Yesterday (30/3) we went to the WTP at Werribee for a final look at the waders before the last of them fly off to their breeding grounds in Siberia. As we thought, most of them had gone but we did come across one very odd looking Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. The bird had all the feathers on its neck raised in a huge ruff and the neck was extended well over twice its normal length. A friend suggested that the appearance was that one sharpie had flown up the backside of another.
Our first thought was that the bird was sick, then it was suggested that it was actually a Ruff going into breeding plumage (personally I was plugging for a new species; Spry's Sandpiper (SMILE)). The "Ruff" idea gained credence because a Reeve was on the pond and someone said a Ruff had been seen earlier in the year.
Back at home I sent the images off to some local experts and they even sent the photos off to Russia for an opinion - isn't email wonderful. The unanimous consensus is that the bird is definitely a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper that is not well. The reply from Russia suggested that it looked similar to a bird displaying; "Its appearance does look as a male posture during a territorial display on breeding grounds (a bird occasionally takes such or very similar posture while standing on a hummock on its breeding territory)." He added that he also thought the bird looked unwell.
Re-enforcing the probability that the bird is not well is that the bird was "locked" in the pose for the whole time we watched it, probably over half an hour. It snoozed in this position, looked around and walked. Eventually it and the 6 or 7 other Sharpies with it flew off but sadly we were all looking the wrong way so I do not know it relaxed to normal before flying or not.