Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Dowitcher Twitching at Tutchewop

After getting back from Ashmore I was hoping for a quiet week to settle down and get ready to go to Christmas Island next Monday. The birding godessess had other ideas though, a Dowitcher, probably Long-billed, appeared at Lake Tutchewop, up near Kerang. 
Melbourne to Tutchewop in n-w Victoria

News of "a Dowitcher" hit the Facebook twitchers group at about 1100 on Monday. By 1400 it had been confirmed as either a Short-billed or Long-billed. There have been 3 Short-billed seen in Aus but no Long-billed so both would be a new bird for me. Both these birds breed in the tundra of North America and right now should be wintering somewhere in Central America, although some Long-billed Dowitcher have been found in Bali, Brunei and Thailand. Where this bird is even more impressive is, it has somehow arrived here still in full breeding plumage when it should have been well into its winter moult.
Lake Tutchewop with a car just visible on the irrigation channel track

Long-billed Dowitcher with Curlew Sandpiper, Red-capped Plover and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper

Long-toed Dowitcher

By 1600 I had arranged to go up with friends and we left my place at 0430 yesterday, Tuesday. After a frantic four-hour drive filled with the excitement of seeing such a rare bird and the fear it had already left we arrived at the lake.
In flight

Of course the sighting had to be filled with stress. We arrived at the north end of the lake where it had been seen the day before and joined a few people gazing at a few common waders – not a Dowitcher in sight!! Then a phone call from the south end of the lake, the bird had been found – a mad dash along the dirt track on top of an irrigation channel BUT, the bird had flown, we "should have been there 10 minutes ago", that age old curse. A nervous group of birders, now about 14 people, huddled around scopes for half an hour in the cold morning wind looking at where the bird had been seen and willing it to emerge from behind a pelican or stilt. Another phone call! The bird is at the north end! A convoy of 6 cars dash wildly back along the irrigation channel and stop, people fall out of cars and creep toward a small group peering into scopes. There it is, a sigh of relief from all and lots of relieved laughter. If it is confirmed as a Long-billed it will be a first for Australia. Quite the mega-twitch.
The cars. The one with the green P is just heading out for the 17 hour drive back to Sydney

To finish the day off we pulled into a small dust track beside a billabong at Kerang and there we found a small family of Grey-crowned Babblers, a bird not often seen in Victoria and rarely anywhere near Kerang, a real surprise.
Grey-crowned Babbler

As of Wednesday morning the birding services are running hot. Confirmation is now nearly 100% for Long-billed Dowitcher, a first for Australia and new Australian bird 777 for me. The sad end to this tale though is, as of 1430 today, Wednesday the 30 or so people at the lake can't find the bird and there are lots of long faces.

A green beetle that distracted me during the twitch

All images & text © Jenny Spry

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