Hunter Home Brewers 2013 NSW Twitchathon Story - 'Poo Pond Prats'

To: Birding Aus <>
Subject: Hunter Home Brewers 2013 NSW Twitchathon Story - 'Poo Pond Prats'
From: Mick Roderick <>
Date: Sat, 16 Nov 2013 14:47:07 -0800 (PST)
Hi all,
I realise that it is the Vic Twitchathon weekend but I have been forwarded the 
Hunter Home Brewers story from their successful 2013 NSW twitch. It was sent to 
me as a Word doc, so I've copied it below - apologies if the formatting is 
The Brewers have raised well over a $1000 and from Hunter teams alone over $5k 
has been pledged for the Powerful Owl Project. I think we're looking at about 
$25k statewide. A great effort - well done to all involved! 
Mick Roderick 
Hunter Home
Brewers Twitchathon 2013 – Poo Pond Prats 
There were few decisions to be made by the Hunter
Home Brewers in their preparation for the 2013 NSW Twitchathon. The only “big
decision” was where to start and with no grounds to be close to home, as was
required due to an expectant Mrs Mick Brew last year, the writing was on the
wall – go back to the mallee! The plan was simple – improve on the 2011 mallee 
by not making some of the mistakes they’d made that year. However, as they were
to discover, what they thought had been their biggest mistake in 2011 actually
turned out to be a brilliant strategy in 2013. This surrounded some
inefficiencies that prevented them from reaching their key rainforest site on
the southern slopes of the Barrington Tops. But as time progressed, the need to
visit that rainforest became increasingly queried, problematic and eventually,
There is a school of thought amongst the more
serious Twitchathon teams (i.e. those with the ‘competitive streak’) that a big
score hinges (at least in part) on being present at a rainforest during the
dawn chorus. The Brewers also subscribed to this way of thinking but
alternatives had to be considered if they were to start out in the mallee.  The 
“3-hour rule” states that each team must stop
for a consecutive 3-hour period between midnight and 5am. No team that starts
as far west as the mallee country can even go close to making it to a
rainforest by 2am (after which, if you’re still driving you’re in breach of the
rule) so essentially the rainforest dawn chorus is foregone unless you leave
the mallee only about 2 hours after kick-off on the Saturday, which defeats the
whole purpose of going out there. 
Where they thought they’d gone wrong in 2011 was (a)
leaving Lake Cargelligo too late on Saturday, and (b) making a rueful detour to
Medhurst Bridge en-route to the rainforest. They thought that by shaving an
hour off (a) and dropping (b) like a hot potato they could go close to buying
back nearly 2 hours to get to the gun Barrington Tops rainforest site. Mick
Brew however, thought that this 2 hours “saved” + the 2 hours travel time to
get to the Barrington Tops and back onto their regular route, could be better
spent at other, ‘less remote’ rainforest patches and then still have some spare
change left over for other areas on the Sunday. This concept was underpinned by
some traditional rainforest remnants that the lads had visited on each Twitch,
as well as a new kid on the brewing block – Old Brush at Brunkerville. 
All of these strategic quandaries made for good brew
for thought on the journey out west on Thursday morning. Spirits were high as
they left Newcastle under the cover of darkness, stopping only to charge
themselves with bakery fare and go for a job interview, as Grena Brew actually
did in Dubbo. Whilst there, they had a brief opportunity to catch up with a
one-time Brewer and current Dubbo Double Dipper, Farmboy. He delivered the 
news that the local Barking Owls were still in residence and had in fact
reproduced. Their only night-time birding stop was hence justified. Continuing
west, Ando Brew opened his new-bird account with a fly-over from a Superb
Parrot at Peak Hill before ABC radio in Newcastle tracked them down for a brief
interview. Their first question was “is that crazy guy from Chasing Birds in it 
this year?”
Upon arrival at Mount Hope, the boys set about
warming up the rather chilly concrete bar at the Royal Hotel. What they didn't
expect was to get into a conversation with some blokes at the bar that asked in
excitement, “oh, you guys are doing the Twitchathon!?”. It turned out they were
in the area working on Malleefowl conservation. 
