Twitching isn’t easy. We mere mortals require many hours of oiling before the race to ease our worries and maximise our chances of competing with the big boys. I must say that each year I step back and see this massive hurdle of 230 in front of us. We start sweating on the most common of species and praying to the birding gods for a few rarities to turn up. Luckily, with only a few days before the race we could see the common stuff and even had a few toughies tucked under our belts. Previous oiling trips had resulted in some staggering birds, including Spotless Crake, Red-backed Kingfisher, Painted Honeyeater, Spotted Bowerbird, Little Bittern, Wood Sandpiper, Black-eared Cuckoo, Black-chinned Honeyeater, Noisy Pitta and Orange Chat.
Whilst we rested on the shores of Lake Cargelligo, a slight glimpse of confidence entered my thoughts. With two hours until kick off we headed off to do our last bits of oiling. Firstly to our roadside spot where all the regulars were waiting for us, including masses of Brown Quail that seemed to be everywhere. We then headed to the Sewage works in search of something special to start our race on. We walked right round the ponds and found some goodies but it was the one Freckled Duck in amongst the hundreds of waterfowl that won out. We set the scope up so we wouldn’t lose her and after 45min of watching that damn bird paddle happily around the pond she was ticked as our first species. The list shot up quickly with Glossy Ibis, Black-fronted and Red-kneed Dotterel, Pink-eared Duck, Native-hen and Little Grassbird all being seen within seconds of each other. Baillon’s and Spotted Crake were great additions and bagging three ‘inland’ species of wader, Wood, Sharpie and Marsh Sandpiper, was a highlight. We left the works after 20min with roughly 30-40 species on the list, but dipping on Shoveler, Shelduck, Cockatiel and Buff-banded Rail was a real blow.Our road side spot resulted in few ticks with the Spotless Crake and Brown Quail no where to be seen! Luckily Maxie spotted some Whiskered Tern on the other side of the levy bank which we thought we’d dipped on. Heading back towards town a Red-backed Kingfisher was spotted on the wires with an Apostlebird feeding below. Blackbird, Feral Pigeon and Sparrow were the highlights as we drove through suburban LC.
Mallee Ringneck, Blue Bonnet and Brown Songlark had us stop/starting on the highway north but to our disappointment we dipped on Spotted Harrier and Yellow-billed Spoonie. At chat alley we had Orange Chat, White-winged Fairy-wren and Zebra Finch. Emu were spotted in the paddocks and Black-shouldered Kites were everywhere. As we entered the first patches of woodland woodswallows could be heard calling from high above, and when I say I mean HIGH! We could only make out White-brows but there would have certainly been Masks in amongst them. Little Friarbird and Striped Honeyeater were vocal.
We pulled up at the famous Wheat Field a little behind schedule but not before ticking Gilbert’s Whistler roadside. The mallee was dead. Every previous reccy had resulted in numerous species calling but of course it didn’t happen on race day. We paced and strained to hear anything and eventually we added Inland and Chestnut-rumped Thornbill, Splendid Fairy-wren, White-winged Triller and White-fronted Honeyeater. We then continued further down the road a little but this only resulted in Red-capped Robin and Crested Bellbird. It was time to move on and to say the Drongos were a little shattered would have been an under statement.
We left the Wheat Field and headed towards Whoey Tank. A shout from the co-pilot had Bel the Subaru screaming to a halt in time to watch a male Chestnut Quail-thrush walk slowly off the road. A cracking bird that saw our spirits rise a little and Robbie Drongos life list creep ever higher. As we drove into Whoey, a pair of Shy Heathwren shot across the track but were missed by the two youngins in the back, our first proper miss for the race. Black, Spiny-cheeked and Singing Honeyeater and Southern Whiteface were the only notable species so we decided to spice things up a little by heading back to the Wheat Field. What a move! The male Quail-thrush was still on the road where we left him, allowing all of us fantastic views, and as we walked through the mallee Robbie Drongo found a Southern Scrub-robin quietly sitting nearby. Yellow-plumed Honeyeater were feeding in the taller Eucalypts but we still couldn’t hear any Western Gerygones. It was then decided that we should use the last remaining light driving back to LC in the hope of seeing Cockatiel and Spotted Harrier. As we hooned along, the co-pilot let out an almighty ‘FOWL! FOWL! FOWL!” and there on the side of the road was a magnificent Malleefowl, a tick for three of us. Robbie Drongo went diving into the boot to retrieve the co-pilots camera and several shots were taken before the bird calmly walked back into the mallee. We were so excited that eventually dipping on the Harrier and Cockatiel didn’t really matter and we sped off into the night with 109 species under our belt.
