Thursday, 31 January 2019

Sanderling – another unusual visitor to the Lakes

Albifrons Island, a low sand island almost completely devoid of vegetation, has proved to be a place where unusual migrant shorebird visitors can sometimes be found on the Gippsland Lakes.  Nearby, Crescent, Waddy and Barton Islands are also good places to find unusual shorebird visitors.

Recently we found a single Sanderling among Red-necked Stints on Albifrons Island. The Sanderling is another unusual shorebird for the Lakes. In this case the Sanderling was out of its preferred habitat.  They are usually found in small flocks on ocean beaches where they specialise in feeding on small invertebrates living in the sand exposed by receding waves and are only occasionally found on tidal mud flats.

Sanderling breed in the high tundra of Asia and North America and they migrate to Europe, Africa, southern Asia, Australasia and North and South America. They can be found on sandy ocean beaches around much of the Australian coastline.

The Sanderling we observed was very busy feeding by probing with its short bill deep into the sand and sea grass.

Please click on photos to enlarge.

The larger Sanderling stood out from the smaller Stints.
The Sanderling is a small shorebird variously described as stout, compact or chunky. It has a short slightly drooping bill and short legs.
The bird was busy feeding – probing the sand and then moving swiftly to another spot to probe again.

Sanderling have been described as “fleet-footed” which seems to be at odds with a stout short-legged bird. No doubt they need to be fast on their feet to operate in the zone where ocean waves surge up a beach and then quickly retreat.

On the move again – it was hard to nail some photos while the bird was stationary.

The bird was clearly intent on feeding.
My last photo captured a brief pause.

The 90 Mile Beach, which is often pounded by big Bass Strait waves, is only a few hundred metres away across the barrier sand dunes from Albifrons Island. The lone Sanderling has no doubt come across from the ocean beach to forage in the protected waters of the Gippsland Lakes and we were lucky to come across the bird during this rare visit.  

Friday, 25 January 2019

Grey-tailed Tattler

The last two posts featured rare visitors to the Gippsland Lakes, the Eastern Curlew and Lesser Sand Plover. This post features another rare visitor, the Grey-tailed Tattler.

Late one afternoon while surveying a small tern breeding colony we found a single Tattler alone on the shore of one of the islands in Lake Tyers near the ocean beach entrance.

Grey-tailed Tattlers are migrant shorebirds which breed along stony riverbeds in the mountains of north-east Siberia and migrate to southern China, south-east Asia, New Guinea and Australia. Grey-tailed Tattlers are found in coastal and near coastal habitats – they do not range far inland.

Grey-tailed Tattlers are very similar to Wandering Tattlers, however the latter are much less common in Australia. They are mainly found along the Queensland and northern NSW coasts whereas the Grey-tails can be found right around the Australian coastline though they are much more common in the north. You can see a couple of photos of a Wandering Tattler here:

When first sighted, the Grey-tailed Tattler was some distance away and we were looking directly into the sun to observe the bird. The poor views however were just good enough to indicate this bird was not one of the more familiar shorebirds in our area so a closer look and photos were required to confirm a tentative Tattler ID. Given the sandy/muddy exposed flats of the saline lake the bird was unlikely to be the much rarer Wandering Tattler which tend to inhabit rocky shorelines. So, I back tracked and waded out to a closer position with a better sun angle for some photos to ID the bird.

Fortunately, as I slowly approached in stages the lone bird stayed on the sand spit by the water’s edge. A couple of times the bird called and looked like it might fly however it settled each time. The call was a two-note whistle which was another indication that this was a Grey-tail and not a Wandering Tattle which has a rippling trill of 6 to 10 notes.

Eventually I arrived at the birds FID (flight initiation distance) but close enough for some photos.

Please click on photos to enlarge.

The Grey-tailed Tattler on the end of the sand spit where we found it.

As I slowly approached the bird moved a little but did not fly.

The Tattler kept a close eye on me.

A full side on view - the tail tip and ends of primary flight feathers are about equal - the wing tips of the Wanderer extend well beyond the end of its tail.

My last photo of the Tattler.

After this photo, I moved slowly away leaving the bird in peace, pleased I could approach without the bird taking flight, pleased the ID of this unusual visitor was confirmed and pleased I had some photos.

Sunday, 20 January 2019

Lesser Sand Plover

One of the advantages of conducting weekly surveys for beach nesting birds by boat across a large area of the Gippsland Lakes (excluding the Lake Wellington end of the Lakes) is that we can also record visiting migrant shorebirds including some rare visitors to the Lakes.

On 18 December 2018 we picked up a lone Lesser Sand Plover (Charadrius mongolus) (1) in company with a couple of Red-capped Plovers on Pelican Island. This sighting was reported to Eremaea Birdlines Victoria where it received a highlight blue star rating.

Please click on photos to enlarge.

A rough shot of the Lesser Sand Plover plus one of the Red-caps on Pelican Island.

A check of The Atlas of Australian Birds, The New Atlas of Australian Birds and BirdLife Australia’s Birdata site found no records for the Lesser Sand Plover on the Gippsland Lakes. There is just one sighting at nearby Lakes Tyers. So, it is possible that the bird found on 18 December is the first record for this species on the Gippsland Lakes.

We then found another Lesser Sand Plover 21 days later, on Albiforns Island (near Crescent Is) on 8 January 2019. This new site is approximately 9 kilometres south west of the Pelican Is site. There is a very good chance that the two sightings are of the same bird.

Another Lesser Sand Plover sighting by Robert Wright at Crescent Island, (near Albifrons Island) on 10 January 2019 and reported on Birdline Victoria, is likely to be the same bird we found in December and again on  8 January.

Then on 15 January we found the Plover again on Albifrons Island, this time in company with some Red-necked Stints.

This photo shows the Lesser Sand Plover and our smallest migrant shorebird, the Red-necked Stint, together which allows a size comparison.
The Lesser Sand Plover seemed relaxed and not concerned by our presence on the boat just off shore.

A side-on photo of the Plover.

Like most Plovers this bird has a relatively large eye.

While we were observing the Plover it suddenly looked up at the sky and then moved into a crouched position where it sat very still for some time. A small raptor was seen passing by, possibly a Nankeen Kestrel, so it is likely the Plover’s crouching was in response to this threat. The bird lying motionless on the sea grass and other debris would have been very hard to see from above.

The Plover began to crouch.
The Plover then laid down and stayed still in this position for about 15 seconds.

Then the bird lifted its head.
After about 50 seconds from first taking cover it stood up.

Lesser Sand Plovers breed in far eastern Siberia, Mongolia and northern China. In their non-breeding plumage in Australia they could be mistaken for the similar looking non-breeding Greater Sand Plover, Double-banded Plover or a female Red-capped Plover.

When in the field it is always worth looking carefully at small shorebirds, especially when in small flocks, as you never know when an unusual visitor might turn up. Taking photos of any unusual birds for checking/verifying ID with field guides later is a good idea and if a rare species is found, a photo is essential for verification of the sighting.

Note (1)

The name Lesser Sand Plover (Charadrius mongolus) comes about as follows:

Lesser is by comparison with the very similar but slightly larger Greater Sand Plover.

Sand comes from the sandy desert habitats where Sand Plovers prefer to breed.

And mongolus from Mongolia where they can be found breeding.

Other names include Mongolian Sand Plover, Mongolian Plover and Mongolian Dotterel.

Previously the name Dotterel was more widely applied in Australia to the smaller members of the Plover family but strangely the name Dotterel is still applied to Red-kneed and Black-fronted Dotterels even though they are actually plovers.