Trip Report - A Wet Day in Hunter Wetlands
On November 24th, Lyall Weber and I accompanied Chris Herbert and Liz
Crawford of Hunter Bird Observers Club on their weekly survey of migratory
birds in the North Arm of the Hunter River Estuary, followed by visits to
the Hunter Wetlands Centre at Shortland, Ash Island, Leneghans Swamp, and
Pambalong Nature Reserve. The sky was overcast, with intermittent wind and
rain throughout the day. Highlights included, but were not limited to, great
knot, a breeding black-tailed godwit, and a glimpsed painted snipe.
We started on the western side of the North Arm with a visit to the
Kooragang Dykes by boat, in heavy rain, a little after high tide. We crossed
the Dykes and travelled on the ponds, where we saw more than 200 roosting
Pacific golden plover, 50 common greenshank, 14 pied oystercatcher, 9 sooty
oystercatcher, 40 common tern, 20 little tern, 6 crested tern, a royal
spoonbill, great cormorant and pied cormorant. Mangrove gerygone was heard.
After 45 minutes, we returned to shore as a pair of yellow-tailed
black-cockatoo flew overhead. We drove across the Stockton Bridge to The
Wreck on the eastern side of the channel, hoping for more golden plover,
but there were none. Fourteen common tern were perched on a green channel
We then visited a section of shoreline situated about 300 m north of the
Stockton Bridge, where there was a single grey-tailed tattler among rocks at
the water's edge. As we watched, a flock of more than 20 tattler flew in to
join it. A lone mangrove nearby yielded 7 whimbrel and 8 grey-tailed
We then spent more than an hour at Stockton Sandspit, initially using a
scope from near the car park, where we saw more than 500 red-necked avocet
in a salt marsh pond. Behind them was flock of some 700 bar-tailed godwit,
with a group of about 50 black-tailed godwit in its midst. Surprisingly, one
black-tailed godwit was in full breeding plumage. About 80 eastern curlew
were roosting individually nearby in the grass. Terns seen from here
included gull-billed, common, little, Caspian, and crested. As the tide
fell, the birds and their observers moved onto the beach in front of the
Sandspit where we saw about 20 red knot, 2 great knot and 14 red-necked
stint foraging on the mudflats along with juvenile bar-tailed godwits.
We had lunch at the Hunter Wetlands Centre at Shortland and briefly checked
the birds from the balcony, where magpie-goose and wandering whistling-duck
could be seen. We then drove to Ash Island (my first visit since it
reopened) where highlights of the flooded grass paddocks were: great,
intermediate (in breeding plumage), and little egret at the one place,
together with magpie goose, chestnut teal, Pacific black duck and
white-necked heron. We were hoping to see painted snipe, but dipped. A drive
in the rain along Wagtail Way yielded Latham's snipe, white-fronted chat,
black-winged stilt, swamp harrier, and a lone sharp-tailed sandpiper.
Black-fronted dotterel was present on the road out.
We headed further west to Minmi. A stop on the hill overlooking Hexham Swamp
yielded whistling kite, and numerous white-necked herons while a stop at
Leneghans Swamp yielded distant views of a grey goshawk. We flushed a
painted snipe from roadside reeds at Pambalong Nature Reserve. Also seen
were white-bellied sea-eagle and white-breasted woodswallow. .
Thanks to hosts Chris and Liz, for their information, guidance, and
especially for picking the pair of great knot.
PS The Hunter Bird Observers Club has a great website, from which several
Birding Location Guides can be downloaded.
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