WOW Twitchathon report: CORRECTION

Subject: WOW Twitchathon report: CORRECTION
From: Carol Probets <>
Date: Fri, 7 Dec 2007 12:30:40 +1100
So far two typos have been pointed out to me in our Twitchathon report. We did not extend the range of the Spotted Catbird by about 1000km and it should of course read Green Catbird.

And as much as we would have liked to blame our loss to the Brewers on starting an hour late, we did in fact start at the correct time of 3.00pm!


Date: Tue, 4 Dec 2007 20:00:56 +1100
From: Carol Probets <>
Subject: [Birding-Aus] Twitchathon report: WOW - did we really see that many birds?!

At long last here is the report from the Whacked-Out Woodswallows twitchathon escapades for this year. It was written as a joint effort by the team but as I'm the only woodswallow currently on Birding-Aus, I didn't get a chance to post it until now as I've been flat out with other trips since then.

As others have pointed out, the main purpose of the Twitchathon is to raise money for bird conservation. Thanks to our numerous and generous sponsors the Whacked-Out Woodswallows have this year raised over $3000 for the Birds Australia Discovery Centre. We've also attempted to be carbon neutral by offsetting all our travelling associated with the event (surely we're not the only team to have done this...?).

Anyway, below is our report. We look forward to doing it all again next year and getting that trophy back again!


WOW - did we really see that many birds?!

The 2007 Twitchathon was always going to be challenging for the Whacked-Out Woodswallows. The retirement of Clive Meadows had resulted in a change of membership with Tiffany Mason joining David Geering and Carol Probets. A good team but Tiffany had pulled up lame (i.e. broke her leg in fruitless pursuit of an elusive Blue-billed Duck) in her last Twitchathon. Could she last the distance this year? We thought she could and would be a valuable addition to the team.

A recce of our Saturday afternoon run a few weeks beforehand revealed heat, dust and flies. Birds? Yes, there were a few birds but it was evidently going to be hard work. After some talk of changing our starting point reason prevailed and we decided to stick with our tried and tested route, working on the rationale that, as we knew the area well, we should be able to find enough of those prized western birds to give us a competitive edge.

As we approached our starting point on the Saturday afternoon of the big weekend a change came over the landscape. The bare, parched earth was suddenly interspersed with pools of water along the roadside. This transformed into sheets of water across clay pans and other shallow depressions. It was clear that the 5mm of rain that had fallen that week at Dubbo had been significantly greater in this part of the world. While this was obviously not going to translate into masses of waterbirds it had freshened up the country and, hopefully, the bird life.

Arriving at our starting point 45 minutes before the start we were pleasantly surprised to flush a small group of Crimson Chats. These had been conspicuously absent during the recce a few weeks earlier. We retreated to the shade for some late lunch and to while away the time before the madness was to commence. A short stroll into some nearby bush revealed Hooded Robin, Striped Honeyeater and a rather vocal White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike but little else. Nevertheless, it was decided that this would get us off to a good start.

As 4.00PM approached we moved the car closer to our designated starting point and flushed the chats again. Only two minutes to the start so we keep an eye on the chats flying from one saltbush to the next. 4.00PM ticked over and the chats are out of sight. Still, there are other birds calling ... Brown Treecreeper, White-plumed Honeyeater, Red-rumped Parrot, White-browed Woodswallow. Nothing special but birds are birds. Tiffany spots the chats on the other side of the road. An Eastern Yellow Robin pops up as well as their Hooded cousins. Variegated Fairy-wrens make themselves known but otherwise it is quiet. The Cuckoo-shrikes had packed it in. No point in wasting our time here. David spots a parrot inconspicuously feeding in a saltbush. A quick look through the binoculars revealed not a Red-rump but a female Mulga Parrot! Both team mates confirm the identification and it's time to move.

Birds are not jumping out at us but as we stop at our designated Spotted Bowerbird site it doesn't disappoint, choosing that moment to fly across the road in front of us. Singing Honeyeaters are calling and a group of fairy-wrens comprise both brown Variegated and White-winged. For the second year running the Painted Honeyeaters are absent, clearly the dry conditions pushing them further east (almost certainly into "Brewer" territory we acknowledge through gritted teeth!).

Our wetland stop had a serious shortage of wetland birds although White-fronted Chat were a bonus and the Marsh Harrier gratefully accepted. Quite unexpected were a pair of sea-eagles sitting forlornly (well I thought they looked forlorn) in a dead tree wondering where their next meal was coming from. Nearby a paddock was covered with Little Crows while a pair of Banded Lapwing did their best to remain unnoticed but couldn't escape the keen eyes of the WOW.

The drive eastward produced the western birds that we hoped would give us a competitive edge - Blue Bonnet, Cockatiel, Australian Ringneck, Emu, Chestnut-crowned Babbler, Diamond Dove, Black-faced Woodswallow, Chestnut-rumped Thornbill, Western Gerygone, Red-capped Robin, Brown Songlark, Crested Bellbird. The list grows. A request to stop to identify a bird flying away (a BFCS, no less) was rewarded with a cry of Ground Cuckoo-shrike. A new bird for Tiffany! However, Twitchathons are not the time for new birds and Tiff was given only fleeting seconds to take in the finer points of this lovely bird.

A quick stop at an overflowing dam was quickly rewarded with Tiffany calling "crake!". An Australian Spotted Crake was a great bird to pick up (the dam also yielded Hardhead, Australasian Grebe and Purple Swamphen). Further up the road another dam gave up Darter, Red-kneed and Black-fronted Dotterels and Black-tailed Native-hen. However, the absence of Pink-eared Duck was to turn out to be a major dip for us.