The night drive was long and tedious. The only night birds spotted were Barn Owls and these were few and far between. It wasn’t until we got to our rest stop some 6 hours later that we finally added our second and last night bird to the list, an Aust. Owlet-nightjar. Pallid Cuckoo called all through the night but in my groggy state I failed to notify the team when the Channel-bills started a rave in the wee small hours, a costly mistake.
We awoke to a pathetic dawn chorus in Goulburn River NP but the birds started trickling in slowly. Oriole and Grey Fantail were heard and a female Hooded Robin flew in for a closer look. As we headed south towards the river we started picking up some desired species like Superb Lreybird, Glossy Black-cockatoo, Dusky Woodswallow, Fan-tailed Cuckoo, Double-barred Finch, Speckled Warbler, White-browed Babbler, Painted Button-quail and a whole swag of Honeyeaters (White-naped, Yellow-tufted, White-eared etc). We dipped on Plum-headed Finch, Black-eared Cuckoo, Diamond Firetail and Turquoise Parrot which were all seen two weeks before. Luckily however the Black-chinned Honeyeaters hadn’t moved and we quickly ticked them up.
We left Goulburn with a good total but now had a long stretch of almost birdless driving ahead of us. Horsfield’s Bushlark and Stubble Quail were calling along Ringwood Road, and we saw our first White-necked Heron nearby. It wasn’t until after Jerry’s Plains that we saw our first and only Wedge-tailed Eagles for the race.
A quick discussion about high tide times saw us changing our route and heading straight for the coast, which as it turned out was our biggest mistake of the race. Bypassing all our planned stops we headed for Stockton Sandspit only to find it very waderless. Stint, Red-capped Plover, Curlew, Little Egret and Pied Oystercatcher were all in the lagoon. Brown Honeyeater and Mangrove Gerygone called from the mangroves whilst Tattlers and Whimbrel were ticked in Fern Bay, but besides that we scored little else. Not even the sight of a partially coloured Golden Plover could brighten our spirits and with very dark storm clouds rolling in we held little hope of scoring big this year.
The storm hit us as we travelled down the freeway towards the Toronto exit. The rain was howling in from all directions and the decision was made to pull over and ride it out. After 10min we pushed on, crawling through the traffic until we eventually reached our rainforest spot at Brunkerville where the rain finally stopped and we starting ticking the limited rainforest species on offer. Brown Gerygone, Lewin’s Honeyeater and Black-faced Monarch were calling loudly and a Rufous Fantail spotted but the Pitta, Catbird and Bassian Thrush of the week before failed to show. Maxie Drongo not wanting to get his shoes wet in the rapidly rising creek decided on the barefooted birder approach which failed miserably and resulted in his team mates plucking the leeches from between his toes! We’re a more bonded team now.....
We pushed on towards Maitland getting a Yellow-billed Spoonbill along the way and hearing a Koel as we drove through Kurri. Walka Water Works was dead and we only added Great-crested Grebe and Red Wattlebird here. Goldfinch and Banded Lapwing were major dips on the floodplains but finally bagging Fuscous Honeyeater, Little Lorikeet and Shining Bronze-cuckoo at Green Wattle Creek slightly made up for that. Seaham produced Scaly-breasted Lorikeet, Nankeen Night Heron, Tawny Grassbird and Chestnut Teal, but the Channel-billed Cuckoo was only seen by two in the group. Our last ticks before hitting the Wetlands Centre were Mallard and Little Wattlebird at Raymond Terrace and a single Grey-crowned Babbler feeding in someone’s front yard just north of town.
Rolling into the Wetlands with 30min still on the clock we ticked the obligatory Goose and Whistling-duck and finally managed to put White-browed Scrubbie on the list!!! We then made our way back to the centre where we settled in to go over the list. Sadly Robbie had not under counted and our end total was a very pitiful 215 species. We were shattered and it was quite a relief to hear we had snuck into third place.
Well done to all teams involved especially the Brewers who started the race near us and to the Dry-throated Buzzards for their Herculean effort. The Drongos thank all those who sponsored us. We managed to raise over $600 which we’re pretty chuffed about. Also a huge thanks to Huxtable Drongo for supplying the camping gear and to Lloyd Drongo for supplying his son.
Until next year,