2012 news archive
December 5, 2012
Not allgeolocator recoveries are as much of a drama as what happened with the Eastern Curlew (see postings below) as was found in this last week when a Victorian based group of VWSG members joined with some local SA members to recovergeolocatorss from Sanderling inCanunda National Park in south-east SA.
In 2011 a number ofgeolocators were put on Sanderling atCanunda NP, of which only one has been recovered.
In autumn this year we applied another 44geolocators to the Sanderling there and they were the target of the catching program last weekend. Success was achieved on the first day with 15 birds caught and onegeolocator retrieved. Day two saw about 90 birds caught and sixgeolocators retrieved, followed by a massive nine out of about 240 birds caught on day three. To retrieve 16geolocators in a three day program was beyond expectations and it seems they all have readable data (two were from the 2011 application and 14 from the 2012 application).
December 5, 2012
The catching program for the first half of 2013 has been set and can be found on the Calendar/Events page. There are often additions or changes to the program depending on recces so please check with someone on the contacts list at the bottom of the program to make sure the catch is going ahead.
New people are always welcome at the VWSG catches. If you are considering attending a catch, consider having a look at the induction manual before you go out into the field. The manual can also be found on the publications page that is accessed from the Home page.
November 12, 2012
Further great news on the geolocator retrieval (see last posting) was that three of the fivegeolocators were still working, almost two years after they were initially deployed. All three have given details of TWO COMPLETE ROUND-TRIP MIGRATIONS to/from the Yellow Sea in China and their breeding grounds in the Amur valley region of north/east China.
The northward migrations of each individual were consistent each year. All three individuals appear to have bred successfully in one year and not successfully in the other year. Both male birds arrived back atInverloch a month later than usual in years in which they bred successfully, but the return of the female was not significantly later in the year in which she bred successfully. This supports the widespreadbehaviour in waders of male birds remaining with their offspring much longer than females.
The other two geolocators have been returned to the manufacturers in the UK for downloading. A fuller report on all the Eastern Curlew results will be prepared when further information is available.
November 1, 2012
Success at last for the Eastern Curlewgeolocator retrieval campaign as yesterday 18 curlew were caught atInverloch and five of the birds were carrying geolocators. We now await with interest to see what their migration flights were.Persistance has paid off for a large group of volunteers who have turned out every few weeks to try and catch these elusive birds carrying thegeolocators that were attached before the birds left on their breeding migration in early 2011.
October 29, 2012
Finding ways to conserve migratory bird species and their habitats entails taking tough decisions in order to achieve sustainable land use and promoting practices that balance human needs with those of nature.
The VWSG was recently contacted by TaejMundkur,Programme Manager - Flyways, Wetlands International Headquarters to alert us that the second edition of the Convention on Migratory Species publication 'A Bird's Eye View on Flyways' is now available online. This publication provides a valuable guide to the wonders of bird migration, featuring the many challenges that these birds face and, more importantly, the many initiatives underway to promote the survival of migratory species and their environment.
The table of contents illustrates the range of interesting material that this report contains:
2. Bird Migration
2.1 Why birds migrate - a definition of migration
2.2 The ability to migrate - a well-organized journey
2.3 Migration and its dangers
3. Flyways of the World
3.1 The flyway concept - its definition, history and role in the conservation of migratory birds
3.2 The flyway approach in practice
3.3 The application of the flyway approach by the CMS Family
3.4 Other conventions, instruments and organizations using the flyway approach
4. The Value of Migratory Birds
4.1 Role of birds in ecology
4.2 Bird-watching and tourism
4.3 Role of birds in the economy
5. Numbers and Trends in Populations of Migratory Birds
6. Conclusions and Recommendations
7. Reference List
October 29, 2012
David Hollands has joined forces with Clive Minton to produce a wonderful book titled "Waders - The Shorebirds of Australia" that is to be launched on November 7 at Birdlife Australia. JohnLandy will launch the book.
The book covers all 80 species of waders which have occurred in Australia (9% of our avifauna). It has 388 pages and contains a photograph of every species (up to ten for some), almost all taken by David himself, with a total of 360 photographs overall. It is intended to be an informative, readable tome in which the photos are a particular attraction. After looking through my copy I can vouch that they have truly met their expectations. It contains lots of facts but is not intended as a scientific publication (there are no tables or graphs).
