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Newcastle Afloat on the
Hunter River Trip Report
Newcastle 2007
Our annual pilgrimage to the Hunter Wetlands, primarily to see the migratory waders in their breeding plumages before they depart for the sub-artic and arctic regions of the north, took place on the weekend of the 10-11 March 2007. The forecasted weather was for sunny, very warm days and slight seas and that was exactly how things proceeded. We had perfect birdwatching weather, perhaps too perfect when it came to our boat trip out to the Newcastle Harbour entrance, where the sea was totally flat and there were no seabirds to be seen! However, overall we had a great two days birdwatching!

Our first stop was at the Pambalong Nature Reserve Swamp near Minmi, where the wetlands had again filled with water following good rains in the past three weeks. Plenty of Swans feeding in the wetlands and plenty of White-breasted Woodswallows feeding overhead. In the reed beds, Little Grassbirds were calling and great views were had of up to 26+ Chestnut-breasted Mannikins together with some Red-browed Finches. The Mannikins were feeding on both Cumbungi seeds and Pampass Grass seed heads! This is a great place for raptors and we were not disappointed as a pair of Grey Goshawks flew close above us, then 2 Whistling Kites circled overhead for most of the time and a Hobby flew low over the reeds & wetlands scattering many birds. Our next stop was Ash Island, where the tide was starting its run out! Plenty of Common Greenshanks and Black-winged Stilts & several Swamp Harriers were seen, Whistling Kites and Sea-eagles were soon located and another Hobby whizzed past us! Good views were had of the Pipits, White-fronted Chats and Mangrove Gerygones that occur on the Island. We also managed to find a few Red-capped Plovers and a flock of Goldfinches.

Flying Godwits by Patricia Hirst
We lunched as usual at the Stockton Cricket Ground where the birds were harder to find than usual and alas this time, there was no cricket to watch as we ate our lunch! Onto Stockton Sand Spit to check the waders as the tide was receding. Here we met up with some local birders who were following up on a report of a Large Sand Plover at the site the day before. Alas, it was not there during our stay but we were rewarded with 4 Lesser Sand Plovers, a Double-banded Plover, plenty of Red-necked Stints, Bar-tailed & Black-tailed Godwits, Eastern Curlews, Whimbrels and Grey-tailed Tattlers! There was also 2 Red Knots, at least one Terek Sandpipers amongst the Tattlers, and plenty of Red-capped Plovers for comparison with the other two Plovers. Also present were 20+ Avocets, 28 Gull-billed Terns, Caspian Terns while an Osprey fished continuously and often flushed the smaller waders, a Little Egret, Sacred Kingfisher, Sooty Oystercatcher and Brown Honeyeaters in the wattles near the car park. Stops at the Stockton Wreck and other sites provided no special birds. So we departed for Fern Bay where we spent the night.

Our early morning bird walk along the north bank of the Hunter River produced a Rufous Whistler, Yellow Thornbill, Grey Fantail and a Sacred Kingfisher in the mangroves, and good views of Whimbrels and Eastern Curlews out on some of the mud banks. Scaly-breasted Lorikeets, Striped Honeyeaters and Figbirds were some of species seen in the grounds of the motel & golf course. At 9am we boarded the ³Sandy Bottom² for our boat charter for the next 4 hours. First we went down to the Harbour mouth but there was little to see but on the various buoys in the Harbour we counted 30+ Common Terns while 18 Sooty Oystercatchers flew past us to roost on the Kooragang Dykes (a subsequent count at the Dykes yielded 21Sooties!). Darters and Little Black Cormorants were the more common species seen in the Harbour. We made two trips along the Dykes close to high tide and had great viewing of breeding plumage Pacific Golden Plover (c.200), Black-tailed & Bar-tailed Godwits, while a few Curlew Sandpipers in full breeding plumage stood out amongst the rest who were still brownish-grey! Whistling Kites and Sea-eagles were seen around the Dykes, a lone Common Sandpiper was spotted by Gordon and there were a few more Knots, 30+ Greenshanks and plenty of Stilts and Avocets. A Striated Heron and 12 Golden plovers were seen near the Stockton Wreck as we headed back to boat car-park.

Alan Morris our wonderful guide 2007
We lunched at the wetland Centre, Shortland where we were up close to Magpie Geese and about 20 Shoeless, while Great, Intermediate & Little Egrets were busy feeding and White-cheeked & Yellow-faced Honeyeaters were active in the Banksias and Grevilleas. We reluctantly headed for home, making a short stop at Leneghan Road Swamp, Mimmi, where there were large numbers of Black Swan and Straw-necked Ibis. We had hoped for a Glossy Ibis or two but no luck! However all participants had a pleasant two days, everyone had close views of many species of waterbirds and became familiar with the summer plumages of a number of migratory waders. Janene provided excellent morning tea cakes and lunches, driver Chris did a great job navigating the back streets of Newcastle and Stockton, the accommodation was good and the company was very special.

By Alan Morris guiding for FTB

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