The Catbirders’ Participation in the 2015 Victorian Twitchathon

A friend over at The Research Whisperer blog once told me that a good blog post is written in a conversational tone. I have tried to take this advice on board, but more than a decade of working in the research space has had its effect on my writing style: it still has a matter-of-fact and impersonal tone like the last paper I co-authored on “The post-repair performance of Ti-6Al-4V after foreign object damage”. (It’s a thrilling read, honest! :D) I promised to provide all sponsors with some photos from the Twitchathon, and since many of them work in the research/learning/teaching space,  I thought that I’d have some fun and write this trip report like a research paper.  😀 I’m a little bit rusty, but I hope that you enjoy it!

The Catbirders’ Participation in the 2015 Victorian Twitchathon

R. Mohammeda*, I. Seecharan, Caesar the Cat, Cleo the Cat

aBirdinglovers, Melbourne, Australia

*Email: reza57@hotmail.com

Commenced 8 November 2015, Revised 10 November 2015, Available online 11 November 2015

Abstract

The Catbirders participated in the 8-hr 2015 Victorian Twitchathon on 7 November 2015. The team spotted 97 (±1) species of birds at three sites in Victoria: 70 species were recorded at the Western Treatment Plant, 17 at Serendip Sanctuary, and 10 at You Yangs Western Plantation. The day’s best bird was Rainbow Bee-eater, and the worst dip (i.e. a species expected to be seen but was surprisingly absent during the Twitchathon) was Australian Wood Duck. The team raised approximately $250 in sponsorship for the conservation of the endangered Mallee Emu-wren, and placed 9th (of 10 teams), with the winning team in the 8-hr category recording 150 species.

Introduction

The Twitchathon is an annual event organised by Birdlife Australia, the nation’s largest bird conservation organisation. Participants form teams with witty names and race around the state, via a (sometimes secret and) carefully planned route, to identify as many species of birds as possible in a set period of time (either 8-hrs or 24-hrs). In 2013, for example, the Tick Tock Twins identified 209 species in 24-hrs, and the Robin Rednecks recorded 166 species in the 8-hr category. The Twitchathon also affords an opportunity to create awareness of the the plight of Australian birds, and to raise much needed funds to aid in their conservation. In 2015, sponsors were asked to donate through the JustGiving website, and a $4,000 target amount was set.

The Catbirders team formed in October 2015, and comprised 4 amateur birders (2 humans and 2 cats, all co-authors of this ‘paper’) whose aim was to identify 100 or more species in the 8-hr category. (A total of 15 teams participated in the 2015 Victorian Twitchathon: 10 in the 8-hr category and 5 in the 24-hr category.)

Methodology

Route

With a team of only 2 humans, The Catbirders were limited by the distance they could drive in a day and so opted for a route that involved no more 300km of driving. Three sites to the west of Melbourne were chosen based on their proximity to each other, the sheer diversity/number of prospective species, and The Catbirders’ familiarity with the sites:

  1. The Western Treatment Plant
    • Visited from 0800-1300, proceeding along Beach Road near Avalon Airport, then visiting T-Section Lagoon, Western Lagoon, Paradise Road, the ‘special access permit route’, and exiting via the ‘coast road’ past Lake Borrie
  2. Serendip Sanctuary
    • Visited from 1330-1445, doing a return walk from the car park to the bird hide at the North Arm lake
  3. You Yangs Western Plantation
    • Visited from 1500-1600, initially following the power lines, and then walking back and forth along the fence line

Equipment

A Bushnell Legacy 10×50 binoculars was used to spot birds in low-light conditions at the Western Treatment Plant, and the smaller, lighter Nikon Monarch 5 10×42 binoculars was used at Serendip Sanctuary and You Yangs Western Plantation. A Canon EOS 600D camera with a Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 SP VC USD lens was used to photograph birds for identification purposes, and a pair of Digitalk walkie-talkies was used to reconvene team members who were out of sight for more than 2-mins.

