Belated NSW Twitchathon story from the Hunter Home Brewers

To: Birding Aus <>
Subject: Belated NSW Twitchathon story from the Hunter Home Brewers
From: Mick Roderick <>
Date: Sun, 25 Nov 2012 18:16:54 -0800 (PST)
Hi all, 
Apologies for the tardiness in this Twitchathon report but Jacqueline has been 
very hard to pin down these recent few weeks!  
Mick Roderick
Hunter Home
Brewers Twitchathon 2012 – The Cockatoo-less Hunter Runs Run
Having posted an impressive 246 by starting
in the mallee country in 2011, the Hunter Home Brewers were somewhat obliged to
remain reasonably “local” in 2012, as Mick Brew’s partner Maggie Brew was only
4 weeks from due-date. Negotiations on the home front resulted in a compromise
that saw the Brewers sticking to their “routes” again and doing a Hunter Run. 
As is customary, the Brewers headed off in
time to test the water in the place they were intending on commencing the
twitch. But something that was certainly not customary was the absence of Ando 
Brew, who couldn’t make the 2012 twitch, being his first dip in the 14th year 
of Hunter Home Brewing. This was sure to put a dampener on the ‘Crackers
Disco’ and meant that the Brewers had to find a replacement esky to carry in
Eric’s stead. It also meant the maiden voyage for Steve Brew’s Green Bottle
After searching for Flying Coachmen and
exploring potential shortcuts for the twitch, the lads struck a mud-brick camp
near the banks of the Goulburn River. After confirming that the Little
Friarbirds had flown the coop, they headed off to Durridgere Road to commence
the Dummy Run. The clouds were thick, the wind was strong and the mercury was
low…but nowhere near as low as the bird count. It was eerily quiet and after
allowing 15 minutes at this spot the Brewers had absolutely nothing of any
consequence to show for it, let alone the specialties that make this remote
starting point worth its while, such as Singing Honeyeater and Southern
Whiteface. In fact, the best bird was Peaceful Dove, exemplary of how poor the
birding was. 
Even the long and usually productive road out
produced absolutely nothing apart from roadside birds that could be had
literally anywhere. Fortunately things picked up as they got closer to Goulburn
River National Park as quality birds started showing, including a spot that
held Southern Whiteface and Painted Honeyeaters and where a Square-tailed Kite
was seen floating across a nearby woodland. They had resolved to start the
twitch at this spot and give Durridgere Road the flick. At the end of the Dummy
Run they had roughly 80 species but more importantly by dropping Durridgere
Road off the agenda they could effectively have an extra hour to play with the
following afternoon on the main event – the beauty of the Dummy Run shone
After enjoying a breakfast of very-free-range
local chook eggs (excepting one egg they named “Davros”), their Saturday was 
refining their oil. What they really needed though was a ‘western wetland’ and
they decided to investigate a mine dam that was showing on aerial images just
off the main road. The dam looked fantastic and held plenty of common species
but did have one bird of note in Red-kneed Dotterels. This was to throw a
spanner in the works as it was probably 20 minutes from the Whiteface/Painted
spot – would ‘one good bird’ be worth it? It was decided to revisit the dam at
about 1530 to see if anything else was showing to make it a worthwhile starting
point – if not, they would head east to the Whitefaces. When one, then two
Baillon’s Crakes walked out of some low sedge, quickly followed by a Spotted
Crake it was all over – the Brewers were to commence their Twitchathon at a
wetland for the very first time. A perched Hobby was a sweetener as well. The
Twitch Tab bookies were rubbing their hands together as this would throw many
predictions into disarray. 
