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Bird Photography Weekend
Trip Report

WET Kookaburras by Tom Torda
The inaugural Follow That Bird “Bird Photography Weekend” got underway with a discussion on the bus to find out what photographic gear and expectations we all had as we travelled north to our first stop. Some of us wanted to learn new skills and techniques; others wanted photographic opportunities. Our first stop, Pambalong Swamp, was flooded after the current heavy rains, with the road disappearing under weed and looking non-existent. Using the bus as a hide we found and photographed some good birds, with the Little Grassbird and White-browed Scrubwren keeping us busy, and Black Swans and Purple Swamphens showing well.

Little Egret by Kath McIndoe
A welcome cup of tea at Blue Gum Recreational Park and Janene’s very nice cake almost came second to very wet Laughing Kookaburras and Grey Butcherbirds posing perfectly near our table.

Crested Tern by Kay Vernon
We then drove on to Stockton Sandspit at very high tide. We had fabulous views and lots of photography of 200+ Red-necked Avocets, 50 + Black-winged Stilts, 300+ Bar-tailed Godwits in various stages of plumage. Some of the latter were nicely colouring up in breeding colours. At least 50+ Eastern Curlews, with Whimbrels, Caspian Terns, Black-tailed Godwits, 10 Royal Spoonbills and Red-capped Plovers rounded out the total.
Masked Lapwings by Christine Melrose
We travelled into Stockton for lunch, stopping on the way to view 10 Pacific Golden Plovers on the oval. Silver Gulls and a lone Wedge-tailed Shearwater braved the weather at Stockton Beach. After lunch we stopped along the foreshore, with Sooty Oystercatchers, Caspian Tern and a lone Red Wattlebird. Then to the wreck, to see and photograph Grey-tailed Tattlers, followed by a walk along the mangroves to see what we could find, but we had to beat a hasty retreat as a heavy shower came through. At the Sandspit again as the tide was dropping, the Red-necked Avocets were feeding in close with great photographic opportunities. The mud-flats visit was timed perfectly, with waders spread out in front of us. Bar-tailed Godwits, Whimbrels, Eastern Curlews flew in groups of about 10, and finally Pacific Golden Plovers, Curlew, Terek, and Sharp-tailed Sandpipers. Little Red-capped Plovers scooted across the flats and overhead we had Little Terns. A feast of birding and photography. As we were leaving a White-bellied Sea Eagle finished off a great day.

Sooty Oystercatchers by Tom Torda
After a good night’s sleep four eager photographers were ready to go for the morning walk. Figbirds and an Eastern Koel had us juggling our settings as the sun took a while to shine. On the golf links a mother Swamp Wallaby and joey gave us a perfect view before we headed back for breakfast.
Eastern Rozella by Tom Torda
Our next stop was the Hunter River where we met Trevor for our boat ride on the “Sandy Bottom”. Checking our settings as the light was improving by the minute, and also needing to be steady on the boat, we first travelled out towards Nobbys Head looking for birds on the rocks. We found perfectly posed Australian Pelicans, Pied Cormorants and Little Black Cormorants. The river markers were worth looking at, with 30+ Common Terns and a few Crested Terns using them as perches. We headed for the famous Newcastle Dykes via the wreck, where we again saw Grey-tailed Tattlers and a lone Pacific Golden Plover. At the dykes at almost high tide we found Sooty Oystercatchers, Eastern Curlews, and Australian Pelicans all waiting to be photographed. One or two Eastern Great Egrets and Royal Spoonbills rounded out the total. The wind was getting up and so we headed to a more sheltered spot for morning tea; thanks Trevor, it was very welcome. Also seen here were two immature White-bellied Sea Eagles, Red-necked Avocet and Pacific Golden Plovers flying along the Hunter River. We headed back over to the dykes but a combination of flood waters after the heavy rain and a rising tide appeared to keep the majority of the birds on the flat land. So we headed back in and said goodbye to Trevor travelling back to Stockton Sandspit. The light was better today for photography, with the birds out feeding right in front of us – and a great photographic opportunity to get the Superb Fairy-wrens flitting around.

Great Egret by Kay Vernon
Our lunch stop was the Newcastle Wetlands. A beautiful lunch almost came second to the birds over the balcony: Magpie Geese, Eastern Great Egret, a feeding Little Egret, Australian Grebe, Hardhead and more. There was a lot of photography happening in between bites! We finally finished eating and headed around the tracks spotting Grey Goshawk, Leaden Flycatcher and an early Spangled Drongo. The egret breeding area still had lots of egrets, mainly +30 Intermediate and +40 Nankeen Night Herons. Our camera cards were filling up fast. Delightful Red-browed Finch as we headed back out to meet Janene at the gate.

Australian Pelican Christina Port
Australian Pelican by Christina Port
Back on the bus and heading for Minmi Swamp when I called out “White-necked Heron!” and we stopped on the side of the road at Beresfield. Christine remarked it looked like Kakadu. There was a Brown Falcon beside the bus, +40 White-necked Herons, hundreds of White-faced Herons, and countless Straw-necked Ibis, White Ibis, egret species, Black Swans, Pacific Black Duck, Hardhead and Australian Wood Ducks all feeding in the flooded paddocks. We also saw a Nankeen Kestrel and a pair of Whistling Kites. The latter put up many birds we hadn’t seen in the background. What a wonderful way to end a fantastic weekend.

We finished the trip with 82 species seen and photographed. With the Saturday being very wet this was a great total. Thanks to Tom, Christine, Kay and Kath for a wonderful weekend. Here are some of your fantastic photographs.

Group Bird Photography 2013
By Christina Port tutoring for FTB

Follow That Bird   Phone: 61 2 9973 1865
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Avalon NSW 2107
Sydney Australia
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Photos of Variegated Fairy-wren and Little Tern courtesy of Neil Fifer