Two Twitchers, Two Nights and Two Thousand Clicks!
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.
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!)
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.
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.
‘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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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?
Follow Our Journey!
- Lake Cullulleraine, Victoria
- Swan Hill, Victoria
- Wycheproof, Victoria
- Kanawinka Geotrail, Victoria and South Australia
- Carpenters Rocks, South Australia
- Mt Gambier, South Australia
- Coorong National Park, South Australia
- MORE Red Nomad OZ Birding Adventures!
# 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!