Back in 1956 or so I started watching birds when Graham Pizzey showed me a Tawny Frogmouth in his front yard. By somewhere in the mid 1970s I had built my Australian list to about 280 species, but Australian birding then, for various life reasons, stopped until 2001 when I met Joy, Barb and Helen and my birding life took off again. Between 2001 and the end of 2007 I add 375 new birds to my Australia list and saw many wonderful new places and had many wonderful experiences along the way. The four of us made a great team.
|South Island Pied Oystercatcher|
I retired from work at the end of 2007 and since then have had more time for birding and have been to many more places including Macquarie Island, Boigu Island, Saibi Island, Norfolk Island, Ashmore Island, Christmas Island and Cocos & Keeling Islands. I doubt I would have got to any of these fascinating places if it wasn't for my interest in birding and the company of my friends. Since January 2005 I have done more than 18 major birding trips and averaged seeing 20 new bird species each year.
I haven't done many single bird "twitches" over the years because I like to see new places or re-visit old favourites when I go birding; I am not really interested in just dashing off to add a new bird to my list. For example, I didn't chase the Hoopoe that was found on the mown lawn outside a roadhouse near Broome. I had seen a hoopoe in Vietnam, I had been to Broome and the roadhouse so I just couldn't get excited. Of course there were exceptions like the Grey-headed Lapwing in 2006 when the four of us jumped in a car and drove through the night from Melbourne to Burren Junction in far north NSW. It was a long drive but we had a party atmosphere happening in the car and we met many friends when we got to the bird.
The Oriental Honey-buzzard in Perth this year was similar. I have been to Perth lots of times but this was a magnificent bird, and we added Chris and Mel to our group and the six of us flew over. Then, having seen the bird, we drove north of Perth for some new birds for some of the group. Again this year, the White-rumped Sandpiper and the South Island Pied Oystercatcher were two more exceptions. A couple of years ago I thought I saw a White-rumped Sandpiper on my local patch, the Western Sewage Treatment Plant at Werribee. It was such a rare bird and the sighting was so brief I didn't add it to my list so when one turned up in northern New South Wales I had to go, and the oystercatcher we picked up at the same time.
Suddenly 2015 was becoming interesting. I started the year with 783 species, and I had set a goal of seeing 800 Australian species before my 70th birthday in 2016. But here I was at the end of the first week in Feb with three new birds on my list. I had also booked onto two major trips for the year, one being to the Mitchell Plateau in northern Western Australia that would include my first ride in a helicopter and then the tropical forests of Iron Range and the remote Raine Island in far north Queensland. All of a sudden, in the middle of September, I was on, including some splits and confirmations on some earlier sightings, 794 species. I was in reach of 800.
|Lesser Sooty Owl|
|Tower on Raine Island|
|Rough Seas on the way to Raine Island|
|Only photo of Herald Petrel that I got at our anchorage|
Over the years I had left three "plastic" birds (introduced species) on King Island in Bass Strait, just to the south of Melbourne and as the result of recent splits there were two birds just over the South Australian boarder to the west. If I went and "twitched" those birds I could be on 799 within a couple of weeks. I booked a flight to King Island and soon had Common Pheasant, Indian Peafowl and Wild Turkey on the list and was surprised at just how beautiful all three were. They might just be "plastics" but they were well worth seeing, as was King Island.
|Wild Turkey's displaying|
I then chased two more species for my Australian list, Western Grasswren and Copper-backed Quail-thrush. They have been sitting over the boarder in South Australia waiting for me for a while now so I packed the car and headed west. I had chosen a break in the weather that promised reasonably calm winds because both birds are "skulkers" and notoriously hard to find.
I got to Whyalla at about 1300 and drove straight into Wild Dog Hill Park to have some lunch and a first hunt for the Western Grasswren. I stopped beside the entry road, got out of my car (luckily with my camera) and squeaked once. The grasswren jumped out of a bush, looked at me, ran along the track for 5 metres and disappeared. Tick one.
