Possible - Western Sandpiper - Nairns, WA

To: birdswa email list <>
Subject: Possible - Western Sandpiper - Nairns, WA
From: Frank O'Connor <>
Date: Tue, 17 Jan 2012 11:36:56 +0800

I went to Nairns this morning to look for the possible Western Sandpiper photographed by Craig Lester on 7th January 2012. Craig was there when I arrived. I talked with Craig, and he has not seen the bird since the 7th, despite visiting the site up to 3 times a day since. So the report that he relocated it yesterday is a misunderstanding. He did see a Ruff there yesterday (16th). The south west wader study group had been mist netting overnight, but with the fairly strong winds had caught very little.

I arrived about 08:00 and left at 09:20. Most of the time, I was located along the beach about 30 metres or so past the two small trees. The stints are generally well spread out over the mud and the water's edge. However, from time to time the birds flew and landed as quite a tight group. The banding team twinkled the stints nicely into a tighter group when they packed up the mist nets about 08:30.

Note that there are two 'channels' that lead back from the mud into the saltmarsh. I only observed the first channel, where there were very few birds. But the birds from the second channel flushed at least twice, so there were an indeterminate number of birds there. Once was due to an accipiter (probably a Brown Goshawk that Craig has seen there recently). Not sure why they flew the second time. The easterly breeze gusted a little but I doubt that caused them to fly. However, don't walk across the mud to the second channel if you are likely to disturb the birds near the first channel. If you did cross, you will need mud boots.

Anyway, what did I see?

Red-necked Stint (400++)
Curlew Sandpiper (20+)
Bar-tailed Godwit (11)
Red-capped Plover (10++) I didn't count these properly
Black-winged Stilt (6)
Common Greenshank (4)
Broad-billed Sandpiper (2) very good views
Grey Plover (1)
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper (1)

Fairy Tern (9)

Note that my count of RNSs is probably a significant underestimate. The count of 400 was after they were flushed into a fairly tight group. But there were likely to be birds in the second channel. There have been up to 1500 counted within the last week or so. So no WESTERN SANDPIPER, but of course it could be hanging out with the rest of the stints wherever they are (South Yunderup? Lake McLarty? Creery Island?).

One of the Red-necked Stints is a Victorian flagged bird (orange flag over metal band on the lower left leg). I will report this to the AWSG. Note that I did not see any south west flagged birds (yellow on upper left, over orange and metal on lower left). They had only banded a very few birds because of the strong winds, so they were likely to be in the second channel.

There were two sizes of stints. Most were plump, but a fair percentage of the birds (maybe 10%) were thin and hence looked quite a bit smaller than the majority. I assume these smaller birds are first year birds that do not intend migrating back to the northern hemisphere. I am a little surprised that the adults would have put on weight by mid January, as they don't usually leave the south west until about April.

Craig had seen a Grey-tailed Tattler and three Gull-billed Terns earlier this morning.

There is also a Silver Gull there with orange legs and orange bill with a dark tip. This is similar to two birds I have seen in the south west over the past 20 years that have had yellow bills and legs. The bird today looked like it otherwise had adult plumage in good condition.

PS : Note that mist netting is happening for the next three nights (as part of a shorebird course being given to raise the awareness and importance of the birds to the local community). They will probably pack up the nets at about 08:30 each morning. So I would suggest that if you are intending to go to Nairns, get there before they pack up, and wait for the birds to be moved. It is much easier to scan through the flock when they are more tightly packed. They spread out again quite quickly. Make certain that you set up behind the beach (I started in the dry seaweed 5 or 10 metres behind the beach, and moved to the edge of the beach when the birds were pushed further along the mud closer to the point when the mist nets were dismantled. Some birds (10 to 20) came to within 10 metres during the next 45 minutes or so before I left. If you stand still they will have no problem with you being that close. Most birds are about 50 metres away, so you will need a spotting scope.

PPS : For those outside WA who might be wondering about the White Wagtail seen on Sunday at Lake Gwelup. The bird was not seen yesterday, or early this morning.

Frank O'Connor           Birding WA
Phone : (08) 9386 5694 Email :

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