End of Big Year Tally: 745
Beautiful Lord Howe Island, with the twin peaks –Mt Lidgbird (left) and Mt Gower in the distance.
The timing of my November trip to North Queensland
allowed me to watch the total eclipse of the sun from
the front yard of my good friend and reptile-man
Peter Krauss in Mareeba. The 14 November
event was something I’ll never forget.
From the Sydney airport I drove down to coastal Victoria to easily twitch the well-publicised vagrant Franklin’s Gull there. Then a final (unsuccessful) shot at Buff-breasted Buttonquail at Mt Molloy, before visiting the northern Torres Strait Islands for the second time. Between Boigu, Saibai and Dauan Islands, I encountered no rare vagrants, but managed to score a couple of widespread species that were new for my year-list. I photographed the three speciality birds: Red-capped Flower-pecker, Collared Imperial Pigeon and Singing Starling, and got a tantalising but too-brief view of a harrier-like raptor disappearing behind the Dauan cliffs.
for much better views of Red-capped Flowerpecker (above) and
Collared Imperial Pigeon (left).
This Asian race of Dollarbird
was being hassled by
territorial white terns on
Horsburgh Island, Cocos.
|The Hodgson’s Hawk-cuckoo|
was a wonderful surprise
on the main (West) Island.
The Tiger Shrike I stumbled upon
(almost literally) on Home Island,
Cocos was immensely satisfying,
and a species that I’m unlikely
to ever see again.
My next trip was aboard the 55 passenger Russian ice-breaker Spirit of Enderby, as commissioned by New Zealand based Heritage Expeditions. The first leg of this three-week passage was from Albany to Hobart, and was attended by a good number of ‘real’ sea-birders. The trek across the Australian Bight was a great experience, with the bonus of providing two new ‘ticks’ - Gould’s Petrel and Little Shearwater (whoo-hoo!). I only hope I can retrace the route one day during the winter months, when Antarctic species would be much more likely.
The Professor Kromov aka Spirit of Enderby is commissioned by Heritage Expeditions on a
year-round basis to circumnavigate planet Earth on a seemingly endless pelagic voyage.
King Penguins on the beach at Sandy Bay, Macca: Crikey.
|Long live the King.|
|Breeding colonies of Royal Penguin pepper the coastline of Macquarie Island. We were ashore |
at Sandy Bay for several hours, free to mill amongst the Penguins and Elephant Seals.
I made Brisbane by late afternoon, and enjoyed views of a White-throated Nightjar in the backyard of birders Tom and Marie Tarrant shortly after nightfall. Two mainland ticks in one day – that hadn’t happened for a very long time.
|My Year-count took a hit when I realized that |
the Christmas Island Goshawk (pictured here)
was recently ‘lumped’ with Brown Goshawk.
The next morning on my Brisbane to Adelaide flight (aboard a 747 – no kidding), while scrutinising my 747 sightings against the current IOC list, I realised that I’d neglected to remove Varied Goshawk (from Christmas Island) from my list after it was ‘lumped’ together with the widespread Brown Goshawk. Augghh! With that blood on the floor, my mind returned to lingering concerns about the ‘self- sustaining feral status’ of the NSW population of Ostriches that I’d ticked. Worries about the validity of that tick had reverberated around in my head for months, and I guess I knew all along that I was never going to feel right about it. And so, in applying the dreaded ‘de-tick’ process for the second time that day, I’d slipped right back to a likely end of year tally of 745!
Still, hope springs eternal, and I was determined to give it my best shot at finding an Australasian Bittern in the Bool Lagoon SA to Portland Vic Bittern hot-spots, that at least during Winter months, provide a descent shot at a sighting. If that exercise came to fruit (highly unlikely in post-fledging late-December and current high water levels), I’d shoot up to north Queensland for a final wild stab at Buff-Breasted Buttonquail. Best case scenario: 747 (again!). Unfortunately, hope wasn’t enough, and despite enthusiastic hands-on assistance from Portland Victoria based birder Rob Farnes, as well as Bob Green on the South Australian side of the border, the Aussie ‘Bunyip bird’ was not to be. And so, my final tally of bird species viewed within the Economic Exclusion Zone (EEZ) of Australia during the 2012 calendar year stands at 745 (or 733 species for those who follow the 2008 Christides & Boles taxonomy).
Final thoughts about the Birding for Devils Big Year
Dipping on the Australasian Bittern in the final days of 2012 wasn’t all bad – I enjoyed the experience immensely, reminding me that much of the joy of birding (for me, at least) comes from the search itself, beginning with the planning process. That of course is not to say that I don’t also get immense satisfaction from quietly watching birds – I do. It remains the most effective way I know of to take in, and seemingly become part of the peaceful stillness of nature. I actually spent a lot of time in 2012 silently ‘bird-watching’ in the non-listing sense, and look forward to a full resumption of slower-paced ‘peace time’ birding in 2013.
|The Ashmore Reef crew|
|Sometimes a fleeting glimpse is all you get. This unidentified raptor on Dauan island tested my frustration limit.|
|I saw very few mainland vagrants during 2012, |
but the Franklin’s Gull at the Paynesville Victoria
marina provided a fantastic highlight of my year.