The quail-thrush was harder but finally at about 1700 on Thursday, after hunting for a day and a half, I saw a quail-thrush flush from the base of a dead tree, sigh, not a great look but hey it was a look. Tick 2.
On Friday morning I tried a new quail-thrush site hoping for a better look. At about 0515 I could hear quail-thrush calling. It took me about 3/4 of an hour of twisting and turning as I chased down calling birds in the half light before dawn but finally I saw one just before it jumped from a branch and disappeared. I then spent about 2 hours searching the mallee with no further luck. After that, with heavy rain forecast for the next 24 hours, I gave up and pointed the car east for home
For bird 800 I had options because over the years I have left single birds all over Australia including the Pale-vented Bush-hen near my friend Ian's, or the Chestnut-quilled Rock-Pigeon near my friend Biggles'. Either would do. If I wanted to go further afield I haven't been to Lord Howe Island yet and there are two new birds waiting there for me. There are even two vagrants, Common Moorhen and a Common Kingfisher, on my favourite island, Cocos. Sigh what to do.
The quandary was resolved by the official list, IOC World Bird List, being updated and giving me an "armchair tick" for bird 800. It split the Collared Kingfisher into Collared (seen as a vagrant on Ashmore Reef) and Torresian (seen around the north coast of Australia). As I have seen both these previous races I gained an extra bird.
|Collared Kingfisher on Ashmore Island|
Honestly though, getting an "armchair tick" for 800 was not what I wanted. Bird 500 was a Forty-spotted Pardalote, bird 600 had been a Black Bittern and bird 700 was a Schrenck's Bittern. These are all, in their own way, hard to find birds. I wanted to see another "hard to find bird" for my next bird after my hard to find Copper-backed Quail-thrush. So I planned to go out and "see" a new bird that would give me the pleasure of being out in the bush among birds. Maybe for my own private list I will have two birds for 800, it is certainly a big enough number to support two birds (smile).
|Schrenck's Bittern on Christmas Island|
The 800th bird situation was resolved when Joy, Mel and Joy told me they were taking a couple of days off work and that we were going up the Strzelecki track for Melbourne Cup Weekend. Target bird was Letter-winged Kite, a new bird for all of us. Letter-winged Kite was doubly special for me because it was the last bird from my pre 2000 list that I hadn't seen on my new list. I think I saw one somewhere west of Goondiwindi in about 1960. As Goondiwindi is not in main Letter-winged Kite range, except during irruptions, and because I was young (14 +/-) I just couldn't leave it on. Therefore, I had taken it off my post 2000 list because of doubts about my skills back in the old pre 2000 list days so I had to see one to complete the circle.
Ah yes, the "old days" (smile). My only field guide back then was What Bird is That by Neville W. Cayley that I got for my birthday in 1958, and prior to that I was using a book called Some Common Australian Birds by Alan and Shirley Bell. My binoculars were a hand-me-down pair of Pentax 10x50 that were so heavy I had to lean them against a tree or the family car to keep them steady. So much has changed in the way of equipment but the birding is just as much fun.
|My first field guide|
We found the Letter-wing-Kite 20 km north of Monticolina Bore, right where the Dolby & Clark guide said it would be, well, pretty much but it did put up a good fight and took a lot of hunting down in 34º temp. It was definitely a bird that warranted its place at co-bird 800, or even first bird after 800 (smile). Sadly I didn't get the gorgeous photo to go with the sighting before the bird disappeared behind a tree because I also had been "behind a tree" and only saw it when I stood up – thank heavens I always take my binoculars when I go behind a tree (smile). As we were all suffering from the heat we didn't try to re-find it but just staggered back to the car and the aircon.
The plans are already in place for more trips including Torres Strait and the Australian waters of the Coral Sea so there are till plenty of places to go and birds to see. Birding is a wonderful obsession to have (smile).
All images & text © Jenny Spry