Riverglade Wetlands Bird Watch No. 1

Tumut & Adelong Times

October 3, 1997

Welcome to the first of a series of regular articles on bird watching at the Tumut Wetlands. It is proposed each month to feature items of special interest to the many readers of the Tumut & Adelong Times who have an interest in the environment.

It is hoped the articles will be of interest to adults and children alike and will help to develop an understanding of the importance of suitable habitats for all of those creatures who share our land.

September has been an exceptional month with a number of unusual sightings. The current tally of bird species officially recorded at the Wetlands site is 76. Of these 37 are water birds noted for the Murray Darling Basin water bird survey. During September, 23 of these birds were once again recorded but there was one new arrival and that is the feature article in this months Bird Watch.

To the ornithologists the new sighting was Calidris ferruginea but to us simple bird watchers is was a Curlew Sandpiper. What makes this bird special is that normally it only spends Summer in Australia having flown more than 12,000 kilometres from its breeding grounds in the wastes of Siberia. While it is one of the most common migratory birds visiting Australia it rarely visits the Riverina Highlands.

The normal path taken by this 210 mm sandpiper splits when it reaches northern Australia. From there flocks of up to 2000 birds may head down the coast of Western Australia or perhaps turn east and follow the coastline of Queensland south to New South Wales, Victoria and even Tasmania. The greatest number, however, fly directly south across the vast expanses of central Australia before dispersing along inland waterways and southern shorelines.

A long down curved bill distinguishes the Curlew Sandpiper from its relatives. The bill is black, as are the legs, and in non-breeding plumage the feathers are grey/brown above and white below with some grey on the breast. There is a broad white wing bar and a white rump. The eye is dark brown and there is a clear eye stripe. Sexes are similar.

At the time of sighting, the bird was in the company of a pair of Black-fronted Dotterels and all were engaged in probing the mud at the edge of a pond for aquatic worms or molluscs. A delightful sighting. It should be noted that it took two experienced bird watchers, using binoculars and a scope, more than half an hour to be sure of the species. At one stage an approach was made to within five metres of the Sandpiper which showed no alarm.

On the same day another event occurred which thrilled those involved. While walking around a pond in the Tumut Wetland a family of Australian Wood (Maned) Ducks was observed. These birds, having an appearance much like a goose, are common in the Tumut area, often being observed feeding adjacent to farm dams.

The bird watchers had approached very close to the Wood Ducks before the family was noticed. Both male and female were lying quite still on the banks of the pond and between them were nine ducklings only a few days old. After some moments a movement alarmed the family and, while the parents headed in one direction, the chicks took to the water in another and paddled flat out for the centre of the pond. The parents then put on a magnificent diversion, pretending to be injured, flapping their wings on the water and generally creating havoc while their young escaped the danger.

But it wasn't over yet. Other water birds had observed the commotion and the unguarded flotilla of chicks. Two groups of Grey Teal headed for the family and it looked as though a slaughter was about to take place. At the last moment the parents flew to their offspring, arriving when the Teal were no more than a metre away. The male duck showed his displeasure with the neck feathers fully extended and it was clear that nothing was going to get near his family.

If you have a moment like this to share with others, or an unusual sighting, or perhaps a bird you can't identify, just leave a note at the Times office.

In the meantime, good bird watching. - Jabiru