Not wanting to push things with the crakes,
the boys headed to a nearby picnic area and cracked the now-traditional bottle
of Grosset as the pre-twitch tippler. All agreed it was a fine drop and a toast
was made to absent friends, whilst a flattering image of Ando Brew from a
previous Cracker’s Disco was pinned to the back seat (where he remained, much
quieter than normal). Arriving back at the dam at 1558, the scope was fixed on
the reeds and the countdown began. Time on…and a flurry of standard floaters
filled the list in the early minutes, along with Red-kneed Dotterel and Musk
Duck, while they waited anxiously for the crakes to call or appear. After a few
agonising minutes a Baillon’s casually walked out, oblivious to the angst being
felt by his observers. There was much rejoicing at this and possibly in response
to the rejoicing a Spotted Crake began calling…”Spotted Crake!! Let’s go!!”
And so they jumped into the Green Bottle
Patrol and headed east along the Goulburn River. Alas the Whitefaces, and more
predictably the Squite, failed to show but a number of good birds were picked
up here including the Georgies see-sawing away. Odd bedfellows to them were New
Holland Honeyeaters feeding in banksias, right at the western extent of their
range. Onwards towards the national park and their gun woodlands they resumed,
missing en-route the lone Emu that had been on this stretch the day before. 
After a quick detour to Cumbo Road, a bee-line
was made for Ringwood Road, the lynchpin of their Saturday run. O’Brien
Crossing failed to produce Plum-heads but the Rock Warblers showed well as they
hit the sandstone and the start of the woodland proper. A quick jump out of the
car in the ridge country produced the only target bird, White-eared Honeyeater,
before they commenced their run of woodland sites. Slowly, things like
Red-winged Parrot, White-winged Triller, Weebill, Buffies began to fall, while
Little Ravens called in the pastures nearby. It wasn’t exactly firing and as
happened in 2009, the Milky Bars were on ‘the poo spot’; its name owing to fact
that it is a simply fantastic woodland site. Black-chinned Honeyeater,
Shrike-tit, Restless Fly, Horsfield’s Cuckoo and eventually White-browed
Babblers all fell. But conspicuous in their absence were the White-browed /
Masked Woodswallows, White-backed Swallow and Turquoise Parrot all seen there
the day before. A feature of this period was the number of Red-winged Parrots
(25+) presumably flying to roost in flocks of 4 or 5 birds. The Brewers moved
on and clawed back some handy additions at their very last woodland site with
Heathwren and Western Gerygone.
Right at this point a cold and windy southerly
change hit, which was to basically wipe out any hope of finding the
claustrophobic species on the northern run out along Ringwood Road. When a
brief esky stop was made in this patch of cropping country, two first-timer
Hunter teams approached the Brewers from the south. They got out of their car
and said “hello” and started introducing themselves.
“What the hell is going on here!?” the
Brewers thought to themselves, this isn’t a social event! 
As the esky was thrust back into the car and
efforts were made to prise themselves away from the pleasantries an immature
Spotted Harrier flew by – a nice addition to all 3 teams’ lists. With darkness
falling, the southerly in full swing and rain starting to fall, there was
virtually no hope of picking up a late-calling Blackbird in Merriwa, but after
making a valiant yet vain attempt it was off on the night drive towards their
rainforest camp. It was an “average” year on the night birds, picking up the
standard 4 species on their way through to their rainforest camp. Having
arrived at camp on 106 at the critical time of ten-to-one, they noticed two
other Twitchathon teams file in soon after, both identified as teams making
their way from the Liverpool Plains.
The dawn chorus started as always with the
“choo-choo” of the Eastern Yellow Robin, which heralded the onset of a big day
for the Brewers, needing a ruthlessly efficient Sunday morning to post a
competitive score. The need for efficiency drove them to decide to leave the 
rainforest without Noisy Pitta (which was completely quiet, though Steve Brew
had heard one calling during the night), Spectacled Monarch and Riflebird. 