Identification and Recording

The iOS version of The Michael Morcombe and David Stewart eGuide to the Birds of Australia app was used to identify and record sightings of birds. Where the illustrations were unable to provide a conclusive identification, Google Images and the assistance of the Australian Bird Identification Facebook Group was used. Note that only birds sighted (i.e. not heard-only) were recorded.

Results

The top team in the 8-hr category, ‘Phaps Around the Traps’, recorded 150 species, and ‘Manky Shearwaters’ identified 201 species in the 24-hr category.

A total of 96 birds were identified with 100% confidence by The Catbirders. The Marsh Sandpiper was identified with 95% confidence and is therefore included in the full list of species observed (as stated in Table 1). A possible Common Bronzewing was flushed at You Yangs Western Plantation and was identified with only 80% confidence, and is therefore not included in the tally.

The Western Treatment Plant yielded 70 species, with the highlight being Banded Lapwing (see Fig. 24), while the worst dip was Australian Wood Duck. A total of 17 species were recorded at Serendip Sanctuary; Purple-crowned Lorikeet (see Fig. 31) was the best bird, and Nankeen Night Heron was the worst dip. An additional 10 species were recorded at You Yangs Western Plantation with the best bird being Rainbow Bee-eater (see Fig. 37) and Sacred Kingfisher the worst dip.

 

Table 1. Full list of species recorded by The Catbirders during the 2015 Victorian Twitchathon

1 Australasian Grebe Western Treatment Plant
2 Australasian Pipit Western Treatment Plant
3 Australasian Shoveler Western Treatment Plant
4 Australian Magpie Western Treatment Plant
5 Australian Pelican Western Treatment Plant
6 Australian Pied Oystercatcher Western Treatment Plant
7 Australian Reed-Warbler Western Treatment Plant
8 Australian Shelduck Western Treatment Plant
9 Australian White Ibis Western Treatment Plant
10 Banded Lapwing Western Treatment Plant
11 Banded Stilt Western Treatment Plant
12 Black Kite Western Treatment Plant
13 Black Swan Western Treatment Plant
14 Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike Western Treatment Plant
15 Black-fronted Dotterel Western Treatment Plant
16 Black-shouldered Kite Western Treatment Plant
17 Black-winged Stilt Western Treatment Plant
18 Blue-billed Duck Western Treatment Plant
19 Brown Falcon Western Treatment Plant
20 Brown-headed Honeyeater You Yangs
21 Buff-banded Rail Western Treatment Plant
22 Cape Barren Goose Serendip Sanctuary
23 Chestnut Teal Western Treatment Plant
24 Common Greenfinch Western Treatment Plant
25 Common Greenshank Western Treatment Plant
26 Common Myna Serendip Sanctuary
27 Common Starling Western Treatment Plant
28 Crested Pigeon Western Treatment Plant
29 Crested Tern Western Treatment Plant
30 Curlew Sandpiper Western Treatment Plant
31 Dusky Moorhen Serendip Sanctuary
32 Dusky Woodswallow Serendip Sanctuary
33 Eastern Great Egret Western Treatment Plant
34 Eurasian Coot Western Treatment Plant
35 Eurasian Skylark Western Treatment Plant
36 European Goldfinch Western Treatment Plant
37 Fairy Martin Western Treatment Plant
38 Freckled Duck Western Treatment Plant
39 Galah Western Treatment Plant
40 Golden Whistler Serendip Sanctuary
41 Golden-headed Cisticola Western Treatment Plant
42 Great Crested Grebe Western Treatment Plant
43 Grey Fantail You Yangs
44 Grey Shrike-thrush Serendip Sanctuary
45 Grey Teal Western Treatment Plant
46 Hardhead Western Treatment Plant
47 Hoary-headed Grebe Western Treatment Plant
48 Horsefield’s Bushlark Western Treatment Plant
49 Horsfield’s Bronze-Cuckoo Western Treatment Plant
50 House Sparrow Western Treatment Plant
51 Jacky Winter You Yangs
52 Little Black Cormorant Western Treatment Plant
53 Little Pied Cormorant Western Treatment Plant
54 Little Raven Western Treatment Plant
55 Magpie Goose Serendip Sanctuary
56 Magpie-lark Western Treatment Plant
57 Marsh Sandpiper Western Treatment Plant
58 Masked Lapwing Western Treatment Plant
59 Musk Duck Western Treatment Plant
60 New Holland Honeyeater Serendip Sanctuary
61 Pacific Black Duck Western Treatment Plant
62 Pied Currawong Serendip Sanctuary
63 Pink-eared Duck Western Treatment Plant
64 Purple Swamphen Western Treatment Plant
65 Purple-crowned Lorikeet Serendip Sanctuary
66 Rainbow Bee-eater You Yangs
67 Rainbow Lorikeet You Yangs
68 Red Wattlebird Serendip Sanctuary
69 Red-capped Plover Western Treatment Plant
70 Red-kneed Dotterel Serendip Sanctuary
71 Red-necked Avocet Western Treatment Plant
72 Red-necked Stint Western Treatment Plant
73 Red-rumped Parrot Serendip Sanctuary
74 Rufous Whistler You Yangs
75 Sharp-tailed Sandpiper Western Treatment Plant
76 Silver Gull Western Treatment Plant
77 Silvereye Western Treatment Plant
78 Spotted Dove Serendip Sanctuary
79 Spotted Pardalote You Yangs
80 Straw-necked Ibis Western Treatment Plant
81 Striated Pardalote You Yangs
82 Sulphur-crested Cockatoo Western Treatment Plant
83 Superb Fairy-wren Western Treatment Plant
84 Swamp Harrier Western Treatment Plant
85 Weebill You Yangs
86 Welcome Swallow Western Treatment Plant
87 Whiskered Tern Western Treatment Plant
88 Whistling Kite Serendip Sanctuary
89 White-faced Heron Western Treatment Plant
90 White-fronted Chat Western Treatment Plant
91 White-plumed Honeyeater Serendip Sanctuary
92 White-winged Chough You Yangs
93 Willie Wagtail Western Treatment Plant
94 Yellow-billed Spoonbill Western Treatment Plant
95 Yellow-faced Honeyeater Serendip Sanctuary
96 Yellow-rumped Thornbill Western Treatment Plant
97 Zebra Finch Western Treatment Plant

