On Sunday February 20 Dion Hobcroft and myself drove
to Price Saltfields, SA to search for the recently
re-found Short-billed Dowitcher. This was Dion's
second attempt - he has now clocked up around 7000 km
in pursuit of this bird and the end result just shows
that even gluttons for punishment are occasionally
We had gone no further than Yass when we received a
call from David Andrew and Tom Smith, who advised us
to turn back: "Yes, the flock's just taken off, the
bird's probably halfway back to Canada by now!" This
only encouraged us and we reached Price at about 2.30
am the next morning.
The conditions were atrocious. Rain had dogged us from
Narrandera onwards and, following a heavy downpour at
the saltfields overnight, we feared the worst. But the
gates opened at 6.00 am and we were inside as soon as
there was enough light to drive by.
Fortunately, most of the roosting waders were strung
out over about 100 metres rather than packed in a deep
bunch, making them easier to sort through. Constant
drizzle was the main problem as we pointed our
telescope heads out of the car windows, and often we
were forced to dry our equipment off and start again.
As Dion pointed out, "There are some who would say
that this is not pleasurable".
There were also many Red Knots approaching breeding
plumage, making the task more difficult. But the rain
was in some ways a help: many of the birds were
The bird was eventually found after about an hour and
a half's searching, standing in the open and preening
vigorously. Having seen Asian Dowitcher previously, I
was unprepared for much smaller size of the American
species, the bird being no bigger than a Great Knot.
In the end we were very fortunate to obtain good views
in spite of the rain.
After another half an hour, during which small numbers
of birds had departed in dribs and drabs, the entire
remaining flock took off as one and disappeared,
presumably to feed along the shores of Spencer Gulf.
One question: the bird is generally thought to be of
the race hendersoni. Given the amount of white on the
belly and the considerable barring and spotting on the
flanks and undertail coverts, can anyone establish why
it isn't in fact the race caurinus? This bird breeds
in Alaska and migrates along the west Pacific
coast(underlike Henderson's which breeds in central
Canada and migrates through the midwestern States) and
is surely the more likely candidate to visit these
shores. Of course, I recognise the occurrence of any
American Dowitcher in Australia is a major event and
therefore "likelihood" is a strictly relative concept.
Other good birds from the trip are listed below.
* Superb Parrot - flock, a few dozen strong, just
short of 100 km east of Hay on the Sturt Highway.
* Rock Parrot - about a dozen at the saltfields. No
Elegant Parrots, which I needed and everyone else
claims to have seen at this site.
* Slender-billed Thornbill - numerous, if somewhat
elusive at the saltfields. A tick for me.
* Spotted Harrier - Innes National Park, on the main
road leading to Stenhouse Bay. We visited Innes on the
afternoon of the same day, ie Monday 21 February
* Brush Bronzewing - ditto
* Malleefowl - and again. One rather cute juvenile
bird crossing the road; completely unexpected despite
the roadside warnings. Dowitcher aside, probably the
bird of the trip, followed closely by...
* Square-tailed Kite - one adult, 5 km east of
Balranald, Sturt Highway
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