Pigeon was also missing but they were confident at being able to peg it back at
their rainforest mop sites. These sites were productive by providing the
previously missed Pitta, along with Pheasant Coucal, Regent Bowerbird and
Torresian Crow but for the first Twitchathon in memory there were no Topknots
The dash for the estuary then began, as the
high tide was around 0830, meaning that the majority of birds would be at
Stockton Sandspit somewhere around 1000. The Brewers made the obligatory stop
at the hallowed Twitchathon site of Green Wattle Creek. It was here, as seems
to happen every year that they ran into two other teams, both being the
Liverpool Plains teams they’d virtually shared camp with. The second of these
was the Dodgy Drongos, which were promptly regaled a lively fist-waving 
scoresheet-toting Brewer’s Flash from the Patrol windows. As is customary, they
simply shook their heads as Steve Brew put the foot down. 
Seaham produced the omnipresent
Scaly-breasted Lorikeets as well as Latham’s Snipe and Night Heron but
conspicuously absent were Yellow-billed Spoonbills and Grey-crowned Babblers.
The run through Raymond Terrace was rewarding with several mops, but became
especially rewarding when a Black Kite was picked up flying over Newline Road. 
and Great Crested Grebes were ticked on Grahamstown Dam before the final run to
Stockton was made. 
They headed straight to Stockton Foreshore
where a few roosting Pacific Golden Plovers were had, along with a bonus adult
Brahminy Kite working the river. They then made their way to the Tattler/Terek
roost and after seeing both of them, noticed that the tide was still way too
high for there to be much beach exposed at the sandspit. The executive decision
was made to use this time to go to Newcastle Baths and then come back to
Stockton. The net loss of time would be minimal and it was thought that the
traffic in Newcastle would only gradually get worse as the day wore on anyway.
Upon arriving at the baths it was a pretty
sad sight – the tide and waves had the ocean washing over the rock platform and
even over the east side of the baths themselves. Fortunately there were a
handful of hardy Sooty Oycs, a lone Common Tern and a single Little namesake
hunting over the ocean, where the only tubenoses seen were Wedge-tailed
Back to Stockton Sandspit where a number of
teams could be seen peering through scopes, including the bicycle-pants-clad
Dry-throated Buzzards. Those teams were apparently looking at the vagrant
Banded Stilt that has been long-staying in the Hunter Estuary, but the Brewers
were at the wrong angle to see this bird. They had to swallow some much more
bitter dips than this though as they could not find some gimme species such as
Pied Oyc, Whimbrel and Curlew Sands. Pegging back Ruddy Turnstone and Common
Sands at the sandspit and an Osprey that floated overhead made them feel a bit
better about these dips at least.
With plenty of homework done on key species,
the Brewers made time for themselves by making the logistical nightmare of Ash
Island near-superfluous. Instead, they took a serious time risk and crossed the
tracks onto Hexham Swamp to pick up a quick-fire Black-fronted Dotterel, Swamp
Harrier and White-fronted Chat. The Dotterel was their 200th bird,
seen just after midday. But the decision to come to Hexham Swamp nearly cost
them dearly as from the pipeline track (where they had just seen the chat) they
could see a coal train emerging that seemed to stretch all the way back to
Tarro and was moving at a walking pace. If they didn't beat this train it could
cost them twenty minutes or so. Some clever manoeuvring by Steve Brew and quick
gate work by Mick had them safely onto the right side of the tracks in a nick
of time and off they set to Maitland.
The run through the turf farm territory began
well with a flyby Goldfinch, but then one of the most productive stops of the
entire twitch was made at a spot where Mick Brew was accosted by a local farmer
for a chinwag. While he did his best not to be rude and pull away from the
chatty cocky, 5 species fell within virtually a minute – Brown Songlark, Zebra
Finch, Horsfield’s Bushlark, Banded Lapwing and the sweetest of them all;
Stubble Quail.
They decided it might be worth having a look
at Walka Water Works given that a single Pink-eared Duck had been there a week
earlier. But it was obvious from a distance that there was a seriously popular
event happening there and a rapid about-face was done. This brought them past
another team and Steve quickly reversed the car back to deliver another vigorous
explosion of fists and voice boxes that near lifted the hat off one of the team
member’s heads! 
