Well, the time had arrived.Twitchathon.The somewhat ludicrous annual event whereby teams race around the state in an attempt to see as many species as is humanly possible in a twenty-four hour period without the use of aircraft.To this end funds are raised that go towards research grants for conservation projects dealing with issues relating to threatened birds.All good stuff.Andy and I were primed, pumped, motivated, ready to go, whatever term is applicable here, we were it.The conditions couldn't have been better, heaps of birds about this spring, good weather forecast, the Discovery was champing at the bit, our route had been planned and tweaked, and we were defending our title as 2008 Champions.Couldn't ask for a better scenario to launch our assault.
Well the best laid plans...
We came a dismal fourth.We started with a splutter and ended with a whimper.I blame the car.It got us lost just before start time, then careened around looking wildly for birds in all the wrong places and caused us to stay too long in one location.Before we knew it dark had descended and we had to scarper for our night-time sortie, but not before the car made us drive through a particularly large central Victorian historical town and purchasing foul-tasting "food" at a large family chain restaurant characterized by large yellow lettering.Not only did we get to our camp late without time for spotlighting, but just as we were drifting sweetly off into our obligatory thee hours sleep, as per the rules, a bunch of bogans turned up and partied on nearby for the rest of the night.
Man, we were behind the eight-ball big-time come Sunday morning, and not only physically.Our list count revealed we were twelve down on the same time last year.
Our early morning site didn't produce all the birds we really wanted, nor did the next site, although there was a nice surprise there in the form of Scarlet Honeyeater.
Heading through town to our afternoon sites we found ourselves grinding to a halt quick-smart, thanks to roadworks on the freeway.Then, as if to punish us for planning such an arse-about route, the Disco started over-heating. So we were sitting there, crawling along at about 3 km/hr, wasting precious time, with the air-con off, sweltering in 38 degree heat. Well I was anyway, Andrew was punching out zeds...
We never really recovered.I had trouble starting the Disco for an eternity at an un-named coastal location, we dipped on several birds, and never made up the deficit.The final tally was a paltry 181, ten below our winning formula of 2008.We never even came close to winning; the three teams ahead of us all got well over the 200 mark.
However we did get some great birds in the process, such as Black Honeyeater, Scarlet Honeyeater, Brush Cuckoo, White-throated Nightjar, Wonga Pigeon, Masked Woodswallow, Black-faced Monarch, Gilbert's Whistler and Red Knot.
Back to the drawing board you might hear me say, refine and plan some more. Perhaps adopt a whole new mindset, create a new route. No way, I'm never doing one of these stupid events again.
Or am I?........
10th November, 2009: Forest and Swamp.
This morning was one of those surreal experiences that you live for as a birder, one of those sublime, perfect days where the temperature is perfect, the air is clean and crisp, and the birds are everywhere.
My companion was Mike from the UK, and we headed to BunyipState Park to see what was about.The forecast was for a hot day with wind increasing throughout the morning. However Mike and I were to dodge the brunt of this in the forest, where it was calm and deliciously cool.Almost the first bird we saw was a stonking male Scarlet Honeyeater in some flowering mistletoe, who was happy to flit around only metres from us.This was soon followed by a gorgeous Rufous Fantail who also came over to investigate, and soon thereafter a male Satin Flycatcher, shimmering in the early morning sun.To top it off a pair of Mistletoebird was also in attendance showing off their glossy blue and deep reds.Heading deeper into the forest we soon watched several Pallid Cuckoo and Shining Bronze-cuckoo feeding on fat, hairy caterpillars by the track, and we heard a few Fan-tailed Cuckoo far-off in the scrub.High overhead drifted numbers of White-browed Woodswallow, and cruising through the trees came squadrons of languid and ethereal Yellow-tailed Black-cockatoos.
