The Big Twitch Begins

To: "Birding-Aus" <>
Subject: The Big Twitch Begins
From: "Sean Dooley" <>
Date: Wed, 2 Jan 2002 01:07:53 +1100

For those of you who may be interested, after my posting last night, here is the saga of my attempt to see a Sooty Owl as my first bird of the year...

January 1, 2002

Headed off from my comfortable and dry home in Carlton at about ten PM into a very foreboding night. Driving out through Melbourne’s Eastern Suburbs, I passed a barrage of premature New Year’s fireworks and couldn’t help wondering what the hell was I doing? Here were all these people, coming together in celebration, and I was heading off into the night alone. Yes alone, because I couldn’t even convince any other birdy nerdies to come with me. Even other birdwatchers thought it was a strange way to spend a New Year’s Eve.

I drove past the Bird Observers Club headquarters in Nunawading and noticed a police car had bailed up a very agitated and/or intoxicated woman in front of the shopfront window. Looks like they were partying up bigtime at BOC Headquarters tonight!

By the time I got to my forest destination, deep in the recesses of Bunyip State Park, the tracks were quite wet, but the skies seemed to have cleared. I stopped at the spot where I had Sooty Owls calling only three nights ago but instead was treated to the "Duet of the Ninox Owls" with a Powerful Owl and a Boobook Owl trading calls. No Sooties, but a Powerful would be nice for the first bird of the year. There were also Greater, Yellow-bellied and Sugar gliders calling- nocturnal heaven! And to think this reserve is only an hour’s drive from central Melbourne.

There was another noise as well out there in the lonely forest. Somewhere further up in the valley somebody was holding a rave dance party. As midnight approached, the "doof doof" of the trance beat thumped even louder, drowning out the owls.

The Boobook stopped calling at 11:50, the Powerful at 11:55. By the time the ravers let off their fire crackers to bring in the New Year, the bush was silent. At about a quarter past twelve, the PowerfulOwl started up again. I would walk in one direction to the call and when I approached it would fall silent. Then it (or a second bird would start up, seemingly from the area around the car! Having walked all the way back, it would shut up again.

Then the rain came. It bucketed down, there was even a touch of hail. All the night creatures fell silent and the rain was so thick I wouldn’t have been able to see them anyway. I retreated to the car, where I sat for over an hour waiting for a break in the deluge. I cracked open my one beer and toasted myself, thinking of all the people actually out having a good time tonight. What a dill!

Sometime after one-thirty I ventured out into the black, dripping forest and searched for an owl, any owl. No luck. By two I had had it. I started to drive the lonely road back to Carlton. Driving in first gear, I crawled along the tracks and managed to spotlight my first mammal of the year (Greater Glider) and my first herp ( Ewing’s Tree Frog). At what I considered the last patch of suitable habitat, I stopped the car for one last listen. As I turned off the engine I heard a single cry of both White-throated Nightjar (a bird I still haven’t had satisfactory views of) and a Sooty Owl.

After waiting five minutes, neither bird called again. I went to the action of last resort- I played the tape, something I am loathe to do as I get guilty over disrupting the foraging patterns of the birds, just to indulge my pleasure. No response. Desperate, I resorted to my pathetic imitation of a Sooty Owl’s falling bomb call. It was instantly answered by a bird coming in closer. It chattered away at me as I put the spotlight on what I think was a male bird (it seemed quite small to me). Fantastic view of a fantastic bird.

Sooty Owl on the list. One down, six-hundred and ninety-nine to go!

I was ecstatic on the drive home and almost more so when at the edge of the forest I saw a largish bird sitting in a tree by the side of the road with an all white underside and a black line on the face. There is supposed to be a pair of Masked Owls in the area. As I backed up, this seemed too good to be true. And it was. The bird turned out to be a Laughing Kookaburra- that well known nocturnal hunter. Is this the portent of things to come for the year- expectations of exciting birds which only end in a Laughing Jackass. Oh well, number two on the list at least.

I arrived home at about four. I’d spent the New Year, alone, wet and tired. About the best damn New Year’s I can remember.

Awoke around noon and quickly began boosting the Year list straight away. Carlton is a typical inner suburb, not endowed with much vegetation, but I still managed to see the following: Common Blackbird, Common Starling, Spotted Turtle-Dove, White-plumed Honeyeater, House Sparrow, Little Raven, Magpie Lark, Common Myna, Musk and Rainbow Lorikeet, Tree Sparrow, Feral Pigeon, Silver Gull, Welcome Swallow and Willie Wagtail.

Later in the day I had a wander through the Melbourne General Cemetery, which is a surprisingly good patch. In the past I have seen birds such as Scarlet Robin, White-winged Triller and Satin Flycatcher. No quite as exciting, but I did add Greenfinch, Red Wattlebird, Silvereye, Goldfinch, Superb Fairy-wren, Red-rumped parrot, Australian Magpie and Yellow-rumped Thornbill,

A total of twenty-five for the day. A small start to the year, I’m sure many of you saw heaps more birds than this, but you have to start somewhere. And the Sooty Owl as number one ain’t too bad.

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