The Gang Gang Gang - 2012 Birdlife Victoria Twitchathon wrap-up

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Subject: The Gang Gang Gang - 2012 Birdlife Victoria Twitchathon wrap-up
From: "Paul Dodd" <>
Date: Tue, 20 Nov 2012 08:01:52 +1100
Ruth and I (the Gang Gang Gang) had an interesting Twitchathon on the
weekend ? breaking our team?s record of 197 species set last year by 8
species. We had set a goal of breaking the 200 species ?barrier? so were
well pleased with our final tally of 205.


We started up north at Goschen (I don?t think there?s any big secret about
that). We arrived at our starting point about 20 minutes before 4pm (the
official starting time), and had a quick reconnaissance prior to the
kick-off time. Our first three birds were Pied Honeyeater (we had to count
that one first as it is one that our main rivals, the Robin Rednecks, dipped
on last year), Black Honeyeater and White-winged Triller. I think it is fair
to say that we cleaned up at Goschen, finding all of our target species,
including Little Button-quail and Chestnut-rumped Thornbill. To find the
button-quail means walking through the long, dry grass, hoping to flush a
bird. This can be a quick or a time-consuming process. In our case it was
time-consuming. Also, the thornbill is generally only found in one spot in
the reserve, so this can take time. I think if we do this next year, we
should start at the thornbill site and head directly to the car which we
park by the hall. I had allocated 20 minutes at Goschen, but we were there
for 40.


We had seen two of our target species, Bluebonnet and Pied Butcherbird on
our drive to Goschen, but surprisingly we didn?t see them again during the
event itself. Stupidly we retraced out steps along the Boga-Ultima Road to
have another (fruitless) search for the Bluebonnet. On the positive though,
we had already seen three species of Woodswallow at Goschen and on the drive
back to the highway we managed to pick up White-breasted Woodswallow on
telegraph wires. In the same general location we found Blue-faced Honeyeater
? a species that we spent far too long looking for last year. By now it was
past 5pm and it was well and truly time to move on. We tried one of the
dried salt lakes for Orange Chat, and dipped on this species after trying
far too long. By now it was about 6pm and we had two major areas to visit
before dark ? we were running out of time in spectacular fashion.


Terrick Terrick is a great park, with woodland and native grassland. This is
Simon Starr?s (one of the Robin Rednecks) territory ? here, in the native
grasslands, he helps countless birders find that special little bird, the
Plains Wanderer ? but not today! Terrick is also good for many dry woodland
species, but perhaps the main targets during the Twitchathon are Gilbert?s
Whistler, Australian (mallee) Ringneck, White-browed Babbler (which we
already had), Southern Whiteface and Diamond Firetail. The whiteface we came
across as we drove through farmland immediately to the north of the park,
which was pleasing as I would have hated to dip on that. Unfortunately the
sun was very low now, and we were still heading south to Kamarooka where
more species awaited, so we had to simply drive through Terrick without
stopping. This meant no chance at the Gilbert?s Whistler and only a slim
chance of Diamond Firetail at Kamarooka.


Kamarooka is one of my favourite birding spots in the state ? it combines
box-ironbark and mallee, so there is a good range of species. The
box-ironbark specialties include Fuscous Honeyeater, which we could not get
later in the event, Crested Bellbird, possibly Diamond Firetail, Dusky
Woodswallow, Common Bronzewing and Peaceful Dove. Fortunately we saw the
Fuscous Honeyeater at our favourite dam, but dipped on the others. The sun
was below the horizon now and we still had the mallee section to go. The
mallee section of the park is actually higher than the box-ironbark, so as
we climbed up to the first stop, we could still see the top of the sun ?
just. Our first stop netted us the birds we expected, White-fronted
Honeyeater, Tawny-crowned Honeyeater, Shy Heathwren and Variegated
Fairy-wren ? four from four! Our next stop, the famous distillery dam, got
us Brush Bronzewing but nothing else. Finally back out on the track again,
with the sun completely gone, we managed to rustle-up both Purple-gaped
Honeyeater and Inland Thornbill. Thankfully we know this park so well, and
had been there just a few weeks ago so knew precisely where to look for each


Dinner was at Cloggs in Bendigo. If you haven?t eaten there, it?s a popular
pizza restaurant and bistro in the main drag on the north side of town. Good
pizzas, good food and good beer.


