Day 360: Boxing Day

With the help of a genius Sudoku player, the species list leaps ahead in Western Australia.

December 26, 2015: Perth, Australia — Frank knocked on my door at four this morning, after another night of four hours’ sleep. When I stumbled downstairs for breakfast a couple of minutes later, I found him sitting in his living room with a “Genius” level Sudoku book. He knocked off two puzzles while I sleepily buttered a sandwich. A birder has to keep the mind sharp!

Today’s mission was a straightforward logic puzzle: How to clean up the most birds on my last full day in Australia? Frank said it was a fun challenge because I’d seen most of the common species with enough remaining possibilities to keep us busy. He scanned through the target list, devised an efficient itinerary, and we headed into the dawn.

In Australia, Boxing Day (the day after Christmas) is a mashup of Superbowl Sunday and Black Friday with a Christmassy hangover. This morning’s news was full of cricket, yachts, horses, and midnight sales. Nobody knows why it’s called Boxing Day; all that really matters is it’s a national holiday of sports and competitive shopping. A good day, in other words, to go birding.

Frank had staked out several sites for us today and even went scouting last week to nail down some key birds, so we didn’t mess around. At one particularly efficient stop, we looked for Red-eared Firetail, Red-winged Fairywren, White-breasted Robin, and Western Wattlebird, and saw all of them within five minutes. Later, we picked up a bonus Crested Shrike-Tit, which I missed last week in Melbourne.

We were so quick, in fact, that we’d gutted the target list by early afternoon, and Frank suggested a wild dash to a remote town called Corrigin in hopes of spotting a Southern Scrub-Robin. Well, why not?

The robin stayed stubbornly out of sight, but I did get to see the spot where, several years ago, Corrigin set a world “dog-in-a-ute” record by organizing a convoy of more than 1,500 utes (an Australian pickup truck) with dogs in them. The dog-in-a-ute record has been competitive, having been traded back and forth with the Australian state of Victoria over the years, and Corrigin is rightly proud of its achievement. Boxing Day seemed like a good time to learn about this phenomenon. Nothing says Christmas like a stiff competition, and nothing says Australia quite like a dog in a ute.

Five days to go!

New birds today: 18

Year list: 5984

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