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Newcastle Escape Weekend Trip Report
Nobby’s Headland from Queen’s Wharf
Study in Grey
The weekend tour of the estuary and wetlands of the Lower Hunter Region proved lucky for the wetlands, it rained buckets! While the participants were pretty soggy by Saturday evening when it finally stopped raining, we had all had a good days birding despite the rain and on the Sunday we had a basically a dry day So overall a pretty successful weekend, although because of the rain on the Saturday, the bush birds were hard to find and even harder to hear!

Full Moon Fern Bay
Our first stop was Pambalong Nature Reserve at Minmi which was pretty full and there were no muddy margins. All the common coastal waterbirds were revelling in the high water levels, all the feed and the rain and there was plenty of courtship observed amongst the Black Ducks, Chestnut Teal and Swamphens. Some soggy White-breasted Woodswallows were found on the power lines and a pair of Wandering Whistle Ducks were located. On many previous trips to Pambalong, I have only seen on two occasions Plumed Whistling-Ducks, and never the former. We crossed to Lenaghans Flat Swamp where the previous day there had been a Black-necked Stork, but alas not today, although we again saw a few Wandering Whistling-Ducks and a pair of Plumed Whistling-Ducks with a little duckling. In the long grass at the edge of this wetland there was a flock of about 70 Chestnut-breasted Mannikin feeding on seed heads and were very busy flying back and forwards. There were plenty of White and Straw-necked Ibis feeding out over Hexham Swamp.

Pelican Clouds
We managed a walk down Wagtail Way, Ash Island in the rain, and while we saw both Marsh Sandpipers, Common Greenshanks and many Chestnut Teal, the wind and rain made birdwatching very difficult. There were however plenty of Pipits to see, several hundred Welcome Swallows were roosting on the road and Black-fronted Dotterals and White-fronted Chats were foraging on the road. Whistling Kites were seen on the Island. We lunched at the Wetland Centre, Shortland and from a dry position were able to watch the Magpie Geese revelling in the rain. Brown & White-cheeked Honeyeaters were foraging in the Grevilleas here, some of the few passerines that could be readily seen. After lunch we did a walk in the wet, and located more Wandering Whistle-Ducks including a pair with 2 small ducklings. Grey Fantails, Grey and Pied Butcherbirds and Yellow Thornbills were willing to be seen along the walks.

Dry Birders
The rain was easing by the time we reached Nobbys Head in the late afternoon although the wind was coming in strong from the sea and at the rocky reef on the harbour side of the breakwater, there was a group of roosting terns to be seen. These turned out to be 1 Little Tern in breeding plumage, 40 Common Terns, 10 Crested Terns and a White-winged Black Tern in non-breeding plumage. The four species could be seen in the binoulars/scopes at the same time and it was a good lesson in observing the differences especially in respect to identifying the WWBT. Also feeding on these rocks were 13 Sooty Oystercatchers and 8 Ruddy Turnstones, along with Cormorants and Silver Gulls. Well worth the trudge out in the rain!

First thing on the Sunday morning we had a few sunny breaks and even though the clouds came back in, we had no more rain until driving back to Sydney in the late afternoon. At 8.30 we boarded the Lady Joy for a Newcastle Harbour & Estuary Tour that includes checking out the Kooragang Dykes for roosting waders on the high tide and a trip up the north arm of the Hunter river and then into Moscheto Creek, that seperates Moscheto Island and Ash Island. It was a big tide this day, the water was lapping over the dykes at different points, but there were plenty of waders still roosting there. Between the up trip and the return trip an hour later, we probably saw on the dykes about 400 Eastern Curlews, 1000+ Bar-tailed Godwits 200+ Black-tailed Godwits, a Sooty Oystercatcher, 5+ Pied Oystercatchers, Whimbrel, Common Greenshank, Curlew & Marsh Sandpipers, Stilts, a few Knots, Caspain Terns , Royal Spoonbills, many Pelicans, all the Cormorants, many Masked Lapwings and both Little and Great Egrets. Further upstream and into the mangrove lined Moscheto Creek, we saw 5 adult and one immature White-breasted Sea-eagles, including 3 adults perched together, a number of Whistling Kites, Mangrove Gerygones were heard calling, a few Whimbrels were roosting in mangrove trees, 2 Striated Herons and plenty of White-faced Herons and White Ibis. We searched every marker buoy for White-winged Black Terns but only came up with Common Terns but it was a great cruise and we saw plenty of waders , particularly the Godwits in their brilliant red summer plumages.

…Yet Birdy
We lunched in a pavilion on the beach near the Stockton Surf Club where just ofshore amongst the surfboard riders and the swimmers, small fish were shoaling and were being preyed upon by 100+ Common Terns, 6+ White-winged Black Terns and 2 Wedge-tailed Shearwaters. It was spectacular to watch this feeding frenzy by the terns amongst the waves and the people! Further out there was an Arctic Jaeger, more shearwaters and Pied Cormorants. We returned to Stockton Sandspit to check out on the waders now feeding on the falling tide on the sand flats and were rewarded with seeing 3 Avocets amongst a flock of Black-winged Stilts, a Great Knot in breeding plumage, 4 Terek Sandpipers, 8 Knots, a few Curlew Sandpipers, and feeding Godwits, Curlews and Whimbrels. A lone Lesser Sandplover was located but we did not see the Double-banded Plovers that some other birdwatchers there had reported to us. We returned home via Lenagans Flat Swamp just to check whether those Balck-necked Storks had returned but we were out of luck, but did manage a few more Wandering Whistling-Ducks. 105 species were seen for the weekend.

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Photos of Variegated Fairy-wren and Little Tern courtesy of Neil Fifer