During our time in Kamarooka, I noticed that my car headlights were not
working. The high-beam worked, but not the main lights. I tried driving with
high-beam on, but obviously this annoyed the other drivers and they insisted
on flashing me to let me know that my high-beam was on. Duh! Then I
remembered, I had fog lights! I turned the front fog lights on with my
parkers, and everything was alright again! Just as well because this is the
part of the Twitchathon I don?t really like ? the long night drive to the
night birding and dawn chorus site ? let?s just say well to the west of


As we drove along the freeway into Melbourne I saw a sign saying that the
Burnley Tunnel was closed. Damn! That was to be our route. Ah! But what
luck, we could exit the freeway near home, stop in for a cup of coffee and
to pet the cats, then head out through the suburbs and meet up with the
Monash Freeway on the other side of the tunnel in South Yarra/Burnley!
Interestingly on exiting the freeway at Footscray Road we almost immediately
ran into a police roadblock ? whenever I encounter this sort of situation I
become somewhat nervous, but then Ruth reminded me about the headlights and
I was really freaked out. Fortunately the police simply waved me on. Within
a kilometre or so, on Wurundjeri  Way (Dockland Highway) we encountered a
second police roadblock. Fortunately, once again I was waved on through.


Eventually, after being well caffeinated, we ended up at our night-birding
spot. Boobook was easy ? but White-throated Nightjar and Sooty Owl took a
lot of time. We did not hear or see Powerful Owl, Owlet Nightjar or Tawny
Frogmouth. In fact, Tawny Frogmouth was to be our biggest dip because we
knew of a nesting one with chicks that we should be able to see later ?
unfortunately when we got to that site, it was gone.


It was now time to camp for what was left of the night. We had swags and
sleeping bags in the car, but neither of us could be bothered setting them
up, so pushing the car seats right back, we slept in the car for a couple of
hours. We set our alarms for 5am and woke up (somewhat startled) at that
time, ready for the dawn chorus. Quickly we picked out birds such as Grey
and Rufous Fantail, Eastern Yellow and Rose Robin, Eastern Spinebill,
Crimson Rosella and a range of others that we needed here. Once the chorus
had subsided we ate our breakfast of gourmet muesli bars (seriously!) and
headed to our Beautiful Firetail and Southern Emu-wren site. The emu-wren we
scored, but not so the firetail. As we moved through the park, we stopped
from time to time to look for Scarlet Honeyeater, without success. We
stopped at the same place that we had scored Cicadabird last year, and
within 5 minutes we had that bird again! Heading north through the park we
stopped at a number of potential Pilotbird sites, but dipped on this,
although we did pick up Superb Lyrebird in a couple of locations.


Next stop was a well-known picnic ground in the Dandenong Ranges for King
Parrot and Long-billed Corella. This site is well known for the tourist
busses that stop here so the tourists can feed the birds ? something I can?t
say I?m really in favour of. It had been a few years since we?d visited this
site and I was staggered by how commercial it had become. In years gone by
the tourists would stop off in the café/gift-shop to buy a bag of seed for
50c, now there were feeding stations set up in a fenced area, and to get in
you had to pay $4 for a tray with a mere smattering of seed. By the time we
got there it was pouring with rain ? we arrived by 8:30am hoping to see the
birds and depart, but no such luck. We managed the Long-billed Corella, but
not the King Parrot. At least we did get a passable cup of coffee! We left
at 9am ? which was the time that we?d arranged to meet ABC journalist
Matthew Crawford so that we could pick him up and take him around for the
remainder of the morning.


Half an hour later we picked Matthew up and also scored Bell Miner ? but
failed to hear the Koel that had been reported in the area. Since we were
now at least 30 minutes behind schedule we had to revise our plans. Instead
of heading straight for the Western Treatment Plant we decided to head to
Serendip Sanctuary, where Ruth works, for some it its specialties. This
suited Matthew because the Robin Rednecks had already taken him around ?The
Farm?. At Serendip we quickly picked up Tree Sparrow, a specialty of the
site, and Cape Barren and Magpie Goose. From one of the hides we also picked
up Nankeen Night Heron, a bird that we?d failed to see at a regular location
earlier in the morning. By this time it was time to drop Matthew off at Lara
station so he could get back to the city to start his afternoon shift at the


