Sunday, 25 June 2017


I'm reading a book called Birders, Tales of a Tribe by Mark Cocker (lent to me by my birding mate, Philip Jackson).  It's crammed full of birdy anecdotes (all of which would mean more, I'm sure, if I knew either the people or the places).  Cocker mentions the first Collared Doves seen in Britain on 3 July 1956 at Overstrand in north Norfolk, discovered by a chap called Michael Seago.  At the time, Cocker tells us, this was a very exciting discovery.  But, very soon, the doves had invaded the country and colonised everywhere from Cornwall to Shetland.  The bird became the tenth most common bird in English gardens.  Spare a thought for Michael Seago.  His once momentous discovery has evaporated into no more than a distant memory.

That's how I feel about my SIPO.  Yes, my South Island Pied Oystercatcher.  This species used to be rare in Australia.  In 1994, Christidis and Boles did not mention it.  It simply was not on the Australian list.  In 2008, Christidis and Boles included it as a vagrant.  A vagrant used to be defined as a bird that had been recorded fewer than ten times. Today, you can see my SIPO about an hour's drive from Melbourne.

It's not as if Christidis and Boles left it out in 1994 because the bird had not been discovered.  It is not a recent split.  It was named in 1897 by Martens.  The type specimen came from Saltwater Creek on the South Island of New Zealand.  And it kept itself mainly to New Zealand.  Occasionally one would visit Australia.  I remember looking for one on the Gold Coast with Tom Tarrant in 2001.

In January this year, Philip and I flew to the Gold Coast, hired a car, and with a little effort, admired a handsome SIPO.  It was my 800th Australian bird.  It felt very special.
This is my SIPO, not at Stockyard Point in Victoria, but at Broadwater Beach in NSW in January 2017, alongside the taller Australian Pied Oystercatcher for comparison.

Yesterday, Philip and I drove not much more than an hour from Melbourne to Stockyard Point, where, with twenty or so miscellaneous birders, we watched the very same bird, on the beach amongst two dozen Australian Pied Oystercatchers.  It didn't seem special at all. (I know it's the same bird as it has an identifying tag on its leg.) 

We noted both races of Gull-billed Tern and one very beautiful Double-banded Plover in breeding plumage, then I persuaded Philip that we must rush back to the car before the tide came in completely and we had to swim back.  I found walking back difficult.  The beach is strewn with fallen trees.  Clambering over these slippery limbs with the waves constantly mocking me, hurrying to beat the tide back to the car, is not my idea of a fun day out.

Of course we made it to the car without falling into the sea, and had an uneventful drive home.  I settled down with a drink to contemplate SIPOs and the world's injustices.  I sent empathetic vibes to MIchael Seago.  The phone rang.  It was James Mustafa, telling me that there was a Little Stint at Stockyard Point!  Thank goodness the Little Stint is already safely on my lifelist (Werribee, 2008).  I don't fancy returning to do battle with those fallen trees and taunting waves.  Of course, if the Little Stint was not on my list, I'd have no choice.

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