the mainland. Of the few that did show up, my only scores were the Little Ringed Plover (a regular at Darwin), the Semi-palmated Plover at Broome
(a summer regular at Broome),
and the Franklin’s Gull that graced the coastal town of Paynesville, Victoria
in October. I missed the Hudsonian
Godwit at Perth by a single day in February. My flight to Lord Howe Island to swoop on the South Island Pied Oystercatcher was aborted due to engine trouble and rescheduled for
the next morning. In the meantime
the SIPO took advantage of shifting afternoon winds, an hour or two after
I could’ve/should’ve’/would’ve seen it, to begin the long flight back to New Zealand. I couldn’t get the Buff-banded Sandpiper that showed up at the Price Salt-works in South Australia in December due to the site being declared off limits to birders after a twitcher ran afoul of the complex OHS rules of the site.
Notwithstanding the glass-half-empty analyses of birding mishaps recounted above, and a fair few other misadventures and mini-disasters scattered throughout the year, it all proved to be flesh-wound stuff. Nothing went wrong enough to threaten my ability to keep on birding. The truth is that I benefited from almost impossibly good fortune throughout the year, with more lucky breaks than I could have reasonably expected. On most occasions it seemed like I was on the front foot – and success in finding the bird was there for the taking, given a bit of extra effort from time to time.
|Several years of relatively wet conditions in arid districts provided ideal conditions for a 'Big Year' for birding in 2012.|
The information and communication revolutions have dramatically enhanced birding in recent decades, and this trend has continued right up to today. The amount of helpful information available over the Internet, in particular, is almost unbelievable. The Eremaea website, together with related bird-reporting site Birdline can provide a veritable mud-map to individual birds. The blog sites of Tim Dolby and others provide additional valuable advice on how and where to find birds.
Several informative ‘where to find birds’ books also proved invaluable to me over the course of the year, none more so than the classic Complete Guide to Finding the Birds of Australia by Thomas and Thomas. The New Atlas of Australian Birds (produced by Birdlife Australia) contributed to my understanding of where birds are most apparent during the various seasons. The four popular field guides for Australian birds are all simply terrific, and I used them all. Michael Morcombe’s smart phone app version of his field guide was a fantastic companion in the field – except when I drowned or lost my iPhones. The birdsong recordings of David Stewart and others are game-changing, in that one can not only learn what calls to listen for, but on occasions when appropriate, attract the interest of birds by responsible and measured use of playback.
A very welcome outcome during my year on the road was the continuous stream of offers of help. I met many extraordinary birders on pelagic trips, who were willing to overlook my sea-birding ineptness (though I did eventually improve) and ask about my progress, or to offer valuable tips and suggestions. Over the course of the year I received help and encouragement from a veritable list of ‘Who’s Who’ in Australian birding - Sean Dooley included, most of whom I now feel blessed to think of as friends. In my mind, this entrée into the lives of these people is justification enough for squeezing a lifetime of birding into 12 crazy months, record or no.
|Wonderful times in deserts with birding buddies and work mates past and present |
Tim Faulkner (middle) and Stotty Ryan. The success of our 17-day arid inland ‘mission’ in May is still hard to believe.
As for my ultimate ‘secret weapon’, my co-worker at the Australian Reptile Park and Devil Ark, Tim Faulkner helped in so many ways in and out of the field. Most easily recounted is the fact that Tim organised and participated in several wildly successful legs of my trip, including Christmas/Cocos Part 1 in February; a 17-day arid inland ‘clean sweep’ in May; and an exhausting, but deeply satisfying three-day September search for White-throated Grasswrens at Kakadu. Tim is an incredibly talented birder, and there is no doubt but that my final species count would have been lower without the benefit of having his crazy-perceptive hearing and observation skills along during those fantastic trips. Oh, and he showed me how easy it can be to find a Rufous Scrub-bird. The guy should be registered as a weapon.
My wife Robyn joined me for a total of six weeks in some of the more scenic places: Tasmania, Lord Howe Island, Norfolk Island, Macquarie Island, Cape York, and the southwest of WA. Each of these trips proved to be fantastic experiences for us both, and I’m so glad she came along. Of course, without her support from the get-go, I wouldn’t have been able to undertake a partial year of planning, let-alone embark upon a hideously expensive year on the road, leaving her to run our business and various activities largely on her own.
|The end of a mighty big year, with birding mate, kindred spirit and comedian extraordinaire Bruce Richardson. Oh, and THAT tattoo. It was a memorable year – that will now stay memorable well into the Alzheimer’s years.|
Lots of birders supported Devil Ark this year by way of sponsorship, maybe in part as a result of my modest amount of publicity as well as discussions on boats (where nobody could escape) and elsewhere. It is becoming increasingly apparent that Devil Ark is the linchpin to any future for the iconic Tasmania Devil, as well as a range of additional marsupial species that may well disappear with the predicted influx in dogs, cats and possibly foxes in the Tasmanian landscape in the rush to fill the ecological vacuum. Visit the Devil Ark website at www.devilark.com.au to find out where we are at in the aim of capturing and maintaining 95% of the genetic variation of the Tasmanian devil, while retaining wild-type behaviour over a prescribed 30-50 year period. It’s a compelling story – maybe you should sponsor a devil!