On our regular boat run from Lakes Entrance to Ocean Grange (south of Paynesville) on Tuesday 24 January 2023 to monitor breeding beach nesting birds, (Note 1), we managed to capture seventeen flagged birds altogether which is our highest total for one day.
The first record made was for sixteen flagged Pied Oystercatchers (APO’s) as follows in order of capture: MS, 169, 160, HH, 146, 137, VP, LD, MD, 46, YU, MA, 157, 114, BE and ZV (Note 2).
Please click on photos to enlarge.
While this was an impressive tally and day record for flagged APO’s the real highlight and surprise was the second record - the capture of the first record of a flagged Hooded Plover on the Gippsland Lakes. On our monitoring run we usually find about ten Hooded Plovers across the area which are mostly in pairs or single birds. Hooded Plovers have site fidelity meaning pairs tend to have territories that they habitually live and breed in and defend. To date there have been no attempts to capture and band and flag Hoodies on the Gippsland Lakes or the adjacent ocean beaches, hence none of the birds we regularly find on our monitoring run are flagged.
Therefore it was a surprise to find flagged Hoodie YE on Rigby Island on Tuesday morning not long after setting off from the marina at Lakes Entrance (we did have warning that a flagged HP had been sighted in the area so we were on the lookout for the bird).
The letters YE rang a bell in the back of my mind but I could not be sure I had seen the bird before much less where and when. Later, a niggling thought was I had seen the bird near Mallacoota so I checked my photos from the BirdLife East Gippsland Spring camp held at Mallacoota in 2021 where I found photos of YE on the beach at Shipwreck Creek taken on 26 October 2021. Later confirmation revealed YE was a breeding adult that had been banded and flagged in February 2021 at Seal Creek, West of Shipwreck Creek, which is in the Croajingolong National Park West of Mallacoota. YE bred at Seal Creek successfully in summer 2021.
Given Hoodies form strong pair bonds and have high site fidelity the question arises - why has YE abandoned the Mallacoota area and travelled approximately 165 kms west along the Gippsland coast to Rigby Island? Some suggestions include YE has lost its partner and has moved in a quest to find a new mate. Another option is climate change induced sea level rise is flooding sandy ocean beaches where Hoodies live and more importantly breed and YE has been forced to look for new territory. Many of the sheltered beaches along the Croajingolong coast are now breeding death traps during storms when high tides and sea surge combine to inundate the sand beach habitat where Hoodies must nest. Perhaps a combination of the loss of a mate and loss of breeding habitat are at play?
Of course the majority of Hooded Plovers are not flagged, so individual birds and their movements cannot be observed and therefore we do not know the extent of movement of this species along the coast. The only other flagged Hooded Plover in East Gippsland I am aware of, found a relatively long distance from its banding and flagging site, was W0 at Cape Conran in July 2017.
W0 was flagged near Eden in NSW and had travelled south and west about 170 kms along the coast from its banding site to reach Conran. You can read more about W0 in this blog post: http://avithera.blogspot.com/2017/07/hooded-plovers.html
Hooded Plovers are a threatened species due to low breeding success caused by loss of habitat resulting from a range of factors including disturbance by people and pet dogs on beaches, introduced cats and foxes and more recently, sea level rise changing the profile of ocean beaches and sea surges reaching even the highest points at the top of sandy beaches.
In recent years Hooded Plovers have been nesting on islands on the Gippsland Lakes as the Ninety Mile Beach is no longer a safe place to nest. Over the five years or so now we have been monitoring beach nesting birds on Rigby, Fraser, Flannagan, Pelican, Barton, Waddy, Crescent and Albifrons Islands, we regularly find Hooded Plovers and sometimes see nesting birds, however the success rate is low.
If we are to arrest the decline of beach nesting birds, including Hooded Plovers and small terns in East Gippsland and elsewhere we need to take urgent action now to create, maintain and protect breeding habitat – while volunteer efforts are important Government intervention is essential.
It will be interesting to see if YE stays in our area and if YE is able to breed successfully – YE was with another adult HP on Tuesday – we will be keeping a look out and our fingers crossed.
(1) The regular monitoring run is conducted from early October to late February and is led by Deb Sullivan BirdLife Australia’s East Gippsland Conservation Coordinator with assistance from Pete Johnstone (Skipper Pete) Lakes Explorer (who provides the commercial boat for our transport), myself and other volunteers from time to time. The primary objectives are to monitor nesting Hooded Plover, Red-capped Plover and Australian Pied Oystercatcher, small terns (Little and Fairy) and Pelicans. We also look for flagged/banded shorebirds including migrant shorebirds such as Bar-tailed Godwits, Red Knots and so on. Where possible all flagged birds are captured by camera in order to identify the text/numbers on the flags - the metal bands also fitted to the flagged birds are far too small to capture the ID numbers and text unless the bird is in the hand. The flagged birds are reported to the Victorian Wader Study Group (VWSG) via the Birdmark online portal at https://www.birdmark.net/
(2) These APO’s were captured by canon netting and banded and flagged at a number of locations in Corner Inlet and Western Port Bay. This work is undertaken by VWSG volunteers.