We headed off to our next location nearby where found Yellow-faced
Honeyeater and Scarlet Robin to name a couple. This year we had good success
with the ?red robins?, having seen Red-capped, Flame, Rose and Scarlet ?
only dipping on the much more difficult Pink Robin. Last year I don?t think
we scored any of the red robins at all. We stopped quickly for lunch ?
gourmet quiches from Brewsters in Port Melbourne that we?d picked up the
previous day. We were hoping to see Wedge-tailed Eagle here, but no joy ?
that being said, we?d had a good weekend of raptors, having seen Spotted
Harrier a couple of times (the Robin Rednecks counted Spotted Harrier seven
times!) and a number of others. Our highlight was exceptionally close views
of a pair of dark-morph Little Eagles tucking into a feast of rabbit.


Next was the inevitable Western Treatment Plant, where we had intended to
spend a couple of hours. It was now 1pm, so we were desperately running out
of time ? as we were to head along the coast after this ? I wondered if we
could shorten our time here to 1.5 hours to give us enough time to move on
to the next spots. Normally we?d enter The Farm through the Paradise Road
gate and head straight for the Borrow Pits, but we figured all the gates on
that road would slow us down, so we decided to enter and leave by the Beach
Road gate ? immediately seeing an Arctic Jaeger being hassled by a bunch of
Silver Gulls ? this was our first Arctic Jaeger for The Farm! Presumably the
Jaeger was supposed to be hassling the gulls, but I think it had bitten off
more than it could chew with the number of Silver Gulls it encountered! We
had a quick scan for a previously reported Broad-billed Sandpiper north of
this gate, but no joy. Interestingly we picked this bird up at the Western
Lagoons later on ? I wonder if this is the same bird that had been reported
sporadically since the previous summer? If it is the same bird, Ruth and I
originally saw it in December 2011, also in the Western Lagoons.


Heading along Beach Road we saw a number of cars at the hide and people
lined up with binoculars and scopes ? some even sitting on deckchairs! We
immediately wondered what they were looking at, and once we arrived we
realised they had a Baillon?s and Spotted Crake. Funnily we turned up and
immediately saw both birds, and some of the people that had been there,
obviously for some time, had seen neither! The hide only produced a Little
Tern for us, so we moved on. Following Little River we were rewarded with a
couple of Great Crested Grebes and both Yellow-billed and Royal Spoonbills,
birds we hadn?t seen previously. At the Conservation Ponds we had a quick
look for a reported Latham?s Snipe, without success. Last year we had both
Latham?s and Painted Snipe at the Western Treatment Plant during the
Twitchathon!  The Borrow Pits produced the expected Red-kneed Dotterel and
the coast road allowed us to see our two missing cormorants ? Little Black
and Pied. Heading out, past Lake Borrie where we ticked off most our missing
ducks, we encountered our crake-watching friends again (actually they were a
contingent from Birdlife Bellarine on an outing). This time they were busily
scoping up a group of ducks, so with a quick look through our own scope we
ticked off Freckled Duck as well!


We were missing Red-browed Finch (which we?d expected to see at Serendip)
and a few waders, so we headed to the Western Lagoons and The Spit ? we?d
already decided not to bother with T-Section as we were now desperately
running out of time. The Western Lagoons produced the missing Broad-billed
Sandpiper as well as a Pectoral Sandpiper, but we could see no other waders
of interest ? certainly no Black-tailed Godwits, Marsh Sandpipers, either
knot or anything else of interest. We also dipped on Red-browed Finch along
the fence here, where we?d often seen it in the past.


The time was now just after 3pm and I realised that we would never get to
our sites along the coast in time. We decided to abandon the plan and to
stick with the Western Treatment Plant, even though this put paid to any
possibility of Rufous Bristlebird, Forest Raven, any albatross or seabird,
our previously reconnoitred site for Pacific Golden-plover, Ruddy Turnstone
and Hooded Plover. We had previously seen Banded Lapwing in the paddocks at
the end of Austin Road, so we headed there ? no joy, the paddocks all looked
far too neat and tidy for Banded Lapwing now, so they?ve obviously moved on.
We did pick up European Greenfinch, and this was to be our last bird of the


All in all a good weekend. For us, the major lesson to be learned is one of
time management. Stick to the schedule, even if this means dipping on a bird
that was there previously, and not searching for too long for a species that
?should? be there.



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