Darkness descended as we headed east, stopping as we do each year, in the hope of picking up an owl or two. As the full moon rose we got out of the car in great anticipation as last year David's "woofing" had an almost immediate response with a Barking Owl alighting in the tree above us. This year the treat was repeated - within a minute of David's best impersonation of an owl there was a rustle to our left and a "woof, woof", clearly designed to chase off the intruder, emanated from the tree top. So as not to disturb him any further we move off stopping again to listen to the woofing in the distance and pick up an Owlet-nightjar (and spotlighting a Squirrel Glider, but fortunately not for long enough for it to end up as the Barking Owl's breakfast). With a long drive ahead of us we decide to move on yet again.

The long night driving leg was uneventful, the only excitement coming from a plastic bag (which was exciting up to the point where we realised that it was a plastic bag and not a Barn Owl after all) and some startled Wood Ducks.

Arriving at our "overnight" stop we were greeted with what seemed like a cacophony of noise. Our hour and a half "sleep" was punctuated by Black Swans flying over, Boobooks, frogmouths, Channel-billed Cuckoos, Koels, fruit-bats and even Little Corellas, all revelling in the bright moonlight. The mosquitoes also played their part in trying to deprive us of sleep. The 3.00AM alarm was almost a blessing! We dragged ourselves from the sleeping bags, quickly pack the car and head off into the dark again.

We arrive at our destination at 4.05AM (or was that 5.05 EDST) to the first Eastern Yellow Robins calling. These are soon joined by Golden Whistlers, Bassian Thrush, Black-faced Monarchs, Spotted Catbird and an assortment of other rainforest birds. Wompoo and White-headed Pigeons announced their presence as a Russet-tailed Thrush called from close by. Brown Cuckoo-Dove, Spectacled Monarch and Satin Bowerbirds are ticked off along with Rufous Fantail and Large-billed, White-browed and Yellow-throated Scrubwrens. Our usual Grey Goshawk was noticeably absent.

Up the hill into the eucalypt forest we drove, stopping at "Riflebird corner"; a rasping call soon gives him away. The eucalypt forest is important for us as we always seem to pick up a few extra birds that we simply don't get elsewhere. However, this morning we may not have been on the top of our game as we completely missed our Red-browed Treecreeper spot and, despite Carol's protests, we didn't have the time to drive back up the hill once we realised our mistake. Brush Cuckoo, Cicadabird and Brush Turkey didn't seem to completely dull our disappointment at missing the treecreeper.

Leaving the forest, we ventured through farmland steadily picking up new birds. At a picturesque river crossing, "eagle-eyed" Carol picked up an Azure Kingfisher at 200 paces just as the rest of the team had given up on seeing one. Our woodland bird list, an area we always feel we could improve, grew with Fuscous Honeyeater, Buff-rumped Thornbill, Brown-headed Honeyeater and Speckled Warbler.

By the time we got to Seaham we were tiring. A pair of Rainbow Lorikeets was soon located but the hundreds of lorikeets that were present earlier that week had disappeared. A Collared Sparrowhawk helped lessen the disappointment. Heading for Raymond Terrace we add Shoveler, Latham's Snipe and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper to the list along with Blue-faced Honeyeater while Caspian Tern, doing their best to hide behind reeds, were located on the Hunter River. Musk Duck, Great-crested and Hoary-headed Grebe were also soon added to the list and then it's on toward the Hunter estuary for our shorebirds.

The tide was extraordinarily high, but falling, and we found a good assortment of waders at Stockton Bridge. At Newcastle Beach we reassuringly, given last year's high tide wash-out at this site, found Little and Common Tern, Ruddy Turnstone and Sooty Oystercatcher while offshore were Wedge-tailed Shearwaters with a scattering of Short-tailed and Fluttering Shearwater. By now our tally was looking far better than expected and with a bit of reckoning we thought we may well give the Twitchathon record a shake.

With time up our sleeve we head for Ash Island. In the past this area hadn't lived up to expectations but this year it worked. Little Egret, Goldfinch, Greenshank, Marsh Sandpiper and Red-necked Stint are quickly added. The Mangrove Gerygone that had proved elusive at Stockton Sandspit calls loudly and clearly while a Horsfield's Bronze-Cuckoo brings the car to yet another halt.

The NSW Twitchathon record has fallen and we haven't finished yet. There are some definite new birds waiting for us at the Wetlands Centre. Magpie Goose and White-cheeked Honeyeater are quickly added as is Little Grassbird but we can't find its Tawny cousin! We scan the ponds but there don't appear to be any whistle-ducks around. A few Rainbow Lorikeets (already have them!) fly over and then the Scaly-breasteds we missed at Seaham. A familiar call is heard and the troop is mustered so everyone gets a good look at a lone Wandering Whistle-Duck. Time's almost up so we wander around the ponds for one last look. An interesting Black Duck catches the eye. The blue wing patch, more mottled appearance and indistinct face stripes all indicate a female Mallard, an unexpected final species for the weekend.

We knew we had the record but knew from bitter experience not to underestimate the Hunter Home Brewers. The tension mounts as the results are called. The Hunter Thickheads - 214 (an impressive tally from their Hunter run), the Dodgy Drongoes - 219, the Menacing Monarchs - 233. It was, yet again, down to the Whacked Out Woodswallows and the Hunter Home Brewers. The tension was palpable. Whacked-out Woodswallows - 235. Disbelief. The Brewers had managed 238 species, an almost unbelievable total and the second close loss WOW has had to endure in two years!

There was talk of a protest... how else could the Brewers beat us by such a small margin two years running without the aid of a planted microphone or even camera in our car to keep tabs on our progress!! Planning has already started for the 2008 Twitchathon campaign and you can be sure that this will include a thorough clean out of our vehicle beforehand!

The Whacked-Out Woodswallows
David Geering, Carol Probets and Tiffany Mason

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