Two Twitchers, Two Nights and Two Thousand Clicks!

Lake Tutchewop, Victoria

Lake Tutchewop via Swan Hill, Victoria

If I hadn’t been twitching I would never have gone to Tittybong.

And if that’s conjured up a disturbing mental image, keep reading! It’s not quite as perturbing as it sounds!!

Or maybe it is …

Most Northern Hemisphereans probably won’t understand why two otherwise sane, normal Australians (that’s a self-assessment, not an oxy-moron) would spend three days driving over 2000 km (~1240 miles) for a chance to see a couple of birds. Birds routinely seen in their millions elsewhere.

That’s something only another twitcher would understand.

Shorebirds at Lake Tutchewop

Multiply by 10000! Shorebirds at Lake Tutchewop, Victoria

So when a Long-billed Dowitcher gets its continents confused (Southern AUSTRALIA sounds just like Southern AMERICA if you say it quickly, doesn’t it?!) and is recorded at obscure Lake Tutchewop in northern Victoria for the first time EVER (as far as I know, please correct me if I’m wrong) in Australia, it’s BEYOND being a mere rarity. Or even a MEGA-rarity.

It’s a CRIPPLER**! In twitching terminology, anyway. (Note to readers: this post will have lots more jargon. Think of it as a learning experience. Or just get a book# on the subject!)

Water's Edge, Lake Tutchewop

Every speck’s a bird! The water’s edge, Lake Tutchewop

But wait! There’s more!!

When a Semipalmated Plover that normally breeds in the Arctic, then travels through the Americas to winter in South America is recorded near Carpenters Rocks in South Australia, that’s worth noting too. With regular sightings confirmed by the experts, neither bird was showing any signs of moving on.

And here, I owe regular readers of this blog an apology. Up until now, I’d thought a twitcher* was a common, regular, garden-variety bird watcher. I was wrong. Twitching goes WAY beyond mere birding – when a twitcher hears about a vagrant or rare bird, he or she (mostly ‘he’, weirdly) will do almost anything to spot it. Like travelling night and day by any means of transport for the privilege of possibly, perchance, perhaps spotting it. Or not.

That’s why ‘Twitcher’ and ‘Crazy as a Loon’ have the same meaning in some circles.

Lake Tutchewop dries out

Lake Tutchewop water’s edge as it dries out, Victoria

So when our Tenterfield birding buddy asked if we were going to see Semi-palmated Plover because it was in our home state, we laughed. Would we REALLY make a 1000 km round trip just on the off chance of seeing a bird?

I don’t think so.

We’re just birders, NOT twitchers!

BUT! A couple of days later we left the house before 7:00 am for the ~6 hour drive to Carpenters Rocks and chance to see Semi-palmated Plover in the flesh. Were we twitchers crazy after all?

I didn’t have to wait long to find out.

Lake Tutchewop Loo

Does anyone actually use this Lake Tutchewop Loo?!

‘Left, or right?’ asked Pilchard at the first intersection. What could he mean? There was really only one way from here to South Australia’s southernmost point. Wasn’t there? He correctly took my silence for bemusement.

‘If we go right, we could make it to Lake Tutchewop and see the Long-billed Dowitcher first,’ he stated. Yes, it was official. We’d made ‘the change’!  We were now ‘twitching’!

So it came to pass, that dressed warmly for the 18ºC of cold, wind and drizzle expected at Carpenters Rocks, I found myself in warm, bright sunshine and a day that would become 28ºC. A day in which I’d spend over 12 hours in the car passing old haunts like the lovely Lake Cullulleraine.

And a day that would have no Crippler sighting (ie ‘happy ending’) to make the drive worthwhile.

Lake Tutchewop Track

Engage 4WD! Track down to Lake Tutchewop, Victoria

But I didn’t yet know that at mid-afternoon when we reached the now saline – and MUCH bigger than expected – Lake Tutchewop, a magnet for migrating birds. Hundreds, or even thousands on its salty shores. And a shimmering heat haze distorting the glare into a rippling glow which, even with bins and the scope**, turned the simple art of bird identification into a horrible nightmare.

What was that saying about needles and haystacks?

12 hours after we left home, and with ALL accommodation in the nearest town booked out by railway workers, we backtracked to Swan Hill with its FABULOUS Big Murray Cod in search of a cabin. If we’d driven across the river (there’s only one – the Murray River), we’d have had a 3-state day. Which is actually saying something down here, where each state is bigger than many European countries!

This twitching business was for the birds.

Back at the lake the next morning, local birdo Tom pointed across the lake to several cars and people laden with bins, scopes and cameras. Luckily, there weren’t any cop cars and random radar units between us and our destination as we (almost) broke the land speed record. And there, amongst the terns and stints (so they tell me) with its tell-tale beak (mostly) tucked away under its wing, we SAW THE LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER!!!

And all I got was this lousy photo.

Long-billed Dowitcher

Spot the Long-billed Dowitcher at Lake Tutchewop!

