Saturday, July 30, 2011

Long Reef - Wandering Tattler Twitch

Earlier in the year I was out twitching the Wandering Tattler at Long Reef - as was the rest of Sydney. Long Reef is prime wader and Mark Young habitat, if you have not yet seen Mark's blog about the life around Long Reef, then press here or follow the link in the "My Blog List" to the right.

I had once again teamed up with Jarrod, who is normally an excellent early starter, but this Saturday we managed to truly mess up when we decided to begin our journey midday - making your way to the northern beaches through Sydney traffic a Sunday midday is less fun than filing your tax return and it takes longer time!

Well, after some very slow driving we finally arrived and eagerly pushed up the hill to overlook the reef. For some reason it felt like the entire world had decided to make this day a struggle for us - in reality all our troubles were probably self-inflicted due to exceptional bad planning - not only was it high tide and the reef flooded, just as we reached the top of the hill it started raining cats and dogs! In combination with the howling winds from the east, long reef did in no way look like a place to to spend a Sunday afternoon and attempting to find a dark Wandering Tattler in these conditions seemed a little foolish.

Somehow we had to justify a nearly 3 hours drive through Sydney traffic and we went down to inspect the tiny area of the reef that was still accessible. A few common birds where scattered around on the sand and rocks, but after a quick inspection we got alerted to the presence of a few exciting blue creatures caught in the shallow waters surrounding the reef.

A first for me was the incredible beautiful Glaucus atlanticus, aka blue sea slug. Not a large creature, but one of the prettiest water living characters I have seen during my time in Australia.

We saw quite a good number of these small blue gems of the ocean and a fearless Jarrod even assisted a couple of the stranded ones in making their way back to deeper water. Indeed us humans should do what we can to help this blue nudibranch, since its main food source is Blue Bottle, Physalia utriculus, and blue button, Porpita porpita - see the photos below. Both of these blue stingers are common around Sydney and the sting of the blue bottle in particular is an unpleasant experience that many Sydneysiders will have to endure when swimming in the sea on summer days with a easterly blowing. When the Glaucus atlanticus eats its victims it is capably of storing the most poisonous parts of its food and up concentrate the venom in the very tip of its "fingers". The means that the Glaucus atlanticus can deliver an even more vicious sting than the stingers it feeds on .. I am not sure Jarrod knew that when he volunteered to model in the photo above :-D

Feeling our luck changing after the success with the Glaucus atlanticus we once again started considering if there was indeed a chance of seeing the Wandering Tattler – the reason we drove to Long Reef in the first place. If the bird was still at the reef it would clearly have searched refuge at the still exposed rocky section now separated from the mainland by a ca. 100 meters flooded area … well that was there the bird was, then that was where we had to go to see it!

Luck follows the crazy – Danish saying “held følger de tossede” – Arriving at the rocky outcrop there was at first nothing indicating that we would be able to see or even less likely get decent pictures of the Wandering Tattler, weather had worsened, it had started raining again, that does not matter much when you are soaking wet up till above your knees, but the exposed reef was also significantly more windy than it had been ashore and I had nearly given up, when a tattler looking bird suddently took off from a sheltered part of the reef where we would have had no chance to see it if I had decided to stay.

It looped up and around the southern end of the reef and for a couple of seconds it looked like it was aiming at landing at our feet, just towards the end of its approach it seemed to suddenly realize that a couple of humans had entered its habitat and it broke off the approach and landed on a rock few meters away – There was our Wandering Tattler slightly confused a few meters in front of us, “wandering” up and down the rock as a model on the red carpet – Luck did indeed follow the ones with wet feet this Sunday afternoon at Long Reef.

All good, we got much more out of this rainy Sunday afternoon than we deserved and a new bird significantly adds to the joy of driving home through Sunday afternoon Sydney traffic.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Botany Bay National Park - Quails, Spider Wasp and Red Knot Twitching

One of the spots around Sydney that I return to over and over again is Botany Bay National Park – the southern part between Boat Harbour and Kurnell in particular. Earlier in the year I managed to get down there a couple of weekends in a row, firstly because I truly enjoy the walk along the coast and find the area down there slightly more exotic and less crowded than the coastal scrub around Coogee. If that was not enough, then with the presence of a Red Knot at Boat Harbour I was easily convinced.

I saw my first Brown Quail in Botany Bay National Park, and once again I had the joy of getting up close and friendly with a few BQs. You need luck to get in close, since you often do not realize the presence of these small fluff balls until they break cover in front of you and take off with the sound, and speed, of a gun salute .. leaving you behind wondering which type of quail you had just missed seeing.

On the way out from Boat harbour, I had seen something take off in front of me when I was close to the lighthouse, so on my way back I slowed down and took a careful look down the path – there was a little Brown Quail family pottering around on the path slowly making their way towards me. How easy was that, I hid behind a bend and even had time to change lens back to the Bigma (I had been using the macro for the photos of the Jewel Spider above). As they approached I could stand still and get excellent close-ups without moving, only as I tried to engage the flash it dawned on the quails that they were not alone, and they left the path and disappeared into the scrub.

A first for me during these Botany Bay trips was one of the fiercest battles I have ever seen in nature. I have heard about how spider wasps, Pompilidae, attack spiders and lay their egg inside them, but seeing it in reality was something that I never expected to witness. On one hand it is a terribly vicious way for the spider to die, on the other hand, it can be argued that the spider does not exactly run an insect friendly business and that it is only fair the spider wasp fights back taking out a few of the otherwise superior predators living off its defenseless relatives.

Another first was the sighting of a Red Knot. I had Jarrod along for the Knot spotting - with waders in non-breeding plumage you can always use an extra pair of eyes. It ended up being as difficult as expected and at some stage we were actually a bit afraid that we would not manage to locate this visitor to the reef. Similar to a “Where's Wally” puzzle, we had bee looking for the usual red-and-white shirt and the distinct facial features of mister Red Knot, just to realize that colors were all wrong – the bird was indeed sporting the most boringly possible non-breading outfit ever seen, and the sneaky bird had decided to take a position with its beak hidden underneath a wing, just to make the game even more challenging.

Well, we got our bird in the end, it is actually quite nice when it takes a bit of effort and the additional quail and spider wasp action were nice bonuses – not to mention that I managed to get out and about in yet another weekend.