Wader Quest - two day Melbourne area trip report

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Subject: Wader Quest - two day Melbourne area trip report
From: "Paul Dodd" <>
Date: Thu, 3 Oct 2013 11:58:54 +1000
This past weekend it was my pleasure to guide Rick and Elis Simpson around
the Melbourne area in their quest to see the world's waders. For those that
haven't heard of them, Rick and Elis form "Wader Quest" - see their website
at: They are raising money for the WWT
Spoon-billed Sandpiper Captive Breeding Program by promoting awareness of
this and other endangered and threatened waders in the world.


In the Melbourne area there were four species that Wader Quest was
interested in - Red-necked Avocet, Banded Stilt, Latham's Snipe and Hooded
Plover. They were also interested in seeing the southern (nominate) race of
Sooty Oystercatcher, having seen the northern race in Broome. Additionally
they were interested in seeing the southern race of Masked Lapwing and
getting better views of Banded Lapwing, a species they had managed to see
and, unbelievably, photograph from a moving bus at Perth airport!


I was somewhat worried about my ability to find Banded Stilts (and Banded
Lapwing) at the Western Treatment Plant as Steve Davidson (The Melbourne
Birder) had previously reported that both species appeared to be missing
from that location. However in the past week Steve had reporting finding
five Banded Stilt at the WTP, so I was hopeful. Duly on Saturday morning we
headed to the WTP and started at the Austin Road (Summer) Ponds and within
ten minutes had found what appeared to be avocets and stilts. In attempting
to scope these birds we found out just how difficult that can be in howling
winds! With two scopes set up and trained on the birds, it was clear that
Red-necked Avocets were present (first species tick!) However, with the
shaking of the scopes due to wind we only thought that both Black-winged and
Banded Stilts were present. Attempting to verify the sighting we exited the
T-Section Lagoons and came back into the area, on the other side of the
ponds, through Austin Road. Unfortunately from this location it is not
possible to see birds sheltering on the northern or eastern edges of the
pond, so we had to pull over and walk through a cow-pat infested paddock
towards the pond. To make life even more difficult, as we were half way from
the car to the pond a Swamp Harrier flew over and put up all the birds. Of
course, the stilts and avocets all flew back to the other side of the pond!


Not to be dissuaded, we figured that we would continue along Austin Road and
look for the Banded Lapwings in one of their more usual spots. Sure enough
at the corner of Austin Road (where it makes a 90 degree turn to the south),
I looked in the paddock to the north-west and immediately saw half-a-dozen
Banded Lapwings at a distance. Scoping the birds confirmed the ID - but at
the distance, the birds were impossible to photograph, even with a lens the
size of Jupiter such as the one I have. I said that we should try from
Pousties Road alongside the airport later on.


Coming back through the T-Section, we stopped at the "crake pond" (Pond 4).
Immediately we saw a Spotted Crake, and within a minute or two a Baillon's -
both struggling against the wind. Back at the Austin Road pond, the stilts
had, of course, flown back to the far side of the pond - and the wind was
now even worse. I suggested that we try later in the day. Unfortunately the
Western Lagoons yielded very little - a couple of Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, a
couple of Red-necked Stint and a Red-capped Plover - certainly no
Double-banded Plovers were left (I had aready told the Simpsons that I
thought these would all be gone, and that their only chance of catching up
with them was at their next stop - New Zealand). We found our one and only
Little Egret in the Western Lagoons. The Spit was devoid of waders, no
Bar-tailed Godwits, no Grey Plovers, no Grey-tailed Tattlers and no Knots.


The track into Kirk Point is potholed to the point that it is almost
impassable - we managed to get through the potholes and mud - I wouldn't
recommend this track to people with low-clearance 2WD cars. Unfortunately
the wind was so strong that the water was being pushed up over the thin
coastal strip onto the track (especially around the point itself), meaning
that no waders were present. We did, however, find two Pied Oystercatchers
on the track itself!


Entering the Beach Road gate and checking the Beach Road Pond (the one
immediately to the north-east of the gate, parallel with the coast) produced
a sizeable flock of Red-necked Stints, several Sharp-tailed Sandpipers and
Curlew Sandpipers - but most interesting of all was the resident
Broad-billed Sandpiper in the open. Of course, by the time I got out of the
car, grabbed my camera and tried to photograph it in the howling gale it had
disappeared again.


My timing was off, so by the time we got to the hide it was high tide, with
the wind pushing the water even higher than normal high tide, so no waders
to be found. The Borrow Pits produced some Black-winged Stilts (no Banded),
the usual complement of Sharpies and Stints, and a good number of Red-kneed
Dotterels. Heading back along the coast, we found the occasional small group
of waders sheltering from the wind. Between the ford and the special permit
gate we saw several Blue-winged Parrots (a tick for Rick and Elis). We
managed to see most of the usual ducks except for Blue-billed - presumably
hunkered down somewhere. As we drove along the western side of the Beach
Road Pond we saw a larger wader, which turned out to be a Red Knot.


By now the wind had died down and we went back to the T-Section gate, and
whilst the stilts and avocets were still distant, we managed to get them in
a scope and conclusively identify Banded Stilts amongst them (so the second
species tick!) I managed some photos, but they would count as record shots
only. We now headed along Pousties Road until we were at the paddock with
the Banded Lapwings - where we had marginally closer views, and did manage
some photographs.


