Report on the sighting of Baird’s Sandpiper Calidris bairdii at Derby, WA

24 September 2000

Philip N Maher

On the morning of the 24 September 2000 I visited the Derby Sewage Treatment Works with three birding clients : Alison McKenzie, Rosemary Ryan (ACT) and Lyn Watson (UK). This was my third visit to the STW on this excursion to the North West, having visited on the 16th and 23rd September.

We had been there for about an hour viewing various birds — Little Curlew (100s), Wood Sandpiper (c20), Common Sandpiper (c3), Marsh Sandpiper (c30), Australian Pratincole (c6), Greenshank (c3), Sharp-tailed Sandpiper (c10), Curlew Sandpiper (c20) and Red-necked Stint (c10).

We moved to the rear of a large shallow mudflat to search for Long-toed Stint. I had seen several on my 16 September visit. After scanning through the waders for a short time we located a Ruff feeding with the sandpipers. I am familiar with that species having seen it on many occasions near Deniliquin (NSW) and various other locations including Swan Hill (Vic) and near Wyndham (WA).

We continued scanning through the waders. A small wader feeding with a group of three Curlew Sandpipers fixed our attention. The bird was about half to two-thirds the size of the Curlew Sandpipers and very heavily scalloped on the back, the black bill appeared to be straight, thin and about one and a half times the length of the head. I realised immediately that this was something unusual as it was too large and too heavily scalloped on the back for a Red-necked Stint and the bill was too long. It was also too large and paler than a Long-toed Stint — another species I have seen regularly at Tullakool and elsewhere. Two species came immediately to mind — White-rumped and Baird’s Sandpipers. I had seen White-rumped Sandpiper at the Tullakool Evaporative Basin (NSW) in 1987 and did not believe that that was the species in the scope.

We moved in closer and circled around to obtain better views and to improve the light. We got to within 20 metres and studied the bird for about 10-15 minutes through a 20x Kowa Prominar scope. At this point we noticed that the same bird was being viewed by two local birders with scopes on the other side of the pond — Pam Masters and Lou Leidwinger

These were the identifying features: long wings with dark tips projecting beyond the tail; the back was fairly brown and heavily scalloped; the breast was buff with no obvious streaking ; a pale eyebrow; the legs were shortish and dark in colour; in flight the bird had a dark central patch down the rump with white at the sides and there was a white stripe in the wing.

The birds eventually became restless and flew to the other side of the pond.

My group and I moved around to the other side of the pond to confer with the other two birders. They had been puzzled as to the bird’s identification but when I suggested Baird’s Sandpiper, Lou agreed immediately; it is a species that he is familiar with, hailing as he does from the USA. His initial puzzlement stemmed from not considering the possibility of a Baird’s Sandpiper occurring in Australia.

We all went around to the other side of the ponds to obtain further views but the bird had landed behind a line of cumbungi. Had I been alone I would not have hesitated wading out but as my troops were growing restless and we had a plane to catch later that day in Broome I thought it prudent to leave.

After consulting various references on our return to our respective homes, Lou and I agreed that the bird was an immature Baird’s Sandpiper due to lack of streaking on the breast. The possibility of Sanderling was discounted given the bird was smaller and far too heavily scalloped on the back.

The ponds were searched over the next days and weeks by Lou and Pam and others but the bird was not located again.

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