Above A mixed flock of curlew sandpipers and red-necked stints being captured at Western Port for the application of geolocators to track the birds to and from their breeding grounds in the Arctic Circle.
When members of the Victorian Wader Study Group (VWSG) go out to conduct comprehensive studies of waders and terns throughout Victoria they face myriad logistical challenges. The group of 140 volunteers formed in 1975 and conducts 40 to 50 field excursions each year under the direction of recognised wader specialist Dr Clive Minton.
Each excursion requires planning around coastal tides, changeable weather, the varying migration patterns of the birds they study, the safety and welfare of birds and volunteers, boat transport, and the maintenance of special equipment subject to rust and corrosion.
Migrant and resident waders are captured by cannon-netting.
VWSG volunteers go through extensive training to obtain the technical skills needed to safely capture, monitor and release each bird.
The group’s current chair, Roger Standen, attended his first VWSG excursion at the Western Treatment Plant at Werribee
“I was living north of the divide and found identifying waders pretty difficult. I thought actually seeing one in the hand might help. We only caught a few golden plovers but the knowledge in the group and their absolute commitment to understanding and protecting the birds and their habitat was really compelling. I’ve been involved ever since,” Roger said.
Roger says the group has banded more than 260,000 birds.
“We are in a unique position here in Australia to study birds that migrate to the Arctic Circle to breed. They land on our shores in the summer so we can monitor them and collect data about their breeding success and survival that can’t be done anywhere else in the world.”
VWSG research involves population monitoring (by counting and catching), mapping migration routes, biometrics of species and subpopulations, weight changes due to migration, primary moult duration and mode, survival rates, reproductive rates, behavioural differences between adult and immature birds, and determining the age when species first breed.
Their records provide critical data for conservation programs and help to build a case for the protection of wader habitat both in Australia and internationally.
VWSG data has provided the foundation for hundreds of scientific papers and 40 editions of the group’s annual bulletin.
As well as the delight of handling birds such as red-necked stints, curlew sandpipers, red-necked avocets, double-banded plovers, bar-tailed godwits and pied oystercatchers, the volunteers spend thousands of hours each year maintaining, loading and unloading equipment and travelling to often remote and rugged capture sites.
The Victorian Wader Study Group will represent Victoria at the 2020 National Landcare Awards in the Coastcare Award category.