In riverine forest along a creekline we watched a pair of Rose Robin courting, Lewin's Honeyeater, several Gang-gang Cockatoo, a Brush Cuckoo, Spotted and Striated Pardalote, and Mike even caught a glimpse of a fly-by male Cicadabird.
All too soon we had to leave this utopian world of enchanted forest birds and head to the other side of town for the Western Treatment Plant, a spot Mike was keen to experience.
Upon arrival there we soon found some of Australia's resident endemic waders in the form of Red-necked Avocet, Black-fronted Dotterel, Red-kneed Dotterel, Red-capped Plover and Black-winged Stilt.Mike had his first looks at Red-necked Stint and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, species that are mega-rarities in the UK.We also saw Australian Shelduck, Australasian Shoveler, Royal Spoonbill, Australasian Spotted Crake plus others that were all new for Mike and provided comparison to similar counterparts back home in England.
On the way out we found a loose congregation of around 50 White-browed Woodswallow with smaller numbers of Masked Woodswallow mixed in the flock, a nice end to a fantastic day's birding.Cheers Mike, thanks for the company and hope to see you out here again one day.
18-19th November, 2009: Greater Melbourne region
Due to circumstances beyond my control the 18th and 19th November were booked back to back.Each day was a Full Day Tour plus a Spotlighting session at the end of each day.The prospect of this made the Twitchathon seem like baby stuff.The days were two separate bookings from UK birders, and each booking was to involve as a big a list as possible in the allotted time, or in other words visiting the widest variety of habitats.
In the end I calculated that I was in the road for 37.25 out of 48 hours, with 4 hours sleep in between days.Great fun you might add.Well, yes it was, truth be told...
Colin and Roz from London joined me on day one of the Marathon, and as I picked them up from Southbank in Melbourne I drew a deep breath, laden with nerves and no small dose of apprehension.
I needn't have worried.Mental note: me birding good, me birding all day and night even gooder.
Colin and Roz provided warm and friendly company and, amongst several cups of tea in the sunshine we were privy to some excellent birdlife in the various habitats we visited.In the morning we saw White-winged Triller, Jacky Winter, copious numbers of Brown Treecreeper, Diamond Firetail, close-up looks at Painted Button-quail, Brown Goshawk, Varied Sitella, Yellow-tufted Honeyeater, Wedge-tailed Eagle and White-browed Woodswallow.In the afternoon we headed for the hills and saw Scarlet Honeyeater, Blue-winged Parrot calling high overhead, a Brush Cuckoo who roared in and landed overhead in response to pishing, a beautiful pair of Satin Flycatcher, Rufous Fantail, calling Red-browed Treecreeper, another Painted Button-quail and, frustratingly for Colin, a very close Superb Lyrebird in full song that would not reveal itself to us from behind the bracken.After dark we heard the maniacal gobbles and had ever so brief glimpses of White-throated Nightjar as well as a fly-by Southern Boobook, and heard Tawny Frogmouth.We tallied 132 species for the day.
Somehow we made it back and I scraped myself into bed at 12.30am, dreaming about something, I can't remember what, but it wasn't birds...
Up on the 19th Nov at 4.30am, the fog of sleep reluctantly relinquishing its hold on my head as I drove off into the night/morning to collect Gordon, my birding companion for the day.By the time I arrived at his hotel I was raring to go again, I think...
We headed east to some mountainous forest and quickly built up a good list of birds.Olive Whistler was finally seen after a long stake-out. Brush Cuckoo, Superb Lyrebird, Rose Robin, calling Pilotbird, Gang-gang Cockatoo and Grey Currawong all fell under the radar.After sorting out the subtle differences between Striated and Brown Thornbill we drove back through town and headed to the Western Treatment Plant.Here birds were aplenty.We managed to get onto thousands of Pink-eared Duck and Hardhead, several Fairy Tern with singles of Little Tern and Common Tern amongst them, Ruddy Turnstone, and to Gordon's absolute delight a trio of Striated Fieldwren singing away on a fence only metres away.I was buzzing too, or was it the 3 No-Doze I had taken during the course of the morning??
