Monday, February 7, 2011

Scarlet Robins, Boxing Kangaroos and how 1 Snipe changed children's lives forever

Saturday started at 4am when I drove to Tanunda in the Barossa Valley to meet my friend Chris Steeles. We had planned to meet at 5.30am. Sitting in a the dark main street I started getting worried when it got to 6am and he still had not arrived, so I rang him. I was very relieved to discover he was just asleep - not injured!!  He arrived soon after looking very embarrassed!

A well rested Chris looking for Crested Shrike-Tit

We headed to Kaiserstuhl Conservation Park. The sun was just rising and it was very foggy so we searched for Scarlet Robins in the mist. Happily we found about 9 of them including some colourful Males. I had wanted to improve on the poor photos I've taken of them in the past but unfortunately it was so overcast that the photos I took this time are still poor. However, we had an enjoyable walk finding some nice birds, some include Crescent, Bown Headed, New Holland and White Naped Honeyeater. Also Red Browed Finch, Rainbow bea-eaters aplenty, Buff Breasted and Striated Thornbill, Striated Pardelote and White Throated Treecreeper.

Scarlet Robin in the mist

We then came across two male Roos having a punch up so I took some photos of them beating the daylights out of each other!

On the way home we called in to Chris's workplace, a winery which has an established woodlot. This area is home to a family of Crested Shrike-Tit.

This is actually where Chris and I first met in 2009. At that time he had lodged a Birdpedia report about the Shrike-tit. My dear friend John Turner and I were on one of our regular bird outings the day after his report was lodged,so we decided to call in to the winery to search for the bird. On that day I went in and asked if they knew about the bird sighting and Chris came over to assist us.

He was so friendly and welcoming. He took the time to guide us to the woodlot and showed us the nest. As all the trees look the same and are in rows John had the common sense to mark the spot so he found a long stick and wedged it against the tree to assist us to find it again.

Over the next year John talked about that day numerous times as he really enjoyed it.  It also resulted in me making a great friend in Chris.

Sadly, my dear friend John passed away on 8th December 2010 after a long & painful illness which had  left him paralised. His recent passing still feels terribly raw and deeply painful to me.

So, when Chris and I went into the woodlot together on Saturday we were thinking of John. We then came across the stick which is still leaning against the tree. I could actually see John laughing and carefully lodging it there. It hit me like a tonne of bricks. ...I just stood and could feel the tears welling up in my eyes (thankfully hidden by my sunglasses). That brief moment in the woodlot felt like his funeral.

My dear John, I miss you terribly.

John Turner enjoying his birding

Sunday morning I collected my friend Teresa and we went to Tolderol Game Reserve- nothing of great interest found there but good to see there is at least some water leaking back in there. It used to be such a great birding mecca. After inspecting the area it was onto Milang to chase Latham Snipe.

Some water in Tolderol now...

To me the highlight of this outing was a chance encounter with 2 remarkable kids riding little scooters along the track around the Milang Snipe Sanctuary. They were bored because their parents were visiting their Gran and they were just riding around aimlessly.

Teresa had walked on ahead when  the kids saw me with binoculars looking into the swamp so they came over to ask what I was doing. They intoduced themselves, Anthony, about 8 and his older sister Tash, about 12.

They were intrigued at the idea of birding and asked intelligent questions so I decided to tell them about the birds. They really wanted to "help" find them. I described the Snipe explaining that without binoculars it would be difficult but would you believe, this little boy, without binoculars actually spotted one flying and I was able to get onto it and confirm it.  After his success he was then hooked. He then searched the entire track finding 13 species of bird. His favourite, apart from the Snipe - his first Tick,  was the White Faced Heron.

His sister Tash was encouraged by my suggestion of starting a life list. I told them about Sean Dooley and how he started. On learning about what Sean has now achieved they started to head back to their parents to get a notepad, pen and binoculars to start their Lists. They had decided (with some guidence) to have an all day twitchathon!!!

They repeated back to me their memorised lists before they left and were gearing up to ask their parents for a copy of Simpson & Day from Australia Post the next day (but were planning to google Australian Birds that night)!! That to me was amazing!

These kids really brightened up my day! I really hope they do keep birding and who knows, one day they may even write a book talking about the Latham Snipe in the Milang Swamp that started it all.