You are probably wondering what this angel-like creature is???
I will leave you guessing for now, the answer will arise naturally during my story. Last week we had two very hot days together, and one reached 37 degrees Celsius (about 99 F) while I was out birding.
Hot days like these are fairly common during the hot Australian summer, but not ideal for going out in the midday sun looking for birds, as most of the passerines (tree birds) were nowhere to be found, and the few I did see where like this Australian Raven, walking about with mouth wide open trying to stay cool.
Why was ‘Aussiebirder’ out and about in the heat? The answer is the tides were right for ‘wader watching’. I have to wait two weeks for the tide cycle to come around to one suitable for me to fit into my time schedule. As a birder, you will know that seeking out waders is all about the tides, and catching the low as it troughs. I went to a new area I had not visited yet, Taren Point Shorebird Reserve not far from where I live and found these Easter Curlew and Bar-tailed Godwit grazing on the mud flats. Click on photos to enlarge.
These are both migrants here during our summer months from Alaska, they will return in autumn to the northern hemisphere, so I only have summer to see them. The Eastern Curlew is the largest of the migratory waders and is very shy to humans, usually flying off on first sight. Observe the size and beak difference between these two waders.
I could feel the day getting hotter, and my metal lens was starting to heat up in my hand. This Eastern Rosella rested under the thick cover of the coastal bush.
I drove around to my favourite Godwit viewing spot nearby at Dolls Point beach, where I sat and had my coffee in the shade with camera in hand, from the footpath I caught these shots. I can always depend on the Godwits being here at low tide, as their ancestors have done over many hundreds of years, returning to the same beaches. They were a fair way out by the water’s edge. I so admire these small birds, for their amazing endurance. The world’s most endurant bird in fact. In my new book I feature these birds for this reason. I love the way they work the mud flats with their purpose designed beak, spearing down deep into the sand, sometimes with their head below the sand.
Early this year I demonstrated the difference between the way the Bar-tailed Godwit and Silver Gull retrieve the sand crabs. Above is a jealous Silver Gull moving the smaller Godwit flock on, because the Godwit can extract the crabs with its beak retrieving many more crabs, but the gulls have to wait for them to come to the surface and then catch them on the run, only catching the occasional one.
As I sat enjoying my coffee and muesli cake and giving thanks for this beautiful opportunity, even though there was no one else on the beach in the hot sun but me. It occurred to me that the hot sun had not deterred or hindered the waders in any way, only the passerines. The water birds seemed OK with the heat, an interesting observation indeed.
The quiet meditative moment was interrupted by a raucous squawking further up from the grazing Godwits. As I investigated I saw this Caspian Tern (the largest of the Tern family) guarding some fish it had caught, and was keeping on the shore line. Usually, this would mean that the Tern was a male, waiting to court a suitable female Caspian ( of which are not that common around here). Whereby, the male would present the female with a fish, and when she had eaten it would mate with her.
Another Caspian Tern did arrive, but was driven off, either it was male or not good looking, but this guy was not sharing his fish with anyone, it seemed. Even the Silver Gulls tried a few times, but were driven back, but not away, as you can see above, hoping for another opportunity. Now for some beautiful Caspian Tern photos. You guessed it, the mystery photo at the start of this post was a Caspian Tern landing and the very last photo above is immediately after – what a difference, you would never had known! This was my first gift for the day God had given me.
What a beautiful bird in flight. I was so delighted getting these pics! This Caspian Tern attracted my attention, defended its fish, and then did a quick flight, catching a fish, and returning to the beach, just for me to see and record here for you!
With the tide coming in, I left Dolls Point and made way to Olympic Park, which is inland from the coast, the temperature was now 37 and rising, to 43 in some parts of the west. I was amazed on arriving how deserted the reserve was. It is usually busy with walkers and bike riders, but only 2 bike riders passed me the whole time and no walkers. The walking distance in the hot sun seemed longer than usual, as sweat saturated my shirt, and my camera lens actually got too hot to hold at times, so I had to keep it in the shade. The above birds took cover from the blazing sun, except one Little Black Cormorant with its mouth open in the hot sun. A lone tortoise lay motionless with its head out of the water.
It was great to see the number of water birds in breeding plumage, though no nests or babies were seen from these.
Even though it was still low tide here, most of the waterbirds and waders were resting in the hot sun out in the middle of the lake out of camera range, with very little activity taking place. The thought came that maybe I had wasted my time coming here in the heat.
Then my I saw these water babies, at two distinct stages first the Eurasian Coot new born babies and then the older juvenile version.
This was my second gift for the day, just before I was ready to leave. My favourite wader, the Black-winged Stilt had already had babies, and all the stilts were quite active on the lake, unabated by the heat. In fact, they were the only birds really grazing and moving about.
I had come frequently to see if they were nesting again here this year, but had found no evidence, but they had actually done so in a different location.
This was confirmed when I saw this Stilt nesting in the hot sun by the waters edge, and not on the special nesting landing built for them where they nested last year, where I showed you their eggs. Thus I returned home and to work, having enjoyed my hot birding experience in more ways than one, and with great gratitude.
The following day, we were led by a very keen teenage birder, who follows my blog, to a Powerful Owl roost in nearby Poulton Park. Check out my Bird of the Week page to see more of these amazing owls, which are the largest Australian owl, and rarely seen. Both male and female birds were seen and photographed.