Shorebirds 2020: and counting

The Northern Agricultural Region’s coastline is a great birdwatching place in WA – with amazing species of shorebirds calling it their home.

However, our exquisite feathered friends are facing a wide range of threats including – destruction of habitat through coastal development, off-road vehicles, plastic bags and empty bottles, discarded fishing lines and nets, predators such as feral cats, rats and snakes, rising ocean temperature and sea levels.

These threats are not only causing a decline in shorebirds numbers and species, but also have implications on the health of our coastal ecosystems.

Common Sandpiper. Photo taken by Mike Lawrie of Birdlife Midwest.
Common Sandpiper. Photo taken by Mike Lawrie of Birdlife Midwest.

To keep track and see how our shorebirds are faring, a group of passionate and dedicated birders from the Birdlife Midwest-Geraldton group and their friends got together to conduct a shorebird survey as part of Birdlife Australia’s National Shorebird 2020 initiative.

The Birdlife Australia Shorebird 2020 initiative aims to raise awareness of how incredible shorebirds are, and to actively engage the community to participate in gathering information needed to conserve shorebirds across the country.

Shorebird counts are undertaken each summer when migratory waders are visiting from the northern hemisphere. Last weekend, counts were conducted at a number of monitoring sites throughout Western Australia.

In the NAR, surveys around Point Moore and the Greenough River Estuary near Geraldton recorded an amazing count of more than 400 birds among 34 species of shorebirds. Over 130 sightings and 27 species of other terrestrial birds were also recorded.

According to Jan Checker of the Birdlife Midwest-Geraldton (who coordinated the events), the top 10 shorebird species recorded during the weekend were Silver gull, Grey teal, Red-capped plover, Black-winged stilt, Ruddy turnstone, Australian pelican, Red-necked stint, Crested tern, Pied cormorant, and Pacific gull.

“Our observations show fewer numbers of species and lower totals of each – a gradual thing in most cases. This could be due to drying seasons, human disturbance, and less food available on migratory routes and possibly here in our region,” Ms Checker said.

“For example, with Ruddy turnstones, the sightings have dropped from 45 to 17 in the recent survey compared with our first count in 2013, and the local people at Cape Burney have confirmed this changing trend.”

Ms Checker further explained that several years ago Red-capped plovers were more widespread, and would regularly be observed on then-vacant land at Fishermen’s wharf, at the Point Moore beach and Cape Burney. With 33 seen this weekend, compared with 54 in 2014, Ms Checker said this is a real concern.

“Sanderlings have also varied considerably – dropping from 200 in 2013 to just 4 this year.”

“These changes became noticeable in 2015, and the decline seems to continue, which mirrors the general findings around Australia,” Ms Checker added.

In addition to the Geraldton surveys, other community volunteers participated in counts in Dongara, Billy Goat Bay, Point Louise, Hill River Estuary and Wedge Island. One highlight was the identification of a White tern at Wedge Island, possibly the first mainland siting of this tropical species in the NAR.

The information collected in the weekend will be added to a vital pool of information from across the nation to help inform appropriate management strategies that can help improve shorebirds’ resilience under changing climatic conditions.

The Birdlife Midwest-Geraldton and NACC would like to thank all the volunteers for another year of successful survey activities – for tracking our region’s precious friends (shorebirds).

If you are interested to join the Birdlife Midwest-Geraldton, please contact Jan Checker on janchecker@westnet.com.au or visit the Birdlife website for more information on Shorebirds 2020.

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