Big Day #2 – our second attempt to see (and where possible, photograph) 100 bird species in a day – the Twitcher’s Ton.
Wednesday, Dec 30th 2015.
Guest post (mostly) by Steven Pratt
Take two. Scored mid-90s in November – with that experience under the belt, surely we can crack 100 this time. The rough plan was: dawn at Nudgee Beach followed by a quick look at Tinchi Tamba Wetland; then a drive to Bribie Island for Kakadu Beach and Buckley’s Hole; then a first trip to the Toorbul high tide roost before heading up to Brooloo to finish the big day in late afternoon (and possibly early evening, depending on the tally). A solid plan to see 100+ bird species, although this one-way trip meant getting to Mal’s the night before and leaving the car there – quite a hassle. NB: The photos are a mix of mine and Mal’s.
The Big Day
Deep asleep – woken by the alarm (unusual for a birding day) and up and showered and out the door by 4:40am.
Heavy clouds to the south. Forecast was for scattered showers and near gale force winds by midday. Not ideal.
Expecting to kick things off with a Rock Dove near the racecourse on the drive to Nudgee Beach (yes, that’s some seriously low-hanging fruit) – but none to be found! There are normally hundreds of them there. An omen for the day? That sounded quite negative. A sign? Whatever – I could do without seeing feral pigeons anyway. Still managed to tick off Noisy Miner, Torresian Crow, Crested Pigeon and Australasian Figbird before parking at Nudgee Beach.
No sign of the Jabiru chicks that Mal thinks might live there (but then again, he thinks Riflebirds live in the suburbs). [Mal: Okay, that’s not true. I just recently heard some Common Mynas across the road making an uncannily similar noise to a Paradise Riflebird. As for the Jabirus, I can’t think of anything else it could have been, despite only hearing them. Only days before this big day I had heard some bird noises that I’d never heard before; a repeating squeaking kind of call intermittently interrupted by a strange guttural kind of croaking – turns out after checking the bird app when I got home that those noises were almost identical to a Black-necked Stork chick begging with the intermittent bill-rattling of the adult. And yes, I’ve also recently found out that despite being called Jabirus for as long as I can remember, Black-necked Storks aren’t Jabirus.]
White-breasted Woodswallows and Welcome Swallows on the way out to the flats. [Mal: Very average photos of the Welcome Swallows in the dark morning light but also a check of the photos weeks later uncovered some Tree Martins as well.]
Dollarbirds overhead. A Silvereye and some Variegated Fairy-wrens in the thickets (yes, that’s a photo of a Variegated; woeful isn’t it), Brown Honeyeaters in the trees, and a Magpie-lark perched up on a dead tree.
[Mal: Also saw a Common Myna foraging in the grass, which is unusual for Nudgee Beach, and I hope that remains the case. Steve had decided that the total count shouldn’t include introduced species (e.g. Mynas, Rock Doves, Spotted Doves, etc. Cattle Egrets even?). I, on the other hand, am not such an immigrant snob and was going by a simple rule … if it’s in the Australian Birds app then I’m going to count it. That certainly doesn’t mean though that I wouldn’t be happy if all the Common Mynas were rounded up and “relocated” but it’s not their fault they’re here so someone has to show them a little love. I digress. Back to the count…]
We detoured past the Woodswallow nest that Mal had been monitoring for the past couple of weeks (the chicks were there; maybe a week away from fledging) then out to the flats. Plenty of Silver Gulls (forgot to log them till about lunchtime!). Promising signs with a sea of shorebirds on our side of Kedron Brook Floodway. Australian Pied Oystercatchers and Black-winged Stilts probing the exposed mud and a Little Egret flying overhead. A Pied Cormorant landed in the floodway. Australian White Ibis and Bar-tailed Godwits all around, and a few Whimbrels. [Mal: There he goes again, ignoring the “ferals”. A pair of Cattle Egrets flew over to boost my tally.]
But what were all the small shorebirds? It was too dark for my liking – the shorebird LBJs (little brown jobs) are not easy to make out against the mudflats. Still, clear sightings of Pacific Golden Plovers, Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, Curlew Sandpipers and Red-necked Stints. Plenty of terns about; We were looking for up to six species. Ticked off Crested (better shots at Bribie – shown below with Little Tern watching on), my first Whiskered (note the obvious sooty belly and bright white cheeks / “whiskers”), Gull-billed, and a couple of really small ones (Little Terns) … but no Caspian (got him later at Toorbul; photo below). Probably no Common either.
[Mal: I’m not convinced we didn’t see a Common Tern but I’m still struggling to identify some terns, particularly those in non-breeding plumage. Looking back through the photos I thought I found a tern that was too big to be a Little Tern, but it had a long black bill, so it wasn’t a Crested, Caspian or Gull-billed, and a white belly, so not a Whiskered. It could have been a Common Tern (or possibly, but unlikely, a White-fronted Tern?) but it’s also possible it was just a slightly bigger Little Tern so I decided not to count it – not 100%, not on the list.]
