Have only just re-subscribed to Birding-aus, but thought I should post
Jacqueline Winter's Hunter Home Brewers trip report from a couple of weekends
ago, just as the Vics are completing their event. I guess we are guilty of
being one of them teams that Greg Clancy referred to in his Black-necked
Stalkers report last week.
Like our list of dips for 2011, the story is long!
Thanks to anyone who reads it and apologies for any formatting problems.
HunterHomeBrewers Twitchathon 2011 – 'Mallee Melee'
In their 13th year of competing in the NSW Twitchathon, the Hunter Home Brewers
decided it was time to ‘stretch out’. Each of their past Twitches had been
either entirely within the Hunter Valley (4 times) or having started on the
Liverpool Plains (8 times). It was time for something new; something remote;
something a tad crazy – it had to be the mallee!
Once again, Mick Brew had been absent (with leave) since June, but in the
lead-up to the Twitch (read: since about late June) it had become apparent to
him that the Brewers needed to think outside of the squares this year. Whilst
busily seeking out the endemics of Borneo he had corresponded with Steve Brew
about what the lads would do in 2011. A guiding commitment saw Steve out in the
Round Hill area in early October and he commented that if there was ever a year
to start in the mallee, it was going to be this year. The Brewers had toyed
with the idea of starting in the mallee in the past, but the (serious) tyranny
of distance had dissuaded them from taking the plunge, almost solely due to the
fact that they wouldn’t be able to make it even close to a rainforest for a
dawn chorus. By not being at a rainforest at this time, or moreover by not
making it to quality rainforest at all, does you out of at least a dozen key
species – potentially more if
your “back-up” rainforest site doesn’t produce.
Some quick maths were done and it appeared that they could still make it into
good rainforest habitat…just a few hours later than normal. The quality and
quantity of birds in the mallee, particularly at this time, was the clincher
and soon all four of the Brew Crew were firing up for a mallee run.
But some serious oil was required.
Hence the lads departed Newcastle early on Thursdee morning to fine tune the
itinerary and build on the knowledge that Steve had garnered in his time out
there. Larry Landcruiser, on his 7th and final Twitch, was abuzz as the boys
neared Lake Cargelligo in the late afternoon. This buzz turned into pure
pandemonium as a large figure appeared on the red dusty road as they headed
north-west through the mallee country. Larry came to a sudden halt and sure
enough a Malleefowl was there, completing what looked like a very relaxed road
crossing. A new bird for three of the Brewers, it was the perfect start to a
couple of days checking out the mallee action. With the adrenalin of the
Malleefowl subsiding, they made a unanimous decision to head to the pub.
After a good night’s rest and warming the concrete bar at the Royal Hotel in
Mount Hope, it was time for the serious oil-drilling to commence. En-route back
to Cargelligo a stop was made to check out some Crimson Chats that were flushed
off the Euabalong-Mt Hope roadside. This was a fortuitous thing, as this spot
was alive with quality birds, including Gilbert’s Whistler, Grey-fronted, Black
and Pied Honeyeaters, but most impressively a pair of Little Woodswallows,
which are a scarce bird in these parts. They looked quite settled on a dead
tree, whilst dozens of their White-browed and Masked counterparts soared and
chirped above them. Having spent the next few hours combing the Cargelligo area
it was decided that the “Dummy Run” should start at this spot.
As always, the Dummy Run produces some great birds – birds that make Brewers
sweat during the main event. The final 2 birds in their total of 110 for the
Dummy Run were amongst the best, with a lone Wood Sands picked up by Mick Brew
in the scope before scanning through and finding a “shoulder” of an Aussie
Painted Snipe amongst the densely vegetated part of the open pond. The bird
briefly showed its face as the other Brewers caught a peak, before it sidled
away out view. Would it be there the next day?
Quite satisfied that 110 was a decent tally, the team adjourned…well, to the
pub. Over the obligatory western NSW Chinese fare, the Brewers decided that if
the Little Woods were still at their perch, that it was worth starting the main
event at that spot again. This was indeed what transpired, but not without
The Brewers got into position at 1530 having been charged by some contraband
Red Bull that Mick Brew had smuggled in from Malaysia. The Little Woods
contently, almost Bee-eater like, stood on their perch occasionally sallying up
into the air and returning to the same point. Every team has the standard
“fly-by” bird in the lead-up minutes to the Twitchathon kick-off time and for
the Brewers it was a flock of seven Budgies that scooted through at lightning
speed at about 1545. But then at 1556 both of the Little Woods took to the
air…”this couldn’t be happening!” the Brewers thought. Mick Brew trained his
eyes onto one of the birds and watched it like a hawk. With under a minute to
go he put Steve and Grena Brew got onto the bird as Ando Brew counted down from
about 30 seconds out before announcing Twitch-time. Incredulous at how close it
was that their star bird nearly escaped, they straightened their craned necks
and after the standard 4 or 5
minutes at their starting point the lads set-off on the remainder of their
Straight to the Wheat Paddock where some of the ‘reason-for-coming-this-far’
mallee birds such as Shy Heathwren, Yellow-plumed Honeyeater and Southern
Scrub-robin were added. Two, then three Gilbert’s Whistlers made an appearance
but there was no sign of their rarer cousin. A long and time-consuming search
was then made for the Chestnut Quail-thrush found easily the day before, but
yielded little more than Splendid Fairy-wrens and a Red-capped Robin. One can
imagine the excitement when a “long-tailed Quail-thrush-sized bird” then
flushed up – alas a Bar-shouldered Dove – the QT was to be a dip.
