Port Fairy's Beaches, a birding hotspot!

The beaches of Port Fairy are no doubt some of Australia’s most beautiful. Black volcanic rock frames crystal clear waters, that shimmer pale blue and turquoise. View more.


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The beaches of Port Fairy are no doubt some of Australia’s most beautiful. Black volcanic rock frames crystal clear waters, that shimmer pale blue and turquoise. Thick brown bull kelp strands itself on the shoreline amidst the finer pink, brown and green seaweed. These stunning beaches not only attract people, but also birds of all sizes and shapes and from as far afield as Siberia!

 

Port Fairy’s coastline is a hotspot for shorebirds and seabirds! Griffith Island is renowned for its nesting shearwater colony, and in late September to April you can spot huge flocks of short-tailed shearwater’s returning to their burrows of an evening, from a day of feeding out at sea. These birds migrate from the Aleutian Islands and Kamchatka Peninsula at the most northern extremity of the Pacific, and often when they arrive in Port Fairy in late September, they are exhausted and many die just before reaching land. You may notice huge wrecks of dead shearwater’s in late spring and the size of the ‘wreck’ will indicate how harsh the conditions were during their migration and the availability of food that year. After an intensive breeding season of mating, sharing incubation duties and bringing back food to the burrow, the adults depart and then weeks later, the chicks make their first flight North, guided by factors we don’t yet understand, to find the exact same feeding grounds.

 

The mysteries of bird migration are fascinating to many, especially when you consider that one of the smallest migratory shorebirds that comes to Port Fairy weighs as little as two fifty cent coins or a ‘fun size’ Mars bar! How does a bird so light, fly for tens of thousands of kilometer's every year, escaping the bitter cold of the northern reaches of Russia, to spend the spring and summer on Port Fairy’s shores?! This is one of many migratory shorebirds that flock to Port Fairy in internationally significant numbers to feast on the worms, crustaceans and mollusk's in the sand. Port Fairy’s beaches are a critical resource to these birds, their migration is built around accessing these shores to feed and to escape an uninhabitable winter up North. Ruddy Turnstones, Sanderling and Red-necked stints are three of the most common migratory species you will spot! By late March you will see some very rotund shorebirds, who have stacked on the weight ready for their long-haul flights to the northern Tundra to breed. They’ll also be colouring up and losing their drab grey and brown plumage, to develop richer hues of red, brown and black that are far more attractive and cryptic on the Tundra breeding grounds.

 

Port Fairy’s shores are also the home to our Aussie shorebirds who will attempt every spring and summer to raise a family on the beach! The Hooded Plover is a nationally threatened shorebird for which the beaches between Warrnambool to Yambuk are the most important stretch of coast of anywhere in Australia for the species! You will find a pair every few hundred metres, holding their own on a bit of beach where they will nest from August to April, and repeatedly try to get their eggs through the month long incubation period, and then their tiny, camouflaged chicks through the five weeks it takes to reach flying age. This long breeding period is fraught with dangers for the little speckled eggs and then the chicks that must run around the beach trying to find food for themselves within an hour of hatching. The parents frantically try to be on alert and vigilant for oncoming threats, and distance themselves from their eggs or send their chicks in to hiding, hoping camouflage and secrecy will keep them safe until the threat has passed. Sadly, this behavior which is really effective with predators, isn’t great where people are concerned, as we don’t have a clue there are fragile eggs and chicks nearby and might step on them or set up our beach towel, spending hours in the vicinity of a nest so that the eggs are exposed the whole time. ‘Disturbances’ during nesting can be lethal and the birds are particularly sensitive to the presence of off leash dogs, as they recognise the threat these can pose to their flightless chicks. Not only do birds react from twice the distance and for triple the time to off leash dogs compared to dogs on lead, but most chick deaths have been attributed to off leash dogs that have captured them, being attracted to the movement of the little fast-moving chicks on the beach.

 

Apart from the small black, white and grey hoodie with its red bill and eye ring, there are the even smaller red-capped plovers with their rusty red caps that rapidly scurry across the beach and also nest in a similar area. These little pocket-rockets are full of energy and will vigorously defend their camouflaged eggs and chicks by calling out and running like rodents or feigning a broken wing. Also nesting on the beaches are oystercatchers, with the pied (black and white) oystercatchers preferring to nest on sand while the sooty (all black) oystercatchers, prefer to nest in the rocks. Oystercatchers are very vocal when nesting and can even fly above you calling out if you are too close to the nest. They particularly love nesting in the black volcanic rocks of the Port Fairy shoreline.

While the shores are alive with both birds in the spring and summer months, we need to take special care when visiting the beach to allow these birds the space to feed and breed. Minimising disturbance to flocks of migratory shorebirds, and to nesting shorebirds is critical. If you are visiting the beach with your dog/s, please keep your dog on the leash and find out the best spots to go where the dogs can have a run without disturbing the birds. If you enjoy fishing off the rocks, choose a spot that is outside of a fenced off area. With a bit of extra care, the beaches can remain a sanctuary and be a stand out internationally for shorebirds and seabirds. 

For more information, or to sign up to become a volunteer, please contact BirdLife Australia at beachnestingbirds@birdlife.org.au or visit www.birdlife.org.au/

 

 

 


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Port Fairy's Beaches, a birding hotspot!

The beaches of Port Fairy are no doubt some of Australia’s most beautiful. Black volcanic rock frames crystal clear waters, that shimmer pale blue and turquoise. Thick brown bull kelp strands itself on the shoreline amidst the finer pink, brown and green seaweed. These stunning beaches not only attract people, but also birds of all sizes and shapes and from as far afield as Siberia!