Assets with Eyes

First sighting of Pied Oystercatcher at the Waterbird Refuge

31 Aug 2020

It may be hard to imagine, but the Waterbird Refuge, a haven for an incredible diversity and abundance of resident and migratory shorebirds, was once destined to become industrial land. In the 1950s, tidal mudflats at the southern end of Homebush Bay were bunded and sediment was pumped in from the bay to raise the height; however, the project was abandoned, and the enclosed waterbody subsequently developed into a wetland teeming with birdlife.

Today, the 10-hectare wetland together with the surrounding mangrove forest is listed as a ‘Wetland of National Importance’ by the Commonwealth Government. It is ringed by Coastal Saltmarsh, an endangered vegetation community, and hosts many species of resident waterbirds that make this wetland a popular birdwatching spot. Birds such as Black-winged Stilts, Red-necked Avocets, Pelicans and teals are present in good numbers, and between September and March each year, some migratory shorebirds that breed in the northern hemisphere and overwinter in Australia can be found in the Refuge.

The Refuge, like other areas of high ecological value in the Park, continue to surprise with rare or first sightings. For example, the first and only appearance of Plumed Whistling Ducks occurred in the Refuge in 2015. This tall, long-necked duck has beautiful, prominent off-white plumage along the flanks; as it is mainly found in the northern and eastern tropics, its short visit was a great treat for bird lovers. Another great sighting occurred in 2016, when a regular volunteer birdwatcher sighted a Double-banded Plover in the Refuge. Unlike other migratory shorebirds that breed in the northern hemisphere, the Double-banded Plover breeds in New Zealand and overwinters in eastern Australia.

In late July this year, we received news of a Pied Oystercatcher sighted in the Refuge from a long-time volunteer birdwatcher. The striking black-and-white wader has a long orange-red bill, red eyes and pink legs. The photographer, having realised the species is not on the Park’s online fauna species list, kindly shared the sighting details and image with us. This sighting is special as the Pied Oystercatcher is listed as endangered in NSW, with fewer than 200 breeding pairs left; and while it is known to visit nearby bays on the Parramatta River, this is the species’ first appearance in the Park.

The Pied Oystercatcher and other birdlife at the Refuge face many threats including disturbance by humans and dogs. The Authority has installed new fencing along the eastern and northern side of the Refuge to protect our birdlife from undue disturbance.

Rare and first sightings are not confined to the Waterbird Refuge. We invite you to enjoy birdlife in the Park responsibly from the bird hide or pathways, and we would love to hear from you if you come across any new or interesting sightings!

Fauna species list

The first sighting of the endangered Pied Oystercatcher in the Park occured in late July ©Michael Eyles
Double-band Plover, sighted in 2016 after an absence of 29 years ©Jeff Byron
Plumed Whistling Ducks, usually found in the tropics © Geoff Hutchison

The first sighting of the endangered Pied Oystercatcher in the Park occurred in late July ©Michael Eyles

 Double-band Plover, sighted in 2016 after an absence of 29 years ©Jeff Byron

Plumed Whistling Ducks, usually found in the tropics © Geoff Hutchison