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Wader Deluge in Newcastle Trip Report
Intermediate Egret with She-oak Skink
by Simon Syphens
Once again a group of lucky birders were able to get up close and personal with the migratory waders in the Hunter Estuary as the birds commence the change to breeding plumage prior to their departure for the northern hemisphere in late March or early April.This wader weekend was earlier than usual so that there were less birds in full breeding plumage but never the less there were some fantastic colours to be seen, like the beautiful black, white and gold of the Golden Plovers, beautiful red birds amongst the many Bar-tailed Godwits, pinkish tinges on the Curlew Sandpipers and delicate pink on the breasts of the Lesser and Greater Sand Plovers!

Our first stop was Pambalong Swamp, currently very heavily vegetated, with little open water, but all the usual ducks and swans were there but it was the raptors, that stole the show, with Whistling Kites circling over the Swamp, a Wedge-tailed Eagle seen along the forested ridge and a Grey Goshawk giving a good display around one of the pylons. White-breasted Woodswallows showed themselves nicely, Bar-shouldered Doves fed along the road and 3 Channel-billed Cuckoos were feeding in the fig tree. Then it was off to Stockton Sandspit where it was high tide and about 180 Eastern Curlews, 250 Bar-tailed Godwits and 14 Pacific Golden Plovers were roosting in the long grass, Red-capped Plovers and Red-necked Stints fed in the shallows of the pond and they were joined at times by Little Terns and Caspian Terns. A Sacred Kingfisher was busy feeding around the pond and Little Egrets fed in the shallows. A swing around past the wreck at Stockton found 6 Golden Plovers and a Grey-tailed Tattler roosting on the old planks. We were soon heading for our lunch spot at Stockton Beach, and while that was being prepared we were busy watching the feeding flocks of Common Terns and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters just offshore of the breakers. A Sooty Oystercatcher, Darters and Pied Cormorants flew past! We returned to Stockton Sandspit as the tide was now receeding fast, to see what waders and terns might be feeding on the exposed mud and we were rewarded with good views of the aforementioned waders, plus Whimbrels, Terek Sandpipers, a few Curlew Sandpipers, 2 Lesser Sand Plovers, some Pied Oystercatchers, and plenty of Little, Caspian and Crested Terns feeding and roosting on the sandbars.

Stockton Sandspit
We relocated to Nobbies Head, and on the walk out to the point, past Horseshoe Beach we found 15 Sooty Oystercatchers feeding on the rocks along with 8 Ruddy Turnctones, some with stunning bright orange bill and legs, and great black & white breeding plumage aroung their heads. In the harbour and out on the red (port) and green (starboard) buoys, Common Terns were feeding and roosting. A quick check of Newcastle Ocean baths found some Australiasian Gannets feeding just off the breakers, with many more Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, and a few Great and Little Black Cormorants. Then it was time to return to Fern Bay, near Stockton, where we were to spend the night.

An early morning walk on Sunday around the Golfcourse and motel and edge of the water at Fern Bay found a group of 3 Spangled Drongos with many Figbirds. a flock of 17 White-breasted Woodwallows huddling up together on a mangrove branch, Rainbow, Scaly-breasted & Musk Lorikeets feeding in flowering Bloodwoods and a juvenile White-breasted Sea-eagle following along the tide line! The it was off on our boat with Sandyb Bottom Charters ably skippered by Trevor, to check out the birds in Newcastle Harbour and the waders roosting on the Kooragang Dykes. Down at the entrance to Newcastle Harbour we checked out the buoys for interesting terns and our luck was in with a lone White-winged Black Tern roosting with Common Terns on the Starboard (green) buoy! About this time a Pomerine Jaeger flew out to sea, and Darters, Pied & Great Cormorants were feeding in the entrance! Back to the dykes where the first group of birds was a tidy flock of 30 Sooty Oystercatchers and then c. 200 Pacific Golden Plovers, some in breeding plumage, were found roosting on the dykes along with some Curlew Sandpipers & Red-necked Stints. Two flocks of Greenshanks , c 51 birds were roosting on the insdie edge of the dykes, while large numbers of Silver Gulls, Pelicans, occasional Great Egrets and Royal Spoonbills, 4 Pied Oystercatchers, Caspian, Crested & Little Terns and a few White-faced Herons. initally there were virtually no Eastern Curlews and Bar-tailed Godwits, but by the time we turned around and then headed back along the dykes, both species had come across to roost, being over 100 Eastern Curlews and about 600 Bar-tailed Godwits. Alas no Black-tailed Godwits had tumed up by the time we called it quits. White-bellied Sea-eagles made passes along the dykes, scaring many of the waders and terns. Top bird was a lone Greater Sand Plover, showing pink scallping on the breast, roosting with some Godwits and Golden Plovers.

Wendy lost in the view at Nobby’s
We sadly left our boat at Stockton, farewell Trevor, and then headed off to the Hunter Wetland Centre, Shortland, a top Hunter birding spot and Egret nesting colony. It was a good day to visit, 71 Magpie-geese, incuding many family parties had come for the day, 14 Wandering Whsitling Ducks were loafing around the ponds, while juvenile Intermediate, Great and Little Egrets, and juvenile Royal Spoonbills had come to learn how to hunt for food! One Intermediate Egret was seen to catch two large skinks, both She-oak Skinks, and kill and eat them both in 8 minutes!The photographers had a great time and there was even a pair of Australasian Little Grebes with 3 recently hatched chicks! Other birds here includind another Spangled Drongo, a pair of Striped Honeyeaters gave great views, and for our overseas visitors, close views of Spotted Pardalotes, Yellow-faced Honeyeaters and Yellow Thornbills. Our last stop for the day was at Leneghans Rd Swamp, Minmi, where there was a Swan with 3 cygnets, a group of 5 adult Sea-eagles indulging in display flights over the swamps, Pied Butcherbirds and Cattle Egrets still in breeding plumage. All up we saw 120 species, indulged ourselves with the viewing of the waders and enjoyed a good time of cameraderie and socialising together.

Alan Morris, Ornithologist 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