After lots of birding in the 1970’s time commitments changed with the addition of two children, Alex and Miya, in the 1980’s and birding mostly disappeared from my life (time with them was far better). But by 2003 both were in school and interest in some international birding developed and I had to choose a first destination. I do not remember exactly why, but Australia seemed the right combination of exotic, different, birdy and English speaking – well sort of… I had accumulated some airline miles, found a good flight availability and began making plans. I wanted to engage a guide for some of the trip but also wanted to be on my own for some adventures.
Australia is a long way off so I arranged for it to be almost three weeks. My research was all online and I came up with what looked like a reasonable plan that would be entirely on the East Coast of Australia – from Sydney to Cape Tribulation. All arrangements were made completely online – never actually talked to a single person – and fortunately all went very well. After Sydney, stops included Brisbane (briefly but that is where I found the Bush Thick Knee), Toowoomba (Abberton Lodge), O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat, Cassowary House (Kuranda), Kingfisher Park Birder’s Lodge, Daintree National Park and the Cairn’s Esplanade. I will comment very briefly about couple of these spots – but the focus here is on the Bird of the Week so a later post will have many Australia stories.
I have chosen the Bush Thick-Knee (called Bush Stone Curlew at the time) not only because it brings Australia into play but also because it has to be one of the most preposterous surprise sightings for me ever. As mentioned I did want some guided birding and had arranged to spend a few days with Bill Jolly at Abberton Lodge in the Lockyer Valley outside of Brisbane. http://www.abberton.org The plan was for me to fly into Brisbane – spend a night and then meet Bill across from Roma Street Parkland – a good birding spot in its own near my hotel. I got in a little early morning birding picking up a few species and then sat at the designated pick up spot – waiting for my guide.
I was across from the very edge of the Park on a very busy street and spied a very odd looking bird – and I had no clue what it was. It stood dead still even as I approached for a photo. It looked like a wader but also like a large shorebird. I eventually found it in my “Birds of Australia” – my first stone curlew or thick-knee. And indeed it appeared to be a stone statue of a bird – dead still.
Bush Thick Knee or Bush Stone Curlew Roma Park – Brisbane Australia 2003
Burhinus grallarius, is over 20 inches high and is a ground-dwelling bird endemic to Australia. It is a terrestrial predator filling an ecological niche similar to that of a Roadrunner in North America. It was a stunning bird and a stunning experience – completely unexpected. Australia is full of exotic, colorful and charismatic birds, again stories for another post, but this is one of the most memorable from that trip.
Before moving on to other Thick-Knees, I have to throw in at least a few Australian birds. It is impossible not to be struck with the incredible Australian parrots. There are many beautiful species, often in huge flocks. One favorite is the Galah which at times I saw in groups of more than 100 birds. Another favorite group is the fairywrens – beautiful little gems. I saw five species there and any could win a beauty pageant. Lastly I will mention the Southern Cassowary – looking more like a dinosaur than bird. I found two, what I thought was a mother and chick, on an early morning walk in Daintree NP at Rosa Beach. I later learned that it is the male that cares for the young so I stood corrected. By the way, the adult Cassowary stands just under 6 feet tall and has a deadly knife-like middle toe that is 5 inches long!! I surprised the two (as they surprised me) and I made sure to back track quickly.
Back to the Thick-Knees. After the surprise in Brisbane I was at least now ready to quickly identify various cousins found on later trips. The first of these was to Kenya in 2007 – definitely the subject of probably many future posts. An incredible trip in November 2007 produced two new Thick-Knees, a Water Thick-Knee in Samburu NP and a few days later a Senegal Thick-Knee at Lake Baringo. This was my first trip with a professional bird guiding organization – Victor Emanuel Nature Tours and remains my favorite all-time trip due to the incredible birds (504 species seen), incredible people, incredible scenery and of course the super incredible animals.
Water Thick-Knee – Samburu NP Kenya
Senegal Thick Knee – Lake Baringo – Kenya
So I now had seen Thick-Knees on two continents and in 2013 on a trip to Peru I added another species and another continent – the Peruvian Thick-Knee in Chappari. I never could get a clear view or photo as they simply never moved.
Peruvian Thick-Knee – Chappari Peru
Then finally (for the time being at least) I had the opportunity to observe Spotted Thick Knees on two separate days on a wonderful Rockjumper/ABA trip to South Africa in 2014.
Spotted Thick-Knee – South Africa
So recalling that crazy first sighting of a Stone Curlew/Bush Thick-Knee just off a busy street in Brisbane now more than a dozen years ago brought back the memories of not only other Australian birds but then also of other Thick-Knees on other continents and other birds in those places as well. That is why I have included this feature in my blog – the interconnected experiences we all have birding.
Just getting out into the field – exotic ones like these or the ones around our homes always give the opportunities for great experiences and memories. I hope this post has put you in a state of mind to remember some of yours or to go create/find new ones.