Brewing Banter - the Hunter Home Brewers 2007 Twitchathon story

To: Birding Aus <>
Subject: Brewing Banter - the Hunter Home Brewers 2007 Twitchathon story
From: Mick Roderick <>
Date: Thu, 15 Nov 2007 05:05:42 -0800 (PST)
G'day everyone,
Well here it is, the 2007 Hunter Home Brewer's Twitchathon tale, hot off the 
desk of Jacqueline Winter. Of course it's a long message! So if you take it on, 
pour a cuppa or grab a beer and settle into it. Usually I would have posted it 
in 2 or 3 parts, but Russell suggested that it would be easier archived as a 
single message, even if he has to squeeze it through the system. I hope the 
formatting is reader-friendly, as I've copied it over from Word. 
It was another hectic year with no absolute stand-outs as our 'best bird' - I 
guess bigger scores just come from having fewer dips, though there were still a 
few of those. We raised just under a grand this year, so thanks muchly to all 
our sponsors. 
Thanks also to anyone who takes the time to read this too. Enjoy!
Mick Roderick
It was a very different lead up to the Birds Australia Twitchathon for the 
Hunter Home Brewers in 2007 with the absence of Mick Brew, who had been busy 
seeking out future routes in far-flung countries but had arrived back in 
Australia just in a nick of time, sporting a haircut that would do a Cassowary 
proud. With a record score in 2006 and the moniker of ‘National Champions’ to 
defend, the Brewers were relatively oil-less in 2007. The first sign of ‘good 
oil’ however, came when Steve Brew organised access to the Gunnedah property 
that sits on their route. The owner told them “yeah, I saw a Crimson Chat on 
the fence the other day”. There was some scepticism in the camp at the 
possibility that it was a mis-identified Red-capped Robin that he saw, but any 
such doubts were drowned in the fervour of Ando Brew, for whom the Chat would 
be a lifer.
Another factor in the lead-up to 2007 was the fall-out from 2006 and the 
perceived threat from the Black-necked Stalkers who vowed to head west and 
finish on the north coast. There was also word-on-the-street about a new team 
starting out at the Macquarie Marshes. So it wasn’t just the Whacked Out 
Woodswallows they needed to be concerned about.
The only real pre-twitch oiling a few days before the event had revealed some 
great birds in the Hunter part of their run, including a couple of Regent 
Honeyeaters at their wild-card woodland site. But it wasn’t until they 
assembled at 3 o’clock, Friday afternoon, for the routine “dummy run” that the 
pre-twitch juices really started to flow. This undertaking went fairly 
according to plan, except the combination on the lock to their dam site had 
been changed! The best result during the dummy run was seeing a flock of ‘small 
red birds’ flying overhead in one of the forest stops. Yep, the cocky was on 
the money – Crimson Chats! Ando Brew was on the scene quicker than cucumbers at 
a chilli convention to see a new bird for him.
Come Saturday afternoon, the newly acquired tradition of donning ‘team tees’ 
was done with only a few minutes left until showtime. As the big hand struck 
the 12, all Brewers were locked onto a perching Singing Honeyeater, which 
promptly went down as bird #1, throwing the Twitch Tab into turmoil. This was 
quickly followed by Painted and Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters and Red-winged 
Parrot. With barely 3 minutes gone on the Twitch, the Brewers were in the car, 
heading straight to the well-oiled White-winged Fairy-Wren site, which when 
perched on the fence with nothing but grassland about, had a very unusual 
neighbour in the form of a female Red-capped Robin. 
By-passing the lock-out dam, they used the extra time in their main western 
forest area, picking up some fence-perched Blue Bonnays along the way. The 
forest was quieter than the previous day, although with more time to spend 
therein, they had most of the targets under their belt, including 3 species of 
Woodswallow, Inland Thornbill, Turqs, Hooded Robin plus 2 maiden birds in the 
Crimson Chats and Little Ravens. There was a complete lack of Restless Flys 
that had been calling ubiquitously the day before. En-route to the farm they 
saw their only Cockatiel, flying solo across the plains, before knocking off 
Southern Whiteface around the farm house (not literally). The final woodland 
stop produced only one new bird, but a clanger in the form of Chestnut-rumped 
Thornbills. More Crimson Chats were present here as well.
