Clare Morton has been sending us regular updates from Broome, Australia, focussing on her work monitoring shorebirds (especially Pied Oystercatchers). Here’s another report from her, again highlighting the terrible toll that feral cats are taking on the eggs of nesting birds on the beaches at Broome.
Well, we have had some weather here since I was last in touch. It’s rained (those “isolated showers”!) & has been incredibly windy. It looks like those of you in the south of Australia are also having fun with the weather….some snow north of Melbourne!? Here’s a good example of the erosion in recent weeks at Coconut Wells as the result of high tides, wind & rain. Eggs have been laid very close to this in recent years, but the birds have adapted.
There was a notable difference in shorebirds yesterday as I cycled north to Willie Creek from Broome along the beach. The Sanderling are definitely coming back in good numbers now & there were also good numbers of Great Knot, Red Necked Stint, Little Curlew, Eastern Curlew, Grey-tailed Tattler & Bar-tailed Godwit. One individual Bar-tailed Godwit was flagged in Coconut Wells last November (not seen since) & I saw it on Cable Beach yesterday. There were 2 other flagged birds, but too busy feeding for me to get to read the flags. The wind was not very friendly & a bit of a struggle to get home, but so good to see so many birds returning safely to Australia. Here’s the trusty bike loaded up!
Sadly all of the Pied Oystercatcher eggs were predated again since our last visit & I found cat footprints all along the cliff tops again. The good news is that three of the pairs have decided to have another go. One of these is our oldest bird which was banded in 1992 as an adult. They are determined to use what is left of the sandstone cliff!
Another pair have laid 2 eggs on the spit again & quite a blustery place to be sitting at the moment!
I have spent several hours in the last week scanning for flags & colour bands on both Cable Beach & in the Bay & I was particularly pleased to see a juvenile Pied Oystercatcher in Roebuck Bay this week. It was with 6 adults & had only hatched out & learnt to fly in recent months. That is very encouraging to know that somewhere they had some luck.
You may remember that we had a change of females in the breeding territory on Cable Beach that we have known about for 10 years this year. A1 was back for the third year after the loss of the male after 2007, but brought a new unbanded female. We had presumed that the female may have died. Meanwhile, since late last year after the loss of the female (in September) whilst trying to raise a chick at Gantheaume Point there has been two birds both with bands on the left lower. This has been frustrating, as you don’t know which is which! Well, this week I was able to read both of the bands, as they had no eggs or chicks & I could get very close. Imagine my shock when I discovered that this was the missing female from further north. After all these years she has given up her breeding territory & mated with another male, despite 2 years of attempted breeding with A1.
Coincidentally these birds both have bands on the left lower, as they were both in the same catch in 2002, so not like they did not know each other! This has really put a new light on what can go on during a long term study! Here they are innocently hanging out near all the Greater Sand Plovers!
I have now seen another geolocator Greater Sand Plover on Cable Beach & there was a flock with five geolocators at a beach in Roebuck Bay. This brings our total returned geolocators to 17 (30 received them in March), of which we have removed six. Next week we are catching birds for a PhD student from UWA doing work on stable isotopes and food webs in the bay and also some work on lyngbya, so we will have to see if we can catch some more of these Greater Sand Plovers with geolocators on them.
The Ruddy Turnstones from King Island & South Australia that have visited Broome on their way back south are on the move! Jane Cooper is monitoring Hooded Plovers in South Australia & their breeding success & like ourselves she notices other birds outside of her project! She has seen one of the King Island Ruddy Turnstones that was in Broome in September on a beach 16kms from Streaky Bay on the Eyre Peninsular this week! She observed that it was the bossiest bird on the beach! I have told her to watch out for more! Please do the same if you are out with the shorebirds!
Until next time….
Clare & Grant.