Birds at the Western Treatment Plant

Figs. 1-29 are photographs taken at the Western Treatment Plant during the 2015 Victorian Twitchathon.

Fig. 1. Birding at the Western Treatment Plant

Fig. 1. Birding along 29 Mile Road

Fig. 2. A hare interrupting birding

Fig. 2. A hare interrupting birding

Fig. 3. Yellow-rumped Thornbill

Fig. 3. Yellow-rumped Thornbill

Fig. 4. Sharp-tailed Sandpipers

Fig. 4. Sharp-tailed Sandpipers

Fig. 5. Straw-necked Ibis

Fig. 5. Straw-necked Ibis

Fig. 6. Superb Fairywren

Fig. 6. Superb Fairywren

Fig. 7. Whiskered Terns

Fig. 7. Whiskered Terns

Fig. 8. White-fronted Chat

Fig. 8. White-fronted Chat

Fig. 9. Yellow-billed Spoonbills and Black Swan

Fig. 9. Yellow-billed Spoonbills and Black Swan

Fig. 10. Masked Lapwing

Fig. 10. Masked Lapwing

Fig. 11. Pied Oystercatcher

Fig. 11. Pied Oystercatcher

Fig. 12. Pink-eared Ducks and Grey Teals (background)

Fig. 12. Pink-eared Ducks and Grey Teals (background)

Fig. 13. Red-capped Plovers

Fig. 13. Red-capped Plovers

Fig. 14. Red-kneed Dotterel

Fig. 14. Red-kneed Dotterel

Fig. 15. Horsefield's Bronze-cuckoo

Fig. 15. Horsefield’s Bronze-cuckoo

Fig. 16. Australian Shelducks, Little Pied Cormorants, Little Black Cormorants, Grey Teals, and Whiskered Terns (foreground)

Fig. 16. Australian Shelducks, Little Pied Cormorants, Little Black Cormorants, Grey Teals, and Whiskered Terns (foreground)

