Twitchathon 2004

Subject: Twitchathon 2004
Date: Tue, 2 Nov 2004 14:12:03 +1100

A hearty congratulations to the "Hunter Home Brewers" for their efforts in the 2002 NSW Twitchathon Main Race.  They managed to pip the "Whacked-out Woodswallows" (myself, Carol Probets and Clive Meadows - who was a worthy replacement for the retired Mick Todd) by 2 species (220 against our 218).  As we tallied our list we commented that anyone beating 218 deserved to win.  Carol even went as far as saying later that she was glad the Brewers won (I really think we need to ensure she gets more sleep!).

As usual there were those species that we somehow missed (Red-capped Robin, Pallid Cuckoo), seen before the start but not after (Budgerigar, Black Kite, Major Mitchell Cockatoo), or only one team member saw (Regent Bowerbird, Tawny Frogmouth, Wedge-tailed Shearwater).  

This year we saw nothing spectacular or unexpected (although the Major Mitchell before the start would have qualified!).  Our rarest bird was either a Barking Owl or a Painted Honeyeater - both expected on our route.

Highlights within 218 species?  

I guess we started well with Black-tailed Native-hen (considering the very dry conditions), Crimson Chat (saw lots of these), Southern Whiteface, Crested Bellbird, Spotted Bowerbird, Singing and Painted Honeyeater, White-winged Fairy-wren, Chestnut-crowned Babbler, Ground Cuckoo-shrike, Banded Lapwing, Black Falcon (not behaving like a Black Falcon but lazily quartering over a wheat paddock in the process of being harvested - no doubt waiting for quail to be flushed!), Brown Songlark.  The number of White-browed and Masked Woodswallows was impressive although they became a bit of a nuisance when looking for Black-faced Woodswallows - these we eventually saw.  Waterbirds were well down due to the dry conditions but we had one body of water that produced some, included Pink-eared Duck and Red-kneed Dotterel.  At our usual dusk location a Barking Owl obliged nicely but last years Bush Stone-curlews didn't.

The nest morning we woke (or at least two thirds of us woke) to a fantastic dawn chorus of Yellow Robins, Rose Robin, Catbirds, Noisy Pitta, Bassian Thrush etc etc etc.  I guess this highlights the bizarre nature of twichathons - from Crested Bellbirds and Crimson Chats to Catbirds and Pittas within hours!

The usual Topknot Pigeons gathered in the tree tops as the sun rose while Brown Cuckoo-doves whooped away in the distance.  A Brush Turkey wandered through looking for breakfast while a Wompoo Fruit-dove sat in the large fig below which we were breakfasting (yes, we did have time for breakfast!).  A small fruit-dove (which one???) shot through the clearing in the half light while a pair of Grey Goshawks put on a show before heading off to hunt.

Paradise Riflebirds were their usual conspicuous selves while Channel-billed Cuckoos called in the distance as did Wonga Pigeon.  The usual rainforest passerines - Black-faced and Spectacled Monarchs, Rufous Fantails and three species of scrub-wren - presented themselves nicely.  The tally built steadily through the day as we picked up most of what we wanted where we expected them.

Waders disappointed a little with fewer species than we normally get - I guess we will always be at the mercy of the tides when time is tight.  Spotted Harrier in Newcastle was a bonus although we were disappointed to later find that the Hunter Thickheads had ticked the same bird just minutes before us.  We were tailed (or did we tail them?) by the Thickheads into Newcastle itself until we turned right and they left.  Nevertheless the results were the same -  Sooty Oystercatcher, Common Tern as well as fluttering and Short-tailed Shearwater.  Oh, and there was some talk from the Thickheads about a Giant Petrel.  It must have arrived after our departure in search of a couple of elusive additions to the list as we entered the last hour of the twitchathon.

The Hunter's Ash Island was quiet wader wise due to high water levels but Marsh and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper were added to the list as was White-fronted Chat and Golden-headed Cisticola.

The Shortland Wetlands was our final destination with just a couple of dead-cert additions that, thankfully, obliged.  Exhausted, we tallied the list, a little disappointed that we had fallen short of our record 222 from last year but quietly confident nonetheless.

The rest is history - the Brewers pipped us.  Mind you, they were disappointed not to take the record.  

In NSW the feeling has always been that to win the twitchathon you needed to break 200.  Since 1990 the winning totals in NSW have been 184, 193, 202, 182, 201, 189, 181, 211, 178, 203, 218, 197, 222 and 220.  I guess teams are now taking planning of their route more seriously and I think 220 has now been set as the mark to beat.  There is certainly room for improvement on this tally.  Each year the winning teams have easy birds they missed, saw before the start or that fell short of being confirmed by the required 50%+ of the team.  230 is certainly achievable.

I don't know about starting planning for next years twichathon right now.  I think the Whacked-Out Woodswallows are too busy recuperating.  I can identify two tactical errors in our effort this year.  Our route works, it's just the fine tuning (so often dictated by how the race is progressing) that yields that extra species or two that often separates the teams at the finish.

Now we just sit back and see if we managed to break the $15000 mark for the Capertee Valley Regent Honeyeater project.


David Geering, Carol Probets & Clive Meadows
The (really) Whacked-out Woodswallows

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