Black Winged Stilts
Black Winged Stilts are a common sight at Lake Illawarra. They are usually spotted wading in the shallows, picking through piles of seagrass on the shoreline or sleeping with one of their long pink legs tucked under the body.
Those long legs cause the odd awkward moment as they change direction to dart after a shrimp or fish. Even so, for the most part they slide over the shallows with a deliberate and dainty stride.
Black Winged Stilts like to keep their distance from potential predators, including people. Any closer than twenty metres and they’ll walk into deeper water or take to the wing. I’d managed to creep towards the twenty metre mark when the flock decided it was too close. They flew across a deep channel and out over the lake.
The stilts turned a wide circle and headed towards a sandbar about fifty metres away. They landed in a long line spaced at intervals of couple of metres. Most landed and immediately resumed feeding. However as one descended the next in line skittered to the side, clearly disturbed by its neighbour’s proximity. The disturbed bird leapt into the air and flew in a shallow arc towards the other bird, which flinched away. That one gave a startled, querulous call then returned the favour, arcing up and dropping onto the other. It seemed that the aim was to get high enough to use those long legs to give your opponent a kick in the head. After several repeats one of the stilts backed away, at which point they flew off in twisting chase across the mudflats.
Kicking your opposition in the head sounds less than delicate, however it was all done with beautiful balletic grace. I wondered whether the ‘loop and drop’ technique was a way for the light weight stilts to add force to their blows. Whatever the reason, the dance made for a remarkably graceful contest.
Just a note on the images in this posting. Diffuse light reflecting on water is fantastic for wide angle landscape images, however it generates some tricky technical challenges for the wildlife photography. The images tend to end up with strong colour casts, largely because each ripple of water reflects strobes of reds and blues. It’s a great effect at a distance, but makes for a confusing back drop for tight shots of wildlife. In this sequence I wanted to highlight the movement and form of the stilts. Monochrome strips away the distraction of the multi-coloured background and takes full advantage of the stilt’s starkly contrasting plumage. Plus I really like black and white images!
Sooty Oystercatchers feed around the edge of rock platforms. The best pickings for the oystercatchers are in the lower parts of the littoral zone (the wash washed area) where large molluscs abound. This zone gets inundated as the tide rises, becoming inaccessible to the birds for hours each day. Sooty Oystercatchers align their activities to this cycle by spending the top of the tide resting and sleeping.
All waders and shorebirds prefer to rest in places where they have a clear line of sight to potential threats. Sooty Oystercatchers use a high section of reef, preferably well above the wave zone. Finding such a site can prove difficult during big seas when the waves roll high onto the shore.
A flock of about fifteen Sooty Oystercatchers spends high tide roosting on Merries Reef in Sydney’s south. My last trip to the reef was during unusually big seas, with white water cascading across sections of reef that usually stay high and dry. The oystercatchers stayed on the reef, water rising to bellies when especially large waves rolled through. Finally, just as I was starting to wonder whether my own perch was high enough, they flew away to spend the peak of the tide on the beach.
Bar Tailed Godwits
One of the highlights of late summer in Sydney is when the migratory waders start to moult into breeding plumage. My favourite is male Bar Tailed Godwits, which transform from mottled brownish waders into glorious rufous tones of sunset. Female Bar Tail Godwits are larger, have longer beaks and remain brown throughout the year.
Odds and sods