Monday, 7 March 2016

Wandering Dutchman meets Wandering Tattler

After breakfast it was on to the main business of the day. A Wandering Tattler had been reported on Victoria Birdline by Tim Dolby on 22 January at Clinton Rocks near Tamboon Inlet near Cann River.

The bird to differentiate a WT from is a Grey-tailed Tattler, a bird I have seen this season at Lake Tyers Beach and a relatively regular visitor to Victoria over summer, especially Corner Inlet and Westernport Bay Pizzey & Knight. WT have never been reported here before in Victoria although it is a uncommon but regular visitor north of, perhaps, Sydney Morcombe. Visually, the WT has darker grey plumage than GTT and smaller white eyebrows that do not meet on the forehead and rarely extend beyond the eye Pizzey & Knight. Otherwise they both are about 26-7 cm, elegant, evenly grey-shaded, whitish below. My first question is "What was Tim Dolby doing at Clinton Rocks?" It is a small surf beach with rocky points at both ends at the end of a steep climb down from the end of a dead end track. My second question is "How did he see the bird and recognise it as unusual?" I have nothing but admiration for his birding abilities. What a find.

The Victorian Birders FB page had several posts from people who had been to twitch the bird since Tim first found it, the latest being 29 January. Expedition Tattler occurred 30 January. I had high hopes.

Clinton Rocks are just a few kilometres along the coast from Tamboon Inlet and accessible by a relatively easy gravel/sand track from the Tamboon Inlet Road. Simpson and Day say that WT habitat is reefs and rocks. Pizza & Knight notes quite specific habitat of "coral islands, cays of Gt Barrier Reef; rocky reefs, islands, wave-washed rocks and rock platforms". Tim commented in a Facebook post that, in his experience, WT "often hang around the same group of rocks for some time". It all sounded very promising.

Down to the beach the three of us went. Two sets of bins, two cameras, two scopes. This bird had no chance. We had to brush aside the Hooded Plovers, of less interest on this occasion.

Hooded Plovers. They had been seen mating the previous day.
Perhaps a new generation to come.
When we came out onto a lovely surf-washed beach we could see Clinton Rocks off to the west, only a few hundred metres or so. We approached the rocks and quietly had a good look all over. But no bird to be seen. Robert and Heath hopped onto the top and had a look further westward.

Within 90 seconds Robert had spotted it, about 200 metres away on the rocks that extended along the coast to the west of where they were standing. It was a pretty spectacular find. Here is the view that he had.

I was still pretty impressed when he told me that he had seen it silhouetted against the white water of a breaking wave.

Ah yes. Easy now!! So we got the gear and carefully worked our way towards the bird. I have quite a few images taken as we were getting closer. Morcombe says "tends to be alert and wary" so we expected it to scoot off at any time. Eventually we managed to get within 10 metres or so of the bird without it even putting its leg down. Had a very good look through the bins, took photos and quietly and carefully retraced our steps. By the time we had reached the sand again, it had still not moved a muscle!

Sharpened image.
Graeme Bailey from Traralgon is a bit of a Photoshop Whiz and he did various things to the image above the most obvious being increasing the sharpness. Thanks Graeme.

Here is my image of a Grey-tailed Tattler from Lake Tyers Beach back in December.

Well, mission accomplished and Robert saw a piece of Australian coastline that not many Australians get to see. It was a privilege to view this bird. Magic. f8 and be there!

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