Trip Report Farewell to the Hunter NSW waders 21-23 March 2008

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Subject: Trip Report Farewell to the Hunter NSW waders 21-23 March 2008
From: "alan morris" <>
Date: Wed, 2 Apr 2008 10:09:20 +1100


The Annual “Farewell to the Waders in Hunter” trip in March each year was
extended from two days to three days in 2008 in order that more time could
be spent in looking at the waders at the different sites around the Hunter.
Twelve excited birders therefore took off on Good Friday enroute to the
Hunter to see the migratory waders in their bright summer breeding plumages
assumed just prior to their departure to the Arctic Regions of Siberia and
Alaska. So our first birding spot was the freshwater Pambalong Swamp, at
Minmi, usually a good place for waterbirds and raptors. Pambalong was equal
to our expectations for soon we were watching one pair of Wedge-tailed
Eagles doing courtship displays over the northern end of the swamp, while
another pair were roosting in a large gum tree at the southern end, overhead
Whistling Kites patrolled and a Swamp Harrier was busy hunting over the
reedbirds. We could see at least 2 pairs of Swans on nests, a group of 6
Shovelers were busy feeding in the northern swamp along with Black Ducks and
Chestnut Teal. Other highlights were a group of Chestnut-breasted Mannikins
feeding in the grass at the edge of the road and a flock of Topknots Pigeons
flew over heading west. Little Grassbirds called mournfully in the Swamps
and there were plenty of bushbirds feeding around the Coach.

We called in for a brief stop at Stockton Sandspit to check out the larger
waders as the tide was beginning to turn and had great views of many Eastern
Curlews and Bar-tailed Godwits, an adult Gull-billed Tern, a Red Knot and 3
Greenshanks. Then off to Stockton Beach for lunch which we ate under cover
while some of the predicted showers passed over. Unlike some previous
occasions, the seas in Stockton Bight were flat and there were few seabirds
to be found but a few Australasian Gannets and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters
could be seen. In the afternoon we checked out Stockton Wreck and located
two Grey-tailed Tattlers, seen up close and still coming into breeding
plumage  showing the barring on the breast. We returned to the Spit for the
rest of the afternoon, and soon were checking out Terek Sandpipers,
Whimbrels, Pied Oystercatchers and Black-winged Stilts. White-breasted
Sea-Eagles checked out the Spit while Royal Spoonbills and Great Egrets were
found feeding in the shallows.

Next morning the early morning bird walk was along the edge of the mangroves
on the River at Fern Bay where Sacred Kingfishers and Black-faced
Cuckoo-shrikes were quickly found and far across the River we could see the
large flocks of Godwits heading for their high tide roost on the Kooragang
Dykes. We spent the morning on Ash Island but the predicted showers turned
into heavy rain and our projected activities were greatly curtailed. We did
manage to see more Egrets and Spoonbills, Little Grebe and Swans, and many
bushbirds like Mangrove Gerygone, Brown & Yellow Thornbill, Grey Fantail and
many Pipits. However the highlight of the morning was when we had just
returned to the coach from exploring the mangrove boardwalk, we saw a
Frigate-bird, that circled over us twice at about 20m above us and then
moved away further up river! Based on the underwing pattern the bird
appeared to be an immature Greater Frigate-bird, a very rare visitor to the
NSW coast. Just a few days before, a Lesser Frigate-bird was seen down at
Pambula on the South Coast. This was great birding because the logo of
Follow That Bird is a stylised Frigate-bird of an indeterminate species.
Were we the first trip FTB trip within mainland Australia to see the Tour’s

Lunch was taken at Hunter Botanical Gardens where the Blackbutts & Banksias
were flowering and so there were many Scaly-breasted, Rainbow and a few
Little Lorikeets feeding on the nectar flow with their usual noisy ways.
Variegated & Superb Fairy-wrens were in the undergrowth, Yellow-faced
Honeyeaters and Silvereyes in the bushes! Some were lucky to see a Hobby
shoot over our heads while we were eating lunch! Our afternoon was spent at
Nobbies Head. Firstly checking out the Ruddy Turnstones in their lovely
ruddy breeding plumage feeding with Sooty Oystercatchers on the rocks below
the breakwall. Then  out to the end, dodging the spray from the strong
southerly winds, where we checked out the Shearwaters racing past , all
appeared to be Wedge-tails! and More Gannets and Crested Terns. In the parks
and sand dunes Kestrels, Little Wattlebirds, House Sparrows & Silvereyes
were readily found. Before leaving for Fern bay we checked out the rock
platforms of the Newcastle Baths where 8 Sooty Oystercatchers and 8
Turnstones were located.

Sunday’s early morning bird walk was into the back of the Golf Course at
Fern  Bay where Whipbirds, Eastern Rosellas, White-browed Scrub-wrens were
located and another Hobby flew low over our heads! Then down to the Stockton
Boat-ramp to meet up with Trevor & Mark and their boats “Sandybottom” &
Awesome 2” for a morning on Newcastle Harbour and checking out the waders
roosting at high tide on the Kooragang Dykes. Not many birds on the Harbour
this morning, although good views were had of Sea-eagles ( pair roosting on
the Port Authority’s Radio Tower), Striated & White-faced Herons, cormorants
and Darters. Good views of Tattlers again on the Wreck and then off to the
Dykes where the waders were lined up to meet us! First came a long row of
Eastern Curlew, then Oystercatchers, Gulls, Terns, Spoonbills and Pelicans
and then the Godwits! Wonderful views of Black-tailed & Bar-tailed Godwits
in their red breeding plumage! Other waders were Red-necked Stint,
Greenshank and 40+ Pacific Golden Plover, many in their gold, black and
white stunning breeding plumage. We indulged ourselves with wader viewing
for some time before heading off up river and then down into the mangrove
and saltmarsh lined Mosquito Creek where we had morning tea on board and
listening and watching the Mangrove Geryone, Rufous & Golden Whistlers,
Leaden Flycatcher, Silvereye and Grey Fantails as well as Chestnut Teal,
Herons and Sea Eagle, Whistling Kite & Ibis flying over. We returned to the
Dykes for a second look and managed to get a count of 18 Sooty & 4
Oystercatchers, about 150 Eastern Curlew, 1000+ Bar-tailed Godwit and 200+
Black-tailed Godwit. Plenty of Caspian Terns on the return run – there were
more waders across at Stockton Sandspit high tide roost but not possible to
count or identify. The  morning on the boats was a top birding experience
for everyone!

Finally we dragged ourselves away from wader watching and thanked Trevor &
Martin for their services and headed for the Hunter Wetland Centre at
Shortland for lunch! Here we could catch up with the Magpie Geese, Wood Duck
(strangely missing from the bird list to this point), an Intermediate Egret,
White Ibis still nesting in the breeding rookery as well as more Shoveler,
Brown & White-cheeked Honeyeaters, Pied Butcherbird and our only
Black-shouldered Kite for the trip. We headed for home with our last stop at
Lenaghans Swamp, Minmi where Swans with large numbers of cygnets were seen,
Swamp Harriers and Whistling Kites were on patrol, Cattle Egrets fed amongst
the cows and plenty of Chestnut Teal, Grey Teal and Black Ducks.  All up  a
great weekend, 113 species seen on the trip and good times enjoyed with
Carol Probets the coach driver and Chris Willis catering for all our
needs.Many thanks too for the staff of Lexie Café at Stockton beach for
great meals and good service!(Alan Morris)


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