I have followed the breeding activity of the Pied Oystercatchers in Broome along Cable Beach since July 2000 when I found the first nest site and the birds have continued to use the same territories, though there have been some partner changes. The breeding season in the north of Australia starts from about July 1st and there are often several attempts if the eggs fail, are lost or the chicks don’t survive. Some of the Pied Oystercatchers have been banded in the past and this enables me to track them and see how site faithful they are and if they keep their partners. I can also monitor any movement along the coast during the year when they are no longer breeding. Some birds keep their territory throughout the year and others roam to areas with a better food source. Some of the nest sites are good nest sites, but are not ideal for the availability of food and the parents will travel throughout the 28 days that they are sitting to a nearby reef and subsequently carry food to the chicks until they can move together on foot to the better food source.
On July 1st 2007 an egg was laid by a Pied Oystercatcher that was known to be an adult in 2002 and had been banded in nearby Roebuck Bay. A second egg was laid the following day and the two eggs hatched at the end of the month. The parents spent several weeks transporting food to the chick that remained after losing one shortly after it hatched. At night it was taken to the tide edge with evidence present in the form of three sets of prints, but in the day it was too risky and it remained hidden in the native grasses. By the beginning of September the family had decided to move north and over two nights they moved through the area on Cable Beach that is the busiest during the day. They walked through an area that would normally be full of people, umbrellas and four-wheel drives. Although it would seem a risky move it was to get the family to a reef that is exposed on low tide to the north. They fed well in that area and by 18th September 2007 the young Pied Oystercatcher had learnt to fly. This area has since been taken by another pair of Pied Oystercatchers who have now bred successfully in the area.
The family stayed in the area and then left in late November. It was thought that juvenile Pied Oystercatchers would travel south to the other side of Roebuck Bay and join the flock of several hundred non-breeding birds and this Pied Oystercatcher did just that. During some shorebird counts he was observed there in July 2008, June 2009, June 2010 and then in 2011 he was observed back in Roebuck Bay on one occasion and also back with the main flock to the south. He was obviously exploring and one day we thought he may return to where he hatched from. It has happened…….
On April 3rd 2014 he, and I can fairly confidently say “he” now based on the thickness of his bill, returned to where he hatched from in July 2007. It was quite an emotional home-coming for me as I sat with the other shorebirds at high tide in the 38c heat.
Pied Oystercatcher returns to Cable Beach
This Pied Oystercatcher is old enough to look for a mate and I hope he does choose to take a territory in the area where he started out from, but only time will tell. He was surrounded by small shorebirds all changing rapidly into their breeding plumage and planning their trip north. The flock consisted of Red-necked Stint, Ruddy Turnstone, Great Knot, Red Knot, Terek Sandpiper, Grey-tailed Tattlers, Sanderling, Curlew Sandpipers, Red-capped Plovers, Greater Sand Plovers and Lesser Sand Plovers.
Pied Oystercatcher among the shorebirds with one eye on the sky!
This was the second “old friend” for the week, as on 30th March 2014 I had an encounter with a Hermit Crab using a lid instead of a shell. Now, I had an encounter with one identical on 18th December 2012 and it was in the same area on the same beach and although I have walked the beach hundreds of times since it must surely be the same one!!
Hermit Crab in lid
It is so nice to have some special events happen in your local area, especially when they span several years.