The Hunter Big Year March's on...

To: Birding Aus <>
Subject: The Hunter Big Year March's on...
From: Mick Roderick <>
Date: Wed, 31 Mar 2010 05:33:54 -0700 (PDT)
March 1st... 
...and the rain continues to fall inland. 
..and with it we can feel a number of birds slipping further out of our grasp 
for the Hunter Big Year. If only the rain had started a week earlier we would 
have had at least an extra 3 species on our list. We are now anxious about the 
prospects of these, and several other species, that may not return to the 
Hunter in spring. We have started lamenting already, after only 3 months in.
Such thoughts need to be shelved – it‘s going to be a bumper spring!
March started out quite well, with my 275th species for the year notched up on 
the 3rd day. This was in the form of a magnificent roosting Masked Owl, in a 
paperbark tree situated literally metres from the Newcastle-Sydney railway line 
and equidistant from the car park – I could think of a better place to try and 
get some peace and quiet! 
A brief reccy out to the sandstone country in Yengo NP yielded Spotted 
Quail-thrush and Gang Gang Cockatoo. The real highlight here though, was 
hearing a Superb Lyrebird rattling off a myriad of mimicked calls, including 2 
that I’d never heard before – Scarlet Robin and White-throated Nightjar (the 
latter started perfect but really lost it at the end!). A few days later Dan 
and I were back at our Black Bittern stake-out. This was to be our 3rd attempt 
and we had decided to have no expectations on this occasion. Just as were 
trying to locate a calling Azure right on dusk, a dark, compact “Heron” flew 
across the creek about 100m from us. Initially I thought it was a Striated 
Heron, but then it landed ion the opposite bank – a wonderful male Black 
Bittern – there was much rejoicing.
On the 12th March I was continuing with my surveys for Regent Honeyeaters, 
feeling a bit dismayed that they hadn’t been seen in the region since October 
2009 and barely anywhere else across their range either. My spirits were lifted 
though, when at Pelton I saw a Pacific Baza being mobbed by Noisy Miners. This 
was my penultimate raptor – only Black Kite remains. Having seen some 
Stringybark blossom around Kitchener I decided to drop into the spot in 
Werakata NP where Regents were hanging out in July last year. I was literally 
stopped in my tracks as I heard what I thought was a Regent. The ensuing 
silence was deafening, until finally it called again. It was indeed a Regent, 
calling from a tall tree with no blossom whatsoever. It was the only Regent I 
saw that day, but numbers seem to have been slowly building in the interim. 
A Buff-banded Rail seen on Kooragang Island during a wader survey was very 
welcome. Then came news of the Magellanic Penguin from Elizabeth Beach, just 
south of Forster – I had to give it a go. In the process of completely failing 
to find it, I was able to pick up some very handy locals. These were 
Double-banded Plovers at Harrington and Australia’s southernmost Beach 
Stone-curlews (Old Bar) and Radjah Shelduck, which continues to loiter around 
the grounds of the eco-resort at Bombah Point, in the Myall Lakes. 
A report had also come through of 2 Eastern Yellow Wagtails from Ash Island. At 
least this was closer to home, but it did mean donning the OH & S gear and 
going through the procedures of entering the work site on Ash Island, which has 
been out of bounds to the non-inducted public since early June 2009. This in 
itself was frustrating the Big Year, as Ash Island is an important location to 
monitor for our more ‘unusual’ sightings. However, the ‘promised land’ has 
failed miserably to deliver and over the course of 6 frustrating outings the 
only bird added to either of our lists has been European Goldfinch.
The pelagic trips were looming large and with some nor-east winds, warm water 
and a cyclone in Queensland a couple of weeks earlier, the prospects of 
tropical species were causing a buzz. 
And they did not disappoint.
Saturday March 27 was the first day of a double-header weekend of trips out of 
Port Stephens. Reading through the species that were found, you would have been 
forgiven for thinking you were reading a trip report from Southport. After 
adding Sooty Shearwater on the trip out, the first bird seen as we hit the 
shelf was a Solander’s Petrel. Soon after setting the cod liver oil slick we 
had a White-bellied Storm-petrel around the boat (making up for the miss on an 
ID in Feb that was almost certainly this species). Minutes later a Tahiti 
Petrel zoomed through, followed soon after by a Brown Booby…wow! The return leg 
provided another surprise in the form of a Red-footed Booby – 2 Boobies in one 
day, I like it! 
The following morning, Dan couldn’t help but to have been dismayed that he 
hadn’t been on the Saturday trip. I consoled him by saying “today could be a 
corker of a trip”. He was difficult to convince and it didn’t help that things 
were actually very quiet on the shelf. We did have far more Wilson’s 
Storm-petrel than the previous day but try as we might we couldn’t attract 
anything with a pale belly…until about a quarter past twelve. At that moment 
Michael Kearns alerted everyone to a “Storm-petrel with white belly!” and 
everyone fumbled to get bino’s and lenses onto the bird. We didn’t realise we 
were looking at such a significant bird at the time. 
Allan Richo and I had managed some fotos. The legs clearly trailed well beyond 
the tail, ruling out White-bellied, but more significantly the bird had dark 
streaking on the belly and flanks. Richard Baxter looked at me and said “it 
looks like a New Zealand”. All hands were then on deck to try and relocate the 
bird. It soon did and all images pointed towards a New Zealand Storm-petrel – 
which it was. This was the first record in Australian waters, but only just, as 
we soon learnt that the SOSSA Deep Sea trip had found one the day after! 
The trip home that day provided a couple of “bonus extras” in the form of a 
distant Gould’s Petrel and a Common Noddy. I came home from this weekend’s 
pelagic trips with a big grin and 295 species for the Hunter Big Year safely 
One last ditch effort was made on the final day of the month in an attempt to 
locate the Yellow Wags and to try for the Eastern Grass Owls that had also been 
recorded in recent weeks. True to form, Ash Island produced five eighths of 
nothing, despite a frustrating observation of a Barn Owl that had our hearts 
racing for a brief moment. 
With the absence of so many waterbirds and waders from the region, it really 
seems as though pelagics are going to be our only hope at posting a tally close 
to what we had set ourselves last year. 
Bring it on!  
Mick Roderick

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