Whooey Tank had been quiet in general over the past 48 hours, and it was no
different on the Twitch. However, it did provide the target bird – Black
Honeyeater – as well as a bonus in the form of a Red-backed Kingfisher nicely
spotted by Ando Brew on a low perch. With 44 on the board they set off south
along the mallee highway, hoping for a repeat of the Malleefowl pedestrian
effort, but it wasn’t to be. Then in the distance they noticed a suspiciously
familiar vehicle hurtling towards them with a cloud of red dust in its wake.
The Brewers soon identified the car as the Dodgidrongomobile and each person in
both vehicles leapt forth with arms, legs and other appendages combined with
various expletive-ridden greetings at each other. Nothing like healthy
With that formality out of the way, the Brewers continued onto one of the “gun
spots” they had found the day before. White-browed and Masked Woods had been in
droves for the 2 days they’d been working the area and they were still there –
hundreds of birds moving en-masse between flowering Eremophila trees. Spotted
Bowerbird, Chestnut-rumped Thornbill and Little Friarbird were all handy
additions, but there was no sign of the Crimson Chats or Singing Honeyeaters
that had been regular in that area [sic], the latter which was a particularly
It was then a case of mopping up roadside birds such as Emu, Cockatiel, Brown
Songlark, Blue Bonnet and Little Raven before someone commented that we hadn’t
had Apostlebirds. Literally 300m down the road a group of 3 Apostles were
huddled under a lone, dwarf Wilga tree on a fenceline – a rather strange but
very welcome sight.
Next stop – Chat Alley. Zebra Finches showed instantly, as did White-winged
Fairy-wrens but none of the location’s namesakes were obvious to the eye. Steve
Brew then picked a male Orange Chat at a distance that then dropped off its
salty perch, and it was a long, agonising wait while the other Brewers waited
for it to return, which it eventually did.
With a well-oiled Painted Honeyeater and a jinking Spotted Harrier next to fall
on their way to Cargelligo, an air of anticipation filled the car. Despite some
of this air being a by-product of the night-before’s Chinese, things were
looking reasonably positive, with some inevitable dips but generally good birds
under their belt. A Black Kite was a welcome sight as they entered the city
limits of Lake Cargelligo. After a quick peek down at the lakefront for
not-much-really, it was on to the Promised Land – the Faeces Farm.
The scribes went into overdrive as a flurry of town, lake, swamp and wading
birds fell like flies. Their 100th bird was Spotted Crake, seen feeding with
Spotless and Baillon’s Crakes, the latter swimming like a miniature moorhens.
Mick Brew got into position for the wading birds and soon had the Wood Sands,
along with Marshies and Sharpies and a few birds not seen on the Dummy Run;
Greenshanks, Avocets and a patrolling Gull-billed Tern getting his what-for
from some feisty Whiskereds. Quite a bit (in hindsight apparently too much)
time was spent scanning for missing birds like Freckled Duck, Shelduck and
almost obsessively the Painted Snipe. Nothing new was added during their final
20 minutes at the ponds and so in Larry they set forth for the long night-drive.
After only picking up Barn Owls on the drive to Dubbo, some quality Farmboy oil
saw them adding Barking Owl to their list in Dubbo itself – the final of 18
maiden birds for the Brewers in 2011. Alas the 3-hour rule loomed large as they
crossed the big hill and into the Hunter Valley. The Brewers rested but barely
slept at their night-roost at Cassilis Rest Area where Owlet Nightjars and
Tawny Frogmouths were heard calling. Pallid Cuckoos also called frenetically,
almost Koel-like for the entire time the Brewers rested, their bodies strewn
out on the various picnic tables.
At 0445 it was a weary, but tentless packing of Larry before off they went to
try and reach the rainforest in respectable time. It was a very foreign
sensation for the Brewers to be driving during the dawn-chorus and a time when
their list is normally ticking over at a bird a minute. A suggestion was made
to make the detour to Medhurst Bridge and as they were missing a few woodland
birds it was decided to head down the Martindale Valley. The Brewers must have
only just missed the CCCC’s team who had been there for the dawn chorus. As it
turned out, the decision to make this detour was a bad one, for two reasons.
