The Hunter Big Year - May the Schwartz be with you (or me, actually!)
Don't despair - these messages are getting shorter and shorter...
My tactis in the Big Year was always to try and notch up as many summer
migrants as I could during the first part of the year, thus leaving the missed
summer birds for 'mopping' at the end of the year. I was reasonably happy with
the progress I’d made, with the only true dip being Eastern Yellow Wagtails
that were seen by 2 separate observers on Ash Island in March. I did try very
hard for these birds, but having been to Ash Island now a total of 8 times this
year, I still have walked away with only a single tick from there, being
Goldfinch. The 'promised land' has not produced when I most needed it to! I
guess I could also count an attempt at Eastern Grass Owl from Ash Island a dip
also, but there will be other opportunities to try for this bird, whereas I
think it is all over for the Yellow Wags, which generally appear in late
Autumn had now well and truly set in and this was clearly evidenced on the
pelagic trip run off Port Stephens on the 2nd May. I added a few classic winter
birds on the trip – Yellow-nosed and Black-browed Albatross plus Brown Skua.
Another nice addition was White-faced Storm-petrel, interestingly seen well
short of the shelf feeding along a current line where there were also numerous
Wilson’s. Unfortunately we didn’t continue our great Stormy run, but I was
pleased with adding 4 birds to the Big Year, taking my tally to 305.
A few days later I was passing through Raymond Terrace and decided to have my
3rd look at Wallbridge Reserve, best known for its array of genetic mutations
trying to pass themselves off as waterfowl. It was a scary experience. As I
pulled up a massive ‘gaggregation’ of geese pointed bills skywards as they
honked and made their way towards my car. There would have been 80 geese and it
was quite disconcerting. The cacophony drew the attention of every duck,
swamp-hen and moorhen in the place and within a minute or so I was surrounded
by about 200 watery fowl that obviously have too much fun together, judging by
all of the various crosses amongst them.
But there was a shining light amongst them. Glowing almost like the Holy Grail
was a decent Mallard. I studied him, taking note of all of the features that
would write-off hybridisation and rattled off a series of photos to take back
to GRAC (i.e. the “Geoff Records Appraisal Committee”). They were happy with my
princely Geoff and Northern Mallard was duly ticked. Such anguish over a
plastic…this Big Year is getting to me.
To celebrate the resurrection of Geoffrey, the next day I was back at Belmont
Swamp in search of Brush Bronzewing. This time I decided to leave the trail
bike, quad bike, motor bike, bike bike riders and the dog walkers, walkers,
joggers and runners behind and do what all good birders should do, and keep
close to the sewage ponds! After seeing what seemed like dozens of Spotteds and
Bar-shouldereds I finally locked on to a Brush Bronzewing as it scurried under
a tea-tree shrub.
The flock of Regent Honeyeaters that I was monitoring at Milbrodale had stuck
around right through May, with a peak count of 19 birds on the 14th. A couple
of days later Edwin Vella reported 2 Little Friarbirds from the same site (but
didn’t see the Regents) and I lamented at how much time I had spent at this
spot without a hint of this Hunter rarity. A consolation tick was seen a couple
of km’s to the north in the form of a beautiful male Scarlet Robin.
I then received a text from Al Richardson reading “Hunter pink ear”. Seconds
later I was speaking to him, admitting I was rather shocked that this species
may have commenced its return to the Hunter so soon after the rains out west.
Unfortunately he informed me that the bird was on a large dam well and truly
inside private property but to me it was a tantalising record – could the
‘deserters’ return in time?
308 after 5 months - I really can't complain.
With winter now officially upon on us, things will be generally quiet, but
'quiet' doesn't necessarily mean 'unproductive' - I have some ideas up my
Hunter sleeve to maintain something of a semblance of momentum.
(thinking cap on)
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