The Big Twitch- Week 3

To: "Birding-Aus" <>
Subject: The Big Twitch- Week 3
From: "Sean Dooley" <>
Date: Mon, 21 Jan 2002 12:16:22 +1100
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 Nightjar.
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 Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo.
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 its identity.
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) Double-banded Plover.
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.
That's birding.
Till next time.
<Prev in Thread] Current Thread [Next in Thread>
  • The Big Twitch- Week 3, Sean Dooley <=

The University of NSW School of Computer and Engineering takes no responsibility for the contents of this archive. It is purely a compilation of material sent by many people to the birding-aus mailing list. It has not been checked for accuracy nor its content verified in any way. If you wish to get material removed from the archive or have other queries about the archive e-mail Andrew Taylor at this address: andrewt@cse.unsw.EDU.AU