Braving the heat, wind and tides across the more than 26,000 hectare area of Ramsar site 482, in the last weekend of January 72 dedicated and highly skilled volunteers took part in the latest annual shorebird count of the Peel-Yalgorup system. These dedicated and highly skilled volunteers help PHCC and BirdLife Australia monitor our shorebird populations as part of the National Shorebird Monitoring Program, which has taken place in our Ramsar-listed wetlands since 2008.
Each summer since 2008, teams of dedicated volunteers gather to count the shorebirds and waterbirds throughout the Peel-Harvey Estuary and surrounding Yalgorup lakes, Lake Mealup and Lake Mclarty. These areas collectively make up site 482 under the international Ramsar convention, which recognises the international importance of these wetlands especially for migratory birds. This year’s shorebird count took place on the 31st January 2021, and was be extra special this year as it coincides with the 50th Anniversary of the international Ramsar Convention and World Wetlands Day (2nd February 2021).
Peel-Harvey Catchment Council coordinates the count in the Peel-Yalgorup System, recruiting teams to make sure that as many sites as possible are covered and are counted on the same day, and to collate the data collected by our teams. The collated data is provided to BirdLife Australia as part of the National Shorebird Monitoring Program, and from there available for local and national research.
The 72 volunteers who took part in this year’s count ranged in ages from 13 to 88, and while most are locals some travelled from as far as Perth and Bunbury to take part. Many of these volunteers have been counting shorebirds at their adopted sites for several years, some as long as 12 years in a row.
At each count site, a team leader coordinates their team to count all the shorebirds and waterbirds they can see at their site members on the day using scopes and binoculars. Most teams access their count site on foot, but several teams need to use kayaks, and one a small boat kindly provided by Mandurah Cruises. The teams are out in the field for anywhere from two to eight hours, depending on the size and terrain of their site.
Each year enthusiastic new volunteers join the count teams. Our newest group of volunteers received a two-day training course in shorebird identification with PHCC on 14th and 15th January 2021, facilitated by expert ornithologist Bill Rutherford, with a combination of classroom sessions and field visits to practice their new identification skills.
These beautiful birds can be tricky to identify at first, but with a little practice volunteers soon learn to spot them and tell them apart by features like their size and shape, movement and feeding patterns. They also use key identifying features like feather colouring and patterns, and the size and shape of the birds’ bills, which in shorebirds are highly specialised to help them gather their food source of choice.
The next step is to collate the count data and enter it into BirdLife’s database so we can compare with previous years’ data, so watch this space for a summary of what the teams found.
Anyone interested to learn more about how to become involved in monitoring shorebirds can contact Charlie Jones, PHCC’s Community Engagement Coordinator – Wetlands and People at firstname.lastname@example.org
This project is supported by the Peel-Harvey Catchment Council through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program, and in close collaboration with BirdLife WA and local birdwatching groups.