2 Birds, 1 Tank

Getting 2 new ticks on the first day of the year is always a good way to kick things off. So is seeing 76 species for the day – if I can keep up this rate, I’ll have seen all of the Australian species within a couple of weeks! If only it was that easy…

Aaanyway – late 2015, an old mate from my Ornithology degree, Demetris Bertzeletos, found a female Hudsonian Godwit (Limosa haemastica), at Lake Wollumboola in the Shoalhaven area of NSW. This is the 7th record for Australia, and his second find – nice work! I had planned to go down immediately after christmas, but life got in the way, so I wasn’t able to make it down.

This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, however, as on the 30/12, reports emerged of a male Paradise Shelduck which had been first seen (but passed off as a dark Australian Shelduck) from the 27/12, but positively ID’d as stoinking rarity on 30/12. It appears that this endemic NZ bird is a wild bird – it was certainly not keen on me being anywhere near it this morning! This record is the first since there were about 5 birds on Lord Howe Island in 1950 – so a while between drinks.

Once it became increasingly looking like it’s a wild bird, the decision to head down on New Years Day and kick off the year in style with a couple of vagrants was locked in. So at 4am this morning, the alarm went off, cereal was eaten, and off I went.

Grey Plover - Pluvialis squatarola

Grey Plover – Pluvialis squatarola

There were a couple of people there when I rocked up at 6.30, 2 on boards taking photos of the Godwit’s in the middle of the lake, and 1 with a scope on land, so I went and chatted to him. He’d just arrived so couldn’t confirm if the Hudwit was seen or not, so I decided to go and get onto the Shelduck before the heat really kicked in. It was about 1.5-2 km to the last reported location of the bird, so off I trudged. On the way there was a Whimbrel, a Marsh Sandpiper, both Knots, a Ruddy Turnstone, 2 Grey Plover, a PGP, a Curlew Sandpiper, more Sharpies than you could shake a stick at, lots of Red-necked Stints, and a good assortment of terns – took me a while to get down there! I put the scope up, located the bird, and then headed over to it and took some photos. Tick! If the bird is accepted as a legit wild bird, that’s bird #534 on the list. Had my fill of the Shelduck, who was getting increasingly upset at my presence, and having noted a number of other birders turning up, I decided to not chase the bird away, but to head back and share the good news that it was there, and find out if the Hudwit had been located.

Paradise Shelduck

Paradise Shelduck – Tadorna variegata

The news wasn’t great – no-one had located the Hudwit, and the dudes out on the board taking photos hadn’t managed to find it there either – the bird has been associating closely with the Black-tailed Godwits that were roosting in the middle of the lake. If you don’t look though, you don’t find, so off I went to have a look at the Godwits and see if I could make it appear. There was a group of birds – probably 6-7 Blackwits, 8 or so Barwits and 1 possible Hudwit, standing on a submerged sand bar, about 100 meters off shore. I was looking at one on the edge that looked different, when some others turned up, and we got a wing-lift! I thought I saw black (this being diagnostic for Hudwit) and the guy with the bazooka lens got a photo and said “that’s it!” (or words to that effect). He was satisfied and headed off to see the Shelduck, I texted my mate who had gone down to find the Hudwit that we’d found it, and the long wait for a better view began. 2.5 hours later, we got it, as we (about 4 or 5 of us at this stage I think…) were sorting through the 2 birds that we thought were probably candidates for Hudwit, willing it to lift it’s wings and show us the black “arm-pits”, when a bird landed at the back of the pack with a flourish of black armpits and we all were very happy that we’d finally got the bird. It proceeded to lift it’s wings at least 3 more times, and I even managed a dodgy record/ID shot that you can see below.

Dodgy record shot of the Hudwit

Dodgy record shot of the Hudwit

Bird seen, I headed home. All plans of a big day derailed by having to wait for nearly 3 hours to see a bird, but this one is an absolute definite, so assuming the Paradise Shelduck goes through, bird #535 it is. 77 birds seen for the day (both down there, en route, and at home) with 50-odd at Lake Wollumboola itself, is a pretty bloody good day out birding. So yeah – 2 cracking rarities, 1 tank of fuel. Facebook is full of people saying “argh – gotta go back now”, so I’ve managed to use up a fair lash of petrol, but only once. Almost environmentally ethical twitching.

I’m doing Bird-a-day this year as well (track my progress here!) and, without question, Hudsonian Godwit is the bird for day #1. Ideally I’ll do better than last time, which was rudely interrupted by the birth of Jr. A good reason to not continue though, hey.

Good times.