Their next question was “is that crazy guy from Chasing Birds in it this 
Friday was spent combing Round Hill to Cargelligo
seeking out worthwhile sites and in particular a place to commence the twitch.
Not surprisingly, there was no sign of the Little Woodswallows that had been
present on the Mt Hope to Euabalong Road in 2011 so an alternative commencement
point was required. A very productive patch of mallee ecotoned with
callitris-box woodland literally a kilometre west of the “Little Woodswallow
spot” looked quite promising but gave way to Whooey Tank as the place to
commence the ‘Dummy Run’ that afternoon. The other place they needed to do
homework on was the Lake Cargelligo Poo Ponds. This was possibly the most
important single site on their Saturday run and a quick reccy showed that it
was in ‘solid form’.  
The Dummy Run happened on the Friday afternoon and confirmed
some quality birds along their route. These included Crimson Chats feeding
dependant young, Diamond Doves in a couple of places, scattered Black
Honeyeaters, Spotted Nightjar at the Wheat Paddock and a Little Crow seen on
the edge of Lake Cargelligo township. But the clear highlight was finding a
pair of Ground Cuckoo-shrikes just north of Booberoi Creek. This bird had been
dubbed “The Unmentionable” due to the frustration faced over the years by Ando
Brew to try and get a look at one. The remainder of the Brewers had learnt that
the mention of this birds name would be enough set AB off on a tirade of
expletive-laden accounts of denial of the bird’s existence and hence had dared
not mention it for several years. A few of the said expletives were used
however in a celebratory context once he’d parked his peepers on this particular
The other highlight was the sheer productivity of
the poo ponds. It was so good that there was probably justification to work the
area for as long as they did in 2011, with Wood and Marsh Sands, White-winged
Black-Tern, 3 crakes, 10 ducks and fly-overs by things such as Major Mitchells
and Black Falcons; the poo ponds could really become their “rainforest dawn
chorus” if they worked it long enough. With deliberations over how to approach
the rainforest dilemma still up in the air there was much heated discussion
during the session of Crackers Disco that evening. 
The following morning was spent fine-tuning the sites
close to town before they filled the car with fuel and the two eskies, Eric
(beer) and Evan (anything that isn’t beer) with ice then headed north and west
back to the mallee to find a place to start the main event. Time was running
out and the Brewers still didn't have a decision made on where to start. They
decided to check the site just west of where the Little Woods had been 2 years
earlier and once Mick Brew came back with reports of Mulga Parrot, Shy
Heathwren, Hooded Robin and a likely Little Woodswallow (views just weren't
good enough to clinch it as a definite sighting apparently) the lads agreed
this was the spot.  
After sampling a 2008 Watervale Grosset, they
positioned themselves hot on the tail of a not-so-shy Shy Heathwren and as 4pm
ticked over it went down as first bird. A series of mallee and quality western
birds followed in quick succession, including Mulga Parrot, White-fronted, 
and Grey-fronted Honeyeaters and Western Gerygone. A juvenile Black-eared
Cuckoo was discovered by Mick Brew, who quickly dragged two of the others back
to confirm and as they were doing so a pair of Major Mitchells flew overhead. 
Hooded Robins however had scarpered and there was no sign of the recently vocal
Southern Scrub-robin. They spent an unusually long period of 29 minutes at this
site before they decided to move on. 
The second stop was at the Whooey Tank entry track where
4 pigeons were added, but not the Diamond Doves that had been present the day
before. Some decent birds such as White-browed Babbler, Black Honeyeater and
Southern Whiteface were recorded before it was time to head to the
quality-not-quantity site in the Wheat Paddock. Grena Brew found the Spotted
Nightjars again whilst Mick picked out a Chestnut Quail-thrush. A Gilbert’s
Whistler finally sounded off (the only one heard at this spot during the 3
visits they’d made here) and Splendid Fairy-Wrens crossed the track. There was
still no sign anywhere of the scrub-robin and then it dawned on them that they
hadn’t heard a Crested Bellbird either. After what seemed like a very long wait
in silence they decided they needed to move on.
