I mentioned recently that we’d done the IBA count, and this time our sites in the “Gippsland Lakes Important Bird Area” certainly lived up to their name with large numbers of birds and several highlights. Our first site on the Sale Common gave us the usuals with some breeding cormorants and darters, but an uncommon sighting was a Great Crested Grebe, photographed at very long range. A darter on a stump was giving a very good illustration of why they are sometimes called the snakebird.
Very large numbers of teal and coots were counted at the Heart Morass site, the highlights there were Latham’s Snipe and a very welcome sighting of a pair of Red-kneed Dotterels, a species that seems to have declined markedly in the area. No photos there, too busy counting.
On then to Lake Reeve at The Honeysuckles, and what a bonanza. For quite some time now it has been holding a lot of water and the main birds have been swans and ducks, but when we walked to the shore we saw the level was way down and conditions were optimal for wading birds. And they were there in numbers and variety, 600 Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, 20 Bar-tailed Godwits, 45 Black-winged Stilts, 50 Banded Stilts, 75 White-faced Herons, and a less commonly seen Intermediate Egret, plus redcaps, lapwings, ducks etc. After Gouldiae massaged the writer’s cramp out of his hand we checked out the causeway end, and there was another wader wandering around feeding. We called out the distinguishing features, plain grey back, white under parts, white eyebrow, straight bill, yellow legs, A Grey-tailed Tattler in fact, a most uncommon visitor to these parts, being much more common on more northerly coasts, and a lifer for us both. With the spotting scope taking up the tripod and time at a premium I took no photos at Lake Reeve but had an inkling that I might return in the near future.
And so I did on a day with the temperature forecast to reach into the high thirties, ideal I thought, good light and everything going for me. There was fog as I drove down that I was sure would soon evaporate, but how wrong can you be. A light easterly was drifting a heavy sea mist along the lake and visibility was abysmal. Not only that, I was amazed at how much the water level had dropped in five days, the area where the herons had been happily wading was now devoid of surface water, and the sandpipers that had been within easy camera range were now on the far side of the main water body. Both species of stilt had gone, but their place had been taken by a flock of twenty odd Royal Spoonbills that were feeding vigorously with sweeping bills. They were reaping a rich harvest too, judging by the frequent backward bill jerks and swallows. Despite the fog I got some reasonable pictures of them, one when a shaft of sunlight pierced the gloom. The sandpipers were not an option but a momentary thinning of the mist gave me one distant record shot of the godwits as they worked along narrow runnels of the diminishing water.
Not what I’d hoped for, but there was a surprise in store when I checked to see if the tattler was still at the causeway. Yes, there it was in the fog, lift the glasses for a look and hang on, it’s not grey on the back, it’s teetering its tail continually, and there’s a white “hook” around the shoulder of the wing, a very much less than common Common Sandpiper. After approaching as close as I could across the glutinous mud I propped with the camera on the tripod for over an hour waiting in vain for the fog to lift, but in the end just had to make the best of it. The second image has been extensively tweaked in Photoshop to show the bird as clearly as possible.
That’s birding, and that’s photography, it doesn’t always go according to plan, it’s always interesting, sometimes challenging, but always enjoyable.
Click to enlarge.