The Hunter Big Year's penultimate monthly wrap.
Having surpassed my original HBY target in October, some people commented to me
that there may have been some cause for pulling the reigns in slightly. Those
people were generally non-birders although one or two birders made remarks to
that effect. They clearly have never embarked on a big year! In reality, had I
been languishing in the low 300’s, well-short of my target of 333, then maybe I
would have been less intent on adding more to the tally. Instead, being one
past-the-post was as an incentive to maintain the rage as much as anything
ever have been.
Despite my enthusiasm the options for my ‘rage-maintenance’ was very limited.
this stage of the year I only really have three options. One is to visit pretty
much the only ‘site-proper’ I have left up my sleeve – Gloucester Tops – to try
for the 2 residents and possible bonuses up there (I could also re-visit
Copeland Tops for Emerald Dove but that is such a hit’n’miss thing that I’m not
really counting it as a proper site). The other is to look for birds that
there – and sounds like fun doesn’t it! The third is to just keep birding in
hope that I ‘find something special’.
I added two birds in November and I never went to Gloucester Tops.
My first addition I had until recently thought of as one of those “birds that
aren’t there” and I found it incidentally whilst looking for another “bird that
isn’t there”. I’m still certain that the latter still isn’t there! Let me
I have previously mentioned some of the missed birds that I knew were in the
Hunter during summer and that I’d simply missed and ‘left for spring’ to get.
Well, there are pretty much only 3 birds that fit into this category –
Tern, Aussie Spotted Crake and White-winged Triller. Dipping on these would be
the hardest to swallow as I knew they were in town during the early parts of
2010, unlike “The Deserters” as I’ve coined them – you know, the Red-kneed
Dotterels etc. Although The Deserters had left sometime between Dec 27th 2009
and Jan 1st 2010 I really only had myself to blame for not bagging these 3
they were around. I could be being a bit hard on myself because the only place
where the tern had been reported was on Ash Island when access was denied to
So when news filtered through in early November that Whiskered Terns had been
seen on Hexham Swamp I was very excited at the prospect at pegging this bird
back. Even better, the source of the report (which was of a dozen birds or so)
was credible and although they were right in the guts of the swamp (where there
are access restrictions), they should be visible from the well-known vantage
point at Leneghan’s Flat.
Frustratingly, after 7 visits since receiving the report I still haven’t seen
any Whiskered Terns! Where would they have gone?! But, following the 3rd dip,
which was on the 12th Nov, I decided to go investigate the only place were
crakes seem to be present in the area, at Pambalong Nature Reserve. Prior to
Twitchathon I’d had a couple of sightings of Spotless Crakes there and water
levels were finally starting to drop so thought it’d be worth a look to check
for the other 2 crakes that I still needed. I wasn’t confident as I had
Spotted and Baillon’s Crakes in the “birds that weren’t there” group, assuming
they’d all shot west (there have been no records of Baillon’s in the Hunter
I am aware of this year). Needless to say then, I was overwhelmed to see an
Aussie Spotted Crake darting about between the reed-clumps. It was very
satisfying to peg back one of these birds and the constant misses on the
started to hurt (a little) less.
The following Tuesday I was making a customary lunchtime visit to Newcastle
Baths with Lucas Grenadier and Al Richardson. This is a great place for looking
at Commic Terns and various other rock-platform specialties, including the
occasional drop-in wader. With unbelievable composure, Al pointed out that
was a Tattler feeding close to the wash. A Tattler feeding close to the wash on
a rock platform! Immediately I thought of Bob Inglis’s recent posting about
being the time to look for Wandering Tattlers and after close scrutiny it soon
became apparent that the bird was indeed a Wandering Tattler. Within the hour
HBY compatriot Dan Williams was also looking at the bird.
This bird was never on my radar and as yet another new bird for my Hunter life
list I certainly considered it within the ‘find something special’ category. It
was gone the next day.
On the last Friday of the month my girlfriend Maggie was to host her group’s
Book Club at our house. This is a strictly “chicks only” Book Club, so I had to
make myself very scarce that night. It sounded like the perfect excuse to go
make another attempt at Grass Owl on Ash Island . Dan came along and we decided
to check out the crake situation at Pambalong, which was entirely a waste of
time. We also had another highly successful dip on Whiskered Terns too!
The Grass Owl searches have been reasonably frustrating. It used to be as easy
as getting out of your car at the right spots on Ash Island to see or hear
We’d made 5 visits prior to tonight’s and no sign of a Grass Owl had been made.
Local Ash Island guru, Nev McNaughton, thought he may have seen one a few
back, but this was the only hint of Grass Owls in the Hunter Estuary all year.
We had seen Tytos, but one was a definite Barn, the other an unusual bird that
looked more like a Masked. Tonight we saw another “unusual” Tyto that again
seemed more Masked-like than anything else. What we were sure about was that it
was not a Grass Owl anyway. It has us thinking about what on earth is going on
with Tytos in the estuary. All very interesting, but no cigars for the Big Year
(and the curse of Ash Island continues).
Equally as frustrating has been the pelagic front. I had 3 separate dates
planned during November, the 2nd and 3rd stemming from the fact that the 1st
2nd were cancelled due to bad weather. The 3rd was also cancelled because I
couldn’t raise the numbers needed to make the charter viable. I still have one
date left in December so I’ll be crossing very finger and toe for that one to
hit the (seemingly very warm and exceedingly enticing) water.
As I type this, I am about 30 minutes away from embarking on a 5 day birding
trip around the Hunter; the perfect way to enter the final month.
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