700 Part One


Lists. Listing. I love my bird list. It gives me goals. Pursuing those goals and those wondrous birds have taken me into the most incredible, beautiful landscapes in the world. I have seen so much of Australia, and I really owe it to the birds, to my list of birds. Some people do not get it. They do not have to.

On the morning of 10 May, my buddy James Cornelious and I left Victoria and drove north. I had hopes of increasing my life list. James is not only a good friend and a good birder, he is also young and has excellent ears. We were heading for Birdsville, QLD and I wanted grasswrens. They are impossible for me to hear.
My snug sleeping area 'downstairs' in Troopi. James was 'upstairs' in the bed in the poptop.
Thankfully, we had no dramas on the way up, but Robert took a different track out of Cunnamulla and had a puncture. We departed Windorah, QLD on 13 May headed west toward the world famous ‘town’ of Birdsville and the Birdsville Track.

After about an hour of driving a large bird flew across the track just in front of us. Flock Bronzewing! We stopped and it joined about 150 others in a flock. We got out and watched, and loved them. Not a life bird for me, but one for James (he got 14 lifers on the trip). However, they were definitely the best views I had ever gotten of this cool bird.

A bit further down the road, Robert came on the radio and said, “I think I saw Gibberbirds.” He made a u-turn, we stopped, and soon we were all looking at five of these awesome, and often hard to find, little chats. We headed on and in about ten kilometres we saw three birds flying on our left. I was asking James what he thought those were as we all realized… GREY FALCONS! Yes! We had three Grey Falcons flying beside and then over us. Wow. We pulled off the track and marvelled at these stunning and rare raptors.

Our next stop held my hopes for my first life bird of the trip. If I found it, it would put my list at 699. There is a dune ridge about 17.5 kilometres east of Birdsville where Nikolas Haass had eBirded Eyrean Grasswrens last November. We stopped and began to bird down the ridge. James and I headed south. James was occasionally hearing them and I had possibly a fleeting glimpse of one. We were about three-quarters of a kilometre from the road and I discovered that I had mobile signal. I called Robert who was back at the vehicles and he said that he had the grasswrens on the ridge just north of the road! We rushed back through the soft sand and soon were looking at least three Eyrean Grasswrens. Yes! 

We drove into iconic Birdsville, Queensland for Lifer Pie and discovered that the bakery was closed on Sunday. We checked into our cabin. Robert’s brother-in-law, Chris was travelling with him. He had had a stroke a few years ago and needs a ventilator when he sleeps. So we were going to be using cabins and rooms for this part of the journey. We considered heading the 90 kilometres south to have our first try at the Grey Grasswrens that arvo, but we decided it would be better to wait and go early the next morning. We had a Sunday Roast dinner at the Birdsville Hotel (outdoors with a lot of flies, but good) and then settled in our cabin for the night.

The next morning we were heading south before dawn. The 90 kilometres took probably an hour and fifteen minutes or so on the track and we arrived at the spot about 7am. We searched basically two locations: one in the neighbourhood of 90 kilometres from Birdsville and one about a kilometre and a half further down the track. We birded hard in these spots until after 1pm and gave up. I had glimpsed a probable Grey GW and James had possibly heard a few, but that was all. We drove back to Birdsville and arrived just before the Bakery closed at 2:30pm. I did try a Curried Camel Pie and it was surprisingly delicious! I would order it again. We messed about Birdsville and I went over to the bore to see the Pied Honeyeaters that James and Robert had seen there the day before. We supped at the pub and went to bed early.

Eyrean Grasswren Lifer Selfie with James at the Birdsville Hotel

The next morning we packed everything up and left even earlier than the day before. This would be our last shot at Grey Grasswren. I had spoken with Laurie Ross for his advice and he suggested we focus on the area about 92 kilometres south. That was the second area we had birded. We rocked up in the same spot we had parked the day before. It was not even first light yet. We birded that area for a couple of hours. I was birding ‘through’ the shimmering, rainbow arc of a rather impressive visual migraine, something I only occasionally experience. They are not painful and last about a half an hour. James heard grasswrens a few times, but no joy.

An old man and his hearing-ear boy (photo by Robert Shore)

We were sticking to that area and had worked our way back behind where we had parked the Troopies. Then James heard the grasswrens. He crept slowly (and he can creep really slowly) toward the contact calls that he was hearing. After several minutes he put his bins up and looked. He turned back to me and said, “I’ve got them!”

I will never forget the look on his face. Anyone who has birded much has seen it, the pure elation that beams from the face of someone who has just seen a difficult bird. I knew he had them. Now I needed to see them and one popped up! I saw it, but it was only for a fraction of a second. They were across the track from us. We headed over and after about fifteen minutes following James’ ears, I saw one perched low in a saltbush. YES! It was a heart-touching view of a Grey Grasswren. Then it dropped to the ground and I thought I would get a photo. Haha! It had been right there and then it was gone. It had disappeared into a hole in the space/time continuum as they do. But I had seen it. I had seen my 700th species of bird in Australia. As I walked back to the Troopies, there were tears in my eyes.
Grey Grasswren Lifer Selfie 700! (Yes, there were flies).          
Robert and me and the flies (photo by James Cornelious)

I had always considered 700 to be the number goal of my bird list. I know there are quite a few birders who have gone over 800 now, and a few who are even approaching 900. However to me, 700 is the truly a magical number. It is a celebration number, perhaps even a tattoo worthy number. It means a LOT to me and I am so very grateful. More to come in 700 Part Two.

Sending Love from Oz...