Monday, November 12, 2012

The case of the missing Franklin’s Gull

The call went out a few weeks back that a Franklin’s Gull had appeared in Paynesville, Vic.  Well, that got my attention. I immediately looked at my bank account which stated very clearly that buying a flight that weekend was not going to happen.  So, I calculated the distance and time that it would take to drive there from Adelaide and google maps told me it would be approx 13 hrs each way. Now, I’m no mathematics genius but even I could see that working full time and not being able to take the Monday off ruled that one out. So with heavy heart I gave up on the idea, and to live with this decision told myself that if it stuck around the following week I would buy the airline tickets on payday.

On the Saturday I was woken by an sms from my friend Vik telling me he was face to beak with the Gull. On the Sunday I received crippling photos of it by my friends Ruth and Paul. This sealed the deal.

On Saturday 10th Nov , after donating a weeks wages to Virgin and Hertz,  I arrived at Tullamarine and met up with fellow Twitcher Carl, who was also keen to see this bird so had flown in from Qld, and we were on the road. 4 hrs later we found ourselves in the now famous gravel car park, near the boat ramp opposite the hardware store.

The now famous Paynesville Hardware Store

the most observed spot in Paynesville

One other car was there with Rhonda on duty.  She told us it had been seen at 4.45pm the day before during a large storm, but today “it hadn’t been seen”. Hmmmm, not a good start.

Another car pulled in and Mark introduced himself. He and his kids were looking for the Gull. Then Iain and his friend arrived, they had driven down from Sydney. Judy and Greg from Newcastle arrived after a 10 hr drive, followed by more cars.

At one point we had about 20 birders in a row and the car park resembled a drive in theatre. The only problem was the wrong film was playing…..

This quiet little town had been invaded. Eventually the owner of the only house opposite the car park came over. The curiosity got the better of him. He stayed, we educated him on birds (converted him into our secret society), he regaled us with stories, wine appeared, along with camp chairs, crisps, camp ovens and cups of tea.

As the day progressed so did our levels of anxiety. Even the most pure of birders who had earlier scoffed at my suggestion of burley (fish and chips) caved in and copious amounts of butchers paper appeared filled with chips, potato fritters and dim sims, with the lingering scent of chicken salt and vinegar. A fight ensued between the local magpies and Pacific Gulls but even this bribery failed to bring in a gull.

By sunset we knew we had failed. There was nothing we could do but stay over and try again in the morning. I was still unconcerned, my knowledgeable birder mates Paul, Ruth and Tim had already warned me that we would likely dip on the Saturday arvo, but, it would arrive at 9.30am Sunday morning. So after pacifying the others, who were shaking uncontrollably with wild eyes, frothing mouths and great gnashing of teeth, it was time to find a bed. The 2 local caravan parks ended up being fully booked! Colin and I went for a walk after hearing an Eastern Koel which in Vic and SA are uncommon. That was the most exciting bird of the day.

5.45am Sunday morning we were all back ready for the bird to “clock on”.

It was stunningly beautiful, with mist on the water but was in desperate need for decent coffee so found the local bakery whose business then went into over drive!! Armed with supplies to feed an army it was back to business.

By 10am Judy and Greg had to pull up stops and drive 10 hrs home. Tears were shed until I promised to ring them if it appeared within the hr…

By 11am we were getting edgy. Battle plans were drawn, there was nothing for it, we’d have to divide and conquer. UHF radios were switched on, mobile phone numbers were supplied, I enlisted the help of 4 boat skippers and the local walkers. We left no stone unturned.

Dougald, Carl and I then crossed the ferry to Raymond Island and searched for an hour but still nothing.

It was over. We had to start the drive back to the airport. We had to face reality. We DIPPED!

We dipped, DIPPED! All of us. We could share the pain. We dipped together. This would help us to deal with our loss.  Support groups could be formed. Anniversaries faced together…. Free memberships handed out to the Big Dipper Club….

I was very grateful that only plastic knives are provided on the flight home and discovered that no amount of rubbing the inflight magazine on my wrist was sufficient to inflict paper cut injury.

However it was agreed that this was the most social of twitches. I have never had so much fun on a twitch. Contact details were exchanged and friendships were formed. Innocent and unsuspecting locals were converted and Paynesville will never be the same again!

The Franklin’s Gull is somewhere, oblivious to the fuss and will probably show up tomorrow (now that it is safe to return).