The story of Port Stephens’ migratory birds

A lone wader feeding on the Mallabula sand flats.


APART from being a safe swimming place, the sandflats between Mallabula and Tanilba Bay provide a protected and popular foraging area for migratory birds.

At high tide, particularly during the night, stingrays glide in and shovel up the soldier crabs.

That’s why there are so many dished out holes visible across the sand.

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Whiting and bream then scour these depressions for tasty morsels left behind.

The best time to capture on camera the waders is on the incoming tide.

It is then that the curlews, snipe, godwits and tattlers work the tide line as nippers and worms clear their holes and start to feed.

The eagle eyed long billed waders spot the tiny telltale bubbling fountains and thrust their bills down to snaffle them.

If, however we look at the big picture on an international scale, a serious and threatening problem has developed.

In fact, it has led to some three quarters of the migrant bird population disappearing in just a few decades.

The first chill autumnal westerlies are the signal for the waders to head north to their breeding grounds in Asia.

Indeed they can venture as far north as Siberia.

They gorge themselves for the long staged flight ahead and depart.

Sadly, many of their tidal feeding grounds along the way have disappeared.

Governments have let developers bulldoze landfill over the tidal zones to build resorts.

In short, many of the birds simply starve and do not reach their northern summer nesting sites.

They just don’t come back.

To illustrate the amazing migratory journeys of these athletic avians we turn to E7, a female bar tailed godwit fitted with a minute tracking device.

It left New Zealand and flew nonstop to China, a distance of some 10300 km.

She then flew to Alaska, covering 6,500 kms.

Back then she came to New Zealand after a trans Pacific flight of 11700 kms.




The tracked flight of E7, a female New Zealand godwit.

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