Contributor: Bill Ramsay
Alan Stringer and I had a visit to Reef Island in Western Port (about 8km north east of San Remo) on the morning of 24 February 2023. The forecast was for a hot day, but fortunately with a predicted low tide at 10:38am (San Remo), an early start was possible. We set off from the car park at about 8:45am.
Over the years, I have led several MELBOCA and BirdLife Melbourne outings to Reef Island. It is always a great relief to look out from the car park, and no matter what the tide predictions are, to see the gravel bank that is the access to the island fully exposed, and a dry walk to the island is ensured. My preferred time to visit Reef Island is late February/early March, because I believe this is the best chance to see what I call the 4 Reef Island specialities – Pacific Golden Plover, Double-banded Plover, Ruddy Turnstone and Grey-tailed Tattler, all on the same day.
It was a beautiful morning, a gentle breeze, a flat sea, and we were well ahead of the coming heat of the day. We walked along the gravelly beach stopping to look at large groups of Black Swans, numerous White-faced Herons, 40+ Masked Lapwings, 3 Great Egrets, a flock of Crested Terns and several other species From the gravel bank leading to the island we had great views of numerous Pacific Golden Plovers and Double-banded Plovers working the tidal range. 2 out of 4 target species and we hadn’t even made it to the island!
Not far onto the island, looking out to the south, there were about 5 Ruddy Turnstones, 3 adults hunkered down in the rocks, and 2 juveniles in full view standing on top of the rocks. While viewing the birds, we met up with 3 birders from Cape Paterson. We exchanged notes. No, they hadn’t seen any Grey-tailed Tattlers but they did have a sighting of a Broad-billed Sandpiper that took off and could have been anywhere. We shared our Ruddy Turnstones and moved on to the western end of the island to make our way back along the northern side of the island. 3 out of 4 with just the most difficult to get.
My past sightings of Grey-tailed Tattler have always been on the north side, the birds either hunkered down in the rocks close to the water, or sometimes in view perched on top of a rock. The walk over the rocks requires a fair amount of concentration that has to be shared with purposeful looking for a Grey-tailed Tattler, not an easy task. We had probably walked more than 80% of the rocky section with only views of Pied and Little Pied Cormorants and the occasional Pacific Golden Plover. Things were not looking good when 4 birds took off before we could get a decent look and flew off into the distance. However, Alan was confident that the call was that of a Grey-tailed Tattler. Almost immediately another 4 birds took off, making the same call, and not travelling far. This time they sat on rocks close to where we were and gave us some great views and photo opportunities. 4 out of 4, and back to the car park in time for lunch. A highly successful morning’s birding.
Reef Island in late February/early March is a great place for a half day’s birding but needs to be undertaken with some caution. Check the tides and make sure the water level will be low enough to get to the island and return without having to wade through water. Wear solid footwear with a strong sole, suitable for rock hopping on jagged rocks. Take all the necessary gear for a day when you might be exposed to the sun. If you follow this advice you should have a great visit.