Whacked-Out Woodswallows Twitchathon Report 2003

Subject: Whacked-Out Woodswallows Twitchathon Report 2003
From: Carol Probets <>
Date: Thu, 30 Oct 2003 09:20:44 +1100
Whacked-Out Woodswallows NSW Twitchathon Report 2003

On Saturday morning, as the Whacked-Out Woodswallows (comprising David
Geering, Mick Todd and myself) headed out across the western plains towards
our regular Twitchathon starting point, we wondered how much being tailed
by a film crew would affect our ability to find birds during the event. We
worried that the filming would slow us down, as timing is tight,
particularly on the first afternoon. We also worried about the effect of
the drought on bird populations, especially in the western region where we
spend the Saturday afternoon. As it turned out, just over 24 hours later we
were somewhat surprised to finish with our best ever score of 222, not only
winning the Main Race but breaking our previous record for the NSW event!
Now we are wondering if we can have the film crew along next year again, as
a lucky charm!

After some reconnaissance of sites along the way and with ominous storm
clouds gathering on the horizon, we arrived at Monkeygar Creek ready for
the starting time of 4pm. A strong wind had hit an hour before start time,
but then died down. We had staked out sites for Crimson Chat, Crested
Bellbird, Southern Whiteface, Horsfield's Bronze-Cuckoo, Hooded Robin,
Spotted Bowerbird, etc. At a couple of minutes to 4, a Brown Songlark
called - never to be heard again. A lone Cockatiel flew by and landed in a
nearby tree - don't lose that bird! We also had our eyes on a Swamp Harrier
and two Brolgas which we kept in view as the clock ticked over to 4pm,
along with the Cockatiel which had remained in the tree. We soon had Little
Crow, Shelduck, Zebra Finch, Masked & White-browed Woodswallow,
Black-tailed Native-hens, Red-capped Robin, and plenty of Blue Bonnets and
Australian Ringnecks flying up as we drove along. Dramatic dark patches
over the horizon signalled rain all around us, but we remained mostly dry.

As we pulled up at the Terrigal Creek observation tower, a Diamond Dove
flew up from the roadside. No sooner had we got out of the vehicle than
Mick called "Little Bittern!" as one flew clumsily across the swamp, legs
dangling, with the three of us getting great views. "That's our best bird
for the weekend," we agreed, perhaps prematurely. Also here was saw a
number of Baillon's Crakes.

Nothing today was as expected. Although David had been here in the
Macquarie Marshes two weeks earlier, conditions now were completely
different with much newly-arrived water on the eastern side and the western
side dried up again. A Crested Bellbird called where we hadn't expected it.
The Crimson Chats we'd seen a couple of hours earlier didn't reappear, nor
did the Southern Whiteface, Horsfield's Bronze-Cuckoo or Hooded Robin.
However, we did find Bar-shouldered Dove, Singing Honeyeater,
Chestnut-rumped Thornbill, and best of all, a silent Painted Honeyeater at
the new Ninia woodland addition to the Macquarie Marshes Nature Reserve.

Near Quambone we picked up White-winged Fairy-wren, Black-faced
Woodswallow, a Little Eagle and Western Gerygone, but the surefire Spotted
Bowerbird couldn't be found. The light was rapidly fading and the overcast
sky was robbing us of half an hour of twilight. The only thing left was to
drive around Quambone looking for the Black Kite that always seems to be
there. "Wait a minute, what's that dark shape in the dead tree..... it's a
Black Kite!" It had probably been sitting there watching us for ages.

In darkness, with our species tally now in the nineties, we reached
Sandgate State Forest to try for the Barking Owl we got here in a previous
year. David did a quick imitiation of the call and an Owlet-nightjar
immediately replied. A few minutes later we all heard the distinctive
wailing of Bush Stone-curlews through the darkness! Well it would have been
darkness if not for the bright lights the film crew were shining in our
faces as we tried to listen! At Gulargambone, Boobook Owls disappointed but
we consoled ourselves by the fact that they were probably scared off by the
Barking Owls sitting in the trees above the bridge.

