Apr 26: Diamonds are a birder’s best friend
 

After the tumultuous events of yesterday, I was in position by Jabiru Swamp before dawn, carefully scanning the track for yesterday’s Diamond Dove. No sign initially after dawn, and after 20 minutes Steve Murray turned up – he had planned a mission today to look for the Spotted Harrier, but was of course now very keen to see the dove. We both intently scanned the trees around the track looking for the dove perched, and were on tenterhooks for the following half an hour, until finally the Diamond Dove appeared distantly on the track feeding calmly right next to a fierce-looking Torresian Crow several times its size. A total cracker, it appeared to show no obvious signs of captivity, and is a likely vagrant since the species has been recorded almost continuously all the way from the arid zone to the east coast, albeit thinning out east of the Dividing Range. I was over the moon – to have any chance of reaching 300 species for the year, it’s essential to catch up with as many vagrant species like this as possible.

Much as I would have liked to stay to look for Spotted Harrier, I had to get to work, so headed home after a few minutes watching the dove, passing Michael Daley coming the other way. Michael connected with the dove, as did Ged Tranter not long after. Poor Steve never did see the Spotted Harrier, even after 5 hours and 8 km of walking! Tough luck.

I am fundamentally quite a competitive person – it’s a trait that is useful and destructive probably in equal measure, and over the years I’ve learned to carefully temper it. Unfortunately academia is a profession that encourages and rewards obsessive competitiveness – publishing more papers, achieving more citations, winning more grants etc. I started off the year determined not to feel competitive about my Brisbane Big Year – I would enjoy reconnecting with Brisbane’s birds, and it didn’t matter who came out with the highest total. By and large, this is how things are panning out – my main purpose for doing this year list is to spark some excitement and ownership among the birding community of Brisbane as a mecca for birding. As I mentioned a while ago, we are starting work at the University of Queensland on an atlas of Brisbane’s birds, powered by open-access eBird and Birds Queensland data, and generously co-funded by Birds Queensland. This big year was a way of motivating myself, and maybe others to get excited about intensifying the focus of Brisbane birding in 2019 and 2020, the main years of data collection for the atlas. You will hear much more about the atlas project over the coming weeks and months – it will be a freely available and open source product, and soon we will circulate some samples for how the species accounts could look, and welcome comment and collaboration on writing the atlas.

Yet I can’t resist an occasional glance at the league table. Like some sort of marathon (which I suppose is exactly what it is), a clear leading pack has emerged as the year has progressed. Although I am currently at the top of the table with 260 species, my position is extremely tenuous, and at this stage I expect Ged Tranter to go home with the gold medal, with me standing on tip-toes in silver or bronze position. I’ll explain this in a minute. The current top ten is:

1 Richard Fuller 260
2 Ged Tranter 247
3 Stephen Murray 239
4 Jo Culican 238
5 Mat Gilfedder 224
6 Rod Gardner 223
7 Matteo Grilli 203
8 Lucas Brook 202
9 Michael Daley 195
10 Rick Franks 194

The reason my lead is tenuous is that at this stage of the game, the totals aren’t what matters. It all depends who has seen which species. For example, Ged Tranter has seen four species that I don’t expect to get back – Barn Owl, Red-backed Kingfisher, Black Falcon and Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo*. Conversely, I have seen five species that Ged might find hard to get back – say two of the seabirds, Asian Dowitcher, Brown Songlark and Common Blackbird. This puts us essentially neck-and-neck as we near the end of April. It will be nailbiting stuff as the year continues – I might eventually get one of the Black Falcons that have been kicking around, or Barn Owl. The dowitcher might oversummer here again for Ged, we might score seabirds-a-plenty on the upcoming pelagic trips (we will both be in the same boat!). Hard to say, but it is most definitely close. My expectation is that Ged will pull into the lead as the year progresses – he’s a better birder than me, and my time in the field is limited. But we’ll see.

*Aside: I didn’t go for the Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo in late March, because I had just assumed it’ll be an escape, or a bird from the local straggly flock that has been around the Brookfield area for a few years. This could prove to be a costly mistake. Ged has pointed out that the birds have been around since the 1990s, meaning they are now tickable under the usual Australian convention of a 15 year establishment period. I need to put some serious thinking into how to find a Major Mitchell’s in Brisbane in the remaining part of 2018.

With one year tick today (Diamond Dove), my year list rose to 260 species. I spent 1 hour 57 minutes birding, walked 3.42 km and drove 29.0 km.

Diamond Dove this morning at Oxley Creek Common. The brownish cast to the upperparts and pink (rather than red) orbital skin suggests this bird is an adult female.

Diamond Dove records stretch from the dry country out west all the way to the coast, albeit obviously thinning out progressively to the east. This suggests a reasonably good chance of vagrants reaching Brisbane.