A quick stop along the railway line produced a
perched Diamond Dove and a calling bellbird at last. Satisfied that they could
live with dipping on the scrub-robin with so many other birds to bag, they 
on to the open woodland where the Crimson Chats were feeding young yesterday.
They were easily found, along with Painted and Brown-headed Honeyeaters and a
well-oiled Speckled Warbler, being their 50th bird.  
With the quality wooded habitat now behind them they
started seeing open country birds without needing to get out of the car,
including some important ones such as Pallid Cuckoo, Brown Songlark and Blue
Bonnet. Booberoi Creek failed to produce 
but gave them Little Friarbird as a very small consolation. Their best chance
at Emu also passed without a show and Chat Alley only provided the
White-fronted variety, as well as White-winged Fairy-Wren. However, spirits
soared as they drove past the turn-off to the Cargy Airport when Mick at the
helm of The Patrol flushed an Aussie Pratincole from the side of the road. An
almighty “get there!” was delivered
as Ando got his 5th new bird for the trip and a real bonus bird was
added to the tally of 74 species. 
After a quick stop at Frog Hollow to add Restless
Flycatcher, they moved eagerly onto the poo ponds. Grena Brew, as scribe,
limbered his fingers ready for rush of bird names about to be thrown at him.
This started with “Aussie Shelduck, Little Grass, Hardhead, Grey Teal,
Swamphen….hang on…Black Falcon!!”, which was ensued by a who’s who of
Australian waterfowl and associated species. Migratory shorebirds were in
attendance and onto the list went Sharpies, Marsh and Wood Sands, Greenshank
and Red-necked Stint – all but the first of these were not to be seen again on
the twitch. The White-winged Black Tern was easily picked out at the rear of
the same pond just as a flock of Zebra Finches flew in. The 100 species mark
past without time to even be aware of the fact, as a Caspian Tern and 6 Glossy
Ibis joined the feathered frenzied faecal-fed fray.  
Once satisfied that they’d worked the foreponds well
enough it, was time to seek out the duck species lurking out of view in the 
Before long they picked out the quality trio of Shoveler, Freckled and
Pink-eared Ducks but couldn’t locate the Wandering Whistling Duck that they
knew was in there somewhere. Finally a Cockatiel made a fly-by, well picked up
by Grena despite having his nose in the notebook for so much of the time spent
here. The decision to keep working the poo ponds had paid dividends and at just
after 7:30pm they had 124 species on the list. It was time to make tracks but
then just as they were about to leave Mick heard a tinkling finch call and the
suggestion of “are they Plum-heads?” came soon after. Sure enough, a flock of
about a dozen Plum-headed Finches had flown in right on dusk. The Brewers
rejoiced at the sheer luck of such an unexpected bird right at the dying
minutes of their active Saturday birding. Leaving Cargy with 125 species and a
long haul of night roads ahead of them, the backseat brewers consulted Eric the
Esky while they compared lists to ensure all was in order.
The long drive meant that very few stops could be
made to look for nocturnal birds. In fact, in the 450km to Cassilis they only
tried for night birds twice – once in a vain attempt to hear Little Button or
Stubble Quails calling in likely habitat and once to find the Dubbo Barker,
which they did with ruthless efficiency before jumping back in the vehicle to
make the final late night leg to their ‘camp’ at Cassilis Rest Area. The night
was much quieter here than it had been in 2011 and as the lads each chose a
picnic table to lay upon, they only managed to hear Owlet Nightjars and Superb
Fairy-wrens sounding off! 
