To the inexperienced eye, it would have meant nothing but to Adrian Walsh the sight of a Nordmann’s greenshank standing next to a common greenshank on the Cairns Esplanade was a “miracle”.
“Immediately the cogs in my brain started turning around and I was trying to think what the heck was this bird?” he said.
Mr Walsh was the first person to report the extremely rare bird on New Year’s Day, but the coming months could be the vagrant’s last in far north Queensland.
Affectionately referred to by bird watchers as Nordy, the lone bird is thought to have flown off course during its migration from Russia to South-East Asia.
Never before spotted on the east coast of Australia, the bird is so rare, recent estimates say between 1,000 and 2,000 are left in the wild.
“The consensus is that it’s a young bird and that sort of explains why it’s here,” Mr Walsh said.
“I’ve spoken to a few experts in Russia and in China about the bird and they’ve had a look at the photos well.”
Nordy has since become a star attraction, drawing bird enthusiasts to Cairns from across the country.
“As it became clear that it’s a bird that’s staying for a long time, people really felt it was worth the investment for flying up here,” said Golo Maurer, key biodiversity area program leader at Birdlife Australia.
“You can see they stayed around a bit longer, went up to the tablelands and got some birds there as well.”
Mr Maurer said the Cairns Esplanade was of global significance and a popular destination for migratory birds.
“It’s one of the most biodiverse places in the world and of course in Australia as well,” he said.
“The birds are used to having this beautiful feeding ground there that is easily accessible and that the tide pushes them right up.”
Mr Walsh said it was an opportune time to see the Nordmann’s greenshank because it was unknown if the bird would take flight and continue its migration or stay a year longer.
“It’s perfect at the moment in the late afternoon, you’ll get an incoming high tide,” he said.
“And what it does, it pushes a lot of the waders into what we call a stage roost.
“So, they’ll stage here until the tide gets too high, and then they’ll fly off to their overnight roost.”
Mr Walsh explained that the adult Nordmann’s greenshank, in its breeding plumage, had heavy black spots on its chest, hence it was also referred to as the spotted greenshank.
Few spots appeared to have developed on Nordy since it was first spotted by Mr Walsh, while other migratory shorebirds on the esplanade were showing heavy breeding plumage.
To see the bird, look for features such as a slightly upturned, bi-coloured bill that’s yellow at the base. It also has yellow legs and light-grey plumage.
To the untrained eye, wading birds on the esplanade may look alike.
Mr Mauer said the key was in their natures.
“The beauty of migratory shorebirds, because they all look sort of similar… you gotta take your time and look at them and get a feel for them,” he said.
“Nordmann’s greenshank is a hectic feeder.”
Mr Walsh laughed as he described the gluttonous bird feeding on crabs almost every time he had observed it.
“Sometimes it will have great difficulty, it will bite off more than it can chew.
“I’ve seen it discard more than a couple of shells that it hasn’t quite gauged the right size and has not managed to swallow them.”
Nordy mingled well with the other shorebirds and was not shy of passers-by on the esplanade.
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