My wife Karen and I have been following the Grey-headed Lapwing (GHL) twitch
with astonishment. The last couple of weeks has been truly amazing for us, and
after reading the post by Colin R in which he wondered who found the GHL and
how it felt, we thought we would let you all know.
I am a web designer and Karen is an accountant. We live near Jervis Bay in the
Shoalhaven region south of Sydney. We are members of Birds Australia and the
NPA, but are particularly active within our local bushwalking group, the
Shoalhaven Bushwalkers. Karen got some time off work prior to the busy tax
season, and after reading an article in the Open Road, decided we should head
for Bourke and follow the Kamilaroi Highway, with stops, walks and birdwatching
at the Western Plains Zoo, Gundabooka NP, Lightning Ridge, Mt Kaputar and
We were driving through Burren Junction at 11:45am on Monday, 19th June and had
just passed the silos when Karen saw up ahead what she initially thought was a
masked lapwing. It was about thirty metres off the road. As we passed Karen
took a closer look at the bird and said that we had better stop because she did
not recognise the bird at all. We stopped the car, turned around and drove back
for a better view.
We have been birding for about 15 years, and have seen over 500 species of
Australian birds (with virtually no seabirds included in our lists). As soon as
we saw the bird through our binoculars, both of us instantly knew that we had
not seen this bird before, either with our own eyes or in any of our field
guides. Karen told me to start taking some photos of the bird, and I suggested
to her that she write down some field notes. We did this while staying in the
Karen wrote such things as "like a sleek lapwing", "bill yellow with the tip
(about one third) black", "red eye with yellow eye ring", "dark band across
chest, light below" while I snapped a couple of photos. The bird seemed
agitated by our presence, and when I left the car to try for a closer shot, it
flew across the road and landed near the railway line. Further approaches were
fairly unsuccessful as well. After about twenty minutes we left the bird in
peace and continued our holiday.
So how did we feel? Definitely very excited. We knew there was a possibility
that this was a rare bird for Australia, but there was also the possibility
that we were seeing something common that we simply did not recognise - maybe a
juvenile, or a different race, or a wader that had moved inland from the coast
(we have a lot of trouble identifying waders). In the next couple of days I
went through our Simpson and Day field guide, page by page, on three different
occasions and eventually convinced myself that this bird was definitely not in
At Barraba we saw three Turquoise Parrots on the dirt road while we were
returning from Horton Falls west of the town. In fact, if you had asked us on
Thursday night, when we arrived home, what the highlight of the trip had been,
we would probably have said the Turquoise Parrots, the only new bird we had
seen out of the 130 species ticked for the trip. We would not say the same
thing now .
Not having any books on foreign birds, and not even being sure that the bird
was a lapwing, Karen and I had no real idea how to go about identifying it.
However, we had a friend, Brian Everingham who was a birder, president of the
NPA, and actively involved with migratory birds and RAMSAR sites. I sent him an
email describing the bird and attached a couple of cropped images as well.
Brian replied to the email on Friday night, but we did not see it until
Saturday morning. It started off like this - "Are you sitting down? I'd send
these pictures off to the Rarities Committee". Brian went on to say - "the only
plover I can see with the diagnostic field markings is the Grey-Headed Lapwing
(Vanellus cinereus), a lapwing of the appropriate size, etc. and its wintering
range is in northern SE Asia - in the lands between India, through Burma and
northern Thailand. Surely a vagrant!"
At 8:39am on the Saturday morning, I forwarded my email and Brian's reply to
Tony Palliser, chairman of the Rarities Committee. It would be interesting to
find out how Tony felt when he read the email, and what happened as a result.
Just before 10am the phone rang. Karen answered it. At the same time the
computer in my home office chimed to inform me that I had incoming email. I
checked the email while Karen was still on the phone, and it was from Brian. It
read - "Just had an excited call from Mike Carter. he's probably on the phone
to you right this second. A first for Australia guys!!!! He confirms my ID."
I went outside to tell Karen, and she was still on the phone. When she saw me,
she began pointing madly at the phone. I soon picked up the gist of the
conversation. It actually was Mike Carter, and he was seeking some first hand
knowledge from us before leaving Melbourne in search of the GHL. The rest, as
they say, is history, most of it being reported on this site.
Karen and I were truly gob-smacked! We have seen some good birds before,
including Regent Honeyeaters and Freckled Ducks in our local area, but a first
for Australia was simply amazing. We were very lucky - just two people with a
little bit of knowledge being in the right place at the right time.
There is a rather bizarre side-light to the whole experience. Shortly before we
left for the holiday Karen had sought and eventually found a book from the
library to read while we were away. When we saw the GHL at Burren Junction,
Karen was three-quarters of the way through the book. The book was "The Big
Twitch" by Sean Dooley! One minute Karen was reading about people like Sean,
Mike Carter, Tony Palliser etc in the book, and the next minute she was talking
to them and getting emails from them. Life can be a strange and wonderful thing
Good luck to all who go after the bird. We hope you get it.
Brett and Karen Davis
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