Birdwatchers with binoculars
Jury still out on southern shorebird migration numbers – ©Tony Neilson

Anxious wait for the southern migration

September and October are nervous months for watchers of migrating shorebirds on the Southeast Asia Australasia Flyway.

Along coastlines and at traditional feeding grounds they scan for ‘incoming’ and will do their counts by year’s end.

They know the threats these amazing birds face on their 10,000 km-plus return journeys from climate-change-threatened breeding grounds across the Arctic region.

Searing heat

Freezing cold, searing heat, predators and storms are bad enough, but for many they are in greatest peril as a result of habitat loss at key feeding stations along the way.

Many shorebird populations have been halved in recent years – some by 90%. In Cairns (north Queensland) where I live, the waterfront mudflats supported flocks of several thousand waders until quite recently. Now there are just a few hundred and 2017 returns have been sparse so far.

Still too early

But Nigel Jacket, warden of the Broome Bird Observatory in Western Australia says it is too early to know whether numbers are up or down.

Photographer lying in mud
Nigel Jacket ‘observing’ on the Roebuck Bay mudflats – ©Tony Neilson

“We will have a better idea when we do complete counts in November and December. So far [mid-September] numbers in Roebuck Bay are growing quickly but it is hard to tell to what extent. “Long-toed stint numbers seem a bit down but it might be too early to make that call.”

The first godwits

He suggested a delayed or extended northern breeding season could account for slow returns to the southern hemisphere.

Across in New Zealand, the message from Miranda wetlands manager Keith Woodley was much the same: too early. The first flock of godwits (about 500), arrived on 7 September, and based on weather predictions at the Alaska departure point, a second influx was expected within days. But it would be some weeks before comparisons could be drawn.



©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.



  • Penelope Lawry September 28, 2017 at 12:08 PM Reply

    Hi T,
    Watching Godwits here – wishing I had your BIG lens…. is part of a printmaking project across Aus and NZ migratory paths. Also spotted pied oyster catchers but Godwits crack me up, so entertaining. Now to look at rest in f the stories

    • Tony Neilson September 28, 2017 at 12:24 PM Reply

      The printmaking project sounds very interesting – maybe you could share some of your work via Natural Images when the time is right?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Time to go beyond being an end-of-story comment person.
To write a blog post or submit some of your best images with the backstory, please contact Tony Neilson.