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Taking on the Challenge

Peter Valentine | Conservation Officer

Birdlife Northern Queensland’s Birding Challenge 2023

A group of BirdLife Northern Queensland (BLNQ) birders agreed to take on the Birding Challenge for 2023 in which they set out to make sure they keep their bird species seen list ahead of the days of the year! In the process they might raise a few dollars for conservation. This is the first time the Challenge has been conducted in BLNQ territory, although a similar challenge was operated by the Townsville BirdLife Branch for many years.

The rules are simple. Bird as often as possible and keep a record of the species seen (using Birdata or eBird), and make sure you try and keep ahead of the progress of days through the year. One strategy is to bird different habitats, so that each time you go birding you record different species from the last time, thereby adding new species to your year list.

Twelve brave souls took up the Challenge this year and at the halfway mark (almost) it is interesting to see how everyone is travelling. The rules allow any bird seen within the BLNQ official “area” to count, although the admin folk have been flexible enough to say anywhere in tropical Queensland might be fine (north of the Tropic of Capricorn, a line roughly from Rockhampton through Longreach/Opalton and Bedourie to the Northern Territory border).

Of course the primary benefit to us is the extra incentive to go birding and to try new birding places. Unlike the official “Bird-a-Day” challenge, you do not have to see a new species each day, and you can accumulate ahead. So if a birding outing produces 35 new species for that year then you would be 35 species ahead. This Challenge starts out really easy and then gradually gets tougher and tougher as the year progresses, hence the need to try new places.

The 2023 mob have had mixed success. Some have found their birding interrupted by other commitments and have entirely run out of time to add new species, so the Challenge for them has been completed for this year. Lauren Hodges went well for quite a while but came undone with 138 species on May 19th. That is a good effort and hopefully can be improved next year.

And while the Challenge might be done for some Challengers this year, birding continues! Others are powering on and already are months ahead for the year. One of our keenest Challengers is Louise Baume, and here’s what she has found:

“Although Tim and I don’t need any encouragement to go birding, we have taken the opportunity to explore places that neither one of us have ever been before such as Blackbraes and Bladensburg National Parks. Two pretty exciting birds for us was the Plum-headed Finches at Blackbraes and the Painted Finches at Bladensburg.”

When asked what species was surprisingly missing Louise says the Chowchilla (and a few other rainforests species) – perhaps a trip up Mt Lewis might help. I need that species also!

In terms of staying with the Challenge here’s Louise again:

“The best part of the challenge so far has been taking the opportunity to explore new places and also revisit some old favourites. Trips to Mt. Isa, Normanton and Iron Range are certainly pencilled in for a little bit later in the year.”

Another strong challenge has been delivered by Rebel Warren and Dave Parsons who have also used the Challenge to get out birding more. The best part has been:

“… learning more about birds, getting out of the house on a more regular basis, having the goal of look for birds on a holiday. Spending time with Rebel says Dave. It has sparked my interest in bird photography and especially birds of prey.”

Rebel and Dave were surprised they did not see a Cattle Egret until April… but on the other hand excitement galore with three Wedge-tailed Eagles in a tree on the Upper Barron Road. And seeing a Cassowary...

The Challenge has also provoked from them new descriptive categories for the birds:

Ar$#hole birds = plovers because they are everywhere when you want to see something different
Wanker birds = they just fly over and you never see them again…
F@#$% Ar$#hole birds = they are the ones that leave as soon as you see them, or hide, move as soon as you get the camera focussed

Any additions to Rebel’s new categories? I must admit to having a good supply of “leafbirds” and “stickbirds” myself.

In the doing it tough category, I have to mention Jan Lile who has brilliantly recorded 196 species in the Cairns Local Government Area so far. Given that she has spent the last six weeks in a plaster cast after surgery, that is a fantastic effort. And the best bird so far has been the Yellow-billed Spoonbill, a rarity on the Cairns Esplanade and one that Jan recorded by being transported down there on a “knee scooter”. Jan also notes the best part of the Challenge has been “keeping me motivated”. As for easy birds not yet seen, Jan has a few including Black Kite, Red-capped Plover and Red-necked Stint. Let’s hope these are all part of Jan’s list soon.

Ron Schweitzer is still in the Challenge and says that after hearing a White-browed Robin calling but frustratingly no sightings, it finally came to his backyard where it is now appearing regularly. C’est la vie.

Ken Bissett is another Challenger who is still going strong with over 200 species already. In terms of memorable sightings, Ken rates his unexpected sighting of a Grey Goshawk and a Black Bittern at Mossman as special. A species he expected to see which has evaded him so far is the Nankeen Night-Heron, suggesting perhaps a need for more time on the Cairns Esplanade! Apart from the Challenge encouraging more birding. it also enables a chance to make a contribution to BLNQ conservation work. The next step for Ken will involve more trips to new locations and perhaps joining in the regular Cairns Botanic Gardens Tuesday morning Birding walks.

Golden-shouldered Parrot at Artemis Station, Qld. Photo by Scott Ritchie.

Scott Ritchie has been going well also, despite his focus being more on photography than recording species! He has certainly got some great images for the year and I hope he finishes off the Challenge with a big list. Two special birds for Scott are the Golden-shouldered Parrot at Artemis and the Yellow-legged Flycatcher from Iron Range.

Yellow-legged Flycatcher, Iron Range, Cape York Peninsula Qld. Photo by Scott Ritchie.

I am only just still in the Challenge myself with 174 species seen so far and I am missing some very easy birds including Galah, Pied Stilt, Nankeen Night-heron and Tawny Frogmouth. Hopefully this weekend will add a few more and I may make it past the 30th June. I can see that a little time on the Cairns Esplanade would add a few more species to my 2023 list…

Galah, Mt Carbine, Qld. Photo by PeterValentine.
Nankeen Night Heron, Hasties Swamp Qld. Photo by Peter Valentine.

In the meantime good luck to all those left in the Challenge.

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