Copies (signed) will be available at the launch at a special "pre-launch" price of $45.00. If attending the launch, please R.S.V.P. by Wednesday October 31st to Rosanna at Birdlife Australia. Phone: 03 9347 0757 or e-mail: email@example.com.
October 29, 2012
Clive has sent in a brief update on our activities that can be read in the "October, 2012 vwsg.htm". The Eastern Curlew have won another round, but we will attempt to get somegeolocators again this week.
October 4, 2012
In case anyone out there is thinking that this wader study game is pretty straightforward, a tale of a battle underway illustrates how hard it can be and how muchpersistance is sometimes required.
About 18months ago, just prior to their northward migration, part of a flock of Eastern Curlew (EC) were caught at Inverloch andgeolocators were attached to 24 of the birds. To retrieve the information from these geolocators they have to be removed from the bird.
Since the birds have returned from that first breeding migration a small group wererecaught and three geolocators retrieved - all very good and going to plan.
However, after a few more unsuccessful tries the birds had to return to breed again. They have come back toInverloch this spring after that second breeding and several attempts to catch more birds with geolocators have so far failed. We do not really know why - the birds appear tofavour a different site than where the nets were set on the day, they are very astute and can see the disturbance so don't land, they see the hide, or the people in it make a noise/move around, and don't land or take off very soon after landing, or something else we haven't thought of. Whatever the reason, the score since the birds went on that first breeding migration is now EC 8: VWSG 1. We don't mind being the underdog for a while, but this is getting ridiculous.
Hopefully a report will come forth soon where the scores are more balanced. One of four birds out from the hide on the last attempt had ageolocator on it. Perhaps that is a sign they are getting a bit cocky and tempting us to have another go - which we will of course as the information to be downloaded is so valuable for the understanding of their migration. If only the ECrealised that!
September 12, 2012
David Melville, from New Zealand, informed us that the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recently re-released (with minor edits) the report: "IUCN situation analysis on East and Southeast Asian intertidal habitats, with particular reference to the Yellow Sea (including the Bohai Sea)".
The report presents an analysis of around 390 coastal sites used by waterbirds along the EAAF and identifies 16 key areas.
David says that the findings presented show that there is cause for significant concern over the status of the intertidal zone along the EastAsin Australasian Flyway (EAAF) in which our Victorian migratory waders areaprt of. Nearly all our waders use the Yellow Sea on north and/or south migration for refuelling stops, making it critical to their migration success.
Fisheries and vital ecological services are collapsing and ecological disasters increasing, with concomitant implications for human livelihoods.
Observed rates of declines ofwaterbird species of 5-9% per year (and up to 26% per year for Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper Eurynorhynchus pygmeus) are among the highest of any ecological system on the planet.
Breeding success among migrating species in their Arctic breeding grounds and survival on most wintering grounds (for northern breeding species) at the southern end of their migrations appears satisfactory, at least where hunting is sustainable. However, problems clearly are occurring along the EAAF during migration.
Unless major steps are taken to reverse current trends, the EAAF is likely to experience extinctions and associated collapses of essential and valuable ecological services in the near future.
There are two motions [M32 and M66] about the Yellow Sea being discussed at the IUCN World Conservation Congress (WCC) held 6-15 September in on Jeju Island in South Korea.
On a similar note, there is a podcast with Dr Nial Moores, Director of Birds Korea about this IUCN/WCC. Charles Moores (Nial's brother) brought this to our attention and says thatNial talks very eloquently about Korean NGOs and what the WCC might (emphasis on 'might') achieve amongst other things and it's definitely worth a listen
September 10, 2012
The VWSG AGM was held last Saturday after equipment mending and much catching up between members. One such discussion was with Maureen Christie from south-east SA who has beeninvovled with the development of a number of signs to be placed around various places in SA. These signs contain useful information about waders, both migratory and residents. The list of signs of maps and wader information is:
Feel free to look at these or download for your own use, or in schools, or with local conservation groups or however else you feel could be useful.
Over the next weeks there will be more information posted from the AGM including the listing of the VWSG Bulletin that was distributed at the AGM. The Bulletin contains all the data produced from the VWSG field activities for the past year plus a few interesting additional notes.
August 23, 2012
I have just added a few lines of photos to the gallery for those of you interested in wader/shorebird images. They come from around Austrlaia, with a couple from a recent trip to Cunyu Station in WA, including part of the huge flock of Banded Stilt that were found there (see entry July 16, 2012).
