The great Floater twitch of 2017

Back in late May news filtered through to us of an apparent male Northern Shoveler on the south side of Hindmarsh Island near the Murray Mouth. At the time we only received the news late on the Sunday and so with work the next day we had no chance of chasing it. As it turned out after having been seen the next day it disappeared for the rest of the week despite the best efforts of many birders in trying to locate it , so by weeks end it was looking increasingly likely the bird had gone. This made our decision not to chase it the following weekend all the more valid.

As we were preparing to head off up to Port Augusta to start our week long birding adventure out west, I had a call from Bob Green who was coming up to Adelaide that night to do a talk at the Birds SA meeting......... "I've got reliable intel the Shoveler has been relocated down the Coorong. I'm gonna have  a look on my way back home tomorrow".........Oh great! So there we were driving in the completely opposite direction with no chance of chasing it for what we thought would be a few weeks as we weren't expecting to come home until the night before work and the weekend after that I was on after hours call out.

The next day as we were driving towards Ceduna the images and postings on Facebook were starting to come through and although the bird was playing hard to get those that put in the time were coming away with reasonable views despite it being on private property. I wanted to delete my Facebook account. "Well never mind" I said to Sue "we're gonna see some cool birds anyway".... but none of those would be a Northern Shoveler and that would be an Oz tick as well as a State tick and a good bird for our Big Year......hmmmmmm.

As it turned out the weather closed in while we were away which forced us to pull the pin and head home a little earlier than expected. By the Wednesday of that week however it was looking like the bird had flown the coop again with no further reports despite people having searched. Getting home late on Friday night we were in two minds as to whether we would go looking ourselves or not and with its behaviour mirroring that of it's last appearance on Hindmarsh Island it wasn't looking encouraging. I got a message from Philip Peel "Philthy Flocker" on Facebook. He was going to make the effort with some friends to drive over from Victoria to see if they could twitch the bird and were we still going? I had to admit I was feeling very tired from all the driving and the weather wasn't looking good despite ducks apparently liking rain! So I asked Phil if he'd message me in the morning when they expected to arrive on site as to whether they were successful or not and he kindly agreed.

The following morning time was marching on and we hadn't heard anything but then by mid morning the phone rang..... it was Phil "We've got it"! Great....we'll see you in about two and a half hours. We hastily got changed into suitable birding gear got in the command vehicle and headed off.

Coming over the brow of the hill and descending towards the causeway between two ponds we parked up behind two vehicles that were already there. Out popped Glen Pacey who'd flown in from Brisbane to see the bird. They'd got it earlier but it hadn't been seen for about two hours, but he knew where it had flown and it was likely loafing in front of some sedge obscured from view sheltering from the strong northwesterly wind. So we decided to drive to the other end of the causeway where we had a better view of the southern pond but still no visual on the bird.

Not looking good

Phil arrived with Matt and Tim and along with Glen it was nice to finally put faces to Facebook names. As it was though the bird was still not on show and after a massive flock of nearly 700 Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos flew past Phil decided to start the long trek home satisfied with their success. There were still some people coming down from Adelaide who'd flown over from Melbourne and they were expected in an hour or two. Sue and I sat for quite a while watching intently at the south pond and listening to the football on the radio and with the wind strengthening and rain beginning to squall through we weren't very confident.

I'd just scanned the north pond and back to the south pond in between bouts of windscreen wiping to clear the rain drops off when we saw two vehicles approaching from over the hill. As they pulled up on the opposite side of the causeway a lady got out the car raised her bins in the direction of the north pond and promptly started a "happy dance"............."That lady's doing a happy dance!!!!" Sue exclaimed.. "They've bloody got it" A quick scan again of the northern pond from our position and even at that range it was clear the bird was not only there but happily floating around in front of it's newly arrived admirers. We slowly drove up a little closer to get a better angle on the bird and managed to get a few long distance grainy pics despite the horrible conditions

With rain on the window and wind gusting out of the north west we managed to get some pics

The Great Floater himself. Actually pretty snazzy looking for a Duck

Trying to keep out of the wind

We eventually moved up to the admiring Twitchers to whom I exclaimed out the window..... "You don't just get to drive up, get out of the car and go .....there it is" At which point  we all had a laugh. So after some introductions we all had our fill of the bird that had brought us so much joy. After some farewells they headed off back towards Adelaide leaving us with the Shoveler who was happily swimming backwards and forwards and busily feeding. When we eventually left, the bird was still there but to our knowledge it was never seen again despite some birders looking for it the following day in increasingly horrible weather conditions.

Happy Twitchers. Me, Sue Alison, Pete, Jack and Isaac

That awesome feeling you get

With that we drove through increasingly horrendous weather in the gathering darkness  to stay at my Nephew's place in Victor Harbor with a view to doing a seawatch the next day. The wind although strong was still tracking west north west so not conducive to bringing in pelagic birds close to shore. So we ended up going home happy with having added Northern Shoveler to the Big Year and our Oz lists. Strangely enough though it wasn't technically a year tick as we saw a few of them during our two week holiday to Thailand in February!

So that puts me on 324 and Sue 319 with a pelagic scheduled before the end of the month and then another week away up to the Northern Territory border in the first week of September. We'll be joined for that trip by our good friend and guide AW Birder of Birding Ecotours, only we'll be guiding him!!! The list should get a big boost..

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