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.
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.
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.
At this point a big mob of pelicans provided some welcome entertainment, feeding in front of the hide.
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.
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.
Twitch number one = TICK!
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.
There were lots of handsome Eastern Water Dragons on or near the track.
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!)
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…
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!
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.