lagoon creek - juvenile sharp-tailed sandpiper
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Scientific Name: Calidris acuminata
The Sharp-tailed Sandpiper is the most dinky-di of all migratory shorebirds that visit Australia, carrying the rich ochre colours of the red centre in the plumage on its head and back. It is also finely tuned into Australia’s boom-and-bust ecology — in years of inland floods, few birds travel to our southern shores, preferring, instead, to gorge on the banks of inland floodplains, such as the Diamantina. This way, they save themselves travelling thousands of kilometres. They are the international guest star in the festival of the living desert.
Description: The Sharp-tailed Sandpiper is a medium sized wader with a straight black bill that has an olive-grey base. It has a chestnut crown and nape, a white eyebrow, and reddish brown upperparts, with each feather having a black centre. The rump and tail are black, with white outer margins visible in flight. The wings have an indistinct white bar. The breast and flanks are white, streaked and speckled black, with a reddish brown tinge on the chest, grading into a white belly and undertail. The legs are olive. This species is commonly seen with other waders during its migration from northern breeding grounds.
Similar Species: The Sharp-tailed Sandpiper is very similar to most other sandpipers, especially the Pectoral Sandpiper, C. melanotos, but may be distinguished from this species by having no clearcut division between the breast and belly markings, olive (rather than yellow) legs, and a chestnut (rather than dark) head.
Distribution: The Sharp-tailed Sandpiper is a summer migrant from Arctic Siberia, being found on wetlands throughout Australia. It is also found in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, New Caledonia and New Zealand. It is a vagrant to India, Europe, western North America, Fiji and other parts of the central Pacific region.
Habitat: The Sharp-tailed Sandpiper prefers the grassy edges of shallow inland freshwater wetlands. It is also found around sewage farms, flooded fields, mudflats, mangroves, rocky shores and beaches. Its breeding habitat in Siberia is the peat-hummock and lichen tundra of the high Arctic.
Feeding: The Sharp-tailed Sandpiper feeds on aquatic insects and their larvae, as well as worms, molluscs, crustaceans and sometimes, seeds. It is often found in large flocks, often with other waders, foraging in shallow waters.
Breeding: The Sharp-tailed Sandpiper breeds in the short Siberian summer (June to August). Its nest is a well-hidden shallow hollow on the ground, lined with grass and leaves. The female incubates the eggs and raises the young alone.
© Chris Burns 2018
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