Saturday, December 16, 2017

The Big Aleutian Tern Twitch

Last Monday about 1pm I was just sitting down with the computer when my phone rang. I had been out running some errands. It was my birding pal, Robert. He asked, “Are we going?”

I asked, “Where?”

He said, “Port Macquarie. Australian Twitchers Page. Liam Murphy. Aleutian Terns.”

I said, “Yes!”

They were positively identified Aleutian Terns, a first for Australia! Liam had photographed one last year, but was not originally aware that it was an Aleutian. He figured it out and went to the same area to look again this year and found a small group. The Aussie birder world was exploding.

I initially told Robert that I could not possibly get there before Wednesday. It is close to thirteen hundred kilometers to the spot and Troopi is built for off-road power, not highway speed. But I began pulling it together. The irresistible desire to do the twitch was colliding with the overwhelming anxiety of dashing off alone (I was meeting Robert up there). This created a rather difficult emotional state as I was leaving, but leave I did. By 3:30pm I had bought some supplies, packed, fueled up and was rolling down the road.

As it was a Monday afternoon, I avoided Melbourne and the Western Ring Road. I swung out through Bacchus Marsh and up to Lancefield and then finally out onto the Hume Highway. I arrived at Glenrowan Caravan Park just after seven. I am very comfortable there.

Google maps showed it to be about nine and a half hours from Glenrowan to the twitch. Nine and a half hours is at least eleven hours in Troopi-time and we would be driving the Hume into the Sydney highway cluster-fuck. Ugh. Troopi will do 110 kph, but the diesel consumption jumps dramatically once we go past about 95. Our normal highway cruising speed is around 92 (I had a cruise control installed soon after we bought her. I highly, highly recommend cruise control). I was trying to decide what I was going to do, but I really already knew. I was going to make the dash in one day.

After waking up early (of course!) I was rolling out of the caravan park before six. I hoped to get up there by five. Theoretically, I would still have plenty of time to find and see the terns (there were at least a dozen seen by Liam on Monday). It was a long, but gratefully uncomplicated drive.
Early morning Glenrowan Caravan Park
Somewhere about an hour west of Sydney, I decided to let Troopi go a bit and we did the last hours of driving close to the speed limit. I figured the extra diesel used would be worth it. We arrived precisely at five, at the same time as Liam and Robert. We all met at the corner of the road into the reserve in Old Bar, NSW. Amazing.

Robert had been there earlier in the day and had already seen the terns. He had been very considerate when we spoke on the phone. Before he told me that he had seen them and photographed them he said, “You’ll get them. No problem.” I appreciated that assurance very much.

We followed Liam to the parking ‘spot,’ then clamored down the bank and walked out into the water. The area where the terns were being seen was a half a kilometer or so across a shallow bay. It was easily waded. The bottom was solid and only occasionally did the water go above my knees. I had taken everything out of my pockets. We arrived on the large sandbar where two birders were looking at a flock of terns. 

We asked them if they were seeing the Aleutians. They said that they had seen two, but they had flown off about fifteen minutes ago and had not returned. Oh no. Just no. The next forty-five minutes were… Shall I say, stressful? I was crazy tired from the drive, running on adrenaline and with no terns there, it was like my adrenaline tap had been turned off. I tried to keep up a good front. Robert wandered off looking along another large sand bank on our left. I stayed by Liam and we kept an eye on that flock of terns. We were hoping that as more came in, an Aleutian might turn up.

And then… Liam said, “I think I have a possible...” Oh please, oh please… We walked closer. And then he said, “Yes!” The bird flew and was joined by a second Aleutian. They landed together and gave us wondrous views for the next half hour or so. They were still there when we walked and waded joyfully back to our vehicles. At my age, there is nothing that feels any better than that. Successful twitch and Lifer High! It was worth every hour and kilometer of that journey. I was and am so deeply grateful. Brace yourself... here come the Aleutian Tern photos...

Lifer Selfie. Robert and I have seen quite a few lifers together.
I stayed in Old Bar at the caravan park right around the corner. Robert and I spent the evening in that Lifer High downloading photos and charging batteries. I awoke the next morning before five just because I was still that excited. We decided to go by the Australian Reptile Park to chat with Tim Faukner about frogs and things and to say hi to my dear friend Robyn Weigel (John was not yet back from Cocos). Then we headed off to do a little exploring. We camped at Basin Campground and then at Dunn Swamp. Here is a rough representation from Google Maps of our route after the twitch and some photos from our trip.


Robert had a puncture in Capertee Valley so we decided it would be better to head to his house in Parkes. 
Robert and a very helpful guy named Emil. He lives in a bus behind Capertee Campground.

We spent Friday night in Parkes and then I drove to the Lara on Saturday. Today, Sunday, I am having a Lifer Day. I have stretched Lifer Pie into Lifer Day. I am writing this blog, and through that, reliving the twitch and the adventure. Sharing is a huge win-win for me.

Sending much love from the Tiny House.


  1. Thanks R.Bruce..emotional and eventful journey to Old Bar. I now wonder if I saw those terns way back but was too ignorant to realise??

  2. A lot of people are wondering that... BUT we know they are there now!


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