The rising sun and passing thick cloud-band were making it challenging to find the right camera settings: dark, bright, dark… making it very tricky to focus and settle on the right exposure. But good news: a couple of sand plovers. Initial thoughts were that we saw both Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers out near the waterline but looking back at the photos suggests probably only Lesser. Double-figures for small and large shorebirds though. Job done.
So far no raptors. The big birds in the sky were just Australian Pelicans. Where were the raptors? Last time we were lucky to get a Sea Eagle on the far side of the Floodway. So before leaving the mudflats Mal scanned the far shore with his lens, and sure enough, there was a massive White-bellied Sea Eagle pulling at a carcass on the beach to the south! If it was eating a fish then it was huge, although we never did find out. As if sensing our thoughts of getting a decent photo, the eagle took flight and headed straight for us. Some good shots of her over the Floodway (assuming female because another, slightly smaller, eagle joined her from the north, which must have been her mate). I lowered the camera to watch. Big mistake. The two eagles came together in mid-air not far in front of us – decent photo for Mal, nothing for me; I should know better.
[Mal: We didn’t know it at the time but there was also a small group of Great Knots out on the mudflats. Didn’t matter to the final tally as we saw dozens of them later at Toorbul.]
Okay, the sea eagles were a great distraction, but time to go check out the board-walk. Got a Collared Kingfisher, Grey Fantail and great view of a Tawny Grassbird on the way back to the car. Also a Mangrove Gerygone resting quite still (for a change) on a stump.
Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes up around the gum trees and an Australian Brush-turkey on the grass. The tally is ticking over nicely.
We drove around to the board-walk and popped out to the flats before joining the board-walk. Another Little Egret hunting in the shallow pools. An Eastern Curlew in the distance… and a Sea Eagle on a brilliant perch … in the distant distance. Hiked over to get a closer look. Through the thigh-deep estuary and north across the flats. But he was gone before we got there and had met up with his mate and landed on some branches back behind the mangroves. Hike worth it though thanks to a Whistling Kite on the way back, an Australasian Darter overhead, a Great Egret, a closer encounter with an Eastern Curlew flying overhead, and some ducks (later identified as Chestnut Teals) on the horizon to the west.
To the board-walk. Early Red-backed Fairy-wrens (females or possibly young males) but not much else until the board-walk proper. Bingo. An Eastern Osprey. Perched on the far side of Nundah Creek, looking up at a Whistling Kite! But too much foliage in the foreground to get a decent shot.
[Mal: Either Steve was taking the 100 species count very seriously – and just wanted to get the shot and move on – or he was just too lazy to stand up on the bench seat right beside him to get a slightly higher – and slightly better – shot. Maybe a little of the former and a lot of the latter.]
Great view of a couple of Collared Kingfishers. But no Striated Herons. Our most likely sighting was going to be here. A Mangrove Honeyeater though.
Some unusual whistling in the mangroves. Found a pair of Rufous Fantails. More whistling. A Grey Shrike-thrush. Then a White-faced Heron on the far bank (better photo later at Tinchi). Very productive start. Especially with a female Leaden Flycatcher on the way out, and Pied Butcherbirds and more Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes near the car.
Quick stop at the Nudgee Waterhole Reserve for water birds. Got Little Pied Cormorants, Little Black Cormorants, Dusky Moorhens, Eurasian Coots and ducks (Hardheads in the distance, and Australian Wood Ducks, Pacific Black Ducks and Northern Mallards on the near shore). Australasian Grebes feeding chicks of all ages too. And more Australasian Darters. [Mal: As an amusing aside, Steve was happy to count the Mallards in the tally on the day but only this week discovered that they are also introduced species. No change to my tally but Steve has just lost another one on his.]
Breakfast time. No queue at Red Rooster – but very, very long wait for food! (Pleased with the last minute decision to throw in a berry yoghurt with the order). A chance to take stock. On about mid-50s. Solid start. Had hit most of the targets. Just missing a Brahminy Kite and Striated Heron.
Up the free-way to Tinchi Tamba Wetlands. Nice suburban lagoon on the way. Black Swans – big bonus! Plus a Purple Swamphen and some unusual looking ducks – probably some sort of domestic hybrid. Expected to get the Brahminy there, but none around. All very quiet. Still, a Great Egret on the far side of Pine River, and a close up of a White-faced Heron on our side.
Needed to cut our losses and head north… some faint wren-like calls on the way back to the car. Red-browed Finches (a lifer for Mal). And a cuckoo?! No, later and closer inspection revealed a Striped Honeyeater (a lifer for me). Distracted by raptors overhead. Just Whistling Kites? Possibly, but high and tight circling suggested otherwise. Black Kites. Into the 60s. Still heard faint fairy-wren calling … found them … more Red-backed Fairy-wrens. No addition to the tally. Time for the trip north to Bribie.
Heavy traffic. Quite a setback. Already 11am – falling behind schedule. Took a side route through Caboolture. Not much other than Masked Lapwings seen from the car.
