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Global Big Day 2018—a retrospective

By Michael Daley September 21, 2018
Australian Pelican Pelecanus conspicillatus

October Big Day 2018 is fast approaching! Be sure to set aside Saturday 6 October on your calendar as the day when your Australian bird sightings will contribute to the international collective effort of recording as many birds as possible on a worldwide eBird Big Day. Spring is springing here in the Southern Hemisphere, and we’re sure you’ll be spotting many fantastic birds on a glorious day. To get you in the mood, we asked Queensland birder Michael Daley to tell us the story behind his team’s Global Big Day 2018 birding effort back in May. Have a read about their record-smashing day, then start planning where you’ll look for birds on October Big Day 2018.

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Steven Pratt and Malcolm Graham were the top Australian eBirders in Global Big Day (GBD) 2017, spotting 142 and 144 species, respectively. Yet they were determined to better their performance for GBD 2018, when they kindly invited Terence Alexander and I (Michael Daley) to join them. Malcolm and Steven meticulously planned our GBD route, right down to a coffee break that never actually materialised. All up, we covered 25 spots, starting at 4:30 am and birding straight up to 5:40 pm with no rest, bar a short two-minute iced-coffee stop. Our plan covered varied habitat, progressively through the day. First, we covered the Bayside and waders, then we moved on to some prominent birding spots in Brisbane. Next, we made our way through the rainforests close to Brisbane and then we ranged out west for grassland and bush birds that are mainly found there, and finally we tried nabbing some night birds on the way home.

Starting out, we had no real number target in mind, although we thought beating Steven and Malcom’s 2017 total by a few species would be great. Our first targets were close to home and we started before dawn at the Hilliard’s Creek Reserve. It was only a brief flutter in the trees, but we thought we may have something. So we gathered close then put the light into the tree–and there it was, a beautiful little Australian Owlet-nightjar for our first bird. We moved off to target two, which was a Powerful Owl, and it kindly obliged with a call just before dawn. We then hurried to Wellington Point for some waders. We started with some Nankeen Night-Heron at their roost. Highlights at King Island were a solo Lesser Sand-Plover and some Double-banded Plovers.

Malcolm drove a frenetic pace. Terence and I battled to keep up–it had been a long time since we had done anything like this. We sprinted to Thorneside and found some over-wintering Eastern Curlew which was great. Then the coffee “Oh” that never happened, so off to Wynnum Foreshore where we picked up some stunning Pacific Golden-Plover.

Our next big stop was Sandy Camp Road Wetlands, where we managed 63 birds in a short 54-minute stop. We then went on to cover some of the prominent wetlands in Northern Brisbane, firstly Kedron Brook with three good raptors and some water birds. We then moved to Dowse Lagoon, where a pair of Cotton Pygmy-Goose were the highlight. A brief stop at Tinchi Tamba revealed a Black-necked Stork which was an awesome plus to our list. After this, Terence and I snapped up a solid two-minute breather while Steven ran into a servo for an iced coffee (a welcome power rest for us).

The rainforest was very kind to us, and we picked up some very interesting and significant birds. Malcolm had done a lot of homework here, and was in-tune to where we needed to look. The highlight here was a Red-browed Treecreeper. We then started out west, stopping at a few spots on the way. It was a short stop at Seven-mile Lagoon that was a real bonus, as it was full of birds (thousands of them). In a short time, we had a significant number of new birds that included Swamp Harrier, Pink-eared Duck, Australasian Shoveler and Red-necked Avocet. We then moved to Lake Clarendon, and surely the highlight of the day for us was two Black Falcon flying over the lake (a lifer bird for both Steven and Terence).

We went further west to Adare, and were rewarded with Jacky Winter, Varied Sittella and a Square-tailed Kite. We briefly visited Lake Galletly to tick some Little Corella and wow, we finally took a break for dinner at about 5:40 pm after birding from 4:30 am, just about nonstop.

Our final targets were possibly Barn Owl on the way home, and Sooty Owl up in the rainforest. We had driven for about 20 minutes when straight in front of the car flying towards us was a Barn Owl. It veered off the road and we tracked it a bit with the car lights–just awesome. We moved to the rainforest and were rewarded with a Sooty Owl calling. We had one more target, and for our final bird we drove to the University of Queensland to find some Bush Stone-curlew.

We reached an astonishing 172 bird species. We were really pleased with how it all turned out. There were some notable misses, but I don’t think that we really could have done much better. The trade of a coffee stop for more birds paid off. We went home for a good night’s rest, satisfied with all the birds we had seen in a very big day.

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