Birding Without Borders

Day 349: A Last-Minute Bird Spotting

Noah nearly misses his flight to catch a glimpse of the Australian Grass-Owl.

December 15, 2015: Brisbane, Australia — After yesterday’s epic 23-hour birding session, Nick, Jeremy, Megan and I pitched tents past midnight and collapsed at a forest campground inside Lamington National Park. The dawn chorus stirred us awake again at 4:30 this morning. “I set an emergency alarm for 5:30,” said Jeremy, “just in case the birds didn’t wake us up.” But who could sleep when the birds were singing? We packed up camp and hit the forest.

Spectacular Regent Bowerbirds, Green Catbirds, Rose Robins, Paradise Riflebirds, and Australian Logrunners highlighted the morning while Albert’s Lyrebirds called in the distance. As the day heated up, our group gradually descended to the coast of Brisbane to search for a few more species this afternoon, including the specialized Mangrove Honeyeater and Mangrove Gerygone. My flight out of Brisbane was scheduled early this evening.

Nick, Jeremy, and Megan suggested we try to see an Australian Grass-Owl just before heading to the airport, since it would be my last chance for a grass-owl this year, but it would take some luck. The owl had been seen recently patrolling a field in the airport’s flight path and would probably emerge from its roost after dusk. Sunset was at 6:40 p.m. and my flight would take off at 7:55 p.m., which meant it would be cutting things close. Could we see the owl in time?

Might as well go for it. We parked and walked into the field as the sun went down, and waited there while planes passed overhead. Sunset faded slowly into dusk and the grass-owl didn’t appear. At 6:45, I checked in on my phone to save waiting for a boarding pass. At 7:10, we were still standing in the field.

“Two more minutes,” said Jeremy, “then we have to run.” Two minutes passed, then five, then ten. We were unwilling to give up. It got dark, and, feeling disappointed, we finally turned to sprint for my flight. Just then a shout went up: “There it is!” Like a angelic ghost in the beam of our flashlights, the Australian Grass-Owl drifted over our heads.

“OK, now we really have to go!” said Jeremy. At 7:20, we jogged out of the field, jumped in Jeremy’s truck, drove to the airport drop-off, and said a quick farewell. I was in my seat on the plane 20 minutes later. 

In the past two days, our Brisbane crew used every second to the max! This has been an exhausting but enormously productive session, which gave just the boost I needed here. Running on fumes, I flew south into the night.

New birds today: 21

Year list: 5834

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