We headed to the nearby You Yangs, and in the late afternoon sun watched White-browed and Masked Woodswallow filling the sky with their chatters and chirps, a beautiful pair of Restless Flycatcher on a nest with two fuzzy young, and a stunning male Scarlet Robin singing from atop a dead tree.
At our last daylight site we fluked a pair of Little Lorikeet and Musk Lorikeet feeding in flowering eucalypts right above our heads as we got out of the car, with Purple-crowned Lorikeet and Collared Sparrowhawk fly-bys, and a calling Diamond Firetail that remained unseen.
At our nearby spotlighting location we managed only brief glimpses of satanic-looking White-throated Nightjar in the torch beam, and heard Southern Boobook and Australian Owlet-nightjar.What a hoot, we recorded 157 species for the day and had a great time. Thank you Gordon, hope to see you on our shores again soon.
The total for the two days consecutive birding came to 170 species.
23rd November, 2009 NewportLakes Reserve.
Ah spring, so much promise of new life and migrants.Migrants that you always hope will drop in to your local patch.Well sometimes they do.Today at my favorite little birding hotspot I was lucky enough to chance upon a male Leaden Flycatcher – yeah I couldn’t believe it either, and he was a stunning male too.He was absolutely resplendent in the morning sun, calling loudly and tail-shivering vigorously.I could hardly tear myself away.But when I did I found other groovy migrants in the form of a male White-winged Triller, and a Rufous Whistler, both rarities in this neck of the woods.
The previous day had seen some pretty hairy weather with powerful northerly winds followed by a stormy late southerly change.I figured the Leaden Flycatcher may have been blown south a little off course and then took shelter in the reserve.Perhaps the Newport Lakes Reserve could be considered a bit of a migrant trap, who knows.In any event the bird was gone the next day.
25th November, 2009Balnarring on the MorningtonPeninsula.
Wren & I spent the night at my Mum’s place in Balnarring, and at 3 am I was woken by the very distinctive calls of an Australian Koel!!I actually had to sit up and clear my head to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.Not dreaming. The bird called about a dozen times and then was heard no more.I thought I wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep so excited was I.But I did…
This spring and summer has seen an unprecedented number of koel records from the Melbourne area, as well as from eastern and central regional areas of Victoria.
27th November, 2009 NewportLakes Reserve.
Spurred on by my recent success in this location I again strode into the park full of anticipation this fine morning.I headed to the exact spot where I had seen the Leaden Flycatcher 4 days prior, and sure enough I heard a Myiagra flycatcher calling away.However this one sounded slightly different.Wouldn’t it be funny to see a Satin Flycatcher here this time in place of the Leaden??And there it was, a male Satin Flycatcher, a somewhat scrappy looking individual but a Satin Flycatcher nonetheless!I thought I was seeing things, the bird was in exactly the same spot as the Leaden had been, however he behaved slightly differently, spending more time in the tree tops and sallying forth for insects, whereas the Leaden had been more content to forage and call in the lower canopy of trees 1-2m above the ground.
Anyway, I was flabergasted and very pleased.The White-winged Triller and Rufous Whistler were still in evidence, as was a Horsfield’s Bronze-cuckoo.
29th November, 2009 Western Treatment Plant.
Andy and I had a couple of free hours (well 6) this morning so we shot down to the WTP for a captain.Well we were treated to a bit of a wader-fest.Eighteen species we saw, including Red-kneed Dotterel, Grey Plover, a probable Lesser Sand-plover flying by, Far Eastern Curlew, Great Knot, Red Knot, Marsh Sandpiper, Black-tailed Godwit & Bar-tailed Godwit.The low tide mudflats were just teeming with birds.
Other non-waders included 15 Glossy Ibis, several Stubble Quail, and both Australasian Grebe and Australian Wood Duck – both species unusual in the plant.