Not that Fay would ever admit to being a “twitcher,”or indeed having the least interest in twitching. She rarely, if ever, keeps a list of sightings let alone a comprehensive tally of species accumulated over the many years we’ve been birding together; she does record birds we spot as we are driving along enroute to some destination or other. I find it difficult, right down dangerous, to simultaneously drive and record birds flashing by the windscreen! The mention in birding-aus of Freckled Duck Stictonetta naevosa, together with Plumed Whistling-Duck Dendrocygna eytoni in the Lockyer Waters region was sheer coincidence.
We had only ever seen the Freckled Duck on seven occasions and the first of those, back in May 1992, had been in the Lockyer Valley; the last sighting [at Lake Bindegolle] was on 2 October 1993! It was at Bindegolly that we were able to show the late Dawn Allen her first Freckled Duck; she died shortly afterwards.
Two decades between drinks is perhaps a little excessive.
We have a long history at Allen Road of the Wandering/Plumed Whistling-Duck i.d. calls as the birds flew by overhead almost every night during a substantial period of time a few years back. Added to these incentives was the disappointment of our previous two trips to the Lockyer Valley. We have fond memories of the place dating back to regular visits during the 1990s. Albeit seemingly piecemeal, we had come to know the region as we made our almost bi-annual excursions there; alone or in the company of others, including near legendary birding figures such as John Hadley. Our baptism had been in April 1991, during a joint Queensland Ornithological Society [now more commonly Birds Queensland]/Toowoomba Bird Group outing to Apex Park in Gatton [two Lifers added to our personal Life List from the lagoon there]. We had also covered Lake Clarendon [Magpie Goose Anseranas semipalmata], Ropely Dam [Plumed Whistling-Ducks, a Lifer] and Gatton Forest [only our second ever sighting of Rose Robin Petroica rosea].
Our visits continued throughout the decade: May [with John Hadley and the Toowoomba Bird Club] and November [Blue-billed Duck Oxyura australis and Oriental Pratincole Glareola maldivarum added to Life List] 1992; June 1993; April [Helidon Dip] and November [Aitkinson’s Dam] 1994 and October 1995 [targeting Painted Button-quail Turnix varia]. We managed a record three trips in 1996, the last two [August and November] guiding overseas birders around the Valley.
Then, zilch. Not a single survey between November 1996 and August 2012. In excess of fifteen years without a solitary visit. The “tree-change” from Redcliffe [on the coast] to Nanango [in the country] and the arrival of the “removal house” played a major role in the gap but those affairs had come in 2001 and 2002 respectively; what of the intervening years, 1997-2000?
As if to add insult to injury, when we finally persuaded ourselves to revisit the place in August 2012, albeit as a side attraction to Ravensbourne National Park, we came away with a tally of seven species! Unable to stomach such a failure we forced ourselves to call in at Helidon Dip where we recorded 25 species.
Still incredulous at the poor tallies compared to earlier years [e.g. 62 in October 1994] we returned the following month, determined to restore the former good birding name of the Lockyer Valley. There were no “lifers” among the 58 species recorded but it remains pleasing to note the number of times I scribbled “conservative estimate of numbers involved” alongside various species.
Thus, following our trip along the first of the Wambo Bird Trails, we targeted the Lockyer Valley for our next venture Birding Beyond the Pale. And this time we were determined to do things properly.
Back in August and September 2012 we had simply tossed binoculars and telescope into the back of the car, together with a flask of coffee and a handful of sandwiches. We missed Jahnke’s Lagoon altogether. We circumnavigated Aitkinkon’s Dam without locating the famous “overflow.” We dibbled, dabbled and dribbled our way around the area without actually finding any familiar landmark. In frustration we returned to Gatton where that recent monstrosity, the Conference-Centre-cum-Information-Centre overshadows the lagoon like the Grim Reaper hovering over a lost soul poised on the doorstep of Eternity.
We found Bird Places of the Lockyer Valley but by then the day was a little too long in the tooth and we had three cats and a dog waiting to be fed – to say nothing of sundry pigeons, ducks, chickens and assorted wild birds.
An email on the birding-aus forum from Bill Jolly was fortuitous. I telephoned him and he was kind enough to give me a brief update on birding conditions throughout the Lockyer Valley; the Seven Mile Lagoon was, in his opinion, the best current spot for birds. We located it on the map included in the aforementioned leaflet.
Armed with appropriate optics, two flasks of coffee and hard boiled eggs for lunch, we were prepared for anything and everything. Well, except for a GPS unit [“Emily”] that insisted we turn right into Dead Gully Road. The first hint of mishap came when the “road” petered out to become a farm track; we became further concerned when, looking into the rear-view mirror, we noted a large ute tearing down the track in seeming hot pursuit of us. The young farmer pulled out into what can only be described as a minimal space between track and ditch; it seemed advisable to stop and point out that we were merely following the directions of the GPS unit. His tone and facial expressions said it all- yes, GPS units had a tendency to bring unsuspecting motorists along Dead Gully Road but he assured us that it went nowhere and that our best recourse was to turn about and retrace our steps back to the main road.
Determined not to be frustrated by a simple conglomeration of fancy electronics that didn’t know her way around farm tracks, we fell back on that oldest of human resource, logic and good guesswork given the topography of the area. Where electronics had failed us, we succeeded – only to discover that we’d been here the previous month but had been unaware of the lagoon’s name, mistaking it for some oversized farm dam.
Even a flat tyre in Gatton itself couldn’t deflate our optimism as the bird tally rose from site to site.
At the end of the day we came away with 58 species. No lifers but then we hadn’t seen Red-necked Avocet Recurvirostra novaehollandiae since January 1998 and here we had them in a flock of at least one hundred! Similarly, our previous sighting of Wandering Whistling-Duck Dendrocygna australis had been in January 2011.
Wherever we turned there was only good news: 100-plus Pink-eared Duck Malacoryhnchus membranaceus; at least 50 Australasian Grebe Tachybaptus novaehollandiae and 100 Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus. In smaller number but nevertheless worth the journey out beyond the pale were the half dozen Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus, with one pair in full courtship display – erect in the water, facing each other and performing a series of bobbing dance movements. The gyre of 17 Black Kites Milvus nigrans was awesome.
Even on the way home we notice a solitary Pheasant Coucal Centropus phasianius quietly squatted on the grass verge of the busy main road.
For those who have made positive comments regarding the statistics involved with both The Birds of Allen Road and Birding the South Burnett, the monthly tally for August has peaked 100 species; at 114 it rests on the ladder bottom but is only one short of the 115 in April, two short of June’s 116 and three off the 117 in March. The 2013 Year List has crawled over the 200 mark at 202 species. And at the time of writing there are still a few days to go before August ends.
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