After their compulsory 3 hour break, the Brewers
languidly piled back into the patrol at around 4:15am, managing to add calling
Boobooks and Channel-billed Cuckoos to the list in the process. It was an odd
feeling for them as they drove through rural country as dawn broke – the peak
of the birding day was here and they were still nearly 3 hours from their first
rainforest remnant. Having left Cargy Poo Ponds so late the evening before, the
decision had effectively been made to drop the Barrington Tops rainforests and
work the nearer remnants and then Old Brush later in the day. As they trucked
along as day broke, a variety of roadside species were added and a quick detour
to find the Plumed Whistling Ducks at Doughboy Hollow paid off. This part of
the twitch seemed to lag on forever, punctuated only by the occasional addition
of a pretty low quality species. Finally, after more than 3 hours in the
vehicle they reached their first rainforest patch and the boys jumped out of
the car, ears and eyes ready for the new purple patch of birds to be added. 
The very first bird seen was a Wompoo Fruit-Dove, followed
by Topknot and White-headed Pigeons, Regent Bowerbird, Black-faced Monarch and 
Fantail. Brush Cuckoo and Wonga Pigeons were heard calling in the gully whilst a
Grey Goshawk was picked up patrolling the airspace above. With this patch
thoroughly worked, they headed further up the hill and in the process flushed a
small dove off the ground. “Did yez see that?! That was an Emerald Dove!”
shouted Steve. He pulled the car over and the rest of the team jumped out to
see the bird perched on an overhanging branch. Another bonus bird bagged and
one that they had not seen since their debut twitch in 1999 (about 2km away).
It was also their 13th pigeon species for the 2013 run – easily
their best haul of Columbiformes on a twitch. 
With the initial rainforest sites sufficiently
worked and having 181 species clocked, they headed down the valley towards the
dry woodlands, open country and wetlands of the Lower Hunter. In the process
they had decided to abandon a visit to one of the Twitchathon staples, Green
Wattle Creek and along with that went other key sites such as Seaham and
Raymond Terrace. They had failed to hear a Torresian Crow calling in this area
but figured they could make it back at either Mulbring or Shortland later. They
were also still missing a good number of rainforest birds and had no scrubwrens
on their list whatsoever. Old Brush was looking more and more like being a
lynchpin site for them and the most efficient way of getting there was to go
en-route from the Kurri woodlands to the estuary, where they need to be by
about 12:30 or so.
Great Crested Grebe was easily found at Walka Water
Works but try as they might they could not find a Musk Duck. Banded Lapwing and
Horsfield’s Bushlark were picked up soon after at Lorn along with a host of
common sub-coastal species that continued add to the ever-burgeoning inventory
of birds. Both New Holland and White-cheeked Honeyeaters were in their usual
patch not far from the woodland sites and when Double-barred Finches were seen
at the same spot, the 198th species went down on their list. 
Upon arrival at the woodlands Yellow-tufted
Honeyeaters were quickly found amongst wheeling hordes of White-browed
Woodswallows before a species that is far from guaranteed was ticked as their
200th bird at about 9:30am in the form of Varied Sittella. There
were so many White-broweds that they could not find any Dusky Woods, even at a
spot where they’d been seen nest-building only a few weeks earlier. Little
Lorikeet, Scarlet and Fuscous Honeyeaters and White-throated Gerygone were
found during the hunt for the Duskies before a slow drive-by from the Varied
Wrenegades occurred…on their brewing turf! After welcoming and ‘farewelling’
the Wrenegades, the Brewers decided to head west, finally coming across a
colony of Bell Miners which was an addition to their list. A 30-second stop at
‘Black-chinned Honeyeater Junction’ produced the namesake species, though
‘Buttonquail Junction’ was not as kind to them. 
At Buttonquail Junction they noticed the form a
pushbike rider headed up the dirt track toward them. After overcoming the
surprise that this wasn’t a noisy trail bike as often inhabits these woods, they
realised it was Miyagi of the Dry-throated Buzzards. The conversation was 
but he did reveal that they were currently experiencing tyre problems….as the
Buzzards often seem to be…and as the brewers zoomed off in their
not-so-environmentally-friendly mode of transportation they acknowledged the
remainder of the Buzzards, struggling with tyre puncture kits, with the
expected flurry of exclamations and ‘words of encouragement’ for them in their
predicament. A rather protracted stop further along Hebburn Road finally
produced Dusky Woodswallows as Steve Brew picked a pair perched on a dead
branch. The woodlands were going quiet and with 207 down they decided that they
had to try for a missing friend that they knew was in the area; Buff-rumped
Thornbill. They worked a couple of otherwise ‘reliable’ sites for them, but
eventually had to bite the buffy bullet and head for Old Brush.
