Early last year I took this photo of a sign on the beach front at Victor Harbor, about an hour’s drive south of Adelaide in South Australia. The message of the sign is quite clear. This beach is one of the nesting places of the rare and endangered Hooded Plover. The beach also happens to be one of the busiest in the state during the summer holidays and is even popular at most other times of the year.
Hooded Plovers are confined to coastal areas of southern NSW, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and parts of Western Australia. Nowhere is it common and, as the sign says, very few are left in places like the Fleurieu Peninsula south of Adelaide. The birds are small (about 19-23cm) and tubby, and their favoured habitat is broad sandy ocean beaches. The nest is a small shallow scrape in the sand where they lay 2-3 eggs.
If my memory is correct, this beach at Victor Harbor is the only place I’ve ever seen this species nesting. I was leading a large group of young children on camp when we came across a nest. Keeping 60 eager children away from the nest was a logistical nightmare. I’ve only ever seen this species on a handful of occasions, mainly on the Yorke Peninsula further west in South Australia. I have no photos of the Hooded Plover. I must try to get one when I visit the town again in about a week’s time.
Last year we went on a four week holiday through New South Wales and Victoria. I’ve written about that holiday on a number of previous occasions.
When we left Mildura in north west Victoria we didn’t follow the main highway home. Instead, we drove through parts of the extensive Murray-Sunset National Park. This park is mainly mallee scrub, with some open saltbush plains in places. As we were driving along the dirt track I managed to add a number of species to my trip list. One of these was the elusive Banded Lapwing, shown in the photo above.
Banded Lapwings have been something of a bogey bird for me, and I’ve only recorded it on a handful of occasions. Mind you, this is not really all that surprising, for while it is widespread in southern Australia, it is not common anywhere in its range. It is absent in the far tropical north of the continent.
Banded Lapwing’s preferred habitat is open, stony or ploughed ground or ground with short grass. The photo above shows the vegetation where I saw the Lapwings and this would be typical of its usual habitat. It is often encountered in small groups; only once have I seen a group of about fifty birds. It usually breeds in the months of June through to October, or after rain, and lays 3 – 4Ã‚Â eggs in a scrape on the ground sometimes with a little grass lining.
It is somewhat smaller than its more common and more aggressive cousin, the Masked Lapwing.
- Pizzey, G and Knight F: The Field Guide to the Birds of Australia
A friend sidled up to me the other day and said, “I saw this little bird and I thought of you, Trevor.”
Now – I’m not sure whether that ever happens to you or not, but it is becoming a rather frequent occurrence in my life. You see, I’m not slow at letting people know that I am a birder, someone whose passion is watching birds in the wild. That’s what this blog is all about after all.
Said friend went on to say that this little bird actually attacked him. I pressed him with several key questions, such as, size, colour, location and what was it actually doing. Within a minute I had established that it was probably a Red-capped Plover (see photo), a small wading bird common around the coast of Australia and in suitable wetlands inland. It was “attacking” my friend because it either had a nest with eggs or newly hatched chicks nearby.
It is nice to be recognised for one’s expertise in this way. What annoys me, however, is the growing number of friends and acquaintances who say the same thing after they return from a holiday in some exotic location.
“Oh Trevor,” they chirp as happy as a Sparrow with a bowl full of seed, “we saw this beautiful parrot in Cairns (or Broome or Darwin or wherever) and we immediately thought of you.” After the initial polite smile and excited ooohs and aaahs I go away fuming. I’ve NEVER seen that species in my life. And they’ve seen it and they are not even birders. Grrrrrr.
So what do I do about this annoying situation?
Perhaps I need to go for more holidays to exotic places. Then I can blithely reply, “Yeah, but did you see the Scarlet-crested Rainbow-winged Blue and White Cockatoo*?. It sat on my shoulder and nibbled at my ear.”
Or some other suitable anecdotal put-down.
*There is NO such animal – I just imagined it, but it sure sounds exotic and fabulous.
On my visit yesterday to Mannum (just north of home in Murray Bridge South Australia) I saw two Red-kneed Dotterels on the mudflats just north of the caravan park. The mud here is exposed because of the low level of the Murray River at this point. Normally it is about a metre higher than it is at present.
Red-kneed Dotterels are small wading birds found throughout Australia where suitable habitat occurs. These habitats include shallow freshwater wetlands like the one at Mannum. They also occur in other habitats including brackish waters, salty swamps and sewage ponds. Although they can occur in small flocks, my experience of this species is usually in ones or twos. The one photographed above and below was rather skittish, and with good reason. Nearby I observed another bird in immature plumage but it didn’t pose well enough for me to get a good shot of it. I nice species to add to my gallery and list for the day.
Dealing with swooping birds is a topic that arises very frequently in newspapers, on television and on birding forums. During the spring here in Australia, our main bird breeding season, there are numerous complaints from people about aggressive birds. Most of these relate to Australian Magpies. The male aggressively defends the nest. Sometimes contact is made with the unfortunate person and blood is drawn. My own sister-in-law had a terrifying experience like this as a child.
A question from a worried reader:
I recently had a request for help from a reader concerning her children being attacked by plovers (Masked Lapwings). Here is what she said:
My 4 children (5, 7, 9 and 11) were attacked this morning by a group of plovers (a few pairs)they all have young at the moment. They were on their way to the bus stop and the plovers separated the children and were swooping and dive bombing them. They arrived back home shrieking and crying they were so unsettled by the experience. Having come on the internet to see what to do, I have read that they usually do not attack groups. 2 of my children lay on the ground to show they were not hostile. We do not have an alternate route to take. Any ideas on what we can do?
The experience must have been truly terrifying to the children. I have recently been bombed by a plover while walking near my home. This pair didn’t have young nearby but may have had a nest somewhere. It certainly unnerved me – and they only came to within about 3 metres.
Swooping plovers (lapwings) are a common problem throughout Australia. Rarely do they cause harm by actual contact but this has been known to happen. The spur on the wing has been known to inflict scratches. As your children discovered the unsettling nature of such an attack is just as traumatic as actual contact causing harm.
They have been known to attack in small groups but more commonly just the one pair attacks. The behaviour should stop after the breeding season is over.
I do not know of any fool proof system of solving your dilemma. Perhaps the children could wear cycling helmets to minimise any potential damage if struck. (This is an expensive solution if they do not have helmets.)
A cheaper alternative might be for the children to each carry a 50cm stick with a flag tied to the top – say a piece of cloth. Hold the stick above the head as the attack occurs. (This method works with magpies – I haven’t tested it with plovers).
Either solution does not take away the problem of the frightening noise made by the birds during an attack. The children may still be very unnerved even with some form of protection.
I am sorry that I do not know a better solution.
Over to my readers: Perhaps my readers may be able to suggest a better solution. Leave your ideas in the comments below. COMMENTS ARE NOW CLOSED.
UPDATE: Readers of the Birding-Aus newsgroup have contributed many ideas and comments on this problem. Read their suggestions in the comments section below.
UPDATE: Due to some comments suggesting illegal action on this article, comments are now closed. Sadly some people cannot seem to understand our laws relating to native birds.