Waving the Newcastle Waders
Goodbye Trip Report
The annual farewell to the waders in Hunter trip in March each year was extended from two days to three days in 2008 in order that more time could be spent in looking at the waders at the different sites around the Hunter. Twelve excited birders therefore took off on Good Friday enroute to the Hunter to see the migratory waders in their bright summer breeding plumages assumed just prior to their departure to the Arctic Regions of Siberia and Alaska. So our first birding spot was the freshwater Pambalong Swamp, at Minmi, usually a good place for waterbirds and raptors. Pambalong was equal to our expectations for soon we were watching one pair of Wedge-tailed Eagles doing courtship displays over the northern end of the swamp, while another pair were roosting in a large gum tree at the southern end, overhead Whistling Kites patrolled and a Swamp Harrier was busy hunting over the reedbeds. We could see at least 2 pairs of Swans on nests, a group of 6 Shovelers were busy feeding in the northern swamp along with Black Ducks and Chestnut Teal. Other highlights were a group of Chestnut-breasted Mannikins feeding in the grass at the edge of the road and a flock of Topknots Pigeons flew over heading west. Little Grassbirds called mournfully in the Swamps and there were plenty of bushbirds feeding around the Coach.
Hunter River 2008 by Diana Gould
We called in for a brief stop at Stockton Sandspit to check out the larger waders as the tide was beginning to turn and had great views of many Eastern Curlews and Bar-tailed Godwits, an adult Gull-billed Tern, a Red Knot and 3 Greenshanks. Then off to Stockton Beach for lunch which we ate under cover while some of the predicted showers passed over. Unlike some previous occasions, the seas in Stockton Bight were flat and there were few seabirds to be found but a few Australasian Gannets and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters could be seen. In the afternoon we checked out Stockton Wreck and located two Grey-tailed Tattlers, seen up close and still coming into breeding plumage showing the barring on the breast. We returned to the Spit for the rest of the afternoon, and soon were checking out Terek Sandpipers, Whimbrels, Pied Oystercatchers and Black-winged Stilts. White-breasted Sea-Eagles checked out the Spit while Royal Spoonbills and Great Egrets were found feeding in the shallows.
Next morning the early morning birdwalk was along the edge of the mangroves on the River at Fern Bay where Sacred Kingfishers and Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes were quickly found and far across the River we could see the large flocks of Godwits heading for their high tide roost on the Kooragang Dykes. We spent the morning on Ash Island but the predicted showers turned into heavy rain and our projected activities were greatly curtailed. We did manage to see more Egrets and Spoonbills, Little Grebe and Swans, and many bushbirds like Mangrove Gerygone, Brown & Yellow Thornbill, Grey Fantail and many Pipits. However the highlight of the morning was when we had just returned to the coach from exploring the mangrove boardwalk, we saw a Frigate-bird, that circled over us twice at about 20m above us and then moved away further up river! Based on the underwing pattern the bird appeared to be an immature Greater Frigate-bird, a very rare visitor to the NSW coast. Just a few days before, a Lesser Frigate-bird was seen down at Pambula on the South Coast. This was great birding because the logo of Follow That Bird is a stylized Frigate-bird of an indeterminate species. Were we the first trip FTB trip within mainland Australia to see the Tour's logo?
Alan Morris 2008 by Diana Gould
Lunch was taken at Hunter Botanical Gardens where the Blackbutts & Banksias were flowering and so there were many Scaly-breasted, Rainbow and a few Little Lorikeets feeding on the nectar flow with their usual noisy ways. Variegated & Superb Fairy-wrens were in the undergrowth, Yellow-faced Honeyeaters and Silvereyes in the bushes! Some were lucky to see a Hobby shoot over our heads while we were eating lunch! Our afternoon was spent at Nobbies Head. Firstly checking out the Ruddy Turnstones in their lovely ruddy breeding plumage feeding with Sooty Oystercatchers on the rocks below the breakwall. Then out to the end, dodging the spray from the strong southerly winds, where we checked out the Shearwaters racing past , all appeared to be Wedge-tails! and More Gannets and Crested Terns. In the parks and sand dunes Kestrels, Little Wattlebirds, House Sparrows & Silvereyes were readily found. Before leaving for Fern bay we checked out the rock platforms of the Newcastle Baths where 8 Sooty Oystercatchers and 8 Turnstones were located.
Sunday's early morning bird walk was into the back of the Golf Course at Fern Bay where Whipbirds, Eastern Rosellas, White-browed Scrub-wrens were located and another Hobby flew low over our heads! Then down to the Stockton Boat-ramp to meet up with Trevor & Mark and their boats 'Sandybottom' & "Awesome 2" for a morning on Newcastle Harbour and checking out the waders roosting at high tide on the Kooragang Dykes. Not many birds on the Harbour this morning, although good views were had of Sea-eagles ( pair roosting on the Port Authority¹s Radio Tower), Striated & White-faced Herons, cormorants and Darters. Good views of Tattlers again on the Wreck and then off to the Dykes where the waders were lined up to meet us! First came a long row of Eastern Curlew, then Oystercatchers, Gulls, Terns, Spoonbills and Pelicans and then the Godwits! Wonderful views of Black-tailed & Bar-tailed Godwits in their red breeding plumage! Other waders were Red-necked Stint, Greenshank and 40+ Pacific Golden Plover, many in their gold, black and white stunning breeding plumage. We indulged ourselves with wader viewing for some time before heading off up river and then down into the mangrove and saltmarsh lined Mosquito Creek where we had morning tea on board and listening and watching the Mangrove Geryone, Rufous & Golden Whistlers, Leaden Flycatcher, Silvereye and Grey Fantails as well as Chestnut Teal, Herons and Sea Eagle, Whistling Kite & Ibis flying over. We returned to the Dykes for a second look and managed to get a count of 18 Sooty & 4 Oystercatchers, about 150 Eastern Curlew, 1000+ Bar-tailed Godwit and 200+ Black-tailed Godwit. Plenty of Caspian Terns on the return run there were more waders across at Stockton Sandspit high tide roost but not possible to count or identify. The morning on the boats was a top birding experience for everyone!
On the Hunter River 2008 by Diana Gould
Finally we dragged ourselves away from wader watching and thanked Trevor & Barry for their services and headed for the Hunter Wetland Centre at Shortland for lunch! Here we could catch up with the Magpie Geese, Wood Duck (strangely missing from the birdlist to this point), an Intermediate Egret, White Ibis still nesting in the breeding rookery as well as more Shoveler, Brown & White-cheeked Honeyeaters, Pied Butcherbird and our only Black-shouldered Kite for the trip. We headed for home with our last stop at Lenaghans Swamp, Minmi where Swans with large numbers of cygnets were seen, Swamp Harriers and Whistling Kites were on patrol, Cattle Egrets fed amongst the cows and plenty of Chestnut Teal, Grey Teal and Black Ducks. All up a great weekend, 113 species seen on the trip and good times enjoyed with Carol Probets the coach driver and Chris Willis catering for all our needs. Many thanks too for the staff of Lexie's Café at Stockton beach for great meals and good service!
By Alan Morris guiding for FTB