August 23, 2012
Clive has passed on the abstract of a paper titled 'Conserving migratory species in a changing world' by Richard Fuller from the University of Queensland that demonstrates how our knowledge of wader migration strategies, determined from recoveries and flag sightings, has facilitated an assessment of how factors such as a rise in sea level or the loss of habitat by "reclamation" are likely to affect wader populations. Clive is often asked for tangible examples of how our banding and flagging studies have contributed to wader conservation.
A little background from Clive may help. Richard Fuller and his team are undertaking a major analysis of how a variety of changing conditions in the East Asian/Australasian Flyway are likely to affect wader populations. This study is covered by a $0.5 million Australian Research Council grant. HughPossingham, who has an excellent reputation in population studies, is their professor. Rob Clemens, ex-Birds Australia, is one of Richard's team.
As a foundation for their assessments the study team and several wader migration experts met for a day-long brain-storming session early last year. Recoveries and sightings of plain and engraved leg flags were used in a quantitative way to determine, as far as possible, migration routes, migration strategies (e.g. number of stopovers), principal stopover locations etc. for both northward and southward migration of our main wader species. Count data, particularly peak counts at the main locations in the Flyway throughout Asia, also helped this process.
It was of courserecognised that there are potential biases in the recovery, flag-sighting and count information, because all are dependent on people with appropriate skills and interest seeing and reporting birds. Hopefully information now being generated through the use ofgeolocators will enable further improvements in the future in our understanding of the migration strategies of each species. But in the meantime all we can do is use the best data currently available. And every one of our recoveries and flag-sightings was utilised in this exercise.
Richard's team have estimated the likely loss of inter-tidal feeding areas throughout the Flyway as a result of various projected future changes in sea level. They are now currently determining past losses of inter-tidal areas through 'reclamation' and likely future losses. They have then allied this data with the migration information to try and assess the likely magnitude of the effects of these changes on wader population levels.
Two separate exercises are taking place. The overlaying of the migration data with the habitat loss information related to projected levels of sea level rise has indicated that the effect is greatly magnified for many species. This is because the key stopover sites they use on migration tend to be in areas where the greatest losses of inter-tidal habitat will occur. The effect of sea level rise on the habitat available to a species is thus magnified over the simple figure of projected overall loss of habitat due to this cause in the Flyway.
Similarly in the work currently being undertaken on the effects of habitat loss due to reclamation the magnitude of the likely effect on populations is also amplified significantly above what might be expected. This is because waders are preferentially using stopover locations which are subject to the greatest levels of reclamation. Thus the overall negative impact of both sea level rise and habitat loss through reclamation is likely to be more severe than originally expected. This therefore greatly increases concerns for potential negative effects on shorebird populations in the EAA Flyway as a result of these past and currently occurring changes.
You will see reference to the above in the middle section of the abstract to Richard's talk. Note that he will also be making a presentation on this subject at the AWSG Conference in Adelaide in September.
Clive hopes every VWSG and AWSG member is pleased to see this example of the tangible use of data they have helped to generate. It is because of the good number of recoveries and flag sightings which we have generated on our main study species that we were able to use our migration information in a quantitative way. The conservation outcome of Richard's scientific studies is likely to be a much stronger case for careful consideration of the negative effects of sea level rise and inter-tidal reclamation projects in the future and hopefully rejection of the most damaging elements together with more effort to find ways of ameliorating/offsetting planned or expected changes.
August 9, 2012
With all the developments in leg flagging, individually marked birds and recentlygeolocators and satellite transmitters helping to understand birds movements it is interesting to reflect on where this has all come from.
As far as I can find out, the first 'ringing' or banding, was by Gilbert White in 1720 when he tied cotton to the legs of swallows and then Jenner from the mid-1700s who cut toenails of swifts in an attempt to identify the same birds again.
But the first bands were used in Denmark in 1899 by Hans Christianson Mortensen (as reported in A History of ornithology by PeterBircham, 2007).
Australian bird banding has really only taken off recently too, with the first birds banded in 1959 but became more regular in the 1970s. The first recovery was made in 1975. In relation to waders,a 1983 preliminary review of the Australian Bird and Bat Banding Scheme showed there were a few reports of Australian birds recovered in China on northward migration, but none on southward migration (Williams T. and Williams J. 1988,Radar and visual observations of autumnal (southward) migration on Guam. The Auk 105, 460-466). We now have hundreds of sightings for single species on southward migration showing how far we have developed in our understanding over the past 30 years.
