The lead up to the big race was nothing but stress with many species vacating their usual haunts for greener pastures out west in the channel country. We had talked ourselves down to the point where a 190 species count sounded the most likely outcome, one of our worst results ever. But we kept our chins relatively high as we made our way up to Manilla a day before the race to get some last minute oiling in and to do a proper dumby run that afternoon.
Our team was considerably younger then last years with Max Breckenridge (15) and Rob Kilkelly (21) joining the Drongos. The co-pilot Nick was still on board and was stressing as much as I. We booked into the Manilla caravan park, stopped for supplies and then headed west towards our starting spot.
On route as we stopped to show Max his first ever White-winged Fairy-wrens, several Stubble Quail could be heard calling in the paddocks, a much sort after race bird. We couldn't afford to add the extra km to the Saturday leg so me prayed for closer birds. Luckily further on we found more birds calling in a field on our route....hazzah! What more there was a male Brown Songlark displaying overhead! Another cracking bird.
We rocked up at Borah and slowly wandered around until we got to our Hooded Robin spot. This is where we had decided to start the race and at 4pm we ticked the robin, our dumby run was under way. I wont go through all the species we saw but some highlights included Spotted Harrier, Plum-headed Finch, Little Raven, Southern Whiteface, Singing Honeyeater and Blue Bonnet. As the sun sunk behind the hills Rob did the count and we had seen 93 species. Not a bad effort we thought, hoping we'd get the same the next day.
A great sleep was had before leaving the caravan park at 9:30 and making our way west to Boggabri. The Plum-heads were still on the dam we had seen them at the day before. We located a great spot for Yellow-throated Miner and beyond our Leard SF turnoff we found Yellow-billed Spoonbills loafing in the River Gums. We refueled the car and grabbed some fuel in town, listening to Musk Lorikeets, Blackbird and Brown Honeyeaters.
We headed back to Borah TSR where we had lunch and readied ourselves for the race. Clouds started rolling in and the wind was quite gusty.....my stress levels had now entered the red zone. Rob, Max and I headed off to the starting point as Nick continued to rest. A Black-eared Cuckoo was heard but couldn't be found but seeing a female Turquoise Parrot fly into her hollow was nearly as good. At the starting point the Hooded Robins were still there but constantly moving around so I followed them for a good 20min until at 4pm we had ticked off the robin as our first bird again. Max yells out White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike and that was our second bird for the race. White-throated Gerygone, Brown Treecreeper, Dusky Woodswallow and Diamond Firetail fell quickly and down by the creek we bagged 3 common ducks, Black-fronted Dotterel and Dollarbird. Fuscous, White-plumed and Black-chinned Honeyeaters called from the canopy as a Painted Button-quail was flushed from underfoot. High above the eucalypts Tree Martin and White-backed Swallow danced, but where were the Bee-eaters!!! Little Frairbird called, Little Lorikeets zoomed past, and Red-winged Parrots could be heard in the distance. What couldn't be heard was the Rufous Songlark quietly sitting on an old stump, our last bird for Borah. We sped off towards Leard ticking Apostlebird, Wedge-tailed Eagle and Pipit on the way.
There was silence at our songlark/quail spot...stress!!! A Brown Falcon, Little Raven and Horsfield's Bushlark were seen and just as we were giving up......a Stubble Quail called.....HAZZAH again.
Back on the road and finally ticking off Rainbow Bee-eater. At the Plum-headed Finch spot we totally dipped on Plum-heads (Grrrrr) but did get 2 Southern Whiteface for our troubles. Singing Honeyeater, Double-barred Finch, Weebill, Western Gerygone and White-throated Treecreeper were recorded in the bushier areas. Fairy Martins flushed from a road culvert.Our Yellow-throated Miner spot was true, bagging us a much needed western bird. White-winged Fairy-wren called nearby but the Brown Quail were silent. Large flocks of Cockatiel greeted us as we turned off towards Leard but the flock of 20 odd Plumed Whistling-ducks standing at our farm dam was a true highlight as we'd never seen this species here before. Grey-crowned Babbler crossed the road as we entered Leard which was alive with bird calls. Striped Honeyeater, Leaden Flycatcher, Speckled Warbler, Inland Thornbill, Channel-billed Cuckoo and Varied Sittella were ticked in quick succession. A little further on we finally got White-browed Babbler onto our Twitchathon list.
As we passed out the other side of Leard our options for new birds were slim and we still had so much daylight. Blue Bonnets were feeding in the same spot as the previous day and Bar-shouldered Doves were heard but the Spotted Bowerbirds failed to show so we turned the car around and headed towards Boggabri. What a great move that turned out to be.
As we were talking about how good it would be if a Mallee Ringneck was to be seen a Mallee Ringneck flew across the road in front of us. In unison 3 of our members called the bird and commenced a very load ' UP THE DRONGOS!" .
As we passed through some flooded paddocks we bagged our Yellow-billed Spoonbill and in a road side ditch Max spotted a brilliant White-necked Heron. These two species had deserted the east so we were glad to tick them up.
In Boggs we drove the streets hearing Musk Lorikeets, Blackbird, Sparrows and Brown Honeyeater. I glimpsed a Hobby zoom past out of the corner of my eye so 10min was spent patrolling the streets until Nick spotted him (her?) plucking its freshly caught prey in a roadside tree.
As Rob counted up our final score we looked for Blue-faced Honeyeater to no avail. Itching for a score we huddled around him to hear the news that we had scored the same as our dummy run, 93 species. We were quietly pleased until Rob cracked a smile and told us he was kidding, we had actually scored 110 species! our highest ever western run score, and all in 3.5hrs. Alot of cheering and laughter followed as we left Boggabri and made our way to Gunnedah for tea.
Night drive and Sunday run coming soon..........