Wednesday, January 13, 2016

New Year's Day 2016

The New Year started just as it should, at Werribee WTP for a mad day of birding and lunch and bubbly with friends. I was surprised though at how few people were at the plant and we saw very few cars as we drove around.
Why do the interesting birds always hide in the middle of the flock? Rarity?

As well as socialising we also wanted to get the year's bird count off to a good start and were pleased to head home with 103 species. It was especially good as we turned up some normally hard species such as Great Knot, Red Knot and Baillon's Crake.
No, just a Curlew Sandpiper who forgot to get rid of its breeding plumage. There were 2 in this flock.

During our New Year's Day's birding plans for the rest of the year were discussed, as usual. The hottest topic was the arrival in NSW of a Paradise Shelduck from New Zealand, the first time this species had been seen on the mainland and only the second Australian record since a flock of 5 were seen on Lord Howe Island in 1950. Mel also mentioned that her plans included the Brisbane area and Norfolk Island and Joy and I have some plans in common like Torres Strait in March, and some different. Joy is off to India with Barb and I am planning on a return to Christmas Island and Cocos Keeling in November.
Our route along the Hume Highway to Culburra

As we drove and chatted Joy and I agreed our first priority was to see the shelduck, as I am sure it was for every other birder in Australia who is interested in twitching. Plans were tentatively set for the following weekend but Mel was not available so it would just be the two of us. Of course plans like this can always fall apart, especially when a vagrant bird is involved, and time is critical.
Lake Wollumboola at Culburra. The shelduck was way down at the trees in the background and the Hudsonian Godwit was meant to be near where I am standing.

At 0600 on the 2nd of January I was lying on my bed quietly listening to the radio when the phone rang. It was Joy: "I have looked at airfares and the cheapest and quickest way to get to the shelduck is to drive. I will pick you up in an hour." My reply, of course, was: "I'll be ready." We ran a bit late but by 0800 we were on the road and heading north.
And this is the Paradise Shelduck

By doing 2 hour shifts we drove straight through and arrived at Culburra, near Nowra by 1730. We checked into the motel and headed for the lake. As we expected, other birders were there and we chatted about the birds and they pointed us to the shelduck. We found it and took a few distant photos so as not to frighten it as we knew many more birders were either on their way to the lake or would come during the next week.
There were lots of godwits on the lake. These Bar-tailed Godwits were just quietly feeding on sandworms in the shallows

There was meant to be a Hudsonian Godwit at the lake too but we couldn't find it so left for dinner and our motel. The next morning we were up at a reasonable hour, about 0600, knowing we had a long drive ahead and went down to the lake for a final try for the godwit and a second look at the shelduck. More birders had arrived and a group of us concentrated on finding the godwit, sadly without luck. Still we had found the bird we wanted and by about 1000 we were on the road and heading for Melbourne. As it turned out it is a good thing we went immediately because by Thursday the shelduck had disappeared.
And this pair got really upset and had an extended shouting match

That Sunday, the day we left Culburra, the weather was meant to change with a major storm bringing rain to the Culburra area. We met the beginning of that storm as we headed south. Around about Holbrook the skies opened up and we slowed down to remain safe in the pouring rain. Out the window we could see small creeks overflowing their banks as they rushed toward the larger creeks and drains. A second storm met us soon after we crossed into Victoria but by the time we were getting close to Melbourne all was clear and dry.
The Hudsonian Godwit has a black under-wing with a white stripe. We took flight photos of every godwit we could find and none had that unmistakable under-wing colour.

The 1600 km +/- round trip had taken us about 36 hours but we had our bird and Joy was back in time for work on Monday. What a perfect way to start the year. The question now of course is, what's next.

All images & text © Jenny Spry