Wycheproof with the (self-proclaimed) world’s smallest mountain was the closest I’d been to the fabulously-named Tittybong, thanks to Pilchard’s unaccountable refusal to take a detour. But today, was the day – during our drive of several hundred kilometres south-west towards Carpenters Rocks we’d go right past it.

I didn’t know what was there, but I didn’t care. Doesn’t EVERYONE want to visit a place called Tittybong?

But tragically, I still don’t know what’s there. Perhaps I was looking the other way as we drove past, or maybes the main town was off the road. Whatever, I didn’t see a thing.

And that set the tone for the rest of the day.

Loo at Dumosa

Scenic Silos AND a Loo at Dumosa, Victoria

Down we went through central Victoria – Tittybong; Dumosa’s cool scenic loo; Horsham’s excellent Oven Door bakery; back across the border (and time zone change) into South Australia and Penola, home of Australia’s only Saint; then south to Mount Gambier, South Australia’s second-largest town with its Kanawinka Geotrail attractions like the Blue Lake, Umpherston Sinkhole, the Tantanoola Caves and Mt Schank.

As if any self-respecting twitcher would waste time sightseeing with rare vagrant Semipalmated Plover reportedly on the loose just half an hour away at Pelican Point, near Carpenters Rocks on the coast!

Pelican Point, South Australia

Pelican Point via Carpenters Rocks, South Australia

Finally, I was dressed appropriately as a strong, cold wind whipped in from the Southern Ocean, blowing over sand flats and a rocky reef with thousands of hollows, shadows and shelves – perfect for the hundreds (that may as well have been millions) of tiny birds hunkering down out of the wind. Down here, a few hours south, the moisture laden air coupled with the cunningly hidden birds turned the simple art of bird identification into a horrible nightmare.

Exchanging the dry and sun-drenched Lake Tutchewop for the green and drizzly Carpenters Rocks essentially hadn’t changed a thing. For us twitchers, anyway.

Pelican Point Terrain

Spot the Semipalmated Plover in this Pelican Point Terrain!

Although Carpenters Rocks is a wonderful place – all staggering scenery, wild coastline and fisherfolk heaven – it’ll forever hold a special place in our hearts as the scene of our greatest twitching ‘Dip’*** with Semipalmated Plover proving too elusive for us.. As next morning’s fruitless hours passed and my hands froze into bird-like claws around my bins (is that ironic, or WHAT?!) yesterday’s mad dash south through Tittybong seemed a long, long way away.

Carpenters Rocks Coastline

Carpenters Rocks Coastline

So did home. Another 6 hours away – more, if we actually stopped for any reason, like eating or conducting random quality tests on those scenic public loos. Or sightseeing! Kingston SE’s BIG Lobster and the Cape Jaffa Lighthouse, the Granites, the awesome Coorong National Park and several bakeries lay between us and a car-free day.

But what was I thinking? Sightseeing and twitching go together like binoculars and bulldozers!

The Granites, South Australia

The Granites and an RV that just WOULD NOT get out of the way, South Australia

A few hours later our Two-Night/Two-Thousand click****/one-out-of-two-is-better-than-none twitch finished where it had started – at home. For the moment, our twitching days were done.

Until two days time, where another two hundred-odd clicks away, we’d be spending the day counting shorebirds.

Does the fun never stop?

Evening on the Coorong

Evening on the Coorong, South Australia

Follow Our Journey!

 

# In his excellent book Anoraks to Zitting Cisticola – a whole lot of stuff about Bird Watching, Aussie author and birder Sean Dooley takes the mystery out of this weird sub-culture by defining common bird watching terms and actions. His definitions are much funnier than mine. Which is probably why HE’S written the definitive guide to all you wanted to know about birding, and I’VE just written a book about toilets.

* Crippler = A rare bird

** Bins = binoculars. Scope = telescope. But you guessed that, right?!

*** Dip = No show, missed out, FAIL! :((((

**** Clicks = Kilometres. Or at least they do downunder!

Blue Lake, Mt Gambier

Mount Gambier’s FAAAABULOUS Blue Lake, South Australia

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26 comments

  • haha! Loved this! Congratulations on coming out twitchers 😀 Sometimes it can take us all a little while to figure out who we truly are deep down 🙂 I’m not a birder at all, but I still loved reading this account of your trip. Great writing style and lovely photos! Thanks 🙂

    • Hey Dana! Yep, this was an EXTREME way of getting in touch with my twitcher side 😀 Would you believe I’m not a birder either?? But it’s giving me a LOT of blog fodder – and dinner party mileage!!! Thanx for your lovely comment!!

  • OH gosh, Tittybong! I have to go there. Can’t wait to tell Dave 😉 I loved your humour in this post and how you managed to make the serious sport of Twitching humorous while imparting terms and phrases that we Should Get To Know! I was more interested in the scenery, but as you say, Binoculars and Bulldozers!

    • Hey Jo! Just between us, I was more interested in the scenery as well – but it’s not all about me. But NEXT time it WILL BE!!! See Glen’s comment – I think we should start a Tittybong revival movement!!! Even if it’s just the English-speaking world who will find it amusing 🙂

  • There is a place in the world called Tittybong.

