Apr 25: A late hat trick

I had a feeling of inevitability about this morning. Given the late dawn these days, I had the luxury of a sleep in until 0500 on this Anzac Day, a public holiday in Australia. We were doing a family trip to the parade in the CBD, leaving the house at 0900, so I had to be back from my dawn birding quick smart. I headed up to Fitzgibbon Bushland to attempt to see the Scaly-breasted Munia so wonderfully photographed by Ged Tranter yesterday. I met Steve Murray there, and we birded together for a while, tippling up lots of small groups of Chestnut-breasted Mannikins, but there was no sign of a Scaly-breasted in with them. The frustrating thing about this is that the Scaly-breasteds are almost certainly still there somewhere, but the birds are so mobile, and hard to comprehensively sort through when they do eventually perch. This might take another couple of trips before I connect. It’s worth some degree of effort, as although in all likelihood there will be some easier birds this year, this isn’t the kind of species one wants to just leave for later. I had to leave site at 0830, and Steve and John continued birding, although there was no sign of Scaly-breasted Munia the rest of the morning.

The Anzac parade was excellent, but the birding wires were going crazy, and I knew I had to get out again in the afternoon. Rod Gardner had found a Yellow-billed Spoonbill at Priors Pocket, and amazingly had heard a Red-backed Buttonquail calling from a maize field! My wife very graciously saw my desperation and gave me leave to depart. I wasn’t going to Priors Pocket straight away, reasoning that the spoonbill would either be there or not (racing there wouldn’t make a difference), and that the buttonquail might be most likely to call again later in the afternoon.

A Spotted Harrier has been seen at Oxley Creek Common a few times over the last week, and this is about as close as possible to a twitchable individual. I decided to head there over the hottest part of the early afternoon, as many raptors seem to get up and soar about at this time. Scanning from the grassy knoll by the red shed brought an immediate year tick in the shape of a Nankeen Kestrel perched high on a wire – not entirely unexpected, and they become less rare after April, but they all count, and I was pleased to have another species in the bag. I walked briskly to Jabiru Swamp, where I continued scanning for raptors and had 2 White-bellied Sea-eagles, 4 Black Kites, a Whistling Kite, a Black-shouldered Kite, and a Wedge-tailed Eagle! Not a bad raptor haul, although the one I really wanted was conspicuously missing. I gave myself a time limit, and left at 1500 as I had to be back home by 1715.

I drove to Priors Pocket, with the tension rising as I approached the farm dam, a small roadside pool. I would know instantly if the spoonbill was still present and… BINGO!! An absolute cracker of a bird, hanging out with 3 Royal Spoonbills, and I even managed a reasonable photograph of it. This was actually a Brisbane life tick for me, the commonest bird that I still needed (the commonest now is Little Grassbird, then Pallid Cuckoo, Freckled Duck and Brolga). I tore myself away from the spoonbill too soon because I had allocated half an hour to listen for the Red-backed Buttonquail. I arrived at the spot described by Rod, and unbelievably the bird was calling as I got there! Punching the air, I sat down and waited to see if it might pop out since it was quite close to the edge. It didn’t, after 20 minutes, but I was totally chuffed anyway with the Brisbane life and year tick. All thanks to Rod’s generosity and timeliness in sharing information.

In fact, doing this Brisbane Year List has shown me what a brilliant birding community there is around the city, and it’s wonderful how generous people are with information and help, and spreading the news of good birds fast!

I returned home very satisfied with today’s late hat trick. Yet there was to be a sting in the tail. Incredibly, Andrew Thelander had found a Diamond Dove at Oxley Creek Common just after I had left, and a couple of hundred metres further along the track that I had stopped at to scan for raptors. Unbelievable! There is some controversy about whether Diamond Dove records in Brisbane are mostly wild or escaped birds. My sense is that individuals of this species showing no signs of captive origin should be treated as wild. And the photographs of today’s bird (here and here) don’t ring any alarm bells for me.

So, the bag is packed, the thermos is filled with coffee, and I’ll be back at Oxley Creek Common at dawn. I’ll only have about 30 minutes to look for the bird, but hopefully it’ll be enough.

With three year ticks today (Nankeen Kestrel, Yellow-billed Spoonbill and Red-backed Buttonquail), my year list rose to 259 species. I spent 4 hours 31 minutes birding, walked 7.396 km and drove 147.2 km.

A very nice Yellow-billed Spoonbill at Priors Pocket, found this morning by Rod Gardner.

Yellow-billed Spoonbil records show distinct peaks in autumn and spring, so this late April record is on a typical date. It’s the first Brisbane record this year.