Firstly, they only added a single bird that wasn’t seen elsewhere yet dipped on
some reasonably-expected-birds such as Diamond Firetail and White-backed
Swallow. Moreover, it was the expense of time spent getting there and back that
may have cost them dearly.
The long drive towards the south-facing rainforested gullies of the Barrington
Tops from this point seemed to go on forever and eventually it became apparent
that they would not have time to visit their key rainforest sites. Instead they
had to make do with some rainforest remnants that have normally just been
mopping sites in years gone by. Some great birds such as Wompoo Fruit-Dove,
Topknot, Regent Bowerbird, Black-faced Monarch, Cicadabird and Pheasant Coucal
(amongst 5 cuckoos calling in the area) were added to the list, but there was a
host of birds they forewent by not venturing into the rainforest proper.
Notwithstanding, there were 187 birds on their list as they commenced the great
meander back down the valley, visiting a number of “old haunts” on their way to
the woodlands around Kurri Kurri. It would be bordering on blaspheme for a
Twitch team working the Lower Hunter not to visit Green Wattle Creek Road and
so in the Brewers went, but adding only Crested Shrike-tit in terms of quality
birds. Banded Lapwings were found amongst the turf farms at Lorn, en-route to
that other pet Twitch site, Walka Water Works where the usual suspects were
found, including their 200th bird in Musk Duck.
After a time-burning stake-out for New Holland Honeyeaters, the boys ventured
into the Kurri Woodlands. As expected, the place was going bananas, even in the
heat of the day. Little Lorikeets flew over, Black-chinned Honeyeaters called
on-cue and eventually a pair of Dusky Woodswallows were found, amongst the
hordes of nest-prospecting White-broweds. Mick Brew had a Painted Button-quail
calling at his feet but it was too low-pitched for the others to hear clearly
and by the time they’d scurried over it stopped completely. More bad luck
followed with the rear right tyre noticed hissing away around an old rusty
railway nail. The Larry Pit Crew sprung into action and despite spending the
next quarter-hour there, no new birds were heard whilst the repairs were made.
Onto Poor Man’s Kakadu and it didn’t fail to produce, with Jacanas found easily
and a pair of Sea-Eagles perched on a dead tree – the only ones they were to
see on the Twitch. A quick visit to Leneghan’s Drive provided Latham’s Snipe
and Brown Goshawk before it was time to head into Newcastle for the high-risk
(traffic vs rewards) seawatch and rock platform scope-session. It was a very
lean year, with only a single bird added off the ocean (Wedge-tailed
Shearwater) and three from the rock platforms (Crested and Common Terns and
Ruddy Turnstone). Sooty Oystercatchers were particularly conspicuous by their
absence (as many teams could attest to it seems).
Now perched on 225 species at 1430 and growing in confidence of at least
breaking their own record, they set-off for the crucial visit to the Stockton
shorebird roosts. The Brewers had deliberately left this as their final region
before heading to the finish line due to the very favourable tide times. And
they timed it to perfection with a large flock of gathering birds on the
shoreline. With the water line still a tad high though, they decided to go for
the foreshore birds first and easily found Grey-tailed tattler and Terek
Sandpipers. A slow crawl alongside the mangroves for Whimbrels and Common Sands
failed to produce either, but did provide one of the most fluke-filled ticks of
2011, as a voice came from the back seat “hang on, what’s that?”. While all
other eyes were trained on the shoreline, a keen eye had picked up a pair of
virtually motionless Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoos gnawing away at the
mid-branches of a mangrove tree! A quality mop
indeed and bird #230.
Over to the sandspit where the water had dropped just enough that more birds
were in attendance than had been as they crossed the bridge. The decision to
leave the sandspit as there final stop paid off, as it was a who’s who of
Hunter shorebirds set-out in front of them, yet not another Twitch team was in
sight. Whimbrel was the final bird picked up here, but they’d managed to see
virtually all of the migratory shorebirds they could have reasonably expected,
including one of the scarcer ones in Great Knot. In the process they’d also
surpassed their previous best of 238 species, which now grew to 243 with the
wetlands centre still to come and a guaranteed double awaiting there.
At the wetlands centre it was the usual final-Sunday-in-October-afternoon, with
somewhat bedraggled binocular and list-toting folk gadding about. The Brewers
added Maggie Goose and Wandering Whistling Duck soon after arriving, and so had
about ten minutes before the final whistle to locate a ‘bonus bird’. Shoveler
was the main thing they had in mind, but they happily took the Buff-banded Rail
that was walking around the edge of a near swamp.
246 was their final tally and all four agreed it was a fine brewing effort on
their first twitch-foray into the mallee. They had recorded 18 birds that they
had not on any previous Twitch, bringing their total tally to 309 species (on
their 3rd route). Still, it wasn’t enough to take the cake, with the Menacing
Monarchs coming home with a new record of 250 from their Macquarie Marshes
starting point. Still, to be so close on an ambitious, yet relatively untried
run has the Brewers looking forward eagerly to next year.
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