3 days ago
An adult Banded Stilt (Cladorhynchus leucocephalus), strikingly handsome in crisp black, white and chestnut. And don’t forget those speccy pink pins!
Found only in Australia, these wandering nomads have evolved amazing adaptations to the continent’s harsh and unpredictable “boom-and-bust” climate, criss-crossing the continent in remarkable journeys we’re only just beginning to understand.
Spending dry periods in coastal refuges like Lake George in SA’s south-east (where this individual was seen amongst a flock of 20,000!), they can fly inland within a week or two of significant desert rain to find remote flooded salt lakes. There, they take advantage of the astronomical numbers of tiny brine shrimp that flourish to life in the productive saline waters, and the birds will often begin breeding immediately in their thousands.
Research undertaken at Deakin University by Reece Pedler using satellite trackers harnessed to the stilt found that these birds can fly up to 1000km in one night, traversing the country with mind-boggling speed and stamina to reach their destination. Incredibly, the females – ready to breed at short notice – can make these flights whilst carrying eggs that make up an extra 50–80% of their body weight, ready to lay and incubate when they arrive!
The satellite-tracked birds also revealed that breeding events could happen on much smaller water bodies and occurred at a much higher rate than previously thought; so remote are the locations of these events that they were often simply missed!
The unpredictability of the Australian climate must make travelling these distances to find good breeding grounds worth the risk. However, despite their resilience and adaptability, Banded Stilt still face many threats, most alarmingly the continued modification and destruction of their coastal wetland refuges, and the impact of climate change that is making the occurrence of inland flooding events even more irregular.
It was a privilege to see these gorgeous birds up close, but even more so knowing what astonishing journeys they have taken to get there. at Beachport, South Australia