A Weekend in the Hunter, NSW 12-13 March 2005

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Subject: A Weekend in the Hunter, NSW 12-13 March 2005
From: "alan morris" <>
Date: Tue, 15 Mar 2005 09:45:31 +1100

Twelve people took part in the annual "Farewelling the Migratory Waders of the Lower Hunter" trip organised by Follow That Bird Tours. There was perfect weather the whole weekend so that it was possible to view the waders in ideal conditions.The tour included a Lower Hunter River Cruise to view the waders on the Kooragang Dykes; visits to the Wetland Centre, Shortland; an inspection of the Ash Island Ponds; a walk out to the Nobbies Breakwater to look for seabirds; wader watching at the Stockton sandspit at high tide; and visits to Pambalong & Leneghans Rd wetlands at Minmi.

The boat trip on the "Lady Joy" was well timed for the high tide and all the waders were waiting for us on the Kooragang Dykes. We then travel past the dykes up the Hunter River to Mosquito Creek before returning and making another slow run past the dykes. While there was nothing of great interest in the Newcastle Harbour area, we did see 34 species of birds on the dykes including1520 waders of 15 species. Many Godwits had already attained their red breeding plumage while many Golden Plovers were showing much gold and black. Our highlights on the Dykes were c. 800 Bar-tailed & 225 Black-tailed Godwits, 200 Eastern Curlews, 85 Common Greenshank & 130 Pacific Golden Plover, 30 Curlew Sandpiper, 6 Black-winged Stilt, 6 Pied Oystercatcher & 8 Caspain Tern and alone Striated Heron. In addition 4 Sea Eagles were seen on the trip (2A+2 Im) and 6 Whistling Kites. While passing the Dykes on the return trip there were 5 Whistling Kites and 2 Sea-eagles in the air at the same time, and some were harassing the waterbirds on the dykes so that there was much coming and going and a chance to see the underwing patterns of the Black-tailed Godwits.

Highlights of our visit to the Wetland Centre at Shortland, included 2 more Sea-Eagles and Whistling Kites, all four Egret species and Brown & White-cheeked Honeyeaters. It was still high tide on the Ash Island Ponds when we reached that site so there was plenty of waterbirds to see including c.800 Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, 60 Marsh Sandpipers, 800 Red-necked Avocets, 400 Black-winged Stilts, a few Greenshanks & Black-fronted Dotterel, small numbers of Pipit and White-fronted Chat, Royal Spoonbill, White & Straw-necked Ibis and many Chestnut & Grey Teal. Once again we had plenty of raptors, a very dark Wedge-tailed Eagle made a number of passes over the Ponds, 2 Sea Eagles and 2 Whisting Kites were continually overhead and 2 Swamp Harriers were busy patrolling the wetlands and reedbeds. These raptors combined to ensure that there was always some movements amongst the waterbirds! So in the 6 hour period 11am-5 pm we ended up seeing a minimum of 8 Sea Eagles & 12 Whistling Kites!

Our early morning walk around Fern Bay the next morning revealed 2 late Koel Cuckoos and a late Dollarbird, another Striated Heron, Sea Eagle, Yellow Thornbill, Lewin's Honeyeater and Whipbird. The walk out to the Nobbies Breakwater was disappointing seabird-wise. There were plenty of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters but no Common or White-winged Black Terns as is usual at this time of the year!. 3 species of Cormorants, some House Sparrows and White-fronted Chats were the only other special birds. However high tide at Stockton Sandspit was special. To witness over 2000 Red-necked Avocet roosting in the wetland was a great sight, along with 22 Red-capped Plover, some Red-necked Stints & Sharp-tailed Sandpipers. As the tide changed they were joined by the Godwits, Eastern Curlews, Golden Plovers etc from the Dykes, and soon we were watching them and 22 Red Knots and a lone Great Knot in breeding plumage, all feeding on the exposed sand flats. Other birds here included 2 Gull-billed Terns, Caspian & Crested Terns, Pied Oystercatchers, Whimbrels etc. not to mention the 2 Mangrove Gerygones. A brief walk around to Fern Bay found 22 Terek Sandpipers and some Grey-tailed Tattlers roosting on the oyster-racks.

On our return to Sydney we visited Leneghans Road Swamp where 8 Chestnut-breasted Mannikins, 4 White-breasted Woodswallows and a Red-kneedd Dotterel were the highlights, and then crossed to Pambalong Swamp. Here we added 6 Shoveler and Hardhead to our waterbird count, but of special interest was a pair of Magpie Geese with 6 large young and a pair of Wandering Whistling Duck with 2 tiny ducklings. This was a great end to our day. Over 102 species were seen on the weekend, mostly waterbirds because no time was spent in any bushland areas. All particpants had great views of waders, many of which were in or moulting into, breeding plumage.

Alan Morris
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