Herewith the Hunter Home Brewers' 2009 NSW Twitchathon write-up, from the desk
of Jacqueline Winter.
We were on a different mission this year, by limiting ourselves to the Hunter
Valley only (i.e. remaining east of the divide). Despite not winning (which we
never dreamed we would have anyway), we were extremely happy with our efforts -
read below for the 'banter'.
Note that Alan Morris will be posting the NSW Twitchathon results soon (he is
awaiting the judgement of Rarest Bird / Biggest Dip before finalising them).
Forgive me if the formatting is out of whack, it has been copied across from
Hunter Home Brewers Twitchathon 2009 – Returning to One’s Routes
After threatening to change their plans for the past few years, the Hunter Home
Brewers finally prised themselves away from their winning formula of combining
the Liverpool Plains with the Hunter Valley. Instead, they took on a different
mission – aiming to beat 220 species within the Hunter Valley alone, thus
becoming the first team to do record this many species within the catchment of
a single river system. Never did they think they were a possibility to win the
thing, but it was to be a year full of surprises.
As they were essentially racing against themselves, little regard was given to
“what other teams might be doing”, but it was interesting to note that the
other Chasing Birds hams (Whacked Out Woodswallows and Hunter Thickheads) were
dipping on this year’s run (although parts thereof were competing under
different guises). The lack of Thickheads also meant that someone had to take
on the challenge of being a competitive, purely Hunter-based team. The decision
to stay east of the divide was only made a few weeks before the event, so the
lead-up planning was frenetic. This franticness was complicated by the sudden
migration of Grena Brew to ideal surfing conditions in South-east Asia (just
after having recently acquired his breeding plumage too).
The failure for the remaining 3 Brewers (Mick, Steve and Ando Brew) to attend
Cracker’s Disco meant that the trio were fresh and ready for the hunt(er). Mick
had previously been trying to convince Steve that 220 was possible within the
confines of the Hunter (the previous best being 214 by their mentors, the
Hunter Thickheads). Steve had been turning him up, but the pre-twitch oiling on
the way to their starting point certainly made him far more confident as a
string of Hunter cripplers were found, including Black Honeyeater, Red-winged
Parrot and Black-eared Cuckoo. Alas, none of these 3 birds were to be found on
the actual twitch, but it did have the boys rounding out their Hunter lists
Further afield, and right at the top of the Hunter Valley catchment, they had
settled on a starting point. The presence of Painted, Black-chinned, Fuscous,
Striped, Yellow-tufted and Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters was worthy for this
particular spot to serve as the site for the adrenaline-charged countdown to
4pm. Again as 4pm struck, the Twitch Tab bookies laughed all the way to the
bank – no one had picked Mistletoebird as the first bird (though it often
features at Brewers starting points – a strong correlation with Painted
Honeyeaters one assumes). After cleaning up the various Honeyeaters and a few
sundry birds it was off to the serious stuff – looking for Blue-faced
Honeyeaters! Every team has their bogey birds and for the Brewers, this must be
it (along with Pallid Cuckoo). And true to form, the township that had been
awash with the squawks of Entomyzon cyanotis just 30 minutes earlier was now
bereft of them – “a conspiracy!” they
Mick Brew’s logic in gaining 220 was to make up for species they couldn’t get
on their Liv Plains route. These “trade-offs” were bagged in Goulburn River NP
– Emu, White-browed Babbler, Rock Warbler and Chestnut-rumped Heathwren (the
latter 2 being maiden birds for the team). They could then afford only a
handful of dips from their western run. There were several birds they had no
chance of getting, but some very handy “western standards” were mopped in the
national park, such as Hooded / Red-capped Robin, Diamond Firetail, Western
Gerygone, Shrike-tit and ‘Woob-cus’ (come on – you know what that is).
Plum-heads never go astray on a Twitchathon either, particularly when they’re
accompanied by Zebs.
The only real decision they had to make was whether or not to forgo time in the
national park in an effort to try and get to the Black Honeyeaters at Sandy
Hollow. The lure of this crippler was too much, and they made a bee-line for
the town, picking up Blackbird in Merriwa en-route and leaving a special
message for the Double Dubbo Dippers at Battery Rock. The sun was getting low
as they pulled into Sandy Hollow, but it was still above the escarpment; and so
they were confident. After 5 minutes of staring forlornly at the Jacaranda and
Kurrajong that had been host to at least 5 Blacks that morning, they decided to
extend their search. Ironically, they stumbled on some flowering Eremophila in
a car park nearby, but alas no Black Honeyeater for the Brewers this year. But,
as if the birding gods had taken pity on them, Steve noticed a bird in a nearby
Silky Oak which the others soon got onto – it was nearly as good as a Black – a
Dusk fell at Denman where two twilight Falcons were seen in succession –
Peregrine and Hobby. It was only the second time in 11 years that they had
managed both these species on a Twitch and they fell consecutively! They
decided to commence their night run in the Martindale Valley and in near
darkness they had calling Brown and Stubble Quail. Once inside the depths of
the valley they about-faced and picked up Frogmouth and Barn Owl on the way
out. It only took a couple more stops before Jerry’s Plains before they had
heard Boobook and Owlet Nightjars calling, and so they agreed it was efficient
brewing and set off onwards to the night camp with 105 species to their name.