The well-oiled Sharp-tailed Sands were added
on their way to an even better-oiled backup Blackbird site in Kurri before
heading for their other lynchpin site – HEZ. An incredible penny dropped as
they headed for a spot they had been monitoring one or two Regent Honeyeaters
in recent weeks. This penny dropped hard, but not immediately, as they drove
past a Bell Miner colony. Mick Brew paused for one second and thought…then
shouted… “Bell Miner!!”. The boys hadn’t even realised it was missing from
their list, so it was dutifully added and sighs of relief exhaled. 
The Warty-face was not present at the first
spot they had been semi-frequenting. One team member getting onto a Painted
Button-quail but not one of the others, combined with a dip on Pallid Cuckoo
made this a frustrating stop indeed. However, pandemonium broke loose when they
went to “Buttonquail Corner” and found their only maiden bird of 2012 – a lone
male Regent Honeyeater feeding on Mistletoe blossom. It was a great moment,
made even more satisfying when a covey of button-quails were seen literally
metres away from where they’d pulled up.
“What’s that make us?”
“216” was Grena Brew’s reply and with the
passing of 1400 hours they needed to make their way back to Newcastle. Word had
also filtered through via Hunterbirding of a group of Painted Snipe found by
Greg Little at Maryland and they wanted to keep their options open for this 
Mulbring failed to produce Grey-crowns but a very nice substitute was seen in
the form of a Peregrine Falcon; only their 4th in 14 Twitchathons.
Next was a scope over the western edge of Hexham Swamp where Glossy Ibis,
Whiskered Tern and Sea-Eagle were added. After dipping on Channel-billed Cuckoo
and their last ditch effort for Topknots in a large fig tree and then a
seemingly prolonged stop at Leneghan Flat, Steve Brew finally got onto the lone
Jacana that had been there for the past week. 221 and with less than an hour
remaining they needed to shake a leg and get to the wetlands centre. It was
decided not to try for the Snipe, though another toilet stop from Steve Brew
(“they’re regular in that area”) at Blue Gum Hills was made even more welcome
when a pair of calling Bazas flew over and circled barely 20m above the car –
get there!  
With 222 they knew they would get at least
224 knowing that Wandering Whistling Ducks were at the wetlands centre along
with the ever-reliable Maggie Geese. They just needed to manage their time and
although they knew there would be a crowd at the centre, they didn't expect
scenes like they were at a Grand Final day at the MCG – a conference was on and
there were people everywhere! The Brewers bustled through the throng and after
finding the two dead-certs they headed back to the meeting point with a few
minutes to spare, but alas no advance on 224. 
It certainly didn't match the Hunter
catchment score of 234 from 2009, but all-in-all the brewing gents were pretty
satisfied. As Mick Brew deliriously collected the team sheets and read out the
scores, they discovered it was enough to get them second place again. This was
with the same two teams either side as the past few years (Menacing Monarchs
and Dodgy Drongos, all eventually separated by only one bird). 
There is something very satisfying in
recording this many birds and not needing to
cross the range. Even so, and with an average of 226 species spanning their
past 3 Hunter Runs, the Hunter Home Brewers are already talking about 
their wings” once again in 2013. 
Jacqueline Winter

To unsubscribe from this mailing list,
send the message:
(in the body of the message, with no Subject line)
<Prev in Thread] Current Thread [Next in Thread>
  • Belated NSW Twitchathon story from the Hunter Home Brewers, Mick Roderick <=

The University of NSW School of Computer and Engineering takes no responsibility for the contents of this archive. It is purely a compilation of material sent by many people to the birding-aus mailing list. It has not been checked for accuracy nor its content verified in any way. If you wish to get material removed from the archive or have other queries about the archive e-mail Andrew Taylor at this address: andrewt@cse.unsw.EDU.AU