After dropping a few gold coins in the donation tin,
spying a Great Egret on the dam and flushing some very welcome Brown 
from the track in, they stood on the edge of the rainforest and listened.
Despite it being close to 11am birds were still calling and they added Noisy
Pitta, Lyrebird, Shrike-tit and White-naped Honeyeater before venturing into
the forest proper, finding the 2 more difficult scrubwrens in Yellow-throated
and Large-billed. A Bassian Thrush feeding near the entry gate on their way out
was the 8th quality species added at Old Brush and all agreed the
tactic to work the remnants and to ‘mop up’ here was a good move. Grey-crowned
Babblers and an Aussie Hobby were added at Mulbring but there was absolutely no
sign of Torresian Crow at all. Frustrated that they’d now missed the best two
opportunities for the crow, they headed towards the ‘next big thing’ in the
form of the Hunter River Estuary. 
The Mulbring Hobby was backed up by Brown Goshawk,
Swamp Harrier and Black Kite, all seen from ‘Kite Bluff’ and rounding out a
double hat-trick on raptors. Little Egret and Yellow-billed Spoonbill were seen
at Pambalong, which was the last ‘quick stop’ before heading to the
make-or-break part of every Twitchathon at Stockton. This is the ‘rainforest
for shorebirds’ on each twitch, along with a supporting cast of terns etc. At
least on this occasion they had some of the long-legged birds from Cargy that
were unlikely to be at Stockton. In contrast to virtually every other
Twitchathon they’d done, the Brewers timed this one to be 3 hours before high 
tide, as opposed to 3 hours
after, which was not an option anyway as high tide was around 3pm. Rather than
go when the tide was higher or lower they hoped to catch a similar ‘staging’ of
birds at the sandspit when the tide was just right so that the beach had a
large, mixed flock staging before flying to high tide roosts. 
The nervous period is always the drive over Stockton
Bridge, but as they gazed down from the left lane they saw bulk birds and there
was an instant fervour. However, that fervour was soon tainted by the fact that
a fisherman was wading into the water near one of the mangrove islands. Every
bird could have flushed at any minute. Rather than heading under the bridge,
they parked on the side of the road and darted back towards to the track that
led them down to the water. Brown Honeyeaters and Mangrove Gerygones were added
by call and the resident Pied Oystercatchers led their fluffy chicks away from
potential danger. 
Fortunately the fisherman had moved away from the
flock of birds but a new threat had emerged as a small boat had made landfall
at the western end of the beach and ready to pounce out of it were two young
boys – time was very much of the essence and the Brewers quickly set about
picking out the various shorebird species. Eastern Curlew,
Bar-tailed/Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew Sands and Red Knot were present, along
with Little and Gull-billed Terns. A distant Sea-Eagle was picked out up the
river whilst a Striated Heron made a very timely appearance…just as the two
life-jacket clad brats from the boat ran full pelt into the flock of birds,
chasing them as if they were pigeons in a park. There could have been a Great
Knot lurking in there but the Brewers were happy with what they’d managed and
moved on to find the Terek Sands, Grey-tailed Tattlers and Whimbrels along the 
Bay foreshore. This was followed by Pacific Golden Plovers along the Stockton
Foreshore and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters feeding in Stockton Bight. A Gannet was
seen by just 2 members so could not go down on the list. 242 species at ten to
one – time for the slog into town.  
