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
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
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 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
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
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
The Whacked-Out Woodswallows
David Geering, Carol Probets and Tiffany Mason
To unsubscribe from this mailing list,
send the message:
(in the body of the message, with no Subject line)