One of the things I love about the Australian summer is the return of the migratory waders or shorebirds. The delight of going out early in the morning before work with the childlike expectation that I will granted the gift of something new and surprising. As birders know full well, looking for waders has everything to do with the tidal changes. I have to wait two weeks at a time before low tide fits in with my time schedule. As Forest Gump’s mum’s saying goes about the box of chocolates “You really don’t know what you are going to get”. Some birds are predictable on particular beaches or mudflats, and others add mystery and turn up unexpectedly.
Last Friday to my delight I found a new ‘lifer’ (birding term for first sighting a bird in the wild), The Grey-tailed Tattler in a small flock. This is my current Bird of the Week, which you can check out on my Bird of the Week page. Above is composite picture illustrating the size differences of several of the waders I saw last Friday. The Eastern Curlew is the largest, and most intimidating to the other smaller birds. It often prefers to graze alone, and will sometimes keep other birds at a distance from its grazing area. The Tattler and Godwit are more flock orientated, and graze together in pairs in a small flock of about 6 to 12 birds.
Above the video shows three of the above birds moving together, working the mud flats, keeping their distance from the Curlew.
In the photos above you can see the Eastern Curlew approaching the Bar-tailed Godwit which has just landed nearby, and then moving it on. This one was one tough ‘lone ranger’. Eventually it realised I was a threat and flew off making its loud alarm call.
Consider the Intelligent Design involved in the body part construction of each of these birds. How they instinctively know where to find their food, and use their specific beak and leg construction to extract their food, such as small crustaceans (sand crabs) from deep beneath the sand. They puch their long curved beak with ease into the sand, sometimes burying their head.
The Whimbrel is a smaller version of the Curlew, but with a shorter beak, and likewise penetrates the wet mudflat sands for crustaceans. This one was also grazing alone, and soon took flight on my appearance.
Of course, my favourite little Bar-tailed Godwits, always delight me, and faithfully turn up on the same beaches at the same times, without fail. One or two photos display the barring of the tail which gives them their name, as apart from the Black-tailed Godwit. The last photo above is the little flock grazing with the backdrop of the sailing club where my wife and I had our wedding reception several years ago overlooking Georges River at Dolls Point, near the entrance to Botany Bay. We have great memories of that occasion here.
Watch how they use their slightly upturned beaks to quickly sift the sand as they move along in a small team together, in their rapid timid manner.
The Grey-tailed Tattler is not often seen around here, and this was my first sighting near the mangroves at Taren Point Shorebird Reserve. They are a small bird and were moving together along the waters edge. They took flight when the Eastern Curlew flew off giving its alarm call.
This lone Common Sandpiper flew across my point of view and I managed to get these two shots, in an area difficult and too far off for me to approach. See how well it is camouflaged by the surrounding environment.
Also, while at Dolls Point this beautiful Pied Oystercatcher was out alone. It was interesting to see it resting on the beach, almost like it is nesting. If it is nesting there, it would get a shock in a few hours when this beach is covered with water.
Another wader commonly seen all over the place is the Masked Lapwing or Spur-winged Plover. It is a wader, but is also found in open fields and parks where it lays its eggs, causing havoc for unsuspecting passers by. This bird is often seen in breeding pairs.
Another wader which is in abundant numbers in the city of Sydney and suburbs in recent years, and has become a pest due to its scavenging in garbage bins, is the Australian White Ibis. This bird is found in mangrove mud flats, parks and reserves near water. Like the Curlew it is able to use its purpose built beak to probe the moist sands for crustaceans.
I conclude my blog this week not with a plug for my new book release, (which can be purchased from the sidebar on this page and is currently getting many wonderful reviews), but with this juvenile Magpie. I was standing near the ponds at Oatley Park Reserve on the walk bridge and this little guy flew, landed and walked along the railing right up to me without a fear in the world to check me out. It just reminded me of the simple pure trusting nature of young children and how very vulnerable they are. It reminded me of Jesus words to us in Matthew chapter 18:1-6:
‘At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.’