Fine weather and cooler temperatures were a good omen at the start of our annual two day Hunter Estuary weekend where waterbirds and particularly migratory waders are the prime targets. It is at this time of the year that the waders have commenced acquiring their breeding plumages and thus make their identification more easy or more confusing, depending on the state of the plumage changes. Once again our first stop was Pambalong Nature Reserve wetland where all the Swans were pairing off and there were plenty of courtship flights and courtship fights to distract us! The males with their fluffed up wing and tail feathers, proudly leading their partners around the ponds were lovely to see. However, this morning at Pambalong was a morning for raptors! Soon there was a cry of Wedge-tailed Eagle!, and two were seen circling the hills. Then a Little eagle flew above us, followed a Swamp Harriers flying low over the reeds an finally a Peregrine came and checked us out as well. A brief stop at Leneghan Flat Swamp at minmi found 11 Glossy Ibis & Shovelers feeding amongst Swans and Swamphens in the marshes!
Bar-tailed Godwit by Nevil Lazarus
We then headed for Ash Island, part of Kooragang Island Nature Reserve where we first checked out the Rainforest walk, but saw few birds other than White-browed Scrub-wrens and Yellow Thornbills, but some where lucky to see the snake (possibly a Common Tree Snake) that was exciting the Scrub-wrens! At Creek Three Pond there were many Grey and Chestnut Teal, Shovelers and some Greenshanks but the best birds were along Wagtail Way. Here there were plenty of Marsh Sandpipers, a few Sharp-tailed Sandpipers & Greenshanks, many Black-winged Stilts, and more raptors including 2 Black-shouldered Kites, 2 Whistling Kites, 4 Sea-eagles and a Kestrel. Plenty of Pipits and a few White-fronted Chats distracted us from searching for the Yellow Wagtails which failed to show (but two were seen here the next day!). In the afternoon we spend some time at the other part of the Kooragang NR , on the Stockton Sandpit, and were rewarded with some good birding. There were plenty of Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits coming into breeding plumage, Whimbrel and Eastern Curlew posed together allowing us to see the differences in bill length and size, Terek Sandpipers were busy feeding on the mud while close together were a group of Red-capped, Lesser Sand and Double-banded Plovers feeding. In the same area, Red-necked Stint, Red Knot, Curlew Sandpiper and a lone Broad-billed Sandpiper were also feeding together so that there was plenty of opportunity to try and sort out the different species and see the variety of colours that have at this time of the year! Avocets, Stilts and Pied Oystercatchers completed the wader count! Grey-tailed Tattlers were picked up at the nearby Stockton wreck.
Sunday morning was spent on board the Sandybottom Sea Charters boat and under the direction of Captain Trevor, we toured the Newcastle Harbour! We went down to the Harbour Entrance and found ourselves amongst a flock of 800+ Wedge-tailed Shearwaters all sitting on the water, probably because it was too calm and flat to feed, fortunately for us amongst them was alone Flesh-footed Shearwater! It was a great experience sitting in the middle of the flock, they barely moving out of the way and making their cute little squeaks and groans! Other waterbirds around this part of the harbour were a number of male Darters, Common & Crested Terns, a Striated Heron and plenty of Cormorants of all four species. We headed up the River, stopping briefly at the Stockton Wreck where we saw 24 Pacific Golden Plover and 14 Tattlers, and then onto the Stockton Dykes where the majority of waders in the Hunter Estuary, roost at high tide. Out tide timing was right and maybe there were about 3000 waterbirds all roosting there for us to search through and be amazed at the numbers and colours! I estimated that we saw about 300 Eastern Curlews, 1000 Bar-tailed Godwits, 300 Black-tailed Godwits, 206 Golden Plover, 78 Greenshank, 40 Curlew Sandpipers, 4 Great Knot, 4 Red Knot, 4 Marsh sandpiper, 5 Sooty Oystercatcher, 3 Pied Oystercatcher, a few Whimbrel, 14 Caspian Terns, many Silver Gull, Crested Tern, Stilts, Pelicans, Great & Little Egrets, Royal Spoonbill, Darter and Cormorants and just at the end of the session, a Whistling Kite flew along the whole length of the dykes and put all the waders, gulls and terns to flight! What an experience sitting there in a small oat as all these waders , gulls and terns flew around us. No where else in NSW can you see such a concentration of waders! We went up to Moschito Creek where in the sun we had a very enjoyable morning tea, watching the Whistling Kites and Sea-eagles overhead and listening to the Silvereyes, Grey Fantails and Yellow-thornbills in the Mangroves. We returned for another view of the waders on the dykes and just before we arrived there 3 adult Sea-Eagles and an immature circled around us, boy we saw some sea-eagles this weekend.
Gull-billed Tern by Nevil Lazarus
We had a very pleasant lunch at the Wetland Centre, Shortland before heading off for a short walk around the grounds. There were plenty of Magpie-Geese to be seen, while in the Egret/Ibis rookery there were still some young Great Egrets and White Ibis in and or near nests and begging for food. There were plenty of Black-fronted Plovers at the various waterholes and we spent some time looking at the captive Freckled Ducks breeding pens. Yellow-faced & White-cheeked Honeyeaters, Eastern Spinebill and Lewin’s Honeyeater were some of the bush birds seen here. A final stop for the weekend was at Leneghan Flat Swamp, Minmi where we had more prolonged views of 16 Glossy Ibis, 52 Shoveler and amongst all the teal and Black & Wood Ducks, was a lone immature Wandering Whistle Duck and six Sharp-tailed Sandpipers!
What a great wader, raptor and waterbird weekend! Our total count for the weekend was 118 species!
by Alan Morris guiding for FTB