AWSG Satellite Tracking Project 2019 – UPDATE #2

This is a guest blog from the Australian Wader Studies Group (AWSG), edition March 2019.

In February 2019, for the first time in history, satellite tags were deployed on Oriental Pratincoles (during the non-breeding season in NW Australia). So everything you read here is brand new! Below you also find an update about the Little Curlews and Whimbrels that AWSG follows with satellite-tags.

Oriental Pratincole in the hand. Photo: Pat Macwhirter

Oriental Pratincole – All departed

All four satellite-tagged Oriental Pratincoles have now left Australia on northward migration. The leading bird has  been in Cambodia for over a week, settled by the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, where it could well stay to breed.

The other three are still on migration through Indonesia and Borneo. The tagged Oriental Pratincoles left Australia from the north-west. The birds could very well complete their migration in the next ten days or so. It will be particularly interesting to see where the individual breeding locations will be!

Migration tracks of the 4 Oriental Pratincoles. Map: AWSG

Individual reports of four Oriental Pratincoles with a PTT satellite-tag

1. SUN – Our interstate traveller has left the country

At the time of the last update, SUN was positioned 60km north-west of the Legune Airport. SUN reached this location around the 25 February. Legune Station is a 3,000km² cattle station which also contains the Legune Coastal Floodplain, a site of conservation significance (including an important and significant shorebird site), between the Victoria and Keep Rivers in the Northern Territory.  SUN remained in this area until 8th March.

SUN using Legune Coastal Floodplain, Northern Territory, Australia. Map: AWSG

Around the evening of 8 March, SUN left this site and commenced migration with the next position being recorded 140km north-east of the Ashmore Islands, travelling approximately 700km between the times of 18:38 on 8 March and 20:12 on 9 March. SUN was located 900km from the release site on 11 March.

SUN’s departure from Australia on 8 March 2019. Map: AWSG

2. SEP – From outback explorer to city living (well, almost)

During the last reporting period SEP spent its time exploring the remote outback of NW Australia. On 4 or 5 March, SEP ended its outback tour, next land-based location was in the Pati Regency, Central Java, only 8km east from the city of Pati, this location is 1,790km from the release site.

SEP’s movement since transmitter deployment in February 2019. Map: AWSG
SEP – From the remote outback of northern Australia to a populated area in Central Java. Map: AWSG

3. SHE – Our first world traveller foraging and roosting on Tonle Sap Lake, a UNESCO Biosphere reserve

SHE remains on the floodplains of Tonle Sap Lake where SHE has been for 15 days, (from 23 February – 10 March). This lake is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, an important area not only for the flora and fauna of the region but this lake also supports almost 50% of the Cambodian human population, who depend on the lake’s resources. SHE remains approximately 4,000km from the release site.

SHE – utilizing the floodplains of Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia. Map: AWSG

4. SEC – In West Kalimatan, “The Province of a Thousand Rivers” 

After staying ‘close to home’ for just over 2 weeks, (8 – 25 February), SEC began its migration around 26 February, via Roebuck Plains, before heading in a more westerly direction towards Borneo. At the time of the last report, SEC was located in the south west corner of Borneo, 5km north of Air Hitam Village. On 3 March and a further 330km north, SEC was in the Landak Regency, 45km north east of Pontianak, the capital of the West Kalimatan Province. SEC is located approximately 2,500km from the release site.

SEC travelling to Borneo. Map: AWSG

Little Curlew and Whimbrel

Little Curlew – No change to movement

The Little Curlew are still mainly feeding on the grazed grasslands of Anna Plains Station and adjourning occasionally to the nearby coastal beaches/mudflats of 80 Mile Beach. Whilst most birds have ranged around for up to 50km or more, the movements of one bird are rather circumscribed and it maybe that this is in fact a reflection of a bird we have lost and/or a transmitter which has been shed.

Little Curlews at Anna Plains Station. Photo: Katharine Leung
Local movement of the Little Curlews near 80MB and Anna Plains, NW Australia. Map: AWSG

Whimbrel – Still in the territories of NW Australia

KU and LA are both demonstrating high site fidelity as in previous years: KU are constantly using the mudflat near Crab Creek (east of Roebuck Bay) and Dampier Creek (west of Roebuck Bay; while LA remains at its favourite section of 80 Mile Beach 45-48km south of the Anna Plains Entrance.

Whimbrels roosting during high tide in Roebuck Bay. Photo: Katherine Leung


(contributed by Clive Minton)

The extensive and expensive satellite tracking program we have set up in NWA this year has only been possible through the efforts and generosity of a large number of people and organizations. It is difficult to know where to start with the formal acknowledgements so I will list them – but not in any particular order of priority.

  • The members of the AWSG NWA 2019 Wader and Tern Expedition are particularly thanked for their efforts in the field in catching, banding and deploying transmitters on a range of species.
  • Landowners are especially thanked for permission to go onto their property to enable us to catch various species in order to deploy the satellite transmitters. In particular we thank Anna Plains Station for giving us the freedom to roam over large areas of grazed grassland when counting and catching target species.
  • AWSG acknowledges the Yawuru People via the offices of Nyamba Buru Yawuru Limited for permission to catch birds on the shores of Roebuck Bay, traditional lands of the Yawuru people.
  • AWSG acknowledges the Karajarri and Nyangumarta people for permission to catch birds to be marked for this project on the shores of 80 Mile Beach, traditional lands of the Karajarri and Nyangumarta.
  • The cost of the satellite transmitters, which cost around $5000 each, and the satellite downloading costs (around $1000-1500 per month) have been met by a variety of sources. Private individuals (Charles Allen and Doris Graham) have made most generous individual contributions. Kate Gorringe-Smith and her team of artists involved in The Overwintering Project made a large, generous donation from funds raised during their various public exhibitions. The annual NWA Expedition members, collectively, also provided significant funds. However, it will still be a year or two before we can repay all current debts.

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