For the past two decades, my key birding goal has been to see a representative of every single bird family.
Originally I had intended to accumulate as large a bird list as possible but at times I felt that the focus of always finding the next new bird somewhat diminished the pleasure I gained from birding. However by targeting every bird family I would experience the diversity of the avian world, travel to some really interesting destinations and each new family would be particularly meaningful.
Six years ago, not without some adventures (that can be related in another post), I managed to track down the Hylocitrea in the montane forests of Sulawesi. This was my penultimate bird family. All that remained was the Plains-wanderer. Another monotypic family, the Plains-wanderer is a buttonquail-like bird of the dry, open plains of scattered locations along the fringes of Australia’s great outback. My search for this bird was thwarted by the birth of my daughter, COVID and other factors but finally the stars aligned and this July saw the Riley family jet out of South Africa bound for Brisbane.
Over the course of three weeks we slowly made our way southwards and finally inland to the fabled Deniliquin area, most famous in birding circles as a reliable location for the Plains-wanderer. We had hired the services of local birding leader Phil Maher for the day and I was joined by good friends Ron Guthrie and Richard White. Our day time birding was focussed around finding some local specialties such as Superb Parrot and we had a brilliant day out birding. However the weather steadily deteriorated during the day and it was with trepidation that we set off in the late afternoon for an outing that was to culminate with a nocturnal search for the star of the show. My two sons William and Alex (aged 10 and 8) were also determined to be there for this much anticipated event. By the time we got to Phil’s chosen site at sunset it was freezing cold with driving rain, not ideal conditions for setting off on foot into the dark wilderness, but this was our one and only shot….! First sighting was a wet, miserable rabbit, then a few Stubble Quails and Australasian Pipits and finally the magic happened, a cute, short-tailed rotund Plains-wanderer was there in his full glory! Further searching nearby revealed his mate, the more boldly patterned and colourful female and in the end we found no less than 5 birds in an hour of searching.
Apparently the previous wet summer had provided ideal conditions for this bird and although still considered Critically Endangered, it was a great season for the species.
Despite being soaked to the skin (mostly caused by grovelling in the mud and rain to obtain low angle photos), we shared a bottle of champers to celebrate the culmination of my twenty year quest and it was great to share the moment of success with my two sons and the good friends who accompanied me. Thank you to Phil Maher for the spot-on guidance!