by Jamie Walker
On the Sunshine Coast, we are fortunate to have beaches which are very diverse. As well as sandy surfing spots, there are areas of rock platforms and low stacks, with wave-lashed channels and crevices, at places like Shelly Beach, Point Cartwright and Alexandra Headland.
This is a world of rock pools, daily refreshed by the tide. There are fish of bright colours (or cryptic patterns which conceal them if they lie still on the pool’s floor) black sea-cucumbers, chocolate sea-anemones and lurking crabs. Even in these tablet and iPod infested times, those things, plus the wonder of “walking” shells propelled by their hermit crab occupants, and the undisciplined behaviour of sea-squirts, can still delight our children.
The birds which inhabit rocky shorelines, are adapted to a dynamic, challenging world where they seek a diet of invertebrates in the inter-tidal zone.
Sooty Oystercatchers generally leave sand and mudflats to their Pied cousins. Sooties are almost always on the rocks, feeding in small, unflustered groups. However, our own increasing activity on beaches has long made them resort to islands for nesting.
The Eastern Reef Egret is a sturdy heron with a strong bill that is a match for most crabs’ defences. (One of my field guides call it ‘workman-like’). It comes in two colour phases – white or dark grey. Adaptable, when its food supplies are drowned by a rising tide, it will also hunt for large insects on grassy areas above the shoreline.
But the prize for birders searching this habitat, must be the Wandering Tattler. Never numerous, this relative of sandpipers is a rocky shore specialist, boldly feeding in the face of pounding breakers. As it walks it seems to teeter at the edge of the foam, often disappearing into a white-water gully only to emerge with undaunted confidence.
The Tattler’s lifestyle requires stamina. In the northern hemisphere’s autumn, it travels from Alaskan breeding grounds to our shores or to South America and the lava-bouldered coasts of the Galapagos. Its name is unflattering. To be a tittle-tattler is to be a gossip or chatterer. Perhaps the name originated in its call – a loud, rippling trill – which it makes in flight every time it decides to move from one point to another, or when it seems to complain because the waves have forced it to reluctantly shift its ground.
By the time you read this, Wandering Tattlers will be feeling the call of the Arctic spring; but if you are quick, you might just catch one before it leaves. If you miss them, they will be back by October and, in the meantime, there are still those wonderful, perennial rock pools.