Before arriving at their Azure Kingfisher stakeout they finally locked onto a 
group of Yellow-throated Miners. The Azure soon did his pass and the 
ever-present ever-singing Blackbird was happily added to the tally. Rather than 
spending valuable time before dusk trying to pick out a White-backed Swallow 
amongst the mass of Tree Martins, they opted instead to head back into Gunnedah 
and check the local faeces factory for some duck action. They arrived at the 
perfect time, as a council worker was entering the gate (yes, it was Saturday 
too!). He was justifiably bemused as four binoculared Brewers headed straight 
for him. 
"Can we go in? We're birdwatchers!"
He grinned, but happily shunted the gate, adding "you won't see much" as they 
filed in.
One man's "not much" is another man's Blue-billed Duck, of which a pair was 
floating over the back of the main pond. They were accompanied by Pink-eareds 
and Shovelers and a number of usual suspects.
This took the boys to 116 species at dusk and upon agreement that it was indeed 
"good brewing", they set off towards their night run with the spectacular 
backdrop of an orange full moon coming up on the horizon. As is customary, the 
standard Boobook, Frogmouth and Barn Owl were spotlit within 10 minutes of 
firing up the beams. A sorely futile attempt at trying to spotlight one of the 
very scarce Liverpool Plains Emus was followed by the drive to the scene of the 
'Double Bittern-up' in 2005, Old Quipolly Dam. Along the way they recorded what 
must certainly be regarded as two of the most 'poetic' ticks in the Twitch 
history. The full moon was just high enough in the sky by now, that it cast a 
bright 'stairway' across the larger (new) Quipolly Dam. They stopped the car 
briefly in a rare moment of 'aesthetic appreciation' (as it was a magnificent 
sight) and low and behold two birds floated peacefully through the moonshine on 
the water surface - a Black Swan
 and the unmistakable outline of a male Musk Duck - a very special pair of 
Alas there were no Bitterns and so upwards and over the range they went, 
picking up Owlet Nightjar at their standard spot at Murrurundi on their way to 
the wet forests. It was here that 'Team Tyto' stepped up a gear, firstly 
picking up a male Masked Owl that they were later to learn had also been seen 
by Hunter rivals and long-time mentors, the Hunter Thickheads (ironically both 
teams were to put the same bird down as their rarest!). But the piece de 
resistance was certainly the treat that they were in for as they pulled into 
camp in the Chichester State Forest. Minutes earlier, Mick Brew had been 
commenting on how he had only ever had 'canopy views' of Sooty Owl. Incredibly, 
as they entered the camp site an individual of the aforesaid species flew up 
off the ground 20 metres in front of the car and perched on a low branch, 
enabling near-perfect views. It was a poorly-timed rush of adrenalin as it was 
only a few hours until dawn, but with the count
 sitting on 126 species, they were able to rest easy.
The dawn chorus and ensuing 'wet forest tickfest' was bountiful and they left 
the campsite with 152 birds, including Regent Bowerbird, Russet-tailed Thrush 
and Green Catbird. A cruel Noisy Pitta called only once and was not heard by 
most of the team, so they forged on, picking up some road-running Brush Turkeys 
along the way. The following hour or so was spent, as always, mopping up wet 
forest birds at crucial roadside remnants. With a full complement of Lorikeets 
for the first time, and common "Sunday birds", they were sitting on 169 as they 
headed for the Lower Hunter.
Another maiden bird, Stubble Quail, was heard at Bolwarra, before they moved on 
to their lynchpin woodland site near Kurri Kurri. Here they heard their only 
Pallid Cuckoo for the weekend and added Brown-headed, White-naped and 
Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters (but no sign of the Regents). They then made the big 
decision to head into the Hunter Estuary early, as the high tide was set to 
peak in an hour’s time. Driving alongside the river at Hexham, it was obvious 
that it was a massive tide. Arriving at the Stockton Dykes car park at 1100, 
the lads couldn’t even get onto the dykes themselves there was so much water. 
