Swifts and confusing sandpipers

To: "Birding Aus" <>
Subject: Swifts and confusing sandpipers
From: "Bill Jolly" <>
Date: Wed, 22 Jan 2003 13:50:47 +1000
Trevor Ford and Ron & Sue Johns visited on Monday and we got in a bit of
birding in the afternoon, followed by some theoretical birding during a long
evening on the verandah, (the binoculars were nearby, if not used) and then
a bit of a bash around the traps on Tuesday, after a late night

About 150 Fork-tailed Swifts at Abberton on Monday, with more encounters in
the Helidon area on Tuesday, first with a similar sized group of Fork-tails
then later, near Rockmount, with up to a hundred White-throated Needletails,
with perhaps 15 or so Forktails mixed in.

We were hoping to turn up a Black-eared Cuckoo, so we visited most known
recent locations (without success) but it was too hot for anyone to get
stuck into what you might call 'serious' birding. Nonetheless, the final
tally for a les than 24 hour visit was 110 species, including both swifts,
Speckled Warblers in the birdbath at Abberton and Latham's Snipe,
White-bellied Sea-eagle and Spotted Harrier, (followed 15 minutes late by a
Swamp Harrier), all at Lake Dyer.
Also at Dyer, we spent some time with John Hadley looking at a loose group
of 6 sandpipers, some of them clearly Sharp-tailed, but three with yellow
legs (from a moderate ochre to a brightish yellow), and two of them somewhat
larger than the other four, so we tried hard to hypothesise a Pectoral among
the group.
There was indeed a lot of variation in leg-colour and size, but these are
not defining characteristics which separate Pecs from Sharpies, and the less
Sandpiper-challenged among us concurred that all 6 were in fact
Sharp-tailed.  Proportionate bill-length and the shape of the supercilium
were more significant factors - plus of course jizz which can only really
come into play when one has seen enough of a species over time to gain a
familiarity with much about it which can't always easily be shared with
others. Pectorals are not birds I've seen very often, whereas Sharpies are
very regular around here, and it was an object lesson for me to look closely
at such an initially disparate group of birds only to find, under
instruction, that they were all of a kind.
The other highlight for me was to discover during our evening 'session' that
Ron and I had shared several individual birds in Norfolk in the sixties
(make of that what you will) and that Johns and Jolly were juxtaposed in
print in old bird reports from that time and place. This birding lark isn't
just a bridge between countries, every so often it proves to be a bridge
between the decades too!  A similar thing happened when I first met Phil
Gregory a few years back and discovered we'd seen the same Cream-coloured
Courser in October 1967. Turns out Ron was there too!
Bill Jolly

Lockyer Valley, Queensland.

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