The Masked Owl that had been in the same tree for the past 2 twitches denied
them of the hat-trick and they had to be content with 105 at camp. This was
about 20 species down on the previous 3 year’s Saturday tallies, but
importantly, they had not visited any wetlands or dams, so
they figured there was plenty of stuff ‘in the bank’.
The brew crew had arrived at camp in record time –arriving just after midnight
– and giving them the opportunity to…well…sleep! Through the din of Yellow
Robins in the dawn chorus there was a decent diversity of species heard. For
the first time at this spot, they had both Thrushes calling, plus the range of
“usual suspects”, including the (slightly better than “usual”) Paradise
Riflebird. After waiting for the Spectacled Monarch to call (always last), they
moved out of the rainforest – and with a purpose – the tide was to be high at
Stockton at 8:20am and their run had to co-incide with the fall of this tide.
They had enough time to work their rainforest “mop sites” which never seem to
fail with birds like Regent Bowerbird, Topknot, Wompoo, White-headed Pigeon and
Coucal. It was then onto the now-famous Green Wattle Creek site, and just as
had happened in Chasing Birds, 3 teams converged at this site. Promptly, the
Shrike-twits and Dodgy Drongoes were treated to Brewer’s Flashes and it was
onwards to Seaham to clean up another bogey bird – the Scaly-breasted Lorikeet.
The decision to head to Stockton without dawdling paid off. There was a huge
assemblage of birds awaiting them, mostly Red-necked Avocets, but with other
niceties mixed amongst them. Both Caspo and Gull-billed Terns accompanied a
good variety of waders, including Red-necked Stint, Red-capped Plover, both
Godwits and both Knots. Two Striated Herons nearby were keenly spotted and
struck off the list. They left the estuary with a good mixed bag, missing only
Curlew Sands and Golden Plovers. The Great Egret seen on “Long Pond” on the way
towards Hexham was their 200th bird, and at 10:43am there was still much
brewing to be done. 220 was looking shaky indeed.
With the ‘Promised Land’ (Ash Island) out-of-bounds, the boys made their way to
Hexham Swamp, which had recently been the scene of some phenomenal birding.
Although it was very lacklustre on the day, they still picked up key birds like
White-fronted Chat, both Grassbirds, Black-tailed Native Hen and Spotted Crake,
the 3rd maiden bird for 2009. The only migratory waders present were Sharpies;
so both Marshy and Greenshank would go begging this year.
It was then on to Maitland to look for the claustrophobes. First of these was
Banded Lapwing (which was ticked while still in 3rd gear), followed by Brown
Songlark and Horsfield’s Bushlark. Walka Water Works was a grebe and duck fest,
including Blue-billed and Pink-eared Ducks (one Pink-ear anyway). Funnily
enough, as they were looking at these ducks, another Native Hen walked through
the rear view of the scope. They left WWW with 218 at the significant timeslot
of ten-to-one. The well-oiled New Holland Honeyeater was the next to fall,
quickly followed by Little Lorikeet and Brown-headed / White-cheeked
Honeyeaters. And there went 220.
Now that mopping efforts had finished, it was time to head back to the coast.
En-route to Newcastle a rapid detour was made to Poor Man’s Kakadu where a very
obliging Jacana was duly ticked. A quick-fire double at Leneghan’s Flat
(Whiskered Tern and Glossy Ibis) took them to 225, ironically at exactly 2:25!
For the first time, the team felt as if they could win the thing – and all from
within the Hunter. Who’d a thunk it?
The traffic in Newcastle was abominable. Events were running, the mercury was
up, the surf was great…which all made for heavy going for antsy twitchers keen
to get a park with a vantage over the ocean and rock platform. They managed to
bustle in to Fort Drive at Nobby’s, and this was to be a great site for them,
as they picked up 8 species, the first being Great Cormorant that had eluded
them until now. 3 Shearwater species were easily seen (Short-tailed,
Wedge-tailed and Fluttering), along with Crested and Common Terns and the
always-nervous (for both parties involved) Ruddy Turnstones. At the dying end
of the seawatch a lone immature Gannet flew in front of the baths. Fanatical
rejoicing ensued – 233, things were getting serious.
The mission now was to get out of town, which was no formality. A slow crawl
down the main drag made for a 25-minute return to the Wetlands Centre. They
still needed to pick up Little Wattlebird, which they figured would be calling
in the car park there. By the time they’d gotten to the centre there wasn’t a
lot of time left on the clock. They picked up the no-brainer Maggie Goose, but
couldn’t for the life of them find a Little Wattlebird, which was to be a
rather large dip for them.
Still, with 234 birds under their belts, the Brewers felt tremendously
satisfied with their efforts – exceeding their expectations. But as it turned
out, it wasn’t going to be enough, nor even close to enough. The Menacing
Monarchs had come in with 247, blitzing the field and the Brewer’s record of
238 in the process.
Nonetheless, the Hunter Home Brewers had stayed true to their name and had not
left the Hunter at any stage during the race, proving that highly competitive
scores are attainable without crossing the Great Divide. Despite being beaten
in the end, the boys felt as if they had come away with a victory of their own,
even if it was a purely biogeographical one! They reflected on how they had
virtually re-traced the steps of their first ever Twitchathon in 1999 (albeit
with an extra hour on Saturday afternoon) and had improved their score by over
50 birds. The Brewers had returned to their “birding routes” and surprised even
themselves with what was achievable.
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