But this played into their hands as the waders were generally flighty and they 
ticked several species flying over the river. A Caspian Tern and Sea-Eagle were 
flying over the river further up, whilst a Common Sandpiper was atop a concrete 
block in front of them.
After finding Tattlers and Tereks on the barely-dry oyster leases and finding a 
very persistent Golden Plover on the Stockton Foreshore, they went under 
Stockton Bridge to get a look at the Sandspit. There were literally 1000’s of 
birds present, mostly larger waders and Avocets. Here they added Blackwits and 
Red-capped Plover whilst tucked away behind the Godwits there were Curlew 
Sandpipers and both Knots (Great Knot being another maiden bird for the 
They left Stockton at midday with 221 birds on the count, feeling very pleased 
with the decision to hit the Hunter on-tide. They then went over to Newcastle 
baths, but could only see a single tube-nose, being Wedge-tailed Shearwaters. 
There were also Gannets feeding and Ruddy Turnstones on the rockshelf. A 
distant Sooty Oystercatcher was picked up, way down on South Newcastle rocks.
Brewing on to the “Promised Land” of Ash Island, they briefly made an attempt 
to find Skylark at its usual haunt, though they dipped. However, an adult 
Spotted Harrier was a great substitute. Seven more birds were added on Ash 
Island, including Black-fronted and Red-kneed Dotterels, Greenshank, Marsh 
Sandpiper and the obligatory White-fronted Chat. Here they saw their first 
‘team tick’, as the Dodgy Drongoes crept along Wagtail Way. A quick “what are 
you doing here!?” was hurled at Mick Brew as they sidled past.
And so it was, one-thirty in the afternoon, sitting on 231 species and the 
Brewers had effectively finished their route. Two and a half hours up the 
sleeve, it was mop-up time on things they’d missed along the way. At Seaham 
they got Grey-crowned Babbler and soon after they were looking at Variegated 
Fairy-Wrens at Green Wattle Road – this bird taking them to equal the record 
score. Long-billed Corella and Latham’s Snipe were the next to fall before a 
last-ditch effort to get Black-chinned Honeyeaters and Sitellas that failed. 
They pulled into the Wetlands Centre and added the dynamic duo of Maggie Geese 
and White-cheeked Honeyeater before a fruitless effort at finding a Crake. 
Tireless as always, they found themselves running back to the meeting point, 
ticking a lone Wandering Whistling Duck along the way, getting them the final 
tally of 238. Many more “what are you doing here!?”s were hurled at Mick Brew.
The scores were of an incredible calibre this year. The Thickheads had managed 
an incredible 214 from the Hunter alone, surely placing them as favourites for 
the 2007 Mike Newman Cup. The Drongoes improved in their second year over the 
big hill with a well-earned 219. The new kids on the block, the Menacing 
Monarchs, gave everyone a scare by equaling the previous record of 233 in their 
first appearance. But for the 4th year running it was down to the Whacked Out 
Woodswallows and the brewing likely lads. And for the 2nd consecutive year 
Steve Brew announced “Whacked Out Woodswallows” first, meaning the Brewers had 
gotten up. They had beaten the record themselves with a remarkable 235 specie 
but the Brewers had pipped them again. It seems that breaking records is not 
enough to win in NSW now. Following word that the Black-necked Stalkers had 
come home with 206, it was official that 238 was the highest count. 
With 3 teams scoring greater than 230 species this year, it would appear that 
this figure is the new “200” benchmark of years gone by. This will have 
implications on NSW teams under the Modified Dolby System for the national 
competition, as the state average is soaring to dizzy heights. But be assured 
that the Hunter Home Brewers will be there to try and keep that average as high 
as they can maintain it!
Jacqueline Winter

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