Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Northern Shoveler ~ SA Twitch!

Last Saturday evening there was a post on the South Aussie Birding Facebook page about the sighting of a Northern Shoveler. My buddy, James Cornelious, alerted me to this. I began seeking more information. My friend, Kay Parkin, suggested a dash for it as it might quickly move along. I decided to go the next morning.
The white spot in the middle is Norman the Northern Shoveler
Troopi is still in the shop awaiting a used replacement fuel tank to become available somewhere. So I was off in the Prius at sunrise Monday heading for South Australia (and saving enough in fuel to afford a room). It was about seven hours to the spot. Around two thirds of the way there, I began getting reports that the duck had not been seen that day. I considered cutting my losses so-to-speak and heading back home. My new Facebook friends, Eddy and Jenni, texted saying that they were going to check out the surrounding areas later in the afternoon since the day before the duck had been seen in the arvo. I decided to carry on.

I checked into a little cabin at the Keith Caravan Park ($100, I recommend it). Then I drove about 40 minutes to the “ponds” near Tilley Swamp. There was no one else around and no Northern Shoveler either. It had not returned. As dusk approached, I left the ponds and drove back to the cabin.
Keith Caravan Park cabin... works for me.
This is what was odd to me. I was not disappointed. I was honestly okay with not having seen it. I had kind of figured it was gone. A group of serious birders had spent the whole morning searching the area and had dipped. The smart money was on that it had departed for good. I am sure I would have been disappointed if I had missed it by an hour or something, but it had not been seen all day. I did not have that ‘dipping sadness' that can be so crushing. But I figured I would go have a look in the morning. Who knows?

The next morning I was up before five and put the kettle on. I was loading the car as the dawn chorus was coming alive. Sweet. I love that. At first light I was driving west to the spot. With the sun rising behind me, I arrived by the ponds and parked off the edge of the road. With my bins, I scanned the pond on the right, no Northern Shoveler. Then I scanned the first pond on the left (south) and it was not there either. Then I caught a glimpse of bright white in the pond just behind the south pond. I got the scope out of the car quickly.

As I am going on a twitch I have a lot of time to think. I was in the car alone for close to seven hours on the drive over. And I picture in my mind various scenarios of rocking up and seeing the bird. What that will feel like. I picture seeing the bird in my mind. This is not magical thinking. I do not think I can manifest the bird by visualizing it. But I do imagine seeing the bird and how wonderful that moment can feel. That moment feeds my passion for this type of birding. It don’t get much better than seeking and then finding. Not for me anyway.

I set up the scope and focused it. There was that moment. The glimpse of white morphed into the beautiful white chest, and then the iridescent deep green head and rufous sides of a male Northern Shoveler. It was the “That’s It!” moment in twitching that makes it all worthwhile. I was looking at the bird! I drank in the experience. I breathed that bird. I took recording shots as best I could. I was approximately four hundred meters from the duck and the land was fenced and private, but the scope views were crystal clear gorgeousness. There was no one else around to see me glow and I was glowing with excitement and genuine joy. I walked to the middle of the road partially up the hill behind me and with one dot of signal I texted Eddy and Jenni. I sent one word, “YES!”
Lifer Selfie. Norman is somewhere in that pond over my right shoulder.
I resumed staring at, and appreciating, the duck. Then I went back to the road and I sent Philip Peel a message asking him to please post to Facebook that I had refound it and the location. I managed to get a back-of-the-camera phone pic to go though! Then I went back to staring at the duck.

There were other cool birds around. A couple of dozen Black-tailed Native-hens were bobbling about in the paddock just in front of me. They are beautifully goofy birds. I was standing so still viewing the Shoveler that they ended up walking over within a few meters of me. When I did move, they freaked out in their wonderfully goofy way. It was like they were saying, “Run! It’s a monster! Run! RUN!” I love them.
A few of the several hundred Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos in the area
Lifer Pie in the form of Ice Cream (and I had a cookie too).

There are so many wonderful parts of a twitch. And at the culmination of a successful twitch there is Lifer High. It strikes me the first moment I see the bird and then it reverberates and reverberates. I feel giddy and giddy is good! That wonderful feeling can echo through me for days afterwards. I feel it right now two days later sitting at my table in the Tiny House. I am so grateful. I did it. I twitched Norman the Northern Shoveler. Yeah, I gave him a name. I love that bird. As I would.

Before I left for the long drive back to Lara, Luke and Kathy Leddy rocked-up to view the bird and then Eddy and Jenni arrived (having set land speed records to get there). So I was able to share a bit of the delightful giddiness of Lifer High. This was all due to Facebook. Social media: don’t go birding without it.