Every year the journey into the Newcastle Rock
Platforms becomes more and more tedious and due to the warm weather it was
certainly no exception on this particular Sunday afternoon. They had no hope of
getting a park near the ocean baths so had to scope down on to the rocks from
Fort Drive. As is customary on a Twitchathon Sunday, Sooty Oycs and Ruddy
Turnstones were nowhere to be seen and the only new bird sitting on the rocks
were Crested Terns. Flocks of Short-tailed Shearwaters peppered the sea in
front of them and the occasional Fluttering came in close enough to enable a
positive ID. Common Terns were feeding around the Cowrie Hole but
frustratingly, no Gannets could be scoped and it was to be a dip for the 
Still, the Common Tern was the bird that placed them
on a level score with their previous best of 246 and it had only just gone
one-thirty in the afternoon. The Brewers set to beat their personal best and
the record of 250 looked shaky as well. But as often happens with these Home
Brewers, the wheels nearly fell off in the last 3 hours of the event. They
realised that they were missing 2 common species; Little Wattlebird and,
perhaps remarkably, White-browed Scrubwren. Both of these were gimmes at
Redhead and with recent reports of Bulbuls, Brush Bronzewing and Emu-Wrens at
the same site the decision was made to work that patch. In hindsight that was
probably a tactical error because the possible ‘bonus birds’ were skulkers and
it may have been wiser to go somewhere else where they could have added other
missing species, such as Scaly-breasted / Musk Lorikeets, Latham’s Snipe, Night
Heron, Musk Duck, Tawny Grassbird and of course, that Torresian Crow. 
As it turned out, despite a desperate search for the
skulkers, they only added the wattlebird and scrubwren on the Redhead run and 
the clock showing 2:20pm they needed to make a quick turn-around and hit Ash
Island. Things were getting tight and they had to at least nail the “dead cert”
Tawny Grassbird on Ash. Of course, upon arrival at Schoolhouse and Ramsar
Roads, normally heaving with Tawny Grassbirds like grasshoppers, there was dead
silence and not a bird to be seen.  Musk
Duck was really the only other bird they could target and so they made the long
drive through the guts of Ash Island to get a view across Deep Pond where they
easily located a Musky. As they did, a Tawny Grassbird fortuitously called from
about 10 metres away...and the 250 mark had been reached.
At 3:15 they made a quick dash off Ash Island, not
even stopping for a scan of Swan and Wader Ponds they had such little time. They
did have plenty enough time though to check a harrier floating over Ramsar Road
on the way out. Sure enough, it was an adult Spotted Harrier it all its
splendour and the brewers went berserk at the fact that they’d just tipped the
Twitchathon record score, and with a far more poetic bird than a wetlands
centre Maggie Goose! 
When they got to Shortland they decided they had
enough time to park near Mick Brew’s house and hope that one of the resident
Torresian Crows would call. None did, and it was on to the not-so-wet wetlands 
where they had only allotted themselves around 10 minutes birding time as there
was little on offer apart from the now-customary stake-out for an Azure 
along Ironbark Creek. There was little else to look for anyway as virtually
every pond at the centre was dry. Magpie Goose was added as #252 but they never
even got a whiff of anything else new. 
Mick certainly had more than a whiff of victory though
as he collected the team sheets and glanced quickly at the Menacing Monarchs’
to see “224” scribbled down at the top left of their species sheet. After
announcing the other team scores and hearing from elsewhere in NSW, it was 
that the Hunter Home Brewers had finally regained the Twitchathon mantle after
4 years of bridesmaidness with a new record tally. On the job, they’d come up
with a strategy that shattered the preconception that a rainforest dawn chorus,
or even any type of dawn chorus that wasn’t grumbling birders inside a Nissan
Patrol, was a mandatory Twitchathon tactic. 
Very satisfied with their approach in 2013 (and
remembering there are always dips on a Twitchathon) the brewing lads are looking
forward to the 2014 campaign and are studying the tide charts already. Some new
ideas have emerged, some old ones have faded and some assumptions have move
sideways in the process. 
Oh…and there was much rejoicing. 
Jacqueline Winter

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