Broadwater’s migratory waders: International visitors come to GC

Within a month, about 300 avian summer visitors, looking for our sunshine and fed-up with family life around the North Pole will soon be here.

Some of the advance party have already arrived. These 20 or so eastern curlews are occupying the roost in the centre of the Broadwater. This will increase to 60 or more by the end of the month.

By the end of September they will be joined by whimbrels, bar-tailed godwits, common terns, little terns and a host of other species making a temporary stay here on their way south. At the same time the couble-banded plovers who have spent the winter here will be crossing the ditch back to New Zealand.

The Gold Coast Broadwater plays a part in one of the great natural events of the world. Each year a million shorebirds known as migratory waders leave Australia in March or April and fly 8000 to 12,000 kilometres across vast oceans to the tundra lands of Northern Asia and Alaska. The path they follow is known as the Eastern Flyway. Some do the journey in as little as ten days but most take a few weeks. These birds are not swimmers so it is a risky journey. The northern polar summer is their breeding time.

The majority of waders we see on the Broadwater are eastern curlews, whimbrels and bar-tailed godwits.

The best place to see them is from the shore near the Grand Hotel. If you scan the sandbars with a good pair of binoculars or telescope, you may be surprised at what you are able to find.

There are three realms of birds – the birds of the land, the birds of the shorelines and the birds of the sea. Most of us have contact with the birds of the land, very few Australians know pelagic birds (the birds of the sea) and a small number of us know about shorebirds or waders as they are sometimes called.

A million migratory shorebirds visit the Australian coastline each summer but they stay well out of contact with people so their presence is largely unnoticed. Even in a busy place like the Gold Coast Broadwater their presence is unrecognised, yet they are among some of the world’s most remarkable creatures. The eastern curlew is the world’s largest shorebird and the bar-tailed godwit holds the record for the longest non-stop journey of any creature. They fly direct and non-stop from New Zealand to Alaska and they do it in eight to ten days.

Waders have special needs. They do not have webbed feet or waterproof wings so they need a secure dry place above high tide mark. This is called a roost. In the centre of the Broadwater we have a magnificent roost but it takes a terrible thrashing. People walk through the middle of roosting birds, jet boats buzz the roost and people think it is a great place to let their dogs loose.

Of course progress is on its way – the Cruise Ship Terminal will take up half their feeding areas and impact heavily on the roost. If this happens they will be probably be gone from here within a matter of a few years.

Human ignorance is most certainly the greatest threat to their long term survival.

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