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May 6: High jinx!

Terrible news! Greg Roberts emailed last night to say the pelagic had been cancelled!! The coastal winds were strong and forecast to stay that way today. This is some sort of jinx – I missed the March pelagic because I was in hospital, and then this one got cancelled. It has been rescheduled to 27th May – and there might still be a few spots. Please get in touch with Greg, or email me (r.fuller@uq.edu.au) and I’ll put you in contact with him. It should be a blast!

I toyed with the idea of going to Moreton Island for a seawatch since the winds were southeasterly, but it was a bit too late to organise it, there was no rain or storm associated with the wind, and Dusky Woodswallows had been showing at Lake Manchester over the past few days and I was keen to connect with them. I decided against a madcap dash to Moreton Island, and instead set the alarm for 0300 intent on walking as far as I could in the dark along the ridge track (which I think is called Sugarloaf Mountain Break) just W of Lake Manchester. This would place me deep in the forest before light and I could then make my way south again back to Lake Manchester Road after dawn looking for the woodswallows.

I got to the trail entrance at 0430, swung my rucksack over my shoulders and puffed my way up the hill. Just after the gate, I suddenly heard a Barn Owl calling off to the SW – I was absolutely elated, as this is a really rare species in Brisbane (at least there are very few records). Yet the habitat around this area is quite suitable for them, with substantial pastures with long grasses, and trees with large hollows in open woodland nearby. It called twice, and had moved in in the intervening period – ending up somewhere near the trail entrance on Lake Manchester Road. I couldn’t see the bird, which was a shame, but nevertheless the year tick was in the bag. The year lister is advised to exercise caution in this area, as the trail criss-crosses the Brisbane / Somerset boundary.

Pushing on up the hill, I stopped every now and then to listen in the darkness, but not much was going on. I had thought I might hear a Powerful Owl or even a Masked, but no such luck. Eventually I heard a distant Southern Boobook, had good views of another on the track. Much further up, a couple of Australian Owlet-Nightjars called right next to the track, but I couldn’t get onto them visually. As dawn began to break, I realised there were heaps of birds around – lots of migrant lateralis Silvereyes, Yellow-faced Honeyeaters, and shedloads of Spotted Pardalotes – these are surely migrants too. But no Dusky Woodswallows…

I got further up the track, where it veers off into Somerset for a couple of kilometres, but eventually decided my pace was too slow and I should turn around to head back south along the track towards where the woodswallows had been seen over the past few days. Just before I turned around, a bird flushed off the side of the track and I saw white tail corners. Presently I got onto a female Spotted Quail-Thrush, but before I could take a photograph it was obscured in the dense ground vegetation again. After a while two birds were calling very close to me, and I got a sound recording, but I couldn’t see either of them again. I was pleased to find this species in a new location, and it’s a Somerset LGA lifer! Maybe I should do a Somerset big year next year. Actually my wife has told me in no uncertain terms – no big year-ing of any sort next year…

I turned around and tried to collect my enthusiasm so I could remain alert and try to find these woodswallows – I was tired, in many ways chronically so from the repeated early starts this year, and the sun was heating up. My first scare came after a kilometre or so when two White-breasted Woodswallows soared low over the canopy. Then suddenly, about 0900 I heard the distinctive call of Dusky Woodswallows! They were high – two birds – but they flew across my visibility over the track and were gone before I could properly register what was happening. Fortunately there were another four birds following, and I got a few distant flight shots. Then the birds came lower and three perched in a dead tree fairly close by, allowing me to see all the key ID features and get some reasonable photos. I was totally elated. This was the second really difficult species under the belt today.

Although Dusky Woodswallow occurs not far to the west of Brisbane, it is very rare in Brisbane Local Government Area itself, with only six records in eBird up until the end of 2017. Interesting, five of the six previous records were in May, June or July, making the present set of birds a typical date. Nothing much else occurred on the way back to the car, and I was tired but happy.

Having a couple more hours to spare, I wandered around Shelley Road Park, and bumped into Ged Tranter. We birded together for a while, and a Collared Sparrowhawk was notable, but we couldn’t turn up any rarities, and annoyingly, there was no sign before I left of the Little Eagle that had been kicking around for a while. Ged actually had the eagle much later in the day. At least it’s still about. I’ll have to try again soon.

With two year ticks today (Barn Owl and Dusky Woodswallow) my year list rose to 268 species. I spent 8 hours 17 minutes birding, walked 15.727 km and drove 113.4 km.

Dusky Woodswallows!!! All four sightings of Dusky Woodswallows since Carla Perkins first found the birds have been along Sugarloaf Mountain Break. You’ll need to walk long distances up hill and down dale to stand a chance of finding these birds.

Really happy with my record of Spotted Quail-Thrush today, which significantly extends the current distribution in eBird (it’s the red flag on the map). The reality is that the species probably occurs quite widely in the Brisbane ranges, but it is tricky to detect and undoubtedly occurs at low density.