Waders on the Common

It isn’t very long since my previous post about birds on the Town Common but water levels there have dropped and some different species, especially small waders, are taking advantage of the shallows and mudflats.

waders on a shallow lagoon
Distant waders including Stilts, Sandpipers (Marsh and Sharp-tailed), Dotterels and Masked Lapwing

These birds are often called ‘shorebirds’ (e.g. on Birds in Backyards) but their preferred habitat is not just sea-shores but mudflats, tidal wetlands and lagoons as well, and not necessarily anywhere near the sea. The shores of outback lakes and lagoons (e.g. Limmen NP) offer rich pickings, too, until they dry out around this time of year. (At which point, of course, the birds head for places like the Common which still have water.)

New to me recently were the Red-kneed Dotterel (Erythrogonys cinctus), Sharp-tailed Sandpiper (Calidris acuminata) and Marsh Sandpiper (Tringa stagnatilis). More familiar waders included the Pied Stilt, Black-fronted Dotterel and Masked Lapwing.  I know there were others there too, that I failed to recognise or simply didn’t see, because we spoke to a couple of Cairns birders on the Common who had come down in the hope of seeing a Banded Plover and succeeded. I will have to look more carefully next time.

How small? We have ten species in the 13 – 19 cm range and at least another ten under 30 cm. For comparison, Finches and Sparrows are 11 – 15 cm, Willie-wagtails are 20 and Magpie-larks (Pee-wees) are 27 cm. Masked Lapwings (Spur-winged Plovers), our largest plover, are just a little bigger at 33 cm.

small birds on mudflat
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper (left) and Black-fronted Dotterel
Pied birds in swamp
Red-kneed Dotterel (left) and Pied Stilt
greyish bird on mudflat
Marsh Sandpiper, looking like a smaller, paler Stilt
Keen, dedicated or obsessive?

We know that birders can become somewhat obsessive, and waders attract a particularly keen following. The waders’ incredible migration flights may be the initial attraction, but then the difficulty of observing these tiny distant birds weeds out anyone insufficiently dedicated. Most waders are small and well camouflaged in greys and browns, and all of them like to keep far away from threats (e.g. birders and photographers).

Fortunately there are bigger, slower, more conspicuous birds for those of us who just like to do bit of casual birdwatching from time to time.

Pelican and other water birds
Pelican with four Stilts in the foreground

• Thanks to Wildlife Qld’s local group for organising the excursion which got me down to the Common again last Sunday.

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