Twitching twice

I’m not much of a twitcher, but when a rare shorebird shows up, that certainly is exciting. When it shows up practically on your doorstep, that’s unmissable. And when there are two species at once, well that calls for a serious twitching mission.


Pics: Narelle Wright & Paul Dodd – see links

There had already been a few tantalising vagrants showing up this side of the country over the summer. Australia’s first Long-billed Dowitcher was spotted at Lake Tuchewop in northern Victoria in November. Then early January brought a White-rumped Sandpiper at Lake Wollumboola on the Shoalhaven, less of a mega with six prior earlier accepted records, and a lot closer to home but I still didn’t make it. At the same time, a South Island Pied Oystercatcher showed up south of Coffs Harbour.

Then finally Sydney got a share of the vagrant action, with our very own SIPO sighting reported at the start of February. Apparently this species isn’t exciting enough for a local news report, perhaps because by the time a species racks up seven prior records in Oz the novelty has worn off, or maybe a wayward kiwi resident just doesn’t have the international glamour of a vagrant from the western hemisphere. Anyway take my word for it there were still plenty of twitchers in a flap flocking to see it, and BirdLine NSW was busy with updates on its movements among various islands and beaches in Sydney Harbour. Shamefully seven weeks rolled by before I found an opportunity to try to see it. Meanwhile three Pectoral Sandpipers had been reported at Pitt Town Lagoon, a rare-but-regular visitor that I’ve seen elsewhere but never in Sydney before (though there are multiple records for here).  So I decided I was going for the double and set off for a day of twitching.

Pitt Town Nature Reserve: hand-holding encouraged

Pitt Town Nature Reserve: hand-holding encouraged

I made an early start at Pitt Town Nature Reserve. There’s now a charming new concrete bunker bird hide, so I settled in to shelter from the rain and scope the birds on the islands out in the lake. It was very grey and those birds were far away. A sea-eagle flew through and spooked everything and I could see three medium-sized sandpipers settle on the island but it was just too distant to make out anything convincing.

Pitt Town Lagoon - view from the bird hide

Pitt Town Lagoon – view from the bird hide. Those distant dots are definitely Pec Sands…maybe.

At this point a big mob of pelicans provided some welcome entertainment, feeding in front of the hide.


Pitt Town pellies

With no sign of any improvement in the situation I gave up on my three distant sandpipers and walked around the east side of the lagoon.


Here there was a nice open muddy edge and the shorebirds were loving it, with dotterels dotted all over. And guess what suddenly came flying over from the other side of the lake – yep, it was those sandpipers, come to join me. Clearly they recognise a friend of the shorebirds when they see one!  Here’s a dodgy pic of two of the three Pec Sands.

Pectoral Sandpipers

Pectoral Sandpipers, Pitt Town Lagoon

Then I got excited because one of them was coming close and I took a bunch of photos, before I realised it was actually a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper that had snuck in as well.

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper

Not a Pectoral Sandpiper

Twitch number one = TICK!

output_EEP4aAIn a paddock on the way out, a Willy Wagtail was using a horse for hunting. It was  hanging around very close to the horse’s head and feet, ready to pick up any disturbed insects.

There are a few more snaps of Pitt Town sightings here, as well as a from quick stop at Longneck Lagoon for lunch.

Pitt Town Lagoon is always worth a look – here’s a map. It’s best to park in Bathurst St and walk the short distance down Church St to get to the lagoon.

On to Twitch Two (did you hear an owl just then?): searching for a SIPO in Sydney Harbour. Since the most recent sightings had been at Chowder head, I took a ferry across to Taronga Zoo and walked around the coast from there.

Taronga Zoo Wharf, Sydney Harbour and a Golden Orb-weaver Spider

Taronga Zoo Wharf, Sydney Harbour and a Golden Orb-weaver Spider

There were lots of handsome Eastern Water Dragons on or near the track.

Harbourside dragons

Harbourside dragons

And some pretty native and non-native plants too: here are orange Pittosporum fruits and yellow Senna flowers, but I haven’t worked out the other two plants with berries (please let me know!)

Fruits and flowers along the way to Chowder Head

Fruits and flowers along the way to Chowder Head

I made my way to Chowder Head but I didn’t really know where I was going from there. But luckily, looking down from the track to the shore below I spied three other twitchers, and I deduced from their fervent binocular and scope action that they were onto the SIPO. I got down onto the beach and scrambled over the rocks to catch up to them. Just as I did, I could see a head peeping out from behind the rocks…

SIPO peep

SIPO peep

Soon enough it came out from behind the rocks and gave us a better view, not worried at all about having an audience. Long bill, short legs, funny-shaped head = TICK!


17814158300_1172f05dcf_o-001 There was a shark in the water nearby too, just a little one.

This time I ticked the bird and ran, just like a proper twitcher. It was getting late and I had to make it back to the wharf in time for the ferry. You can see a few more photos here.

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