Finally at Bribie just before noon. First stop Kakadu Beach (hoping for Beach Stone Curlews but never saw them). Picked up a Grey Butcherbird on the way (no photo as it flew off as I got out of the car). Not much on Kakadu Beach though except more Godwits (Mal thought he saw some Black-tailed Godwits amongst the Bar-tailed Godwits but couldn’t be sure so they were left off the list) and Pied Oystercatchers. Still, a Willy Wagtail and Blue-faced Honeyeater seen from the car park (yes, that’s the backside and tail of the honeyeater in that leafy photo).
Tried the more southern hide. A few shorebirds making their way up to roost (high tide approaching) – but just more Sand Plovers (Lesser I think) and Red-necked Stints. [Mal: My initial thoughts were that the plovers were Greater Sand Plovers but subsequent ID checks suggest they were all Lesser. There was even a remote possibility that the rusty coloured one closest to camera was a Double-banded Plover but there was too much doubt to go with that, so no additions to the tally there.]
Getting warm – actually a cracking day. Struggling to get past the 60s. But a Noisy Friarbird on the way back to the car… and a quail? Hen ? No! A relatively tame juvenile Buff-banded Rail! That was a bonus.
Time for lunch. Rendezvoused with the family at the Bribie Island Surf Club –Dad joined us for the remainder of the day. Re-hydrated and set a plan for the afternoon. Needed to get to about 85 before The Farm later that afternoon/evening.
Set off for Buckley’s Hole (tried the local waste water treatment plant but nothing new apart from Straw Necked Ibis on route). No Corellas at Buckley’s Hole?! No, false alarm. Plenty of Little Corellas, sleeping in the trees. And a few Rainbow Lorikeets. And more Masked Lapwings.
Tried the bird hide. Ticked off Magpie Geese and a Royal Spoonbill (and more Pelicans, White Ibis, Little Black and Little Pied Cormorants, Moorhens and Coots). And Dad found us a Comb-crested Jacana on the far, far bank of the waterhole (with two chicks). The Pheasant Coucal was apparently around but we didn’t find him. A female Australasian Figbird made an appearance as we left the waterhole.
Out to the beach behind the Lagoon. Nothing new… although some decent photos of the Crested and Little Terns.
In the 70s, but the afternoon was slipping away. Toorbul next. A raptor on the way but couldn’t really ID him. [Mal: Almost certainly another Black Kite.] Past the marshes – no sign of Brolga.
Out to the esplanade. Peaceful Doves on the power lines. Then plenty of shorebirds at the roost with a single Caspian Tern amongst them. The ‘lady with the badged hat’, who I’d bumped into on Bribie a month ago, was just leaving. Apparently there were Black-tailed Godwits and Great Knots (and possibly Red Knots). Confirmed the Godwits and Knots (plus a couple of Curlew Sandpipers) – but hard to ID Great Knots v Red Knots. In the end we assumed they were all Great Knots. [Mal: Further ID checks confirmed a couple were Red Knots.]
Dad was checking the trees behind us. Got a Drongo but we didn’t see him unfortunately. But then a big bonus: a Varied Triller. And a Lewin’s Honeyeater. Then a Brahminy Kite out over the passage. About 80! On track for a big finish. But getting late now. 3:20pm already and probably 1.5hrs away from the farm. Hopefully there by 5pm to complete the century.
Got a Kookaburra on the way and a pair of Black-Shouldered Kites (and Rock Doves at Nambour – but happy to ignore them [Mal: Never fear, they’re already in my list.]). Into Kenilworth for Galahs. Into the 80s for the farm.
Left the car on the driveway. Bell Miner and Forest Kingfisher at the lower paddock. That’s 91. We could hear Black-Cockatoos but couldn’t see them. Hopefully we’d catch a glimpse before the sun went down. Dad knew the territory well – getting us birds thick and fast. Little Wattlebird near the creek…92. Russet-tailed Thrush in the shadows…93. Sulphur-crested Cockatoos all over the place…94.
Up the hill. Bar-shouldered Dove in the trees. Double-barred Finch in the grass. Mal found a New Holland Honeyeater. 95. Chestnut-breasted Mannikins 95. Cicadabirds. 96. Rainbow Bee-eaters 97. The photos were getting worse and worse as we knew the light was fading fast, so it was point and shoot and move on. “Too early for Pied Currawongs” said Dad … nope! Less than a minute later one flew past. 98.
Pale-headed Rosellas. 99. King Parrots. 100! [Plus 3 ferals!]
100 in a day! The Twitcher’s Ton.
[Mal: At this stage of the day my tally was 104, as I was counting Common Mynas, Rock Doves, Cattle Egrets and Spotted Doves. A fitting coincidence for the day was spotting this mailbox immediately after the King-Parrot sighting. I took it as a sign that the “ferals” count.]
Still time to spare. Eastern Yellow Robin. 101. A Restless Flycatcher, Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos and a White-throated Needle Tail on dusk from the farmhouse verandah. Well over 100 (excluding ferals!). Plenty of ‘fat’ for any miss-IDs.
Big Day done … and then we settled in to watch “The Big Year” (for the record, not a bad movie; plenty of knowing chuckles after what we been through that day).
[Final list to be added soon]