July 26, 2012
Clive Minton reports on the last few months of VWSG activities. He says that it's been a really good three months for fieldwork success and, as usual, there have also been some interesting reports of our banded/flagged birds which have moved elsewhere. This includes interchange with Russian birders as well as local movements and some with solid site fidelity. It makes for an interesting read.
July 16, 2012
While in WA on a cattle station compiling a bird list for the owners, Roger Standen came across flocks of Banded Stilt in their tens to hundreds of thousands on several ephemeral lakes.
As there had been several breeding events in recent years at Lake Eyre and Lake Torrens, Roger scanned the legs seeking any flagged birds and after thousands of legs found an immature bird with orange over yellow triangular flags that showed it was banded as a chick at Lake Torrens in 2011. This exciting find was relayed to those involved with the flagging who in turn replied that a bird fitted with a satellite transmitter (one of ten fitted at Lake Eyre early in 2012) had moved to that area of WA and turned out to be at the same lake with the immature bird.
The visual impact of seeing all those stilt was one of nature's wonderful spectacles and finding the flagged bird added to the value.
The birds were feeding constantly when not in their roosting raft but what were they feeding on? All investigations to find food only came up with tiny food particles (described by Reece Pedler as like having to pick up "full stops") that are yet to be identified.
July 12, 2012
The VWSG has just received a recovery report of a Crested Tern that has moved further than any previous one we have banded in Victoria. It was a chick banded at TheNobbies colony at the western end of Phillip Island just before Christmas last year (actually 21/12/2011). It was found on the 1st of July at Baffle Creek, on the central Queensland coast (24 deg S) 1700km North of where is was banded.
Most Crested Terns from Victoria go to the northern half of the NSW coast for the winter. Only the occasional bird reaches Queensland, and then usually only in to the south-east corner so this is what makes the recent recovery so exceptional.
June 30, 2012
This note is about recent developments with leg flags that was supplied by Clive Minton.
The Victorian Wader Study Group (VWSG) has recently extended their use of Individually Engraved Leg Flags (ELFs) to additional wader species and commenced deploying them on Caspian Terns. Anyone looking at these birds in the field is encouraged to try and read or photograph the engraved flag and to report the details to Roger.
Since plain plastic leg flags were introduced on waders in Australia 20 years ago the reporting rate of waders which have moved from one location to another (within Australia or overseas) has increased by a factor of 30x. Engraved leg flags were first introduced on Pied and Sooty Oystercatchers in Victoria in 2004 and on many species of waders at Broome in north-west Australia in 2005. These have facilitated the individual identification of many flagged birds and detailed movement histories of many individuals, including sightings of some waders overseas and/or then back in Australia in several successive years. The data generated from an engraved leg flag is therefore even more valuable than that from a plain leg flag sighting.
Use of engraved flags in south-east Australia was extended to Bar-tailed Godwits and Red Knot three years ago. It has resulted in a huge surge in movements data generated on Bar-tailed Godwits, including revealing major overseas northward movements of some birds when only two years old and juveniles crossing the Tasman Sea to New Zealand even in mid-summer.
Recently (since November 2011) the use of orange engraved leg flags in Victoria has been extended to Caspian Tern chicks, Red-Necked Avocets and Banded Stilts. Previous data suggests that most of these Caspian Terns will move along the Australian coast into northern NSW and southern Queensland outside the breeding season. Would observers there please look out for these new engraved leg flags (at present two figures ranging from 00 to 99)? The Red-necked Avocets are likely to roam widely around inland wetlands with previous plain orange flagged birds from Victoria being seen in places likeMoulamien, in western NSW, and even as far as Sydney. The codes used are three letters starting with AAA.
Any reports of engraved leg flag sightings will of course be acknowledged and details will be provided of the previous sighting history of each bird.
April 25, 2012
Recent field work has been reported by Clive Minton. This covers some of the recent catches, the latest ongeolocator recoveries (very exciting news coming from the recovered data),flag sightings, that are escalating as more observers in asia report their sightings and a summary of the breeding success for 2011 that was average to very poor across the species we study - a table in Clive's report shows what has been found from this year's captures.
Mar 2, 2012
The following is an enlightening report, written by a novice to the world of wader studies, on a three day banding trip toWerribee over the Christmas New Year period. This illustrates what is involved and shows what we go through to capture the important information needed to help conserve the waders.
