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    • Jer Big Red
Jun 24: Barking mad

Up at 0200 this morning, I was keen to put in some serious nocturnal birding – the plan was to drive from the top of Mount Glorious down towards Enoggera Reservoir searching for Barking Owl. The wind had been calm overnight and it was a relatively warm night for the time of year. Good conditions for nocturnal birding. I jumped in the car and headed to Lawton Road, stopping at Banks Street Bushland Reserve on the way. There is a Barking Owl specimen in the Queensland Museum from here, so I thought I’d give it a quick listen, but in 7 minutes I heard no birds whatsoever.

I didn’t want to dally for long, and so pressed on to Lawton Road, arriving at 0326. Almost immediately I heard several Southern Boobooks calling, a good sign. Then a couple of Australian Owlet-nightjars and a Noisy Pitta called, and eventually a Marbled Frogmouth started calling quite distantly – a not unexpected year tick, but very welcome nevertheless. Near the start of the track I was watching a nice Sugar Glider when I heard a clatter of wings and a large bird flew over. It landed on the wires over the road – a magnificent Masked Owl!!! I managed a few grainy pics before it flew off again into the night. Needless to say the Sugar Glider had scarpered.

I stopped at approx 1.5 km intervals down Mount Glorious Road, and spent 5-10 minutes listening for birds, more if there was activity. And boy was there activity! I heard night birds calling almost every time I stopped (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10), and in total for the night had 9 Southern Boobooks, 6 Masked Owls, 4 Sooty Owls, 4 Marbled Frogmouths and 5 Australian Owlet-nightjars. An amazing night! No Barking Owl, but I wasn’t really expecting it. Also no Powerful Owl, which is starting to get a bit silly given the amount of time I’ve spent out at night. I didn’t get into the lower altitude forest today, so I’ll probably pick up where I left off another night.

As dawn began to break, I decided to head to the Link Track that runs along the southern shore of Enoggera Reservoir – accessed via the end of Payne Road. Brad Woodworth had mentioned it as a place worth watching, and when I saw the habitat I had to agree. The lantana thickets  and wet sclerophyl gullies look very promising for Black-breasted Button-quail, which would be a brilliant bird to find this year. It’s an enigmatic species in Brisbane – there are records, and although they’ve gone from some of the known places, no doubt there are still some groups about. But I don’t know of any active sites at present. After battling my way through the wall of noise emanating from a roost of 320 Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, and logging an exceptional count of 154 Hardheads on the reservoir, I put in some time searching the Lantana thickets, but couldn’t turn up any platelets or button-quails. I’ll come back here when I can put in a full morning.

Just as I was finishing up, and about to get back into the car to get home (I had agreed to be back by 9am), Chris Sanderson texted to say he’d found a Freckled Duck at Sandy Camp Road Wetlands. A total mega, with only 1 twitchable bird in the last five years. I jumped into the car and started driving toward Sandy Camp. My wife graciously agreed I could meet her and kids directly at the theatre where we were going to watch a kids show at 10am instead of going home first. Even with this time extension it was going to be extremely tight. Stoney-faced I pressed on the accelerator and once again gladly paid tolls to shave minutes off my journey that I simply wouldn’t do on a regular day. Zooming over the Gateway Bridge the adrenalin was pumping and I was in full twitch mode, having alerted all the other active year listers (many people had seen the 2013 Minnippi bird, although for me this would be a Brisbane lifer too).

Screaming into the car park at Sandy Camp, I bumped into Deb and John Merton just inside the reserve, and blurted incoherently at them that there was a Freckled Duck on the NE lagoon. We briskly walked over there, but try as we might, we could not see any sign of the duck. The bird had been seen along the edge of the thick Melaleuca swamp on the lagoon, and it would only have to move back a few metres to be completely out of sight. Freckled Ducks often loaf about perched during the day, so I was rapidly getting despondent. After about 15 minutes Mat Gilfedder and Jo Culican arrived, and then Michael Daley showed up. A veritable mass twitch!

There were a few Grey Teals along the edge of the swamp, and I was slowly scanning along the edge with my scope, when I suddenly perceived a peaked crown of a duck. That’s all I could see – the rest of the bird was completely obscured. My heart missed a beat – this had to be it. Michael found a spot where we could see a little more of the bird, and hey presto it was the Frecked Duck! Glory! With impeccable timing, Ged Tranter showed up, and coolly year-ticked it through the scope.

After firing off a few terrible pictures, I absolutely had to leave or risk being late for the children’s theatre, which would have been a very serious offence indeed. I raced off and made the theatre with 5 minutes to spare. Phew! The end of a madcap morning.

With two year ticks today (Marbled Frogmouth and Freckled Duck), my year list rose to 285 species. I spent 4 hours 8 minutes birding, walked 5.394 km and drove 145.7 km. My chronological year list is here.

Masked Owl at Lawton Road – great to see one this well.

Sooty Owl – I heard four different birds this morning. A rainforest specialist, so rather restricted in its Brisbane distribution, although not particularly uncommon in the right habitat.

Freckled Duck – told you it was a terrible pic. And this was the best of about 150 shots!