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Farewell to our Shorebirds

Double-banded Plover in non-breeding plumage: arrived Friday, 12 April 2024. Photo Greg Harrison

Dear reader


Well, it’s official: our resident shorebirds have left, probably late last week around the 1st April.  On Friday 5th  April there were only about 110 godwits, 16 curlews and eight knots and a stray group of 16 Terek Sandpipers on the roost at Kakadu Beach.


They will be heading north for the Yellow Sea on their 13,000 km flight, and then separating, with the godwits flying east across the Bering Sea to the Yukon, and the Great Knots turning west into the Siberian tundra.  Today (Sunday, 7 April), we had no Eastern Curlews but still had some 306 Bar-tailed godwits on the roost; they behaved very differently from our normal resident birds.  They were jittery, quarrelsome and hugging the seawrack along the water’s edge, as if they didn’t know how to adapt to the roost as the high tide came in.  There were no green leg flags (Moreton Bay banded birds)  and only 6 birds with any colour;  the majority were quite slender with no fat reserves fit for a long flight. Judging on their very long bills, I think most were females from down south or New Zealand  (female godwits have longer bills than males).  It was raining at the time, but up in the grey sky over Ningi  I saw a flock of about 35 godwits very high heading north; they passed the roost then turned back and landed which added to the tense situation at the roost.


Only one Beach Stone-Curlew was on the roost; I am pretty sure it was the juvenile; tried to make himself big and strong and chase off a few godwits in the absence of its parents, but when three oystercatchers landed nearby it decided discretion was a safer bet and retreated to the edge of the mangroves to stand forlornly in the rain.


So we have some quiet months as our godwits and knots breed on the other end of the planet.  It is strange to think that when they have such a good time here in Pumicestone Passage, with lots of food and sunshine that these same birds are now high above the South China Sea, overflying naval installations and international tensions, heading towards feeding grounds at the top end of the Yellow Sea, in a completely different environment.  There they will separate from the flocks into pairs and find a suitable habitat in the heather and tundra sedges to breed.


Interestingly, the Pied Stilts arrived back in numbers after being away for nearly a year, 109 adults and one juvenile.  There was also 11 Caspian Terns, one with an orange leg flag. These are big marine terns, the largest tern in the world, easily recognisable by their massive red beak.


Our next excitement will be the arrival of our inter Tasman friends, the Double banded Plovers from New Zealand.  They breed there but winter in Australia. Some were reported from Port of Brisbane so it should only be a week or so before they arrive at Kakadu beach.  Look for small plovers huddled in the tidewrack with sandy brown faces.


I also counted at Godwin Beach where I was thrilled to see 385 Grey-tailed Tattlers land in front of me from an isolated clump of mangroves out to sea where they had been roosting during the high tide. There was also 6 Common Greenshanks, which despite their name are anything but common.


Most of the tattlers were in full breeding plumage with soft grey backs and fine bars across their underparts so they too will be heading north.  I think the curlews leave first, followed by stints, then whimbrels, godwits and knots, and finally Terek sandpipers, greenshanks and tattlers.

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