We wasted precious time at Gilgandra trying to sort out a relay problem
with the vehicle's lights. Foiled, we headed off into the darkness with
only one low beam globe and no high beam save for one mal-aligned driving
light. After what seemed an eternity of driving we reached our overnight
location on the Allyn River in Chichester State Forest, arriving with just
enough time to catch an hour's sleep before the rainforest dawn chorus was
due to begin. A Boobook calling brought our score of nocturnal birds to

Rain fell during the night (or should I say during that hour we got for
sleeping) and I gave a sympathetic thought to Mick in his swag out in the
open and David lying on a picnic table under a small shelter, as I
attempted to sleep in the relative comfort of the Landcruiser. Next thing I
knew, there was a rotten Yellow Robin calling loudly! What's it doing
calling in the middle of the night!! I looked out the window to see the
surreal sight of men walking around in the darkness with cameras, lights
and microphones. I looked at my watch to realise that it was actually time
to get up. I rolled over and pretended that it was still too early, wishing
that the Yellow Robin would go back to sleep.

However soon other species started joining in the dawn chorus, so I crawled
out of my sleeping bag and with cameras ruthlessly pointed at me, pulled on
my shoes and went through the list of calling birds with my teammates. We
quickly listed Noisy Pitta, Rose Robin, Golden Whistler, Superb Lyrebird,
Bassian & Russet-tailed Thrush, three species of scrubwren, Black-faced
Monarch, Rufous Fantail, Shining Bronze, Fan-tailed & Brush Cuckoo, Satin &
Regent Bowerbird, Topknot & White-headed Pigeon as well as Brown
Cuckoo-Dove. A Brush Turkey wandered around camp with a hopeful eye on our

Further on we recorded Paradise Riflebird, Red-browed Treecreeper, Wonga
Pigeon, Spectacled Monarch and more. In the rain we drove down the Allyn
River valley towards Paterson picking up more open country and woodland
birds. We turned up at Green Wattle Road to find the Hunter Thickheads and
the Home Brewers at the same place! All of us with film crews in tow! Here
we added Mistletoebird, White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, Scarlet and Fuscous

Ever onwards. In the Lower Hunter we continued our run with Night-Herons,
Latham's Snipe and Gull-billed Tern at Raymond Terrace. Musk Duck,
Hoary-headed and Great Crested Grebe at Grahamstown Dam. Scaly-breasted and
Rainbow Lorikeet, White-bellied Sea-Eagle and Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoos
at Lemon-tree Passage, where we had the local police stop to investigate
what we were up to.

At midday when Mick tallied up the score so far, he announced we had
reached 194. "That can't be right!" We still had five hours to go. We
re-counted and we were amazed to find that the score was right. Although it
felt as if we hadn't been doing great as we had missed quite a few expected
birds, on the other hand we had picked up many unexpected species. We still
had no idea how the other teams were doing, but we could see that
surpassing our previous best was a real possibility. With our confidence
boosted we headed into Newcastle.

Around Newcastle the waders co-operated - Avocet, Whimbrel, Greenshank,
Black & Bar-tailed Godwit, Red-necked Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Red Knot,
Red-capped Plover and Pied Oystercatcher. Newcastle Baths had Crested and
Common Tern while at sea were Wedge-tailed & Fluttering Shearwater and

Ash Island was disappointing with very few birds - but still we found
White-fronted Chat, Mangrove Gerygone and Goldfinch, while two
Channel-billed Cuckoos obliged by flying across in front of the car. We
pulled into the Shortland Wetlands Centre - our finishing point - 40
minutes before time with only three species needed to break our previous
record of 118. Magpie-Goose, Wandering Whistle-duck and Brown Honeyeater
went onto the list as well as Golden-headed Cicticola. We were exhausted
but happy.

At the finishing time we had ticked 221 species, but a later recount
revealed we had forgotten to tick Black-tailed Godwit, which gave us 222
species. Not that it mattered. Our win was made easier by the fact that
some of the other teams experienced appalling weather on the Saturday.
Congratulations to all for completing another successful and fun
Twitchathon. It is expected the documentary will be shown on TV in about a

Most importantly I would like to thank our sponsors, especially Follow That
Bird and the many individuals who gave most generously. So far I have
personally raised over $1000, my best result ever. The birds of the Murray
River Catchment will be the ultimate winners.

Carol & the Whacked-Out Woodswallows

David Geering
Carol Probets
Mick Todd

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