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1 Jan 2020 – patchwork

In 2018 I did a big year in Brisbane, which entailed trying to see as many bird species as possible within the city limits. It was fun, but exhausting – I eventually ended up with a total of 305 species, which shows how biodiverse our great city is! In 2019 I didn’t set any particular goal, and found myself going out birding less and less. This is a shame because (i) I enjoy it, (ii) it’s good for my mental and physical wellbeing, and (iii) I ended up just spending more time working without a definite birding goal to aim for.

So this year I’ve decided to join a number of other birders in Brisbane, who are each trying to see as many species as possible in a “patch” of their choosing. In birding parlance a patch is a local spot where you frequently go birdwatching, getting to know and love the place. I’ve never really been a patch birder, preferring to dart around the place visiting here, there and everywhere. This year I’m going to try to focus on one place, observe its nature, watch it change over the course of a year, and try to learn more about the flora and fauna of my local area.

It all began today, 1 Jan 2020, with a rude awakening from my alarm at 0230. Yes, 0230. And yes, I did go to bed before midnight on New Year’s Eve! My chosen patch is Tingalpa Reservoir, a drinking water reservoir with a capacity of 13,206 ML, although only currently 55% full. The low water level has exposed lots of muddy edges and there is nice growth of aquatic vegetation. A couple of reconnaissance visits in the last week have suggested to me this could be an awesome patch, but is not frequently visited by Brisbane birders.

Anyway, I arrived on site at 0324 and almost immediately heard an Australian Owlet-Nightjar, a great start! A Southern Boobook and Tawny Frogmouth were also calling, and eventually a Powerful Owl started up to complete a nice nocturnal quartet. As sun rose I birded the southern end and then made my way to an area of open grassland that looked very promising for quails and buttonquails. A few unusual species have been showing up in south-east Queensland recently, but there are vanishingly few places in Brisbane that are suitable. I began walking across the grassland, ready to closely watch any bird that was to flush in front of me.

And then it happened. A large quail flew out from the grass in front of me – I was immediately struck by its overall sandy pale brown appearance, quite unlike the rich brown of the much smaller Brown Quail, and its take-off seemed well controlled and not like the emergency explosion of disturbed Brown Quail. Crucally, it had several strong whitish streaks running down its back, and although I could not see the head pattern since the bird was flying directly away, I knew it was a Stubble Quail! The fourth record for Brisbane, with all previous birds being one-off sightings, this was a major find – I immediately texted Ged Tranter, and he set out on his way. I birded some other parts of the reservoir, picking up Brown Songlark, Yellow-billed Spoonbill, 5 Great Crested Grebes and a long list of other species. Ged arrived at 0830 and we slowly retraced my earlier steps, cameras at the ready.

Suddenly a bird flushed, but it wasn’t the Stubble Quail – it was much smaller, a buttonquail!! But which one? Ged and I fired off photos as the bird flew, cameras held not to our eye, but out in front of us to stand the best chance of actually getting a shot. A frustrating process, but eventually we got several photos that were clear enough to clinch the identification. Brisbane’s fourth Red-chested Buttonquail! It had rather sandy upperparts and relatively little contrast between the flights feather and coverts, and crucially strongly rusty rear flanks and undertail.

Both of these species are very rare visitors to the coast, and I was over the moon!

Ged and I parted ways, and I explored the southern section of the reservoir as the day really began to heat up. Nothing else mega, but a great selection of species left me with a grand total of 92 species for the morning. Not a bad start at all to my patch big year.

Red-chested Buttonquail – notice the richly rufous flanks and dark undertail – only the belly centre is pale
Red-chested Buttonquail, showing relatively little contrast between back and wing coverts, and wing coverts and flight feathers. Sadly I couldn’t get pics of the Stubble Quail, although Ged did.