The Big Twitch- Week 4

To: "Birding-Aus" <>
Subject: The Big Twitch- Week 4
From: "Sean Dooley" <>
Date: Tue, 29 Jan 2002 19:50:43 +1100
As I sit and write this on Tuesday afternoon, I should be looking out the window seeing White Terns and Black-winged Petrels and Red-crowned Parakeets flying amongst Norfolk Island's famous pines, instead I am looking out of my window at home in Melbourne and have seen barely five birds for the day. It wasn't meant to be thus, and here's why...
The week began organising gear and itineraries, with no chance for any birding although a pair of Little Lorikeets across the road were new for my Carlton list. After much delay, I finally headed off at about six-thirty on Friday morning. A brief stop at Chiltern produced good views of Little Eagle, Speckled Warbler, Collared Sparrowhawk and Diamond Firetail, and almost as many birdwatchers.
One couple (whose names I've forgotten- sorry) were from the NSW North Coast and had just had thrilling views of Peregrine Falcon at nearby Mt. Pilot. The Mt. Pilot-Barambogie block (which is the Victorian stronghold of Barking Owl and Turquoise Parrot) is part of the proposed national park additions to the Box-Ironbark study area.
Duncan Fraser wrote yesterday that Independent MP Craig Ingram has said he would oppose these additions. I urge all of you on the list to follow Duncan's lead and write to the Independents to voice your concerns.
The investigation by the Environment Conservation Council into the Box-Ironbark areas took six years of thorough scientific and economic research to prepare and yet the recommendations we ended up with are already a compromise. Yet that doesn't satisfy a small group who seem intractably opposed to any sort of habitat protection, whipping up an "us against them" hysteria cajoling local people into believing that their basic rights are going to be taken away. I have personally heard opponents claim that ordinary people would be "locked out" of the new National Parks, including even birdwatchers! Of course there was no such mention of anything of the sort in the recommendations, but that doesn't seem to matter. I even heard one member of the Bush User's Group make the supposedly rhetorical statement "How is declaring a National Park going to help save the Regent Honeyeater?" The Report clearly stated that without such protection, the Regent Honeyeater is doomed to extinction in Victoria.
So please make your support for the proposals known, particularly if you are from rural Victoria. I might add that many locals in the Chiltern-Mt Pilot area actively support the proposals, particularly as they have lived with a National Park on their doorstep for the past five years and have begun to see the economic benefits arising from incresed eco-tourism that the National Park tag attracts, but because they don't make a fuss and carry on like two-bob watches their rural voice is often not heard.
But back to the birding.
Driving through to Wollongong, I failed to add any new birds for the year list until I saw Cattle Egret and Red-whiskered Bulbul in its suburbs. After eventually finding a vacant motel room (who would have thought Wollongong would be such a popular Australia Day holiday destination?) I settled in, ready to get a good sleep for the next day's pelagic boat trip. I went to take a sea-sickness tablet (which I've been assured works more effectively than just taking one in the morning) when I realised they weren't where I thought I'd packed them. A frantic search of first my room, then the car failed to find them, and then a fruitless quest for a twenty-four hour chemist left me stressing as I'd never gone a boat trip without the crutch of sea sickness pills. At three, still unable to sleep I got up and searched my bags again, and found them tucked away securely in the pocket I'd thought I'd put them in!
And so at seven, so tired I already felt sea sick, we gathered at the wharf. Rod Gardner described the day as having "not too much swell". I don't know whether the three people who were chucking their guts out within half an hour would agree with him, and even a couple of more seasoned campaigners were looking a bit seedy early on, but once out at the shelf, the swell evened out and it turned out to be quite a lovely afternoon. Apart from a brief moment at Werribee, this was the first time I had hit the coast, so the list really rocketed along. I added Crested Tern, Wedge-tailed Shearwater, Pomarine Jaeger, Fluttering and Short-tailed Shearwater  before we had reached the shelf. I've never seen so many Pomarines, there were dozens hanging around, hoping to take advantage of our berleying.
Once at the shelf were Flesh-footed Shearwater, Great-winged Petrel, and a new bird for me, Tahiti Petrel. I actually found it which was extra pleasing as normally I've had all my new sea birds pointed out by more eagle eyed seabirders (or should that be albatross- eyed?) Soon another tropical species flew past in the form of Brown Booby. Shouldn't they both be in Queensland waters? Hopefully on next month's Southport pelagic I will get the New South Wales Summer rarities I was hoping for like Gould's Petrel. As we cruised the shelf we managed to pick out Wilson's Storm Petrel, Arctic Jaeger and Sooty Shearwater from the more numerous species. We also got three cetaceans including great views of two pods of Pygmy Killer Whales, and also a few species of fish including some very sexy Dolphin Fish. (Oh yes, fish can be sexy.)
Closer to shore on the way back I saw the Kelp Gulls and Little Penguins that I had missed earlier. By the end of the day even those who had spent the morning spewing seemed to be at peace and everyone agreed it had been a darned good trip.
That evening I added Lewin's Honeyeater in the motel carpark as well as Eastern Water Dragon and Eastern Long-necked Turtle.
I was up at 4 the next morning to get to Sydney Airport in time for my flight to Norfolk. I needn't have bothered as due to bad weather, planes were unable to land. Some people had been waiting since Friday for a flight. We were told to call back later, that there may be the possibility of a flight tomorrow. I checked into a nearby motel and spent the afternoon out at Botany Bay (Bar-tailed Godwit, Little Egret) and Magic Point, Maroubra where I failed to see anything spectacular in a two hour sea watch aside from very close inshore Wedge-tailed Shearwaters. I did see my first Peregrine Falcon for the year. Walking back I was remembering my first visit here a few years ago when I got fabulous views of Lewin's Rail. The vegetation they were in has been cleared since then and as I approached a small pool surrounded by reeds I thought "Why can't a Rail show itself right now?" And then, one did. But it was a Buff-banded Rail. Still nice though.
By Sunday night there was still no indication of when the airfield on Norfolk would be open, and ringing around Sydney birders to work out where to go birding in the interim, Tony Palliser told me, "You should be back in Melbourne. Mike Carter's reported a Least Sandpiper- a first for Australia." I hung up on Tony and rang Mike. The bird in question was at Edithvale Swamp, but Mike wasn't exactly claiming Least Sandpiper. He thought it was most likely a Long-toed Stint (still a good bird, and one I would be very happy to have under the belt) but it had a few features which raised his suspicions. He thought there was maybe a five percent chance it was a Least, but by the time I decided to go for it, I was giving it a fifty percent chance.
And besides, I reasoned, with cheap airfares it was cheaper to fly home than stay at the motel. So Monday afternoon saw me at Edithvale amongst other birders including Mike, Kevin Bartram and Kaye Proudley. Neither a Least nor a Long-toed was seen though other birders had seen the bird in question earlier that morning and had confirmed it was indeed a Long-toed Stint. I did get great views of crakes and rails including a very obliging pair of Baillon's Crake.
And so now, on Tuesday night, there is still no word on whether Norfolk is accessible. I was booked Sunday to Sunday, and as I am booked for a Tasmanian pelagic trip on Monday I can't extend my time on Norfolk. So tomorrow its back to Sydney, with my list on 198. I thought I'd be well over two hundred by now. But I also thought I'd be on Norfolk.
Till next time,
Sean Dooley
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