The Cairns Shore is/was very Birdy

The shoreline in Cairns is very nice. There is a long boardwalk Esplanade with tropical vegetation and extensive flats to the northeast. Much of the configuration of the harbor is a result of World War II. The US needed to get into northern Australia for rest and recovery and to access the hospitals that were established here by the Australians. The harbor was dredged under orders by General McArthur and the shoreline was changed as well.

To the north and south of the Cairns downtown harbor there are mangrove fringes. The airport is in what was a mangrove swamp and the roads in and out just call out to be birded for mangrove species. I was shown one place in the mangroves along the airport road where Pacific Golden Plovers loaf during the day. It was great to see a couple dozen of the birds just hanging out.

The mud flats that are visible, and easily birded, from the boardwalk have a great reputation for birds – the trouble is that there are fewer and fewer birds each year. Many of these birds migrate down the Asian coast from Russia, to China, to South Korea, to the Philippines, southeast Asia, Taiwan, Borneo, Sumatra, Indonesia, and on into Australia. Many of these countries have developed a coastal port-based economy. This means more harbors and less and less coastal marsh lands and mud flats. The birds are forced into fewer and fewer places of less and less quality. Food availability is diminished and many don’t finish the trip.

However for an American it is great to see the European and Russian species we rarely get to see in North America. Here are a few of the easy birds on the flats right in downtown Cairns.

Gulls are a dominant wetland and coastal feature of the northern hemisphere birder; not so much in the southern hemisphere. There are three native gulls in Australia where there are twenty-seven in North America. The Silver Gull is widespread, smallish, and silvery-gray. The other two Australian gulls a pretty much black-backed. Incidentally, New Zealand also has three species of gull. The Silver Gull of Australia and the Red-billed Gull of New Zealand look very similar but DNA mapping shows they are quite different and not each others closest relative.
The Pacific Reef Egret has a large bill on its Snowy Egret-sized body. The bird comes in two color morphs with the dark more being much more common than the white. There seems to be no age or sex factors involved in the coloration. This is an occasional visitor to the USA with probably origins in west Africa.
One of the great migrants found here is the Bar-tailed Godwit. This is a bird that nests in the low tundra of far northern Russia and Scandinavia. It migrates southward to the northern shore of Australia and the islands just to the north. There are also Black-tailed Godwits that reach Australia and can be seen on the Cairns flats along with the more numerous Bar-tailed.
The Great Knot is a bird of northeastern Russia, north of the Kamchatka Peninsula. The Red Knot has become a poster-bird for conservation in the US and perhaps that is a role the Great Knot will assume in Russia. It migrates from northern Russia down through the Indian sub-continent and along the southeast Asian coast to Australia. It is the largest of the sandpiper clan; the largest Calidrid.
Curlew Sandpipers are annual in the northeastern part of the USA. I can see them yearly on Cape Cods more remote beaches. But here they are usual and expected. They new in central northern Russia and migrate for the most part into central Africa. However the Indian sub-continent and the islands falling southward to Australia also get a full share of wintering birds.
The Sharp-tailed Sandpiper is another common bird of Cairns’ flats. However it is dealing in numbers here. Perhaps the substrate is changing and birds are not happy on the flats, but perhaps it is even more dire than that. Habitat loss along the coast is an international problem.
The Sandplovers are two species (probably Lesser Sandplover here) that nest in the Himalayas or just north of the mountains and then winter on flats and beaches on  the African east coast, the Indian sub-continent and the islands of the south Pacific including Australia. When they are together the Greater Sandplover is in fact longer legged and larger. But alone they are more difficult to ID.
There are two Tattlers in world; Wandering and Gray-tailed. They look alike. This is a Gray-tailed Tattler; but they both are very interesting. The Wandering Tattler is an Alaska nesting species that then flies deep into the south Pacific where it winters on very lonely and remote islands and atolls. The Gray-tailed (Grey-tailed in British and Australian books) breeds along mountain streams in northern Siberia and then winters mainly in Australia and the islands just to the north.
Though there are many birds of the flats in addition to those shown (Great Egret, Australasian Pelican, Masked Lapwing, Eurasian Curlew, etc.) I am going to finish up this page with the Whimbrel. Whimbrel nest in a holarctic manner in Canada, Alaska, Russia, and Scandinavia. They winter in a similar manner in the souther hemisphere. Almost every sub-equatorial shore will have some Whimbrel in the winter (our northern winter that is). They are often fiddler crab specialists in  their wintering areas, though they wander fields and beaches picking up whatever they can find. They are rather common on the flats along the Cairns Esplanade.

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