For those of you not particularly interested in my twitching
capers here's a quick summary of week 3: - Dip, dip, despair, one last futile
effort, VICTORY! (Total 177 species)
For everyone else, here's the details.
Headed out to Bunyip State Park again on Thursday night
(Bunyip is the part of the forest immediately east of Gembrook) with Peter
Lansley and Stuart Cooney for another tilt at a sighting of White-throated
This is my bogey bird of all bogey birds. I first heard it way
back in 1983, the first time I went spotlighting at Gembrook (as we called it
then). In the intervening years I have heard it on many occasions, have even
managed to see the darn thing in silhouette a couple of times but I have never
had what I would consider tickable views ( I am a bit of a stickler when it
comes to claiming a sighting for the first time.)
But this night was to be different. We arrived a couple of
hours before dark to pick up some of the many species to be had at Gembrook. (I
prefer calling it this, rather than Bunyip OK!?) I have never known the forest
to be as quiet as it was this day. Even on Twitchathons when we it is invariably
quiet, it had never been this still. We dipped on Southern Emu-wren. We dipped
on Large-billed Scrub-wren and Bassian Thrush and Red-browed Treecreeper. We
even dipped on Eastern Whipbird. We managed to hear but not see (and therefore
not tick under my Big Twitch rules) such birds as Superb Lyrebird, Lewin's
Honeyeater, Pilotbird, Olive Whistler, Gang Gang and a nocturnal flock of
We did manage to see Scarlet Robin, Rufous Fantail,
Eastern Spinebill, Crescent Honeyeater, Rose Robin and King
Parrot. The last two species were seen with the very last slivers of
daylight- in fact we had to put the spotlight on the King Parrot just to confirm
And onto the nightbirds...
After three hours we had to admit defeat and head home.
Whereas it had been too hot during the day for the diurnal birds to be active,
the temperature plummetted once the sun went down and the nocturnals seemed to
have decided to stay in the comfort of their hollows. Good idea too. I'd
forgotten to bring a jacket and the thought of a warm hollow even if it was
covered in owl pellets and mites seemed quite inviting. We did hear a Boobook
Owl suddenly go mental for fifteen minutes in a manic duet with itself, and we
did get White-throated Nightjar. But only calling. And only for a few brief
moments, frustratingly out of range of the spotlight.
So the Nightjar wins yet again.
The next day I went with some people from Birds Australia
(identities hidden to protect their professional reputations) to a wader
roosting site at the head of Westernport Bay. Rumours had filtered down from
those secretive wader banders that some good numbers and varieties of wader had
been seen at this site, including 17 Terek Sandpipers, a Broad-billed Sandpiper
and even a Little Stint. While we held little hope of getting onto the Little
Stint. (My powers of twitching are not sufficient to pick out a non-breeding
plumaged Little Stint from a flock of four thousand red-necked Stints at a
distance of one hundred metres- maybe from fifty metres... well....)
We didn't manage to find any of the target species, but
did see amongst thousands of Stints and Curlew Sandpipers, Pacific
Golden Plover, Eastern Curlew and a very early (or late)
And to add to my dipping woes, the Port Fairy boat trip was
cancelled due to bad weather. The decision has to be made on a Friday night to
avoid everybody driving down to Port Fairy on Saturday only to have to turn
back. The boat man made the call on the basis that Sunday was going to have a
strong northerly with a cold change coming through the day, making conditions
very unpleasant if not life-threatening.
Yet on Sunday the change in Melbourne arrived with very little
puff. And the Northerly had been relatively tame. I'm sure the boatman made the
right call, but as I sat at home all weekend, watching the weather I began
to develop a growing sense of paranoia. Two boat trips planned, two cancelled.
Is this some kind of conspiracy aimed at preventing me from getting all those
rare sea birds that will be essential to me breaking the record? If the
Wollongong Boat Trip is cancelled next weekend, I will know my suspicions
are real. I have never known Captain Carl to cancel a trip, so if he does this
time, I'll know THEY have got to him as well.
Trying to snap out of this paranoid spiral, I decided on a
spur of the moment final tilt for the nightjar. I recruited Stuart again (who
also didn't have it on his life list) and we headed off into the evening. It was
a much warmer evening, so less likely that the nightjars would go into torpor.
Things were looking good when we managed to see those nocturnal
Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo and then within ten minutes of
sundown we had it- a White-throated Nightjar! It called,
flew into the spotlight and wheeled around showing off all the features I
considered I needed to confirm the sighting for the first time- no white in the
tail; big, big eyeshine; white spots in the wing (not a white panel); even a
good view of its eponymous white throat. Eighteen years after first hearing the
bird, I finally had a decent view. Surely that is some kind of record for lag
time between first encounter and first view.
And then to add to the joy of the night, driving out of the
forest we had fantastic views of an Australian Owlet-nightjar,
(I worked out why they are normally so difficult to pick up in the
spotlight- they have virtually no eye shine), and an impressive
Powerful Owl, sitting imperiously on a fence post.
So now I have turned the corner, my luck has changed. And next
week, after the Wollongong boat trip, I head out on my first big trip of the Big
Twitch- Norfolk Island. Things are starting to fall into place whereas a few
hours before they felt like they were falling to pieces.
Till next time.