Red-necked stint with leg flags
A red-necked stint flagged in Tokyo Bay before landing in a Queensland cane field. Photo ©Tony Neilson

Nice surprise in middle of a cane field

Wild bird photography has its challenges, never more so than when there doesn’t seem to be much around. But sometimes ‘nothing’ turns to gold.

A recent case in point was a decidedly uninspiring visit to a local wetland that had produced good results in the past.

The conditions were reasonable – early morning light from behind, not much wind and enough cloud to soften the colours. There should have been plenty of waders and other water-orientated species to get up close and personal with. But there weren’t.

In fact, there didn’t appear to be any birds at all.

Sit for hours

In other aspects of life, patience is not a quality with which I am blessed. But when it comes to bird photography (and observation), I will sit for hours in one spot because experience tells me something will come along soon.

For wetland shoots where sitting on the ground is not really an option, I always take a small folding camp stool. Being low down serves two purposes: the birds are much more comfortable with your presence, and you are at their level when the time comes to make some images.

So, there I was, sitting quietly at the edge of a swamp in the middle of a Queensland sugar cane field; all the camera gear primed and ready, but no birds!

Stints swooped

I was close to packing it in when a small flock of red-necked stints swooped in low over the reeds, wheeled left and right in perfect formation and settled abruptly.

Your average red-necked stint is about the size of a house sparrow, and although there was now something to study, they weren’t showing any breeding plumage and were too far away – even for my biggest lens.

But as luck would have it, the stints strode purposefully toward me and began to peck rapidly in the shallows. They were interesting to watch but the camera stayed ‘off’.

Sleeping godwit with NSW leg flags
Colour-coded leg flags have greatly improved bird tracking. Photo ©Tony Neilson

See the gems

As is often the case when you have a number of birds feeding or roosting together, it is not until some change position that you see the gems. And that’s exactly what happened here – one of the previously unseen stints was suddenly in the open, and everything changed!

The tiny little bird, which migrates to and from the Arctic every year, had two identification flags on one leg and a metal ring on the other.

Still nothing too special about that, except the top blue flag was clearly marked ‘HO6’ and the bottom one was originally white. Turns out (thanks Mikey) that the stint had been netted and flagged at Yatsu-higata mudflats on Tokyo Bay just a few months earlier.

Stints are the smallest of our migrating shorebirds and two flags on one short and fragile-looking leg did seem excessively burdensome. Not that the bird looked to be suffering in any way.

Not a bad morning’s work after all.

©Tony Neilson 2018


©2018 TONY NEILSON All Rights Reserved. All images are protected by Australian copyright law and cannot be downloaded or reproduced without my permission. Please contact me.


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