Hunter Big Year - Oktoberfest

To: Birding Aus <>
Subject: Hunter Big Year - Oktoberfest
From: Mick Roderick <>
Date: Tue, 2 Nov 2010 01:31:45 -0700 (PDT)
Hi all,
The Hunter Big Year continues...
Following on from a very successful start to spring, I was keen to maintain the 
momentum coming into October. With 327 under the belt, I made plans with Dan 
Williams to make our second attempt at Rufous Scrub-bird on the Labour Day 
public holiday. It’s a mighty long drive from Newcastle to Gloucester Tops and 
wanted to be there early to try and catch some calling males, so I arranged 
Dan to leave home at 4am. I had an ulterior motive for leaving this early as 
well – to make an attempt at Grass Owl en-route en-Ash Island. 

Alas, the curse of Ash Island continued that morning.
It was raining and dark and of course, there was no sign of any Grass Owls. 
After we stopped to investigate some waders at a pond (probably Greenshanks; 
nothing else seems to be on the island this year) my car refused to start 
Not even close. Dan had to jump out and push the beast along the gravel road to 
jump-start it which it fortunately did. But when it failed to start a second 
time after filling up, we decided it was too risky taking my car up to the tops 
and so we headed back to jump into Dan’s Festiva. With so much rain (“rain”? in 
2010!? surely not?!?!) we thought we wouldn’t chance the creek crossings 
required to access the tops and instead make an attempt at a very nice bird 
had been seen at the HBOC Long Weekend camp at Cattai Wetlands. 

The night before, word had filtered down the grapevine that at least one, 
possibly two, Forest Kingfishers had been seen at the wetlands which are just 
west of Harrington. As this was a new bird for Dan in the Hunter and 
traditionally a far more difficult Hunter bird than scrub-birds, the decision 
wasn’t a difficult one to make. We arrived at the camp quite early to find a 
HBOCkers milling about the sodden campsite. Predictably they were all very 
amused to see us “Big Yearers” pull into the camp so soon after hearing about 
the Forests. Knocking back an offer of cereal and juice, we instead were fed 
good oil and then marched down to the site with Lorna Mee to accompany us. 
Within 3 or so minutes had a wonderful female Forest Kf in the scope. This was 
bird that I had not figured into my initial possible tally and having dipped on 
this species, that my brother Steve had seen earlier in the year at Port 
Stephens, made this a great addition to both of our lists. 

Well-satisfied, we made our way to the now-seemingly-ex White-eared Monarch 
in Crowdy Bay NP, only to emulate the total miss I’d made in February. A 
consolation however was a Varied Triller – my first and still only Triller for 
the year (I hold very grave concerns for finding White-winged which is very 
frustrating knowing that they surely were around in summer). After a quick 
detour for a distant view of tail feathers of a sitting Square-tailed Kite (new 
for Dan's year) we set off home, only to join a 12km queue to cross Bulahdelah 
3 hour delays – ah yes, the Long Weekend! Just to add insult to injury the 
temperature gauge on Dan’s Festiva was soon pointing to the sky and when steam 
started appearing from under the bonnet I knew we were in trouble. We then had 
the privilege of watching a 12km traffic queue crawl past us…and not a chance 
birding either as the area was well-fenced. 

The following weekend was a pelagic and the one that I’d been looking forward 
the most as I had timed it to occur in sync with the Short-tailed Shearwater 
migration. Upon reading Roger McGovern’s Birdline posting about the Sydney 
pelagic on the Saturday (1000’s of Short-taileds + 2 Little Shearwaters) we 
all very excited about Sunday’s trip (10th). This was well-justified as we 
encountered the streams of Short-taileds, a few Wilson’s Stormies and a 
White-headed Petrel on our way out. Our arrival at the shelf saw an incredible 
flurry of different species come to the boat, including a few Black-bellied 
Stormies before we'd even cut the motors. Amongst this flurry were two Black 
Petrels, which got the cameras clicking and the adrenalin flowing. Things did 
quieten down until a Cookilaria made a rapid pass of the port-side and was not 
able to be identified, though with the features able to be seen was most likely 
a Cook’s / Pycroft’s type. 

The following weekend I took a visiting American birder to see some of our 
rainforest specialties in the Barrington Tops region. It was a fantastic day 
and I was warmed by the fact that although so many birds have deserted the 
Hunter, the rainforests were firing on all cylinders. I added one bird on the 
day, being Paradise Riflebird (#331), one of the many species that find their 
southern limit in the Barrington Range. Still needing Bassian Thrush we were 
near Barrington House and I got excited to see a Thrush perch briefly on a log. 
I had difficulty getting a decent view at it and as it dropped to the ground I 
thought to myself “I hope it calls”. It did. It was a Russet-tailed. 

A week later I was again showing overseas visitors around the Lower Hunter 
Valley, again in pouring rain – very much the theme for 2010. At one point a 
punter quizzed me about a small bird flitting through the trees. I suspected it 
may have been a Spotted Pardalote and so I was faced with a dilemma. I thought 
that I’d rather have this bird as #332 than #333, and besides we were having 
trouble seeing anything on this day so I couldn’t have very well said “not 
without even looking at it! At there it was, in all its punctated glory, an 
adult Spotted Pardalote. This species had accompanied me on possibly more 
outings this year than any other bird, incessantly sleep-babying away in the 
background while I ignored it in with the senseless strategy of keeping him “up 
my sleeve”. I put the bins onto the bird in question, before calmly informing 
them “yeah nice, that’s a Spotted Pardalote”. 

As it turned out, I think I was happy to take this bird as #332, as I did want 
something a little “special” to be #333, which was my initial target tally. And 
it indeed did turn out that way. During our pre-Twitchathon oiling session 
around the lower Hunter, Steve and I got onto a distant raptor near Morpeth. 
Steve got the scope onto it and with disturbing cool, said quite simply “Black 
Kite”. Needless to say he wasn’t looking at the bird for much longer as I 
checked the scope and sure enough, there was the bird that I’d worked the 
hardest for over the course of the year thus far, floating around over the 
crops. My target reached - three hundred and thirty three, and boy it felt 

Suddenly, a new target sprung to mind – would 340 be possible? Could I reach 
Dolby’s VicTwitch record of 345? Needless to say I started musing at what could 
have been possible if I’d done this thing in 2009. There are exactly 12 species 
that are missing from my 2010 Hunter list that I saw in 2009 that I can 
attribute to the inland rain…but enough of pre-fin-post mortems, time for the 
next bird!
And one more did come this month…and once again, on the very cusp of the Hunter 
Region. The Hunter Home Brewers had decided to do their 2010 Twitchathon in the 
Hunter Valley once again, following the great score in 2009 and shrugging their 
shoulders that many birds would be further west than the Liverpool Plains 
anyway. We stayed the Friday night just north of Ulan, along the banks of the 
Goulburn River. In this part of the world, the Hunter Region exists only north 
of the river bank (just like O’Brien Crossing where the Plum-heads hang 
hang out normally, but not on Twitchathons). So when I heard a Little Friarbird 
call I was very excited and waited til it flew to the northern bank before 
claiming #334 for the year. We even saw these bird(s) on the Twitchathon the 
next day…but that’s another story that I’m sure Jacqueline Winter will share 
Plans now are to bag the remaining 4 or 5 resident birds that I am yet to see 
(which includes that wascally wufous scwub bird), try for something in the 
“bonus” category on one of the 2 remaining pelagics and hope that one or two of 
the “missing dozen” decide to show their face. Not sure what else I can do 

Ever onwards…

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