With all the big away trips done and dusted for the year we can now focus on birds closer to home we can find on the weekends we have left. Most of the bush birds have been accounted for bar a few, but we still need quite a few of the rarer shorebirds. November marks the start of Shorebird season as the birds return to us in numbers from their Northern Hemisphere summer breeding season. It's a good time to be out looking for them so we've opted to spend a few weekends trying to add the missing birds from earlier in the year to our lists. Already in the very beginning of this month we picked up Greater Sand Plovers at Port Clinton but we still need a few more like that.
Last weekend on the Saturday we decided to go on a Port River cruise organised by DEWNR. This would get us access to the mudflats at the mouth of the river and give us a slim chance of finding Whimbrel. Strangely enough this species is generally present in small numbers every year but we've lost access to two of the best sites for them in the State so they are proving very difficult to get.
Firstly we opted to call in to Magazine Rd wetlands where a few interesting species had been reported of late. The water levels here were just right for small freshwater shorebirds and can be a good spot for Pectoral Sandpiper that Sue still needs, as well as Long-toed Stints. Ruff has also been seen here in the past so you never quite know what you're going to get.
|Scanning the mudflats of the northern most pond at Magazine Rd|
There were good numbers of birds present including a nice count of seven Wood Sandpipers and lots of Sharp-tailed Sandpipers and Red-necked Stints but no sign of Sues Pec. Even a lone Marsh Sandpiper put in an appearance despite their virtual absence earlier in the year.
|A voracious Sharp-tailed Sandpiper|
|One of seven Wood Sandpipers present doing some wing stretching exercises|
It seemed despite the good numbers of shorebirds present there was no sign of any Pectoral Sandpipers or Long-toed Stints, which was a shame but it was still a nice mornings birding. We headed in to Port Adelaide for lunch via a quick call in to the virtually birdless Whicker Rd wetlands before heading to the wharf to join the boat cruise. This cruise was heavily promoted as part of Shorebird week and the Adelaide International Bird Sanctuary. We were pleased to bump in to a friend with two of her children who are just getting started with birding, so we opted to hang out with them on the boat.
|The boat was packed|
We cruised past the upper Port infrastructure areas seeing a perched up Peregrine Falcon along the way as well as some Southern Bottle-nosed Dolphins that inhabit the river. As we arrived at the mouth it was evident the tide was out exposing large areas of mud flats. We scanned intently but couldn't find the bird we were seeking. Lots of birds inhabit this area though and we saw lots of Pelicans, Black-faced Cormorants, Ibis, White-faced Herons and both Sooty and Pied Oystercatchers. Loafing on the edge of the water was a good flock of medium sized shorebirds but they were just too far away to identify.
|Black Swans at the Port River mouth with mystery waders on the shore|
|Pelicans nest on Bird Island|
We turned around at Outer Harbour and headed back towards our starting point. Just as we did I picked up a second calendar year White-bellied Sea-eagle being harassed by a Little Raven, quite a rare bird around the metropolitan coastline.........nice. The trip was over before it started and we failed to come to grips with the bird we were really hoping for. Never mind.
|A young White-bellied Sea-eagle, a rare sight near Adelaide these days|
We'd had a nice day but resolved to try again the following day. Late Sunday was a good high tide in the upper Gulf of St Vincent on which Adelaide lies and we decided to try at one of the good wader spots that we had seen nice birds earlier in the year. This time we invited Sam and Sam, two young up and comers that are really starting to get in to birding in a big way. Neither had seen Terek Sandpiper before and that was the spot we were going to where we had seen them back in March. They were both very keen to tag along and we were happy for the company of two more pairs of keen eyes.
After meeting up in Port Wakefield we carried on to the head of the Gulf and walked out towards the mudflats. The tide was still a fair way out but it comes in very quickly here. A very strong south-easterly wind was blowing driving the water before it and conditions weren't very conducive for scanning distant waders with a scope.
|Heaps of seaweed at the top of the Gulf with the tide a long way out.|
|An hour later the water laps at our feet.|
We enjoyed good numbers of Stints and Red-capped Plovers and further around we came across a good flock of Grey Plover. The wind was howling at this stage and viewing conditions were difficult but we kept working the roosting flocks of birds. At that point a group of birds took off from the far end of the beach and flew past behind us and I picked out two Tereks. Fortunately they didn't go far and both birds perched up on a low mangrove out in the water and both Sams got good scope views of their lifer.
|Terek Sandpipers in the bag. Happy tickers|
I did manage to pick up a distant Sand Plover in the scope but it was right on the limit of my scopes power and I kept losing it in the crowds. I couldn't be sure which species it was but we still needed Lesser. In the end we lost it completely and never fully resolved what it was. With that we headed back out as the weather was worsening and the light was fading. While the tide was still high we opted to drive around to Port Clinton in the fading light to see what was roosting there but the waves were pummelling the coast and we realised there was nothing around. So we bid farewell and made our own ways back to Adelaide.