And... the book about the year of traveling all of Oz is coming along very well. I will keep y'all posted. I am hoping to have it completely finished by Christmas.

Peace. Love. Birds.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Lil' The Little Stint ~ Twitch!

Lil' and one of her Red-necked Friends.
When Simon Starr found Syd the SIPO, he also inadvertently "discovered," Lil’ the Little Stint as well. Here is what happened.

For those of you who read my blog (and of course I am only talking to those of you who do), I wrote about Syd’s rediscovery in the last blog entry. After the word got out, many Aussie twitchers descended on the sleepy little hamlet of Jam Jerrup to park at the end of Foreshore Road and go out looking for Syd. Sometimes he would be near to the carpark, other times, he would be somewhere near the sandy point of land over a kilometer to the south. That point is referred to as “Stockyard Point.”

It is a very flat area so the tide makes quite a difference in the makeup and size of the “beach.” At high tide the beach toward the point disappears. At low tide, miles of mud flats are exposed. You do NOT want to walk out there. You will sink. And the waders can be scattered far and wide across them. As the tide rises and covers the mud, many of the waders head toward the point, especially the little waders such as Double-banded and Red-capped Plovers, Red-necked Stints and Curlew Sandpipers. They can arrive by the hundreds. Mostly folks were looking for Syd and did not scan closely through the masses of these little waders. But on Sunday, 25 June, Scott Baker and Paul Peake did just that and Scott spotted a Little Stint amongst them! Consulting with Kevin Bartram, the i.d. was confirmed. This was one week after Simon found Syd. The second mega rarity there in a week. Amazing.

Lil’ (her very unofficial name) is in breeding plumage and stands out fairly well, but she can also be easy enough to overlook. On 23 June, Geoff Glare took photos of the flocks of waders at the point and upon later close examination discovered the Little Stint in his photos. Used by permission, here is one of those photos. Lil’ is there. I promise you. See if you can find her.

I was at Stockyard Point again on Saturday the 24th and most probably “saw” Lil’. I really saw, and took some photos of, a beautiful Asian Gull-billed Tern, affinis race. It is a subspecies not yet officially split from Gull-billed Tern. I also saw my pal Syd. On the way back the tide had come in and we had to go inland to get back to the carpark.

The little very white tern right in the middle.
When Scott’s amazing discovery hit Facebook it was about 2:15pm on Sunday. I seriously considered making the dash, but I really could not have gotten there in time. It would have been almost dark. So I planned to go over the next morning. Choosing my departure by the tides (low at 8:30am and high at 3:40pm) I left home at the civilized hour of 9am. My friend Carolyn, who also lives in Lara, rode with me. I collected my buddy, James Cornelious and our friend Owen Lismund at a train station on the way. We knew that we did not need to hurry and we rocked up at Jam Jerrup about 11:30am. The tide was still way out. Too far out.

Twitchers waiting on the tide...
A few other birders began arriving and so did rain showers. We waited a bit longer and started to the point about noon. We had a nice walk down the beach (thanks for carrying my scope, James). The tide was still too far out. We could see hundreds of waders about a kilometer over to our left. We waited. And then… little groups of waders started showing up to the sand spit in front of us, and then more, and more.

By about 1:30pm we had a lot of waders to look through, but still more came. The bird was spotted by James Mustafa. Bill Twiss and I both grabbed quick looks through his scope before the flock re-shuffled. It was the Little Stint, but not really a “lifer look.” We all moved to the right to get a better view over a rise in the sand. I was standing by James who was scanning with my scope when I saw a small, russet coloured stint. I got James on it. Seeing it through the scope he proclaimed, “That’s it!” And friends, it was. I had re-found it. Not that that sort of thing is important, but with so many young eyes, and more experienced eyes looking, I felt damn good finding it. Sweet as.

Lifer Selfie with James and Carolyn
This is now Tuesday evening and I have been having a Lifer Day. It is an invention of my own. It is like an all day version of Lifer Pie. I am allowing myself a “happy day.” Truth be told, I am not given to that, even though it might appear that I am. But for a while today, fuck it, I was indeed happy and for that, I am grateful. Birds, you did it for me again. Thanks, Lil’.

