non-birding
friends at Byron Bay. As I stood and watched the Year slip away, surrounded by a
teeming throng of humanity: hippies, drunks, Hare Krishnas, holiday-makers,
gangs of boys from the city looking for some action, gaggles of teenage girls
trying to down enough Vodka Cruisers to give the boys a greater chance
of success; suddenly my year, my quest, didn't seem nearly so absurd.
In fact it seemed to make a lot more sense than any of the human
behaviour that swirled around me.
Thank you and goodnight.