We headed to Avalon Beach, a funny spot full of ramshackle dwellings and
muddy tracks. From the causeway on the way into the beach we immediately saw
a flock of avocets and stilts, including at least three Banded Stilt - and
much, much closer than at the Western Treatment Plant. At least here
reasonable photographs were possible. As usual, at the boat ramp at Avalon
Beach, were Pacific Gulls - in three different plumages - what looked like a
fresh juvenile, a bird of two-three years of age and a full adult. Also, at
the boat ramp was a Ruddy Turnstone, happily standing in full view on a
hummock of old seaweed!


Next stop was Serendip Sanctuary, not for waders - but to pick up Ruth who,
unfortunately, had to work all weekend. The Simpsons had asked whether it
was possible to see a Tawny Frogmouth, a species that is usually quite easy
at Serendip, but not to be this time. They were also interested in lorikeets
(any type) and Ruth managed to find them a nesting Purple-crowned Lorikeet
with its mate keeping guard on a nearby branch.


The following day I needed to find two species for Wader Quest - Latham's
Snipe and Hooded Plover. Normally I would consider Latham's Snipe quite
straightforward - simply head for the hide at Belmont Common, near Geelong,
and wait. However, I had seen a report from Bob Hughes that a snipe had been
seen at the nearby Balyang Sanctuary - so we tried there first, with no
luck. We then headed to Belmont Common and found that the water level was
far too high for almost anything except for a few Chestnut Teal. Fortunately
on leaving the hide, we bumped into Bob - the man that had seen the snipe at
Balyang. He pointed us to a track that lead to the back of the pond that is
overlooked by the hide, encouraging us with tales of having recently flushed
50 of them (admittedly his team was wearing waders at the time!) We saw none
at this spot, but Rick had read on a sign in the hide that snipe were
sometimes seen around the water hazards on the adjacent golf course. We
could see about five water hazards and so started walking around each of
them. Of course, the main concern at a golf course is golfers and golf balls
- so I was lucky that Rick yelled out, "Watch out, Paul!" as I was about to
step onto the fairway in front of a bunch of teeing-off golfers! By the time
we got to the fifth water hazard, I was starting to become a little
concerned that we wouldn't see this bird - but almost miraculously one
flushed from the edge of the pond and flew past us back to the fourth
hazard. We turned around, and snuck up on it from the rear. We must have
been only a few metres from the bird when a golfer, who had just had a
terrible shot, hooking the ball into some trees, walked in front of us
(between us and the bird) so that he could take a drop on the fairway. With
that the bird flushed again, of course, and flew off into the distance,
presumably to some water hazard we were not aware of. I couldn't manage a
photo, but Elis managed a good flight shot (species tick number three!)


Next I took them to Black Rocks (13th Beach), near Barwon Heads - a good
site for Hooded Plover. The protected Hooded Plover beaches are quite an
exercise to get to, along narrow tracks over sharp rocks, but we've often
seen them on the more accessible beaches. This time, however, we had great
views of Red-necked Stints, several Red Knots, four Ruddy Turnstones and at
least the same number of Pacific Golden Plovers - but no Hoodies. Rather
than have them walk along a treacherous path, I suggested that we try
another site and only if that one proved fruitless would we come back to
this location.


I suggested a brief stop at Point Addis, near Torquay - partly because the
Simpsons had expressed an interest in seeing Gang Gangs, and secondly
because I wanted to show them a Rufous Bristlebird - a species they weren't
even aware of. Unlike the previous weekend, Gang Gangs were not present at
the start of the Ironbark walk (we were much later in the morning, though).
>From the carpark at the point, looking back along the road to the north we
managed to see, quite closely, three Bristlebirds though! A bonus tick for


So the second Hooded Plover site I had in mind was Point Roadknight, just
past Anglesea, where we had seen them the previous weekend. The walk from
the carpark goes up and over the point and comes down onto one of two
protected beaches. The previous weekend we had immediately seen four birds
on this beach, but there were none last weekend. So with that, we had to
head to the second protected beach, and from there we saw two birds and
photographed them for about an hour. The fourth and final species tick!


Since we were close to Anglesea Heath, and since Rick had expressed interest
in seeing a Southern Emu-wren, we drove up Bald Hills Road to the spot
overlooking the coalmine (that blight on an otherwise pristine coastal
heath). The wind was picking up again, which made coastal heath birdwatching
difficult - I managed to locate an emu-wren, but neither Rick nor Elis got
really clear looks at it. By now it was late afternoon and I figured that by
the time we got back to Williamstown to look for Sooty Oystercatcher we
would not have much daylight left. Following the coast around from Point
Gelibrand in Williamstown, we stopped at a number of rocky sections looking
for oystercatchers. At one spot Rick and I walked to the rocks so we could
have a closer look, Elis remaining by the car - all of a sudden she yelled,
"There's one!" And with that we observed and photographed the bird with what
little light was left. A very successful two days!


I've posted some photos to:, and also
on Facebook for those that follow me there.


Paul Dodd

Docklands, Victoria



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