PS, I wrote the majority of this blog at my old family dinner table! Older than I am, but it was just too big for the Tiny House... our dear friend and brilliant wood-artist, Julian Beattie, made it smaller for us. I love sitting at this table. I have finally found my spot. I will continue to work on the "book" of the year of travel and birding right here at this table. I am grateful.
Peace. Love. Birds.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Twitch! Syd The SIPO

In early January 2017, as I was sorting the last minute details for our final move to Australia, a New Zealand visitor arrived on the coast of northern New South Wales. He had already visited Victoria, although no one there had noticed he was a Kiwi. The friendly Victorian bird-banders had given him a silver bracelet and a red flag with 1N on it. Many of my friends dashed up (or over, or down) to NSW to see him, but I wasn’t back yet.

He had been banded in August of 2016. Since it was again winter, the very clever Simon Starr (Firetail Birdwatching Tours) went to the place where this visitor had been flagged hoping that he would come back again. And like a Grey Nomad returning to Queensland, he did. Simon found Syd hanging out with the numerous Australian Pied Oystercatchers near a place called Stockyard Point by Jam Jerrup, VIC.

I was birding with some of my dear Aussie Tribe in the beautiful Brisbane Ranges Sunday arvo when I got a message from Simon regarding his discovery (thank you my friend). He had posted the details of his success on Facebook and called to give me the full story. I considered bolting for the site immediately, but it was down on the other side of Melbourne on Westernpoint Bay, so I decided against it. It would be a bit over two hours drive from Lara at the best of times. So I went Monday morning and that was not the best of times.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I do not do big cities (unless I have to). I loathe big cities. Traffic is one of the biggest reasons that I do. Very few things are worth driving through the Big Smoke in the morning, but a South Island Pied Oystercatcher is one of them. A drive that, at normal times, would have taken about two hours took over three hours. I collected my good friend, Oakley Germech (part of the tribe) at a train station near the freeway. Once I had battled my way out of the congestion there, we were gratefully heading away from the traffic flow and toward the twitch.

I had expected to be at Jam Jerrup by 9am. It was close to ten when we finally arrived. We bumped into Dave Stabb, who I had met in January 2011 at the WTP (I have met the best people at the pooh farm! This is not a joke, I really have). I had not seen him since then, but we both remembered each other. He remembered me as Bruce from Virginia (as I was at the time). It was good to see him. We have now exchanged information and will keep in touch.

After checking out a small group of Pied Oystercatchers north of the parking area, we parked and gathered our things to begin searching. Oakley was just ahead of me, starting down on the beach, as a flock of twenty-some oystercatchers flew past toward the area where we had just been looking. I asked Oakley, only partially joking, “Was it in that group?” And he answered seriously, “I think it might have been!”

We headed north up the beach toward where the flock had landed. I said that I thought I had it, but I wasn’t sure. Then in a few moments Dave had his scope on the leg flag of an Oystercatcher. We all read it, “1N!” We had found the SIPO! And we had I.D.ed it first by its flag! Soon Scott Baker, Dan Ashdown, Deb Oliver, David Adam, Mark Hill and others joined us and everyone was taking photos, and rejoicing in the successful twitch. These were lovely moments. I am exceedingly grateful.

Facebook exploded with photos and joyful postings as more people twitched the bird. Kevin Bartram, who saw it later the same day, commented on my post, “You didn’t scare it away?” Later when he had posted about having seen it, I asked him the same question. We joked a bit and he ended up calling the bird, “Syd the SIPO.” I liked it and began to spread it around. I hope it sticks. Here are some photos from the day (the photos of the people and beach are Oakley's).


Lifer Selfie with Oakley... Syd the SIPO Successful Twitch!
The following partial song parody is only amusing if you are familiar with Jim Croce’s song, "Don't Mess Around With Jim" . So here you go, sung to the tune of the original…

Don't Mess Around With Syd

Venus Bay got its, “Chuckles”
Darwin’s got its gull.
Stockyard Point got a Pied Oystercatcher
Whose legs are a little small
His bill is long and his wings are strong
But I reckon that he got lost
And when the twitchers all get together at night,
They call Syd the SIPO boss…

A little history of the bird: It was banded on 6 August 2016 there at Stockyard Point, VIC. It was misidentified as an Australian Pied Oystercatcher. It was seen again in that area on 22 August and still misidentified as an APO. Next it showed up at Broadwater Beach in NSW last January where birders finally correctly identified 1N as a South Island Pied Oystercatcher. It was twitched by many (but not by me until this past Monday). It was first seen again in Victoria by Simon on 18 June 2017 and received its 'official' name from Kevin Bartram on 20 June becoming, Syd the SIPO. 

By the way, I had fish and chips and gravy, with a yo-yo cookie dessert as my Lifer Pie treats. I am so grateful.

Peace. Love. Birds.