Twitcher’s Ton #3 – Part 3: Heading West

Over halfway through our birding Big Day and the tally was at a healthy 111 birds (90 from the coast and another 21 at Kumbartcho and on the mountain). The rain and fog was also clearing quickly during the drive down the mountain towards Lake Wivenhoe. That was promising, with plenty of potential left in the afternoon with new habitat ahead of us and still four hours of daylight remaining.

[1:15pm]

On the drive to Corcorans Road, Steve spotted two Wedge-tailed Eagles perched down near the lake. Two u-turns later we had a photo in the bag and were soon turning into Corcorans for a quick search.

Right at the corner, at the top of a tall gum, was a Pale-headed Rosella. Steve had seen one earlier in the day but this a fresh tick for me.

We proceeded to slowly drive up Corcorans Road, keeping an eye on all the fence posts along the way; the long grass between the tyre tracks scrubbing loudly under the car. We hadn’t gone far before we saw the first one. An Australasian Bushlark sitting curiously up on a fence post. Then we heard the other Corcorans target, a Golden-headed Cisticola, which obligingly popped up onto the fence-line for a quick photo.

Out in the grass I could hear the two-note whistle of a Brown Quail, then movement on the track ahead revealed an Australasian Pipit.

Corcorans Road birds

Mission accomplished for this location, so I turned around and headed back to the main road, picking up Red-backed Fairy-wrens on the way to bring the tally to 118.

Back on the road; next scheduled stop was Atkinsons Dam.

Not far south of Corcorans Rd a dark shape on a power pole looked unusual. I slowed down on approach it became clear it was a raptor. I pulled over and we jumped out. Steve immediately said Brown Falcon. I said Black Falcon, surely? It was a dark chocolate brown colour and I’d never seen a dark morph Brown Falcon before but that’s what it was. A few minutes later another Brown Falcon (light morph) flew in and landed on the next power pole. The dark morph promptly flew across and joined it.

Brown Falcon

Further down the road Steve spotted some Rainbow Bee-eaters on the power lines, then as we crossed the Wivenhoe Dam wall we added Whistling Kite to the list. Closer to Atkinsons Dam the raptor count jumped again with a Black Kite circling over the paddocks and Nankeen Kestrels on power poles.

[2:15pm]

Arrived at Atkinsons Dam for a super quick stop just to scan the water from the road. It might have only been 5min but it was a productive 5min. 

My main target here was really only Great Cormorant. They’re often here but can be hit and miss to see them. The lake is huge.

The first birds we notice were three raptors circling above the near bank. They appeared to be fighting over something. I initially thought all three were Whistling Kites but Steve quickly identified one as a Swamp Harrier. Nice. After a very slow raptor morning the raptor count was really ratcheting up in the afternoon. Up to seven now … Brahminy Kite, Wedge-tailed Eagle, Brown Falcon, Whistling Kite, Black Kite, Nankeen Kestrel and Swamp Harrier. Would have loved to add Black Falcon to the list but that wasn’t to be.

A quick scan of the water birds didn’t pick up much other than Hardheads.

About to leave when I noticed two dark birds flying across the lake from the east. Great Cormorants. Perfect. Let’s move on.

Atkinsons Dam birds

Next stop was Lake Clarendon via Banool Rd and Seven Mile Lagoon.

Didn’t see the Ground Cuckooshrikes along Banool Rd (although other Big Day’ers in the area saw them a bit earlier) nor any Black Falcons; just more Kestrels and a few Cattle Egrets hanging around with some, well, cattle. At Seven Mile Lagoon we strained our eyes through the cameras to try and pick up anything new. Very difficult. The lagoon was very full after recent rain and although it was teeming with bird life, they were a long way away. We really needed a scope to have any chance of ID’ing most of the birds. Nevertheless, severe cropping of fully zoomed photos turned up some Yellow-billed Spoonbills and a there were a handful of Straw-necked Ibis strolling around the paddock behind us. Steve also saw Glossy Ibis but I missed it.

At the bend in the road as we left the lagoon Steve told me to stop. In a low tree just inside the fence-line was an Australian Hobby. The raptor count hits eight! 

Not far from Lake Clarendon now and we added Plumed Whistling-Ducks just past the Hobby and Cockatiel along Lester Rd.

[2:55pm]

I don’t know how but we pulled into Lake Clarendon right on schedule … to the minute. The plan here was to walk down to the bank and scan the water, hopefully finding a Hoary-headed Grebe somewhere amongst the masses of water birds. Only problem was, the rain was back.

It was only drizzling when we got out of the car but by the time we got down to the water it was getting heavy. I picked out two Great Crested Grebes not too far off. But like the lagoon, a scope would have been very handy here. As it turned out we could barely ID any of the birds away from the bank. There were terns quite a way out that I think were Whiskered Terns but the rain and the distance meant I couldn’t be sure so they didn’t make the list.

We called it at the same time. Far too wet; Let’s bail and get back to the car. Apart from the GCG the lake was a bust and the driving rain was soaking me through. And if this rain didn’t let up then the day was probably over with the tally standing at 133.

[3:30pm]

Into the home stretch now; and somehow the rain reduced to a light drizzle on the way to Redbank Creek and then stopped when we got there. And as a further boost, Steve had organised a birder friend from the area to meet us at this spot.

The 35min here disappeared in a blur. I got Varied Sitella near the car, there were multiple Jacky Winters on the power-lines, several Pied Currawongs were calling and flying overhead, and we heard and then saw a flock of Little Lorikeets shoot over the treetops. Mick got us onto a Rose Robin across the road, Fuscous Honeyeaters moving through the tree-tops, and an Olive-backed Oriole perched in a gum. He also heard a Speckled Warbler further down the road but although I heard the call I wasn’t familiar enough with it to confirm the ID, so it wasn’t added to our list.

While listening for a repeat call of the Warbler, Steve and I both heard a Black-chinned Honeyeater calling and yet another Mistletoebird was heard but not seen.

Time was up. 35min had vanished and we had seven more species to show for it. Tally now 141!

[4:20pm]

Second last stop of the day … the Lower Tenthill area. This was lazy birding at its best. Drive slow along a road and take photos from the car. 

Grey Butcherbird and Common Starlings out to the left. Grey-crowned Babblers out to the right. Yellow-billed Spoonbills perched at the top of a dead tree out across the paddock. And Black Kites everywhere.

Lower Tenthill birds

Black Kite and Grey-crowned Babbler

[5:05pm]

Last stop … Lake Galletly. 

A week ago we saw Blue-billed Duck and Australasian Shoveler here. Today, nothing new. And then to cap off a great day of birding the rain returned and we called stumps.

Final total … 144.

Species photographed … 122.

Not only was that well beyond our stretch target, it turned out to be more than any other eBird Big Day’er in Australia, scoring us a mention in the eBird 2017 Global Big Day article: Birding’s biggest day ever.

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