This weekend we had some social commitments but still had time to check out the upper gulf again on an early Saturday morning high tide. This time we'd be joined by Mike Potter who is doing a Big Year of sorts of his own. He'd come to the realisation that during his travels this year around the country he'd seen over four hundred species and was hoping to achieve four hundred and fifty. There were a few species he might see with us so we made that a focus for the day while we looked for the ever elusive Whimbrel. We picked Mike up at 6:00am and drove straight up to the head of the gulf. One of the birds Mike wanted was Terek Sandpiper.......well we know where they are! Conditions were much better today although overcast it was quite warm as we wandered around the edge of the beach. We started scanning the birds along the shore and it wasn't long before we picked up the two Tereks again. They were a bit wary and flew to a submerged mangrove a preferred roosting spot for them.
|A pair of Terek Sandpipers. A rare visitor to South Australia|
|Sue and Mike enjoying the Terek Sandpipers|
The change in species composition from the previous weekend was quite marked. This time there were less Grey Plover and virtually no Curlew Sandpipers or Common Greenshanks. Instead there was a big flock of thirty four Far Eastern Curlew. These birds had been reported from several spots around the gulf already this season and it was good to catch up with them ourselves. Our best chance of Whimbrel is for one to be hanging out with these birds but sadly for us not this time.
|Far Eastern Curlews in heavy primary moult|
Amongst the shorebirds on the mud flats were a number of Terns including Caspians, Whiskered and Gull-billed. Amongst those were at least three or four Gull-billed Terns of the migratory Asian race affinis. It is only in comparatively recent times that this race has been recognised as occurring in Australia. At least a third smaller than our local Gull-billeds they are relatively easy to identify as they are always in winter plumage when our birds are in full breeding.
|Gull-billed Terns. The three nearest birds are of the race affinis.|
We left here and drove over to Port Clinton briefly to see what was around. With the tide still quite high we managed to find the three Grey-tailed Tattlers that seem to hang around here each summer and further round in front of the southern most shacks we found four Greater Sand plovers. Last time we saw these birds there were only three, so was this fourth bird our "missing" Sand Plover from the previous weekend? Also here were a flock of thirty two Far Eastern Curlew. These birds were not in such heavy wing moult as the birds we had left at the head of the gulf so we were confident they were not the same birds. Probably the most Far Eastern Curlews to be seen in the Gulf in recent years and very encouraging. Unfortunately there was no sign of a Whimbrel loafing with them.
|A second flock of Far Eastern Curlew on the shore at Port Clinton|
From here we carried on south to Macs Beach. Again it was thronged with impressive numbers of shorebirds from one end of the beach to the other with good numbers of Red Knot, Great Knot, Bar-tailed Godwits Turnstones and others. One bird Mike needed for his year list was loafing on the seaweed in the form of seven Pacific Golden Plover so he enjoyed good scope views of those.
|The whole length of the beach at Macs Beach south of Price was thronged with shorebirds|
Nothing else of note though and certainly nothing new for Sue and I so after lunch in Maitland we moved over to the other side of the peninsula to Chinaman Wells. Not a lot of birds here but certainly more than two weeks ago with over thirty Red Knot this time amongst others. Apart from an unusually plumaged Sharp-tailed Sandpiper with a white head and neatly fringed mantle and wing covert feathers that had me going for a while there was nothing more for any of us.
We spent the afternoon hours driving the back country roads looking for Banded Lapwings and Brown Songlarks for Mike. We failed on the former but eventually encountered the latter just outside of Port Wakefield along with a nicely posed Singing Bushlark.
|Singing Bushlark near Port Wakefield.|
With that we were pretty much done. As we dropped Mike off at home he gave us the heads up on a site for Barbary Dove. I had seen this earlier in the year while driving around for work but Sue still needed it, so on our way home we called in and low and behold there one was right where Mike said it would be.
|Barbary Dove. Finally on Sues list.|
We wait with baited breath now as to whether the pelagic scheduled for next weekend will actually go. Either way we'll be down the south-east again with a three day break to utilise so here's hoping for something new.