Ruff Knights WA Twitchathon summary

To: "" <>, Birding-Aus <>
Subject: Ruff Knights WA Twitchathon summary
From: Bruce Greatwich <>
Date: Tue, 16 Dec 2014 15:50:16 +0800
Hi all, it was an excellent twitchathon once again which we enjoyed
thoroughly. Below is a summary of the triumphs and tribulations of the Ruff
Knights (Stewart Ford, Bruce Greatwich, Nigel Jackett, Nathan Waugh), hope
you enjoy reading. Congratulations on the Western Whistlers on their
victory in the 24 hour and once again showing the south-west can conquer
the north-west!

We wound back our insanity (a little bit) from last year and decided an
excellent compromise to retain northern latitude birds would be to start
our twitchathon campaign in Carnarvon. However we took a large gamble in
that none of us had previously birded Carnarvon (except for a couple of us
who completed a tick and run for the Eurasian Wigeon a couple of years
ago). To compensate for this, we left Perth Thursday morning, allowing us a
full day of recce in Carnarvon, which proved to be invaluable.

A big thanks to local birding legend Les George, who we met up with on
Saturday morning and filled us in on what was hanging around town. We were
initially very concerned upon arriving in Carnarvon and recceing on Friday.
Birds that we thought would be simple were nowhere to be seen, and it was
blowing a steady 40+ km/hr constantly, certainly far from ideal. We decided
to start at Pelican Point, where a large flock of shorebirds were roosting
during the high tide. However having staked out all the shorebirds, half
the flock including all of the Bar-tailed Godwits, Great Knots and Red
Knots – about 500 birds all up - was flushed to the other side of the bay
by kite surfers 30 min prior to the start time. It was too late to relocate
so come 5pm we quickly ticked off the shorebirds that were left and the
twitchathon was on.

In hindsight we believe we broke even in Carnarvon which we felt was a
great result given the poor birding we encountered upon arrival. And we
managed some great highlights, White-bellied Sea-eagle, Osprey and Brahminy
Kite were ticked off in a single scan of the bay within 10 seconds of each
other, a massive result given we hadn't seen an Eagle or Osprey since
arriving in town! A Peregrine Falcon at the sewage works was great and is
rarely recorded in town according to Les, a male Chestnut Teal at the
sewage works made this an excellent stop. Slender-billed Thornbill was
ticked off from near the Golf Course and undoubtedly the bird of our
twitchathon (and strong contender for best bird) a Little Ringed Plover at
Chinaman’s Pool. We left Carnarvon on 83 birds, quite amazingly this was
the same total of birds we had encountered during recce upon arriving in
town. To get this in 2.5 hours was a great effort and we were pumped!

The long night drive followed, highlight being we managed to avoid hitting
any wildlife despite the constant kamikaze kangaroos. We did poorer then
expected on night birds, but managed Boobook, Owlet-nightjar, Frogmouth and
spotlighted a Torresian Crow on a radio tower (don’t worry, we got several
of them during the day too ;). We attempted to spotlight a Pectoral
Sandpiper on a sewage pond which we recorded on the way up. Unfortunately
we didn’t get it, fortunately one of our team members won a 6-pack because
of it.  We also dipped on a Western Quail-thrush that we’d spotlighted on
the drive up while looking for geckos!  A pre-dawn Spotted Nightjar would
have been the first time this species had been recorded by the Ruff
Knights, if only one of the team members had agreed.

We planned our "dawn chorus" stop to be in mulga woodland, and were greatly
rewarded by the single chirp of a Singing Honeyeater. Ah the serenity! When
mulga woodland is good it is great, but when it is bad it is a deafening
silence, and in a dry December it is certainly not good. Despite this, we
managed to grab specialist birds such as Bourke's and Mulga Parrots,
Chestnut-rumped, Inland and Slaty-backed Thornbills, Grey-crowned Babbler
and Western Bowerbird.

Continuing down the highway we ticked off the different habitats and
corresponding birds. Mallee-heath brought us Southern Scrub-robin,
Grey-fronted Honeyeater, White-eared Honeyeater and Blue-breasted
Fairy-wren. Wandoo gave us Yellow-plumed Honeyeater, Pallid Cuckoo, Western
Yellow Robin and Western Thornbill. Perth Hills gave us Red-winged
Fairy-wren, Red-capped Parrot and White-browed Scrub-wren, the Wheatbelt
gave us nothing despite us having recced a ‘dead cert’ site for Brown
Songlark on the way up. Once again we encountered our major flaw in our
route, bush birding through the middle parts of the day in 30 degree
sunshine, resulting in many simple bush bird dips during a mid-day black
hole where we encountered no new birds for over an hour.

From the hills we hit up the coastal plain. Nigel knows Herdy like the back
of his hand and as a result we quickly ticked off all the required birds,
notable exception being Great Cormorant. We whizzed past 12 hour
competitors Once-Bittern with some friendly heckling, and with a small
amount of time we headed to Lake Claremont and were rewarded with Spotted
and Spotless Crakes (also got Long-toed Stint and Marsh Sandpiper, great
birds but we already had them). The Little Bittern and Night-Heron were
still required but we ditched these and headed to the river for for a 2
minute watch for Great Cormorants and Fairy Terns, frustratedly dipping as
a black cormorant flying deliberately into the wind at distance could not
be confidently identified!

Our total stood at 180 which we suspected would not get us over the line,
with the Whistlers consistently recording in the low 180's over the
previous years. Down from our record of 188 from last year. Once again our
route was characterized by some really great birds and some really bad
dips, the trade-off for time driving versus time birding.  We improved
notably on the second day and in particularly through the Wandoo/Hills zone
compared to the previous year, however we missed too many critical species
in Carnarvon. Once again the arid zone was in poor condition, if we ever
hit that area in good condition we should pick up the nomads, putting the
200 barrier within our reach.

Some huge highlights including three crippling Peregrine views, the
Sea-eagle/Osprey/Brahminy Kite 10 second tick, the WA Thornbill Slam which
has probably never been done in 24 hours before (Slender-billed,
Chestnut-rumped, Inland, Slaty-backed, Yellow-rumped and Western), Bourke's
Parrots in the Mulga, Chestnut Teal in Carnarvon, road side Major
Mitchell's Cockatoo and obviously the Little Ringed Plover spotted by Nigel
at Chinaman’s pool in Carnarvon (Les George now reports 2 birds are
present). And the pies at Bindoon of course.

Notable dips, where do we begin? The Striated Heron we had pinned down an
hour before the start, Peaceful Dove, Scarlet Robin, Night-heron, Great
Cormorant, Brown and Rufous Songlark, White-fronted Honeyeater, Barn Owl,
Mistletoe-bird, Black-shouldered Kite, Western Spinebill, White-breasted
Woodswallow, Western Wattlebird, the list goes on!

We traveled 1,510 km for our 180 birds = 11.9 birds per 100 km. Far more
uneconomical than team SWAT and all others I would suggest. We really
enjoyed following some of the other teams on twitter too, particularly
during the difficult middle part of Sunday. Special mention must go to Wes
Bancroft (Stark Raven Mad) for some hilarious updates!

Once again we tested some new boundaries within the state, replicating less
than 30% of previous routes. Who knows what next year will bring for the
Ruff Knights :)
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