Ruddy or Knot: BBO's 2019 Birdathon
At the tail end of the year, when there is cyclone preparation, vehicle maintenance and all the administration to do that can’t be done during the busy season, the only responsible thing for the BBO staff to do is take a day to go twitching for 3 hours as a part of National Bird Week and BirdLife Australia’s Twitchathon.
The staff prepared the night before, meticulously planning a route around Broome and the region to capitalize on each location and the birds we aimed to see there. The limiting factors that were integral in our planning were the tides (Broome’s dramatic tides determine where and when the shorebirds are present on the mudflats), the three-hour time limit (we participated in the 3 hour ‘Birdathon’ as staff members already had commitments on the day that we worked around) and the searing Broome heat (which is not conducive to birding although the few water sources provided great birding).
Crucial elements of our Twitchathon were:
Gear. With this extreme heat we carried a lot of water, made ice-cream stops where applicable, hats and birded from the car when possible.
At least half of the team had to hear/ see (identify) the bird in question. This means a lot of shouting, pointing and a designated scribe.
A hilarious pun-based team name. Ours was ‘Ruddy or Knot’ (see ‘Ready or not’ and a homage to Ruddy Turnstones and Knots which are present in our bay. Less funny when you have to explain it).
The BBO team begun in the mangroves. Again, we organised this to coincide with the incoming tides. We knew what target species we wanted to see in the mangroves and kicked off by hearing the Broad-billed Flycatcher. We got another 3 of our classic mangrove species in Roebuck Bay; Dusky Gerygone, White-breasted Whistler and Mangrove Grey Fantail. Kimberley Flycatcher called but cruelly only one staff member heard it and it did not call again. During the Mangrove session a few of the other species added included Brahminy Kite, Striated Heron and Common Redshank.
In our first hour we had 68 species under our belt.. The 3-hour Birdathon allows the teams to take the 3 hours in whichever block format they like, so we decided on three, one hour sessions with an hour gap in between, mainly to work around our staff’s previous commitments on the day. In the second hour we focused on the Broome Treatment Plant (Pink-eared Duck, Hardhead, Little Curlew, Banded Honeyeater and Red-backed Fairywren to name a few).
We then headed to Entrance Point to tick Brown Booby and Crested Tern, which did not disappoint. With only 8 minutes on the clock left we wanted to make the most of our birding time. Entrance Point is stuck out of town, with a wide area of pindan scrubland between us and the next variation in habitat aka potential for new birds. White-gaped Honeyeaters had been regular around the BBO up until about mid September but had since disappeared, so that usual ‘easy tick’ was still hanging over us and our list. We decided to swing by the Habitat Resort which is an oasis of lush green trees along the dry pindan stretch of Port drive. With now only 3 minutes to go the BBO staff sat in the car with the windows down, confident they would hear a White-gaped within minutes and they could then move onto the next bird. Time passed. Morning tea was scoffed. Fortunately a White-throated Honeyeater called to at least justify our stopping at the Habitat. One minute to go. A Rufous-Whistler called which bizarrely we still didn’t have on our list despite being in our second hour of birding, so a second tick for the location. At this point Jane’s White-gaped Honeyeater gen was becoming increasingly suspect. At three seconds to go all team members stopped as we heard ringing from the tree above, the loud, unmistakable notes of a White-gaped Honeyeater. The calls of the Honeyeater made way for jubilant celebration and then the ominous tones of the iPhone alarm as we reached the top of the hour. One hour to go with a total so far of 96 species.
Again, with our previous commitments for the day that we had to work around, we couldn’t bird our final hour at our ideal time. Instead, we had to head east and hope for some woodland and open plains birding. If you’ve visited Broome, you know the Roebuck Roadhouse is not only the ideal location for a crumbed delight from the bain marie, but also one of the most reliable locations for the elusive Australian Magpie. Australian Magpie are not particularly reliable around Broome so we had to begin our hour here to get it on our list. We started the clock once we had an Australian Magpie, Willie Wagtail and Red-winged Parrot in view and immediately heading south on the road towards Port Hedland. We didn’t get many of the raptors en route that we humbly assumed we would so our list did suffer because of that. Once we arrived onto Roebuck Plains Station (private access) we headed to the dam which gave us Brolga, Wood Sandpiper, Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo and Spotted Harrier amongst others.
The final bird on our list for the day was the Spotted Harrier which took us to a total of 111 species for the 3 hours.
As a WA team our funds raised went to the WA campaign for the Carnaby’s Black Cockatoos. We are incredibly grateful to those who sponsored the BBO team and are happy to see that the Carnaby’s project raised a whopping $17,636. We are looking forward to participating in the 2020 Twitchathon and will dedicate time to seeking out our route and plan for next year. However, we can plan all we want, but such is the heartbreak and joy of birding - ultimately we are subject to their whims and that is what makes it so enjoyable.
You can check out BirdLife Australia’s Twitchathon page here: https://twitchathon.birdlife.org.au/