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Hunter River Waders Weekend Trip Report
Exclusive Group 09
Despite the fact that heat wave conditions prevailed the whole long weekend that we were away on this trip, we all had a great weekend. As we were staying at Fern Bay and ate most of the meals at Stockton Beach, for much of the time were in areas tempered by the sea breezes. So we set off on a warm sunny day and our first stop was at Minmi where checking out a bird carcase on the road, which remained un-identified, we found some Buff-rumped Thornbills feeding in a Spotted Gum woodland, the first time we have recorded them on a Hunter wader trip! Then onto Pambalong and Lenaghan Swamps where the highlights were Chestnut-breasted Mannikins, 5 Glossy Ibis and a number of Intermediate Egrets, with Whistling Kites being the only raptor sighted. Soon we were amongst the waders at the Stockton Sand Spit just as the tide was starting to fall. Eastern Curlews and lesser numbers of Whimbrels were everywhere, while about 30 Black-tailed Godwits were mixed in with many Bar-tails, a few of each already sporting breeding plumage. We saw 8+ Terek Sandpipers feeding on the exposed sand flats with about 20 Red-necked Stints, while a small group of Red-capped Plovers was feeding amongst the oyster shells and wrack. In the mangroves we had good views of Mangrove Gerygones, Grey Fantails and Silvereyes. A Hobby put up all the smaller waders, while Avocets, Black-winged Stilts and Pied Oystercatchers provided plenty of colour.

We ate our lunch at Stockton Beach but the only birds of interest there were a few Common Terns feeding in the surf. Back to Ash Island where at the Teal Ponds, 2 Red-kneed Dotterels, many egrets, a Swamp Harrier and a flock of White-faced Herons were the best birds. Whistling Kites and Sea-eagles were picked up at Wader Creek, and then back to the Rainforest Corridor where Golden Whistler, Sacred Kingfisher, White-breasted Woodswallows and Tree Martins were the best birds. We finished the day at Fern Bay where our motel was located but meals were taken at Lexies on the Beach at Stockton – great food, great company and a great time!

The Wreck in the Hunter River
Second Day. An early morning walk around Fern Bay soon turned up the usual residents like Wood Ducks in the swimming pool, Galahs at the feed trays, nesting Magpie-larks, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes and 16+ White-breasted Woodswallows perched high in the mangroves, all roosting close together! Brown Honeyeaters, Yellow Thornbills and Superb Fairy-wrens were at lower levels in the mangroves. Soon we were checking out the ballast areas of the Hunter riverbank at Stockton looking for and finding the roosting Golden Plovers with Common Terns close by on the marker buoys. Then onto the Wreck, where we saw more Golden Plovers and a Grey-tailed Tattler roosting here along with a Pied Butcherbird on the overhead wires. We returned for another session at the Stockton Sand Spit, this time with the tide much higher and found 300+ Eastern Curlews, 96 Red-necked Avocets, Black-winged Stilts and a few Godwits roosting on the sandy inland within the Spit Reserve. As the tide commenced to recede, these waders were joined by more Godwits There was plenty of time to explain the differences between Black-tailed & Bar-tailed Godwits; to admire some beautiful summer plumage Black-tailed Godwits; and to check out the 2 Great Knots that had arrived with the Black-tailed Godwits. Caspian, Crested and Common Terns were feeding around the Spit, 17 Grey-tailed Tattlers were roosting on one of the oyster lease wharves and a White-winged Black Tern was seen in a feeding flock of Common Terns as they passed by!

We retired to the Hunter Botanic Gardens to cool off in some of the rainforest walks and to eat! On our walk we saw the usual bushbirds like Yellow Robin, Sacred Kingfisher, Oriole, Yellow-faced & Lewin’s Honeyeaters, Eastern Spinebill, Brown Gerygone, Variegated Fairy-wren & White-throated Treecreeper, all staying cool in the dark rainforest patches. Then we were off to Nobby’s Head at Newcastle, walking out along breakwall, checking out the rocks below, looking for a White-winged Black Tern amongst the Common Terns, without success, on the way out. A Darter was found, a lone Short-tailed Shearwater was seen exiting the Harbour, while out at the end, hundreds of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters were streaming north with an odd Flesh-footed Shearwater (10+) mixed amongst them. Our last stop for the day was the the Newcastle sea baths where 15 Sooty Oystercatchers were found feeding on the rock platforms.

The Cruise on the Hunter River
Third Day. The early morning walk at Fern Bay turned up Common Koel, a trio of Mistletoebirds, King Parrots, Dollarbird, a flock of Cattle Egrets and a Hobby cruised through scaring all the Swallows and Woodswallows. Then off to breakfast at Lexie’s where a Channel-billed Cuckoo was seen and then it was on to the Sandy Bottom Charter boat with Cpt Trevor. We had a very enjoyable time on the boat, checking out all the waders on the Kooragang Dykes on a day of particularly high tides 1.95m! Over 700 Bar-tailed and 130 Black-tailed Godwits were seen, along with 156 Golden Plovers, 130+ Curlew Sandpipers, 60+ Common Greenshank, 12+ Marsh Sandpipers, 11 Pied Oystercatchers, 2 Great Knots and 2 Red Knots, as well as Whimbrel, Eastern Curlew, Sooty Oystercatchers, Common, Crested, Caspian & 1 Gull-billed Tern, Royal Spoonbills, all 4 Cormorants, Whistling Kites and Sea-Eagles etc. A trip down to Scots Point on Ash Island revealed a Little Eagle, while a cruise around the Port, and the new housing and Commercial sections of the Harbour yielded a number of Common Terns. It was with great reluctance we left the boat and Trevor, and headed for our lunch spot at the Hunter Wetland Centre’s air-conditioned restuarant!

Perhaps Sunday afternoon was the hottest part of the trip, so only a cursory walk was made around the Wetland Centre, but we did see all the Egrets and White Ibis still nesting, all feeding dependent young! Royal Spoonbills and Moorhens had begging juveniles, a group of 12 Whistling Kites were a great sight after they were disturbed at their roost site possibly by the juvenile Sea-Eagle flying over. A group of 6 Nankeen Night-Herons were flushed from the edge of one of the ponds; and the only White-cheeked Honeyeaters for the trip were seen and heard! Our last birding site for the weekend was back at Lenaghans Swamp, Minmi where we had great views of 7 Latham’s Snipe feeding out in the open, along with Black-fronted Dotterels, many Great Egrets and Royal Spoonbills and a lone Cattle Egret. We finished the trip with 122 species, not as many as usual, but the extreme hot weather had sent most birds scurrying for the shade and determined not to call. Great views of waders in breeding plumage were experienced by Anne, Joan and Ian,, and the trip provided a range of good birding experiences.

Alan Morris, guiding for Follow That Bird.

Follow That Bird   Phone: 61 2 9973 1865
Fax: 61 2 9973 1875
3/59 Central Road
Avalon NSW 2107
Sydney Australia
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Photos of Variegated Fairy-wren and Little Tern courtesy of Neil Fifer