It was 1999, the 8th of November to be more precise. The afternoon sun was taking its toll, we’d been birding since just before sunrise around Broome, Western Australia. Gayle and I are fortunate to have some very good friends in Broome, they were making sure we got the most from a short stay. Relentless would have been another way of saying it.
We were on a lake shore. Gayle was sitting in the shade of a tree. The three boys were taking turns at the telescope. Something unexpected turned up, a single Flock Bronzewing. Not impossibly out of range but certainly unexpected, and you might guess from its name to show up on its own was also out of character.
“Hey, Gayle, come and look at this Flock Bronzewing.”
She passed a weary hand across her fevered brow and waved us away. She later claimed that we said Common Bronzewing. That would not have been a tick, when it became clear to her she said something along the lines of “Oh, Flock, you said Flock.”
Fast forward to 2022. We put Camooweal in the rear view mirror and shortly after crossed the Northern Territory border heading west on the Barkly Highway, Australia’s own Route 66. In the course of the next hour we saw half a dozen flocks of 20 to 30 heavy-bodied brown pigeons flying rapidly north to south across the road. It had taken 8,267 more days to add Flock Bronzewing to her life list than it needed to. And just like London Transport buses you don’t see one for ages then they all come along together.
It’s at moments like this that Gayle is likely to remind me that she has seen Magellanic Woodpecker (Argentina) and Victorin’s Warbler (South Africa) and the near disaster of the South Georgia Pipit. She’d ticked that on our first day on South Georgia. I hadn’t spoken to her for a week when I got it at the very last opportunity! I imagine that almost as many bird watchers talk about the one that got away as anglers. I have stood within half a metre of a Western Whipbird while it shouted its identity and location at me but not got as much as a glimpse.
The prize for the most elusive group, though, has to go to the Grasswrens. Thanks to DNA analysis the number of species seems to be growing faster than I’m ticking them off. I have seen a few but I think I need more Grasswrens now than when I started.