Saturday, 3 June 2017

Haycock Point, Ben Boyd National Park, NSW

Haycock Point is a rocky coastal headland located east of the Pambula River entrance in the northern section of Ben Boyd National Park. The area is scenically attractive and contains several habitats, so is bird species rich and therefore always worth a visit when in the NSW south coast area.

Please click on photos to enlarge.

Looking due east from the headland across Haycock Point.

The short walk to the headland starts in the carpark and passes through Coastal Banksia (Banksia integrifolia) and then a treeless area dominated by Seaberry Saltbush (Rhagodia baccata). From the headland looking east across Haycock Point on a late afternoon visit we soon spotted two White-bellied Sea-Eagles resting on the rocky point as their white bodies stood out well in the late afternoon light.

The first Sea-Eagle we spotted.

The second Sea-Eagle we found.

The Sea-Eagles looked content bathing in the late afternoon sun. A few Australian Gannets were dive bombing for fish either side of the point, some Silver Gulls were resting on the ocean and the odd Crested Tern flew by. We then turned our attention to the rocky point to see what other birds were around.

A Little Pied Cormorant was fishing just off the rocks and caught what at first looked like a crab and spent a lot of time trying to swallow it.

Little Pied Cormorant with unidentified food item – I thought a crab at first however the photo does not support this possibility.

 Nearby on the rocky shore a dark morph Eastern Reef Egret was hunting along the edge and in rock pools for small fish.

Adult dark morph Eastern Reef Egret.

Next we found a pair of Sooty Oystercatchers resting on dark grey rock with an interesting pattern which I think has been produced by erosion of volcanic rock with evenly distributed air pockets.

One of the Sooty’s moved to a section of rock showing the interesting erosion pattern accentuated in the low angle late afternoon light.

At this point one of the Sea-Eagles took off and flew past us on its way west back to the mainland and I noticed it was carrying its left leg down. Thinking it was carrying a food item, perhaps the remains of a fish, I took a few photos as it passed by in the hope I could ID the food later on the laptop.

I snapped off a few shots as the adult Sea-Eagle passed by.
Here is the second photo of three I managed in the short time available.

On looking at the photos on the laptop later I realised there was no food item and a cropped version of the leg shows a deformed/diseased foot with the talons nearly fully closed (the foot may be closed due to nerve damage in the leg as the bird did not carry the leg up when flying possibly indicating a problem with the leg?).

The talon looks to be permanently closed?

Despite this obvious restriction the bird seemed healthy and well able to survive with the use of only one leg and foot.

Just as we were about to head back to the car thinking we had found all the bird species at the point, three small light coloured shorebirds/waders flew out from the cover of the rocks and rapidly arced around to the south and out of sight behind the rocky point. This was a great surprise. They looked to be about the size of Hooded Plovers but did not have their colouring or black hood and they were not Ruddy Turnstones. The only option I could think of was Sanderling due to the light grey and bright white appearance. However the brief view from above as they flew away from us was not good enough the be sure what species of shorebird they were. A factor against a Sanderling ID was the late time of year as most birds would have migrated north by now!

When back at the picnic area at the carpark while enjoying a cup of tea, the ID of the shorebirds was troubling me, so I decided to check the sandy surf beach below the picnic area as the birds had headed in this general direction to the south of the rocky point, and after all, Sanderling are predominantly a bird of sandy beaches, especially the surf zone.

With camera in hand I approached the surf beach shoreline directly below the picnic area and found half a dozen Silver Gulls loafing there. On closer inspection and to my delight there was a Sanderling among the gulls, just one. While we had seen three earlier I was confident now that they were Sanderling even though I could only see one on the section of beach below the picnic area.

The conditions were good for photos however just as I had found the Sanderling a family of three, mum and dad and a young girl about 6 years old arrived on the beach. Mum sat down quietly and dad headed further up the beach to fish while the daughter commenced to play vigorously nearby with much laughing and squealing. This of course made the Sanderling nervous so I only had a short while to get some shots as the bird moved nervously about and before it departed for a quieter section of beach.

The Sanderling stood out well in the late afternoon sun with surf crashing in behind it however the beach sloped steeply down and keeping the bird in view was a challenge as it was close to its FID (flight initiation distance).
Getting a full view of the bird including the legs was looking like a challenge as the young girl nearby became even louder.

Success – all the bird is visible.
The bird was starting to look a little relaxed.

Suddenly the head feathers were erected and the bird started to move.
A brief pause as the bird defecated and then ruffled its feathers. A sign it may be about to depart.
Then it was exit stage right running at speed.
The bird took a final look at me with the surf crashing dramatically behind before it took flight for a quieter section of beach.

I was pleased to be able to ID the mystery waders. Then to capture some photos of one Sanderling on the beach in the late afternoon light was a real bonus for what had been an enjoyable and eventful hour or so at Haycock Point.


I lodged a report for the Sanderling on Birdline NSW as I thought it was a little unusual for this species to be this far south at this time of year.

I noticed another report for Sanderling lodged on Birdline NSW on 26th May 2017:
Salty Creek mouth, Evans Head
Single non-breeding plumage Sanderling on the beach at Salty Creek mouth, uncommon here at this of time of year

Evans Head is just south of Ballina on the far north coast of NSW.

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