Ian’s Bird of the Week – Greater Sand Plover ~ by Ian Montgomery
Newsletter ~ 4/14/14
As I mentioned in the last email, I took advantage of a spell of reasonable weather to make a trip to Cairns to take location photos for Where to Find Birds in Northeast Queensland. On the way back, I visited Coquette Point near to check it out as it is listed in the book as a good spot for both mangrove birds and waders. Coquette Point and Flying Fish Point are the charmingly named headlands on the southern and northern banks of the mouth of the Johnstone River on which Innisfail, 100 km south of Cairns, is situated.
Although it mightn’t live up to the dream of an idyllic tropical paradise – I’m still itching from some sandfly bites and there have been recent sightings of Saltwater Crocodiles in the neighbourhood – it did indeed turn out to be good for birds. As well as a pair of Beach Stone-Curlews in the mangroves, there were several pairs of Greater Sand Plovers feeding in the shallows. At this time of the year, many waders are migrating back to their breeding grounds in the northern hemisphere and it is a good time to look for ones in breeding plumage, such as the one in the first photo.
In non-breeding plumage most waders are, frankly, drab and often difficult to identify. Here is a Greater Sand Plover in non-breeding plumage on Cape York. This particular individual shows the characteristic long legs and large bill that distinguish it from the very similar Lesser or Mongolian Sand Plover, but Sand Plovers are quite variable in both size and bill length and I’m not always certain of identification, even with the aid of photos.
Here, to illustrate the point, is a pair at Coquette Point. The bird in non-breeding plumage looks smaller than its companion, has the slightly hunched posture of the Lesser Sand Plover but its large bill, and guilt by association, would indicate a Greater.
Finally, to complete the series, here is one of the Coquette Point birds in flight. The birds wintering in Australia belong to the nominate race leschenaultii and nest in Southern Siberia, Western China and Southern Mongolia. Their movements are not well understood but it is thought that they migrate non-stop, so this at least is one species of wader that doesn’t have to rely on the fast-disappearing mudflats of the Yellow Sea for refuelling stopovers.
I’d always vaguely assumed that the person who named Flying Fish Point did so because he or she had seen Flying Fish there, but Coquette Point aroused my curiosity as there seemed nothing flirtatious about it. With the help of Google, I found out that George Dalrymple, one of the explorers in this part of the world was sent by the Queensland Government in 1873 to explore the inlets and rivers between Cardwell and Cooktown. His boats were two cutters, the Flying Fish and the Coquette and one of his companion policemen was Robert Johnstone. In Dalrymple’s report to Parliament he said “I therefore considered that I was justified in naming the river after Mr Johnstone, a gentleman who has become identified with discovery and enterprise on the north east coast and who first brought to light the real character and value of this fine river, and it’s rich agricultural land…”. This, incidentally, is what 19th Century cutters looked like.
Ancient British Navy Gun Cutter from Ian
Which, of course, begs the question of why a Queensland boat would be called Coquette. The only clue I could find was that the first Royal Navy ship called Coquette was a 28 gun one captured off the French in 1783 and put into service. After that the name ‘Coquette’ was used repeatedly for a series of smaller ships.
Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Tel 0411 602 737 firstname.lastname@example.org
Bird Photos http://www.birdway.com.au/
Recorder Society http://www.nqrs.org.au
Even the stork in the heavens knows her times, and the turtledove, swallow, and crane keep the time of their coming, but my people know not the rules of the LORD. (Jer 8:7 ESV)
Thanks again, Ian, for sharing another interesting bird. I find it interesting that his birds are migrating, but for the opposite reason ours are migrating. Cold is coming on down there and our are heading home because it is getting warmer. Either way, the birds are on the “move.”
Plovers are members of the Charadriidae – Plovers Family.
Ian’s Bird of the Week
Charadriidae – Plovers Family
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