Fig. 17. Black-winged Stilt and Common Greenshanks

Fig. 17. Black-winged Stilt and Common Greenshanks

Fig. 18. Crested Grebe and Grey/Chestnut Teals (background)

Fig. 18. Crested Grebe and Grey/Chestnut Teals (background)

Fig. 19. Crested Pigeon

Fig. 19. Crested Pigeon

Fig. 20. Eurasian Skylark

Fig. 20. Eurasian Skylark

Fig. 21. Fairy Martin

Fig. 21. Fairy Martin

Fig. 22. Great Eastern Egret

Fig. 22. Great Eastern Egret

Fig. 23. Hardheads

Fig. 23. Hardheads

Fig. 24. Banded Lapwing

Fig. 24. Banded Lapwing

Fig. 25. Banded Stilts

Fig. 25. Banded Stilts

Fig. 26. The bird hide

Fig. 26. The bird hide

Fig. 27. Black-shouldered Kite

Fig. 27. Black-shouldered Kite

Fig. 28. Brown Falcon

Fig. 28. Brown Falcon

Fig. 29. Australian Shelducks

Fig. 29. Australian Shelducks

Birds at Serendip Sanctuary

Figs. 30-34 are photographs taken at the Serendip Sanctuary during the 2015 Victorian Twitchathon.

Fig. 30. View from a bird hide

Fig. 30. View from a bird hide

Fig. 31. Purple-crowned Lorikeet

Fig. 31. Purple-crowned Lorikeet

Fig. 32. Welcome Swallows

Fig. 32. Welcome Swallows

Fig. 33. Black-fronted Dotterel

Fig. 33. Black-fronted Dotterel

Fig. 34. Pacific Black Duck

Fig. 34. Pacific Black Duck

Birds at You Yangs Western Plantation

Figs. 35-38 are photographs taken at the You Yangs Western Plantations during the 2015 Victorian Twitchathon.

Fig. 35. Dr Mohammed using a Nikon Monarch 5 10x42 binoculars to unsuccessfully spot a Sacred Kingfisher

Fig. 35. Dr Mohammed using a Nikon Monarch 5 10×42 binoculars to unsuccessfully spot a Sacred Kingfisher

Fig. 36. Jacky Winter

Fig. 36. Jacky Winter

Fig. 37. Rainbow Bee-eater

Fig. 37. Rainbow Bee-eater

Fig. 38. Brown-headed Honeyeater - the last bird recorded during the Twitchathon at 1559

Fig. 38. Brown-headed Honeyeater – the last bird recorded during the Twitchathon at 1559

Discussion

The Catbirders’ goal was to record at least 100 species during the Twitchathon. The 2 feline members of the team were unable to accompany the human members of the team, but instead chose to bird from their home, and recorded Noisy Miner, Musk Lorikeet, Crimson Rosella and Eastern Rosella, potentially giving the team a total of 101. However, the Twitchathon rules state that all members must remain in direct voice contact at all times, and so these 4 species are not included in the final tally. Furthermore, since only birds sighted were recorded, Eastern Koel (heard-only at Serendip Sanctuary) is also not included in the final tally.

The Catbirders will modify their route and strategy in 2016. For example, less time will be spent at the Western Treatment Plant, and another location – such as Point Addis – may be visited. In addition, less time will be spent taking photographs, and more time will be spent inspecting large flocks of waders and terns. Finally, it is believed that The Catbirders skill at identifying birds (such as sandpipers) will improve in the next year, so the 2016 tally should increase as a consequence.

Acknowledgements

The Catbirders wish to thank the Victorian Birders Facebook Group for their excellent advice on a productive birding route, and the Australian Bird Identification Facebook Group for assistance with identifying ‘little brown jobs’ and waders. In addition, the authors wish to thank friends for their support and donations to help conserve the Mallee Emu-wren.

 

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2 thoughts on “The Catbirders’ Participation in the 2015 Victorian Twitchathon

    • Thank you for the kind words! Black-shouldered Kites are one of my favourite raptors too, but no more firing of ball bearings for me – just firing off dozens of camera shots at birds, hoping that at least one is in focus! 🙂

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