Birds Australia North Queensland

Pied Imperial-Pigeon logo of BANQ

Waving the Waders Goodbye - Cairns, Saturday 21 March 2009

More than seventy bird watchers and curious passers-by gathered on the Cairns Esplanade on Saturday to wave goodbye to the waders. These birds will soon be winging their way to Siberia and Alaska to breed. They have spent the southern summer growing fat and resting before their long and dangerous flight north. “The Cairns Esplanade is one of the best places in the world to get close to these birds,” said Mr Alan Gillanders, convenor of Birds Australia North Queensland. “Some of the birds witnessed were almost twice as heavy as when they arrived in August last year. At this time of year many birds are moulting into colourful breeding plumage.” Much of the time these birds are plain grey or brown making them a challenge to all but the most experienced observers.

Photo of Bar-tailed GodwitPhoto of Red-necked Stint
Bar-tailed Godwit in breeding plumage
Photo courtesy Ian Montgomery birdway.com.au
Red-necked Stint in transitional plumage
Photo courtesy Ian Montgomery birdway.com.au

Godwits in brick-red breeding plumage were easy to pick out with their long, up curved, bicoloured bills but there was much discussion about the identification of some of the smaller ‘little grey jobs’ like Red-necked Stints and Sand Plovers. Bill length, leg colour and behaviour were pointed out as good for diagnosis by the numerous mentors on hand with telescopes to provide a better view. The world’s largest wader, the Eastern Curlew is common on the Esplanade and some of these will not return to their breeding ground until their fourth year.

Photo of Eastern CurlewPhoto of Great Knot
Eastern Curlew
Photo courtesy Ian Montgomery birdway.com.au
Great Knot
Photo courtesy Ian Montgomery birdway.com.au

Earlier in the day 45 bird enthusiasts attended a Shorebirds 2020 seminar. Support for the regional group of Birds Australia came from presenters who travelled from Melbourne and Brisbane. Local wader guru, Keith Fisher, took the participants through the salient features used to differentiate the species in the field. Lainie Berry from the Shorebirds 2020 team based in Melbourne talked about how, “The loss of staging grounds and feeding sites has caused significant declines in populations. The closure of the Saemangeum seawall in Korea led to a 20% loss in the world population of Great Knots in a single year. We need more counters to monitor sites so the data we collect is of the highest quality. People wanting to offer their services could contact Shorebirds 2020 via the web or ring Alan Gillanders who is the north Queensland coordinator.” Shorebird counts of Trinity Bay were reinstated this year after a hiatus. Both summer and winter counts are made.

Photo of Lesser Sand PloverPhoto of Red-capped Plover
Lesser (Mongolian) Sand Plover
Photo courtesy Ian Montgomery birdway.com.au
Red-capped Plover
Photo courtesy Ian Montgomery birdway.com.au

David Milton of the Australasian Wader Study Group spoke to delegates about ‘Life in the Fast Lane’ for these migrants. He explained the migration patterns and behaviours of both the Australian residents and those that only visit for the summer. “While feeding in Australia, their stomaches expand to deal with their rich sea food diet of worms, shellfish and crustaceans. Before flying north their hearts enlarge and their stomaches shrink. Because they fly for days at a time they sleep on the wing. Their hearts become smaller as the muscle bulk diminishes and they burn the energy they have stored.”

Australia has 18 species of resident waders, 36 species visit on an annual basis and a further 22 species are rare vagrants to our shores and wetlands. The tiny Red-capped Plover is a resident on the Esplanade and our beaches but the Great Knots which are moulting from grey to smart black and white with a flash of red on the back, will soon be off to above the Arctic Circle to breed.

Photo of Laughing Gull
Laughing Gull
Photo courtesy Ian Montgomery birdway.com.au

Participants came especially from as far as Canberra and Daintree for the day and we gained a new member from Canada along with three other new members. The fly past of the Laughing Gull occurred only during lectures but it was seen on the mud.