Up until now at least it appears to be working. We haven't had many opportunities to this point in time for really rare and or difficult birds, but for those that we have we've been successful in seeing, such as Laughing Gull, Black-backed Bittern and recently Little Curlew. Which brings me back to this weeks update "Farewell to the Shorebirds". Migratory shorebirds that breed in the far northern hemisphere spend our summer with us here in Australia before migrating back north to breed. So during a normal calendar year we see them mostly from January to April then again from about October through to the end of December. There's always some exceptions and some birds always over winter but if you want to get all the Shorebirds you have to target them when they are around.
By late March these birds are already on the move having spent the previous weeks feeding voraciously on the mudflats they inhabit, doubling their body weight and shrinking their non vital organs in preparation for the vast distances they must travel on the Flyway to reach the breeding grounds. With some of these birds still missing from our lists we needed to target them one more time before they disappear till later in the year.
Firstly though we had domestic duties to take care of as they tend to build up when you work for a living and spend every spare minute chasing birds, so we gave up Saturday for that. On the Sunday we had decided to visit the west coast of Yorke Peninsula around Chinaman Wells again. On the way we called in to visit the resident Black Falcons just north of Port Wakefield that I had seen earlier in the year on a work trip but Sue had missed. It was nice to see one of the adult birds sitting on a power pole in the general vicinity of where they normally are and so Sue was able to add it to her list. We continued on to Chinaman Wells and were keen to see if there were any waders moving through on passage and to have another go for Rock Parrots before they head offshore to breed. Apart from a few Grey Plover and about 25 Turnstone there were only a 100 or so Red-necked Stints and not much else. It seemed the Red Knots and Bar-tailed Godwits we had seen previously had already left. Never mind, so we looked for Rock Parrots instead. Apart from a pair of Neophema type Parrots flushing from the roadside we failed to get on to any again. A brief lunch stop on the hills overlooking Port Victoria was shared with a sky full of very vocal Fork-tailed Swifts. These birds no doubt also contemplating their long migration to the northern hemisphere. Time to move on. We had arranged to meet our friend Colin Rogers at Clinton Conservation Park to coincide with the late afternoon high tide that forces the birds off the mudflats and into binocular range.
|Clinton Conservation Park incorporates the head of the Gulf of St Vincent and protects the Mangroves and Mudflats|
We got there just as the tide had started to race in and I decided to ditch my shoes as we walked out over the mudflats, sinking up to my knees at times. There were a lot of birds out there but no sign of any of the larger waders that I had hoped might still be there like Whimbrels. This used to be a good place to regularly see both Lesser and Greater Sand-plovers but neither put in an appearance and we feared we had already left it too late in the season to see these birds.
|Ditched the shoes|
|Sue and Colin scanning through flocks of waders on the beach|
There were still impressive numbers of birds here though and as the tide raced in covering the mudflats the birds had been feeding on they started to concentrate in to species specific flocks. Over 60 odd Grey Plover were an impressive site as well as over a hundred Common Greenshank. Overhead were quite a few Gull-billed Terns, Caspian Terns and over 50 Fairy Terns. As the shorebirds were forced to come closer to shore we picked up a couple of Terek Sandpipers. This was a bird I was hoping for. It's quite rare in SA in any given year and I had never seen more than seven together at any one time here, so we were very pleased to see this species. As the birds moved around trying to settle somewhere above the incoming tide we found the Tereks again perched on a dead mangrove stump, but now there were 5 and a Grey-tailed Tattler was keeping them company. Very impressive!
|An impressive 5 Terek Sandpipers and a Grey-tailed Tattler|
We spent some time sifting through the mixed flocks of smaller waders hoping to pick out something really special like a Little Stint or a Broad-billed Sandpiper but apart from a single Double-banded Plover picked out by Sue (she's good at finding them), it was not to be. It was nice though looking at some of these birds resplendent in their new breeding attire and even Sharp-tailed Sandpipers looked really attractive in their rich rufous colours. The majority of these birds however would be leaving our shores in the next week or so. Having scrutinised the birds arrayed before us and confident we hadn't missed anything it was time to head back to the vehicles. Just when you think the day is done birds have a way of taking you by surprise when you least expect it! Walking back along the beach we finally connected with Rock Parrot. We flushed six birds that were feeding in the samphire in amongst the Mangroves right on the mudflats. Seemed the incoming tide had forced the birds back in towards the beach. Having got good looks at them they flushed and headed out on to the samphire flats back behind the beach. We would come across these birds again on the way out and one of them finally gave up a nice photo opportunity for Sue.
So I picked up two more Year birds and Sue three to finish the weekend on 258. It's time now though to say farewell to the Shorebirds until October when we hope to connect with those few birds still missing from our Big Year lists. Unless something super rare turns up unexpectedly we'll shift our focus now to other birds that we've not tried for yet. Lots of "low hanging fruit" to chase.