If you are considering getting involved with the VWSG, have a look at the induction manual that is downloadable from the home page through the publcations page.
Victorian Wader Study Group at Werribee Sewage Farm
27-30 December 2011
From all over the greater Melbourne area a disparate fleet of heavily-packed vehicles was making its way to Werribee Sewage Farm just as the second day of the first test, Australia v India, was coming to a close. The crowds streaming out of the MCG were causing all kinds of traffic snares in the CBD. Prue Wright, who was giving me a lift in her 4WD, was muttering "I've done the wrong thing" and following behind us in a smaller vehicle,Nik Ward (UK visitor and former warden of the Broome Bird Observatory) was no doubt bemused by the labyrinthine route we were forced to take.
I was in the "passenger seat" in more ways than one on this expedition: I was from Sydney; I'd never participated in a bird-banding exercise and I didn't even have a history of bird-watching. I'm an artist, specifically a performance artist (not to be confused with the actor species), and I'm about to begin a PhD, asking the question: in what way do the migratory birds on the East Asian-Australasian Flyway direct human performance? And so my intention on this trip was quite tentative: to ease my way into this culture of birds and people.
Shortly after 7pm we have all found our way to the prosaically named "West Lagoon Pond 4" to set the nets in readiness for the next morning. At this point Clive Minton is very much in the director's chair while all around, his willing troupe perform "Acts of Readiness" which begins with carrying: huge bags of nets and camouflage material, collapsible holding cages, shade-cloth material, heavy cannon projectiles, wooden pegs, spades, boxes of tools, specialty equipment, coils of wire and what looked like miniature bunting, but which I later learn is for "jiggling", that is, encouraging the birds forward of the net line and into the catching area. The team is fairly evenly divided between experienced members and novices. The former guide the latter in the setting out of the nets, laying of firing line and jiggling line, the construction of the hides and the highlyspecialised task of burying and setting the cannons. On this occasion Roz Jessop performs the role of cannon setter; stepping, bending to knee, sighting, directing, and wielding the special instrument for checking the firing angle. Finally, bundles of shade-cloth and folding cages are strategically piled nearby.
In the fading light, the convoy snakes back up the highway to base camp - the administrative offices and Discovery Centre of Melbourne Water's Western Treatment Plant. Meals are hastily prepared and consumed and soon we are all horizontal: carpet tiles for earth, Exit signs for stars, and air-conditioning unit for cicadas. Some of us aren't used to camping and don't get a lot of sleep.
Wednesday 28 December
7am and not a single wader can be found in front of either of the nets we'd set the night before, nor anywhere near Pond 4. So much for the famed ubiquity of theRednecked Stint! Not to be deterred, Clive and three other Old Hands take up position in the hides, others are sent to find where the birds are feeding and the rest of us wait in the cars parked by the pond road. From time to time Clive's voice comes to us clearly across the water and also in compressed form over the shortwave radio.
We wait...and wait...and wait still more. Meanwhile around the lagoon, other birds (the wrong birds) feed, fly, wade and swim in species clusters: pelicans, white egrets, black cormorants and black swans. I try my hand at sketching and am horrified to discover how out of form I've become.
Pond 4 is open to the sea and therefore subject to the tides. It's clearly a no show for this morning. After three and a half hours Clive calls it quits but comes up with a new plan: he suggests some of the group go off to T Section Pond 5 to set a smaller net, thus broadening our options for the afternoon, and the rest of us head off for some old-fashioned bird watching. There's been a sighting of Banded Lapwing in a nearby cow paddock. They are about to become heavily looked at.
Mid-afternoon and we're all back at Pond 4 and still not a lot of birds around. Back to the hides, back to the surrounding ponds for scouting and "twinkling" (which I learn is a sort of gentle encouragement of birds from one area towards the catching area), and back to the cars to wait and listen. The twinkling seems to be working. This time...at regular intervals...small flocks of Stints zoom in, circling low, while all of us follow their movements and will them to land in just the right place. Over the next hour or so the numbers build at the pond shore in front of one, but not both nets. It'smesmerising watching this bird/human choreography.
Clive breaks the spell, sensing the time is right. He prepares us: "Three, two, one, FIRE!"