    My life is now dedicated to going there.

    • Hahaha, Glen – I can see that the desire to visit Uluru you once mentioned if you came downunder has now been overridden. Between us we could spearhead a ‘return to Tittybong’ movement and reverse its fortunes??!! I SO have to go back to see what I missed – but a G+ reader who lived nearby (in Quambantook!) suggested there wasn’t much there.

  • I wonder who owns that home about the beautiful blue lake?

    • It’s actually mine … NOT! It’s amazing what a little wishful thinking can achieve 🙂 I actually think it’s part of the pumping station complex – next time we’re there I’m going to explore it properly no matter how many rare birds are lurking nearby!

  • I think your post has convinced me that I’ll never make the twitcher grade. The temptations to visit other places enroute such as that blue lake would be too enticing.

    • Haha, Fun60! If I had had my own car there, I’d have left Pilchard to the birds. There is SO much to see in that area – I’m already planning a full sightseeing week there next year (which isn’t far away!). I think my days of being a real live twitcher are done!

  • Must have been some strong winds to blow a few Semipalmated Plovers in your direction. I seem to remember a news story once about several bird watchers here in the states seeing some sort of bird of prey native to Africa flying around the state of Maine. One of them even got a picture, which lead a scientist to suggest that a storm could have pushed the bird in our direction.

    • Hey, Beach Bum! It’s usually storms, I think! But it MAY be possible (forget probable) that some birds have a defective migration-mechanism – but don’t quote that, it’s just MY theory! And we all know how ‘expert’ I am – NOT!

  • G’day Red, I laughed from start to finish you Twitcher! I’m still in the ranks of ‘nerdy birder’ hahaha!

    Fabulous photos and that Blue Lake……… now that’s somewhere I really, really want to see one day!

    Keep twitchin’

    Hooroo

    • Haha, I’m happy to join you in the nerdy birder stakes, Rose! The Blue Lake is stunning – but only from November to May. The rest of the year it’s just normal water colour!! Why not take a break from cyclone season up north & check it out?!

  • The Carpenters Rocks Coastline is pretty stunning!
    Sorry you missed out on the semipalmated plover though (*~*)
    I really must get down to the Blue Lake one day, I’ve never seen it.

    • South Australia does stunning coastline pretty well (in places)! I was just reading the bird viewing reports website and the little b**t**d turned up again the day after we left! If it wasn’t so far, we’d be in the car right now!! In fact, Pilchard may well wake up tomorrow with an insatiable urge to hop in the car! Me, I’ll just head for the Blue Lake and check it out properly!

  • The language of twitching seems to be international; I recognised the terms and the enthusiasm. For me enough rarities turn up in North Norfolk which is only a couple of hours away. I’ll go anywhere as long as it makes a nice day out. Both Long-Billed Dowitcher and a Semi-P would cause excitement here too.

    • Haha, I actually think a lot of the twitching terminology originated in the UK, John!! And it WAS an excellent adventure, so just between us, I wouldn’t have really cared if we DIDN’T see the birds! Having said that though, it WAS a thrill to see something so rare!!

  • You certainly did cover some territory there Red to find some rare birds! We stayed at Carpenters Rocks on our recent jaunt around Australia and then made our way along the Limestone coastline to The Coorong. We loved this section of South Australia, but it was also a little chilly when we were there.

    • I had no idea when we left the house what I was letting myself in for, Kathy! But to be fair, neither did Pilchard – it was a snap decision based on the forecase – Carpenters Rocks was due for a cold, windy day. It wasn’t so bad late the next day when we actually got there!! But all this has done for me is make me want to go back and explore it properly! Racing past without looking is for the birds!!!

  • I do hope this little guy will be able to find his way home when the time comes Red. I am not a twitcher or birdwatcher for that matter, but you did well to capture it amongst all those other water birds. Don’t you hate it when someone parks their car right in front of your shot. Another interesting excursion. Cheers

    • Just between us, I’m not really a twitcher/birdwatcher either, Linley! I just go along for the ride – and the photos!! It’s also the first (and possibly last) time I’ll get to see ‘the Granites’ as it’s quite remote, so that car will be immortalised forever!!!

  • Congrats on your lifers. I am not sure how far I would drive to see a new bird..So happy to see you back blogging.. Love the photos and pretty scenery! Have a happy weekend!

    • Hi Eileen! Pilchard is the real birdo – I just tag along for the ride! In this case, the LOOOOOONG ride! But it WAS an adventure. Thanx for dropping in – look forward to ‘catching up’ more frequently!

  • Boy, this was a long read. But a good one. I know a few bird watchers, and I know what they are like especially when there’s a new bird in town. I’m glad you made a circle around the Long-billed Dowitcher because otherwise I would have missed it.

    • They don’t call me Red “too much information” Nomad for nothing, Stefan! I had to put the circle there – my camera is not built for that kind of photography, and that’s the only photo I got that actually shows his bill – he had his head tucked away in all the others! I’ll make my next post shorter 🙂

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