Chris Coleborn

The first Saturday of December, a team, consisting of John Nankervis, a local Christian Pastor, Mavis Skinner, & John Pople, both CBOS members - John is our Secretary, myself and several other locals, participated in the 2002 BOCA Challenge Bird Count. This is an annual event and teams from around Australia participate in the spirit of friendly competition to see how many bird species, they can count in a 24-hour period. It really is a means of conducting an annual bird survey under the guise of a competition - but nobody complains.

The area our team covered was within a radius of 40 km of Cohuna in Northern Victoria. There is considerable variation of habitat in the area, ranging from a variety of wetlands, riverine, open forest, grassland plains and rocky granite outcrops. After some very unsettled weather of dust storms and strong winds on preceding days, the outing day was settled, clear and just the right temperature for a great day of birding.

We all enjoyed it. Mavis, our senior lady of over 80 was still going strong at 7.30 pm! If I have half her energy at that age I will be most thankful.

The dry conditions noticeably affected the numbers of birds seen, but surprisingly, there were still a good number of bird species in the area even if we had to search harder than normal for them. About 150 species were seen.

Some of the special birds seen were as follows. Along the Murray and adjacent waterways Collared Sparrowhawk, White-browed Scrubwren, Buff-rumped Thornbill, Leaden Flycatcher, Striated Thornbill, Red-browed Finch, Azure & Sacred Kingfishers were seen.

On and around sewage ponds, irrigation channels, and swamps such as Hird’s Swamp, the following species stand out: a variety of ducks, including Chestnut Teal, Pink-eared Ducks, Australasian Shovellers & Great Crested Grebe. We weren’t able to match last year when we also found Musk, Blue-billed and Freckled Ducks. Spotted Crakes were for some reason very common this year, and three Baillon’s Crakes were also seen. There was a good number of Great Egrets, Nankeen Night Herons, Royal & Yellow-billed Spoonbills present, & of course thousands of Straw-necked & White Ibis. We don’t usually find Cattle Egrets in the area at this time of the year, but several were present with our other Herons & Cormorants.

Intermediate Egret numbers were down, with only a couple being seen.

A few waders were about, Red-kneed Dotterels being very common, but also Marsh Sandpipers, Black-winged Stilts, Black-fronted Dotterels, Sharp-tailed & Curlew Sandpipers among these birds. It was great to find flocks of the brilliant Orange Chats in several locations. We usually pick up some Red-necked Avocets, but this year they were conspicuous by their absence. We normally pick up a Dollarbird or two and this year we were not disappointed, one being seen in Cohuna.

At one spot, where we enjoyed some good views of Latham’s Snipe in the scope, we were tantalized by the local farmer, who knows what a snipe is, telling us that there had been some "funny looking snipe" around for a few weeks. Could they have been Painted Snipe? We were keen to find out, but ... as often happens, they did not turn up on the day.

Raptors were in reasonable numbers, with the most exciting being a pair of Black Falcons being sighted. There were also Peregrine Falcons seen, and the usual raptors for the area such as Black-shouldered Kites, Wedge-tailed Eagles & Black & Whistling Kites

In the open forests some Cockatiels were seen, and also the more resident parrots such as Australian Ringneck. Very large numbers of Red-Rumped Parrots were around, many of them immatures - the drought does not seem to have affected them much & our local Yellow ‘Crimson’ Rosella. Common Bronzewing Pigeons & Peaceful Doves were in reasonable numbers, as were the ubiquitous Crested Pigeons. Around the sandy ridges plenty of Rainbow Bee-Eaters were to be seen, many still at their breeding burrows, along with White-backed Swallows. In the open woodlands, stressed and dusty, Thornbill numbers were down, but still, we managed to see some of the more special ones such as Chestnut-rumped Thornbills. Southern Whiteface, Diamond Firetail & Zebra Finches, joined them.

It is always a pleasure for us all to see the White-winged Fairy wrens, the male with its variation of blue in such striking and bold contrast to its white wings. At one spot we were seeing these beautifully coloured birds in company with the strikingly marked Orange Chats - the males shimmering in the sunlight like molten gold. Grey-crowned, Chestnut-crowned & White-browed Babblers were also seen. The Chestnut-crowned numbers seem to be decreasing.

The piece de resistance for some of us was having lunch by a clump of Eremophila shrubs, where we were entertained and delighted by 45+ Black Honeyeaters and at least a pair of loudly calling Pied Honeyeaters - great stuff! As we enjoyed our lunch and these special honeyeaters, Dusky & White-browed Woodswallows flew above us in the warm blue yonder, their cheerful calls joining in with the honeyeaters and bringing the stressed out land to life.

We also picked up with pleasure sightings of Black-chinned Honeyeaters, Crested Shrike-tits, Gilbert’s Whistlers & a pair of Painted Button-Quail scurrying away in the understory of the pines in the Terrick Terrick National Park. This area also produced a good number of Hooded & Red-capped Robins & Jacky Winters. A lone Rufous Songlark and a few Mistletoebirds added to the day’s enjoyment. The only cuckoo of the day was a solitary Pallid Cuckoo. Normally we would pick up a few Horsfield’s Bronze or even a Black-eared Cuckoo or two.

On the open plains, Brown Songlarks, Singing Bushlarks & Richard’s Pipits flitted about. Recent reports of the Plains Wanderers are that, in spite of the severe dry, they are still continuing to breed - a remarkable bird.

Birding can be enjoyable on your own, or with a group, can’t it?

This report was published in The Christian Bird Observer’s Magazine, October 2002