There's no time to absorb what's just happened. Before the net has even landed, we are all running to the catching area, smoke from the cannon fire still hanging in the air. Clive is shouting and I am discovering how impossible it is to run with either speed or grace in borrowed gum boots, over grass and through slimy water. Other people - the young team members - are whizzing past. "Thank goodness they are here", I think, not for the last time. How different is the energy now from the rhythms of watching and waiting that have so far ruled the day. What is happening now is pure intensity, for humans and birds. All our focus and action is on the safety of the birds. And for a significant proportion of the Red-necked Stints now fighting against the weight of the net, it's not the first time they've been in this situation. The first priority is to calm the birds' struggle. With as much speed and care as possible, we haul the shade-cloth over the netted birds. It seems to act like a blanket to a babe, causing the noise and flailing to settle down (including from Clive). We quickly move on to the next phase: getting the birds out from under the net and into the holding cages that have been magically assembled just behind the net.
Again, experience comes to the fore for the delicate operation of extracting birds from the net. Many of the less-experienced are keen to learn. I'm not confident enough and prefer to act as a runner, taking the birds from those doing the extracting and delivering them to Clive to place in the holding cages. I'm quickly shown how to hold a bird firmly and safely, with head poking out between my index and middle fingers, while the body, wings and legs nestle inside the hand. There's little time to think but I am aware of each tiny body's feathers, smoothly foreign against my skin.
The work continues. At some point I blurt, "Here's a monster!" as Clive bustles a bigger than average bird into the holding cage. We discover during the next phase - of banding, flagging and recording - one solitary Curlew Sandpiper among the 242 Stints (including 45 retraps and 31 juveniles). Other highlights punctuate the retrap statistic. A black flag over a white flag (signifying China) and a yellow flag (from NW Australia) garner cheers of wonder and a real sense that other humans in far off lands have done just what we are doing now.
Joining us for the processing are two teams of scientists, one fromDeakin University researching changing dietary patterns of birds on the EAAF and the other from the Department of Primary Industries looking for possible avian flu evidence. After completing our tasks, we leave the "the bleeders" and "the poopers", as they are affectionately known, to their more exacting ones. Clive directs us over to Pond 5 where the smaller net is lying at the ready. We also leave our second net in place at Pond 4 in the hope it can be deployed the next day.
Thankfully, a good quantity of birds is already in position at Pond 5 and not too much time passes before this smaller net is fired. More running in gum boots ensues, only this time our path is further hampered by rocks buried in the grass and much stickier mud at the pond. For the birds too, there is an additional risk. The net has landed partly in the water which makes our job of securing their safety even more urgent. The net must first be "tented" to allow the birds to run out of the water to the relative safety of the mud. We also discover a tear in the net and some birds escape.
By now the sun has set, the light is fading, our time for processing limited. To speed things up, Clive decides that we not flag the Red-necked Stints. I'm charged with recording. Instead of birds I have clipboard and pen in hand. Numbers come thick and fast. In record time we've processed 410 Red-necked Stint (including 90retraps and 33 juveniles), 28 Sharp-tailed Sandpiper (1retrap, no juveniles) and 24 Curlew Sandpiper (2retraps, 2 juveniles). Much appreciated by we novices, there is opportunity to compare and admire the two Sandpiper species at close range.
In the last light of the day, we head back to base camp, car radios picking up ABC news rather than Clive's voice. The cricket scores at the end of the third day: Australia in a good position at 8/179, having bowled India out at lunch for 282. Dinners are again assembled. Someone wonders at the safety of eating leftover turkey this long after Christmas. I for one am overcome with tiredness: from the intense activity, the exposure to the elements, the long day and sleepless night, and from the newness of it all. Sleep comes quickly.
Thursday 29 December
Shortly after 7am we're back at West Lagoon Pond 4 hoping for better luck with the morning tide but again the birds elude us. Clive and Eric Miller go into the hide, others are sent out to scout and the waiting game of yesterday morning is repeated. The birds don't seem to like it here in the morning. There's speculation that they prefer the beach which is apparently too narrow for our catching methods. A couple of hours later, Clive abandons Plan A and instead of catching, we spend the next couple of hours repositioning the nets, first at Pond 4 and then over at the smaller, muddier Pond 5.
Part of the preparations at Pond 5 include repairing the tear in the small net. Marta Slawuta, a Masters student at Victoria University, is up for the task. As she settles into position on a tiny camp stool, mud, grass and rocks around her, blue sky above, net draped over her lap like a spreading skirt, net-mending needle in hand, she seems to be stitching and reshaping time itself, evoking a task that could have been performed in any previous century anywhere on earth. She becomes for me, Marta of the Nets.
