Wader Quest’s last stop in Australia was in Melbourne, where we were helped by Paul Dodd in searching for our last remaining species, but not before Elis and I made an abortive trip to the north of Victoria looking for Inland Dotterel, Plains Wanderer and Australian Painted Snipe.
A night spent driving the tracks at a place called Ned’s Corner proved fruitless for the Inland Dotterels. The Plains Wanderers would have meant paying a professional guide, something we have tried to avoid in lieu of relying instead on generous folk willing to help. The Australian Painted Snipe eluded us despite much searching of apparently suitable habitat. I must admit that it was a pretty solemn pair that returned to Melbourne.
It didn’t take long for Paul to out the smiles back on our faces, however. He took us first to the sewage treatment plant. It was very windy, so much so that using a scope was not even possible. Despite this we soon had one of our principle targets under the belt, the amazing Red-necked Avocet, a stunning bird. We also thought that we had seen a couple of Banded Stilts in among them, but the distance and the lack of scope left us uncertain. We tried getting closer by going to the other side of the pool and we did get definite confirmation, but again the views were not good and photography impossible. Later in the day however the weather improved a little and we came across another or perhaps the same, flock of avocets and stilts much closer and in the sun, much more satisfactory.
At the end of the day Paul expectantly managed to find us a small group of Banded Lapwings, the same species that we had seen at Perth airport but this time we were able to get some decent photographs of them.
The following day Paul took us to look for Latham’s Snipe. We weren’t having much luck. Everywhere we went the water levels were too high and we were getting desperate. Then I remembered something I had read in one of the hides we had used. The birds are sometimes seen on the golf course in the water hazards. It seemed worth a try.
We headed for the golf course and started checking the water hazards, being acutely aware of the golfers who passed us with very suspicious glances. It proved to be a good move when we flushed a Latham’s Snipe out from one of those water hazards. Noting where it landed, we started to creep towards it hoping to get it on the deck, but just as we were within a few meters a golfer came striding past between us and the bird, once again flushing it. This time it went up and away and we´d have to content ourselves with flight views.
That just left one new wader available for Australia, and what a wader it was! The rare and endangered Hooded Plover. We were unsuccessful at first; there were too many people around thus exemplifying the main problem this species faces. They choose to nest on sandy beaches, unfortunately the very same sandy beaches where Australians like to relax. It probably wouldn’t be too bad if that fun were restricted to sunbathing or the odd ‘barbie’, but the beaches seem to attract the more ‘adventurous’ types who like to whizz around riding quad bikes, motor bikes and even 4x4s on the sand. On top of this, people are in the habit of exercising dogs off the lead and galloping on horseback. All of this on top of pressure from natural and feral predators, so it isn’t hard to comprehend that this is a recipe for disaster as far as the Hooded Plovers are concerned.
Paul took us to a second, more secluded beach and happily we were treated to excellent views of a pair going about their business. The first we saw was color flagged with the letter KM. We later discovered that we were fortunate to see this bird as it had been close to death due to having fishing line caught around its leg. Birdlife Australia and a local vet came to the rescue and removed the line from the bird’s leg and it has made an almost full recovery. Looking back we remembered then thinking that it did appear to have a slight limp, so now we know why.
We said our goodbyes to Paul and then headed for the Mornington Peninsula, the stronghold in Victoria for the Hooded Plover.
Birdlife Australia has been working on their Beach Nesting Birds program for six years. They have managed to raise the fledgling rate of the Hooded Plover from 5% to 50%, an incredible feat achieved by much hard work and many willing volunteers, but it is soul destroying work. Still half of all nests end in failure, which is very upsetting for the volunteers who try to look after them.
We have been raising money for the program since we discovered that the Australian Government had cut their funding without warning. Through our contact with Birdlife Australia we were able to arrange to meet Renée Mead who allowed us to accompany her on visit to a beach to monitor breeding Hooded Plovers. By the end of the visit not only had we had seen a total of nine birds, but we had discovered a nest with four eggs in it. Unfortunately, as I write this I have just heard that the eggs never got to hatch. A nest nearby fared a little better, but the chicks never fledged so it is not hard to see the problems these birds face.
Following our visit with Renée she took us back to Melbourne where we met Grainne Maguire, the Project Manager for the beach nesting birds program for BirdLife Australia. We were very happy to hand over the money we had raised so far to her in person and hoped that our small effort would at least make a small difference. If you feel you want to help by donating to our appeal visit our website www.waderquest.org where you’ll find a donate button.
From there we headed to the airport, the Wader Quest total was now 149 and we were heading for more excitement and a new country, New Zealand, full of expectation.
Rick Simpson of Newport Pagnell, UK, is a bird guide, illustrator, author of Confessions of a Bird Guide, and a Birdlife Species Champion.
He previously wrote about Wader Quest at the ABA Blog, in Thailand, the UAE, Florida, Washington, California, the UK, in South America, and Africa.