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    • lab5
Apr 10: Taking it on the chin

Up at 0330 and out to Lake Manchester, I was keen to start early so I could walk out toward Dam Break 11 under cover of darkness and thus not waste precious daylight. A White-throated Nightjar sang briefly, a reasonably late bird, although the reporting rate for the species in Brisbane doesn’t really drop until May. A few birds are present throughout winter in the Brisbane area, and to be honest if they stopped singing they would be pretty hard to detect even if they did stick around.

I arrived at the start of Dam Break 11 just as dawn was breaking, although like yesterday the whole area was shrouded in fog. The birding was fairly quiet, and there was distinctly no sign of my target species, the Black-chinned Honeyeater. There have been only 14 records of this species in Brisbane since 2005, all but one of these since 2012. So it remains a very rare bird in the area, and it is sparse throughout much of its distribution in eastern Australia. These thoughts weighed on my mind as I plodded up Dam Break 11 increasingly losing hope of connecting. This is a big continuous area of forest – the birds could be anywhere by now.

I reached the western end of Dam Break 11, and mulled whether to call it quits and turn left to roll downhill and look for the Red-backed Kingfisher, turn back and patrol Dam Break 11 one more time, or turn right and go deeper into the forest. I chose the last. The birds were here only two days ago – surely they must be somewhere reasonably nearby. I decided to stop and listen carefully every 100 metres. At 700m, just as I was approaching the junction with Dam Break 8 (I don’t know what happened to Dam Breaks 10 and 9…), I heard the distinctive and strident tones of a Black-chinned Honeyeater singing loudly some distance away. Totally MEGA! After 10 minutes or so, I finally got onto the bird high up in a tree. I reeled off some incredibly grainy pictures as my camera struggled with the distance and the fog, and its incompetent operator.

I listened and watched for about 20 minutes, captivated by the rarity and mellifluous voice of this amazing species, famed for stealing fur from sleeping koalas to build its nest. After I’d had my fill, I turned off the eBird track, and walked fast down toward Buylar Road, where a Red-backed Kingfisher had been seen two days ago. I noted a nice Speckled Warbler on the way, and a mixed party of White-naped and Fuscous Honeyeaters at Cabbage Tree Creek, together with a Spectacled Monarch and a couple of Long-billed Corellas.

I eventually arrived at the paddock, and set about searching for the kingfisher. I patrolled around and around, but just couldn’t turn anything up. I was returning on the track through the pond when I looked up and saw a kingfisher perched right out on a telephone cable. Surely this had to be it!!!! I went for the camera first, and got a few shots into the glaring light, but something didn’t seem right as I looked at the images on the camera’s tiny screen. When I looked up again I was dismayed to see the bird had gone – that’ll teach me to go for the camera first without being sure of the identity of the bird I’m looking at! I wandered about and eventually the bird popped up onto the wire again – a very tatty adult Sacred Kingfisher, with quite a pale crown. But definitely a Sacred. RATS!

I decided to cover the last hundred metres of fence, and scanning into the distance, amazingly saw a kingfisher perched on the fence and dive-bomb down in the field before coming back to perch again. Was this a Red-backed, or just the same Sacred I’d just left behind? It was too far to see anything conclusive through bins, so I got a few shots, which show a very blurry Sacred; probably the same bird. It disappeared after 30 seconds and I couldn’t re-find it. Reluctantly, I had to leave to get to a meeting, and be content with one of the two possible year ticks. And actually, I really was content – the Tranter-Murray-Franks trio totally deserve to have an exclusive “one-up” as reward for their expeditionary birding at the weekend. Hats off to them.

With one year tick today (Black-chinned Honeyeater), my year list edged up to 254 species. I spent 3 hours 39 minutes birding, walked 9.303 km and drove 112.7 km.

Black-chinned Honeyeater miles away up a tree in the fog. It was more enjoyable in the field than this photo might suggest.

White-throated Nightjar records peak in the summer, consistent with a northward migration away from Brisbane.