Nets in place, we fill up the middle part of the day with more bird watching, driving around the various ponds that constitute the vast treatment plant, binoculars at the ready every time the expert eye of Dave Cropley in our car spots something of interest. The Crakes (Baillon's and Spotted) are unusually bold on this day and are much photographed. The Red-necked Avocet are also plentiful around the conservation lagoons - their beaks, pure arabesque, almost invisible against the sunlight.
By 3pm we've reconvened at Pond 4, hoping the nets are better placed than before. Clive and three others take up position in the hides, others are sent out to flush the birds from the surrounding area or twinkle from the Pond 4 perimeter, while the rest of us again wait, watch and listen as Clive directs proceedings via shortwave radio. Stretches of silence counterpoint the radio commentary. We who remain near the cars have excellent vision of the slowly unfolding drama.
Clive's voice cuts through another bracket of silence: "Has anyone got the cricket score?" We all laugh. But the parallels between this scene and the one at the MCG are striking: the bursts of activity rising up out of periods of languid watching; the small white creatures moving around a prescribed arena of action; and the accumulation of statistics over days.
The numbers build as small flocks fly across, circle and come to resttantalisingly, teasingly, frustratingly close to the two net areas. Patience, ultimately, rewards. Clive barks the countdown. Both nets are fired and the dash in on. Young legs speed ahead. Again, the small net lands partly in the water and that becomes our priority. It's our biggest catch yet: 520 Red-necked Stints (122 retraps, 29 juveniles); 1 (new, adult) Curlew Sandpiper and 1 (new, adult) Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. While we are absorbed in our work within our clusters of banders and flaggers, Australia wins the test by 122 runs. We finish processing too late to consider another catch and return to camp for our last night of office camping.
Friday 30 December
The only net in place is at T Section, Pond 5 and this is where we muster at around 7am.Ila Marks in one vehicle remains at some distance to exert pressure on the birds in an adjacent pond while the rest of the vehicles are positioned around the Pond 5 perimeter road. An hour or so passes before Fiona is sent into the "water" to "twinkle" leaving Bruce Lavender and me in the front of his van on the road edge directly across from the cannons. At one point Bruce says, only half-jokingly, "I hope the projectiles are attached". Now I'm awake. Although the numbers aren't huge, there appear to be a few different species in the catching area. Clive determines it's a viable catch and readies us for the last time. I try to humour myself, "Oh well, if I'm going to die, it will be for the birds and that's not so bad", but my heart is in my mouth when the cannons fire (Unbeknownst to Bruce and me, Clive and the others had in fact judged we weren't directly in front of any of the three cannons).
I'm pleased to find that we're still alive and that Bruce is driving us around to the other side of the pond. By the time we get there the others have made it to the net and are already extracting birds. Marta's repair job has worked nicely.
With the relatively small catch, Clive decides we have the time to fully process the birds which means, in addition to banding and flagging, recording the biometrics: length of beak, wing, weight and age. We split into two working groups.Ila trains Tamara Davies, Fiona, Marta and me in the new tasks that require yet more tools. I'm reminded of skills learnt at thejewellery bench as the small rings of number-punched metal, pliers, calipers, gauges and scales are passed around. With this additional processing, we learn more about each individual bird through the data but also by virtue of the time it takes to carry out the measuring.
It's a small catch but with good variety: 85 Red-necked Stint (21retraps, 4 juveniles), 10 Sharp-tailed Sandpiper (1retrap, no juveniles), 9 Curlew Sandpiper (noretraps, 1 juvenile), 2 Black-winged Stilt (noretraps, adult) and 3 Whiskered Tern (noretraps, adult). As I type this batch of statistics from our last catch, I'm conscious of how much the numbers conceal of all that we've performed in the service of the birds during our time atWerribee Sewage Farm. I'm on my way, back to Melbourne, to Sydney, to study.
Sydney, January 2012.
My thanks to Clive Minton and fellow team members particularly Prue Wright for the gum boots and numerous lifts and to Bruce Lavender for the lift back. Cricket scores from The Roar, a blog bySuneer Chowdhary. [http://www.theroar.com.au]
Feb 5, 2012
Recent field work (Nov 2011 - Jan 2012) has been reported by Clive Minton in "VWSG activities to Jan 2012". This covers some of the recent catches and comments on breeding success,geolocators and some notes on terns.