Abstract Estimates of species richness for a given area require that repeat surveys be taken, so that the statistical robustness of the estimate can be assessed. But how should these repeat surveys be organized in time? Here we present a case study of Australian woodland birds, surveyed using the ‘active timed area search’ method, which has become the standard unit for the Australian Bird Atlas, a continental-scale bird survey. To date, there has been no assessment of how estimates of species richness derived from this method are affected by the temporal organization of the repeat surveys. For instance, can conducting the repeat surveys in sequence on the same day effectively capture richness, or will additional species be obtained by repeating the surveys on different days within a season? If so, does the spacing of the repeat visits throughout the season have an effect? To answer these questions, we surveyed woodland birds in the Mount Lofty Ranges, South Australia, during late spring–summer 1999–2000, and compared the performance of two different temporal configurations of repeat visits to sites: (i) six repeat surveys performed on the same day; and (ii) three repeat surveys on different days. For both, we calculated the average number of species actually sighted and also estimated total species richness. The data supported our hypothesis that the same-day surveys would yield fewer species and underestimate total species richness. The different-day repeats captured significantly more species per unit of survey effort, and yielded a higher richness estimate. However, the timespan over which different-day surveys were conducted within a season did not have a significant influence on species richness estimates, evincing a qualitative advantage to surveying on different days, regardless of the spacing of repeat visits. These results may be of assistance to conservation managers when planning cost-efficient monitoring regimes.