Here's the latest monthly wrap-up for my Hunter Big Year in which I'm
to see 333 species within the confines of the Hunter Region in one year. Please
excuse the subliminal (and somewhat awful) pun towards the end of the piece.
The onset of winter was always going to see the skids being put down for the
Hunter Big Year, apart (I had hoped) from winter pelagics and a trickle of
winter migrants. Before an attempt was made at oceanic birds however, I did
a brief window of opportunity to try for some western species early on in June.
My 4th visit to the Cassilis Rest Area finally paid dividends as 3 Red-winged
Parrots flew literally along the Golden Highway, as if on their way to Dubbo
(from whence I had indeed just come). I felt an enormous relief at bagging this
species, as it is not generally “targetable” – you really just have to rely on
them flying over and they are far from common here, being right on the eastern
extremity of their range in this area. It was also pleasing because it meant I
did not have to return to this god-forsaken spot, which I have always found
ordinary for birding.
Later that day I was sussing out one of the only semi-reliable sites for
Plum-headed Finch – O’Brien Crossing, on the Goulburn River, which forms the
southern boundary of the Hunter Region. When looking for birds at this site one
has to keep one’s self within the Hunter or look for birds that are within the
Hunter themselves. That is, it is rated as fair game if you see birds on the
northern bank of the river whilst standing on the southern bank and equally as
much, it is considered fair game if you see birds on the southern bank whilst
you are standing on the northern bank. As it turned out, I managed to find a
flock of 12 Plum-heads and made sure of proceedings by crossing over onto the
northern bank where they milling about.
A smattering of local Swift Parrot reports had come my way during June as well,
including one from my brewing brother who was working at Paxton when a small
group of Swifties flew over. I was never actually concerned about this species,
especially as they had also been previously reported from one of their
Hunter haunts at Galgabba Point. Despite several visits to both locations I
not been able to locate any and with the Spotted Gums not flowering this winter
I am thinking I might be lucky to pull a Swiftie after all.
A Bassian Thrush calling at Pelton went down as a heard-only...I may need to
visit Barrington House in spring for this one. My other heard-onlys (I'm sure
that aint a word) are my two remaining gimmes, being Spotted Pardalote and
Southern Boobook. Despite the best efforts of dozens of calling, pesky little
Spotteds I still haven't locked my bins onto one yet. There have been some
mighty close calls (in both senses) but for now it remains up my sleeve.
Little else was really on the horizon this month – apart from birds that are
usually seen flying over the horizon. A seabird survey off Port Stephens that
happened mid-month took me over that horizon and it was to be a day of mixed
fortunes. Remarkably quiet, we only managed to see 6 species at the shelf, with
no sign of several common winter birds. Fairy Prions were in good numbers but
generally it was the same group of birds behind the slick. That was until a
that resembled one of the Solander’s Petrels that we’d been seeing came up over
the horizon. Clearly a Pterodroma, it was very pale, almost white, and
I shouted “White-headed Petrel” – my pelagic bogey-bird. I was hoping that I
hadn't ‘gone off too early’ but then Alan Stuart got his bins onto it,
confirming the ID. It was an exhilarating moment as it zoomed past, arcing high
over the stern, seemingly oblivious to the boat. A brilliant bird to have on my
Big Year and a reminder that even the quietest days at sea can produce special
Alas the pelagic that I had organised for the following weekend was cancelled
due to a nasty southerly, but I was philosophical and after that Pterodroma
lesson I, well I was still flying high!
312 at the half-way mark and I’m feeling much more confident of reaching 333
the year. It’s going to be quite an effort to peg back those last 21 birds –
boy it will be fun.
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