Student volunteer in biggest marsh sandpiper count in Gwydir wetlands

Curtis Hayne was part of a team surveying waterbirds in the Gwydir Watercourse in mid-November when the record count was logged.

Curtis Hayne

Curtis Hayne was part of a team surveying waterbirds in the Gwydir Watercourse in mid-November when the record count was logged.

A total of 60 marsh sandpipers were seen along with many other birds.

But it was only after returning home that Curtis realised it was a record-breaking tally.

'I realised by chance that it was a new record after submitting my observations to Eremaea eBird and NSW Birdline,' Curtis said.

It's a new highlight to add to his growing list of bird-watching accomplishments.

The 16-year-old from Moree began birding at the age of nine and is now a regular volunteer with the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage.

'Migratory shorebirds were particularly abundant during the November survey,' Curtis said.

'As well as 60 marsh sandpipers, we saw 30 sharp-tailed sandpipers, two black godwits, six Latham's snipes and a common greenshank.

'It was interesting to see so many marsh sandpipers and only one common greenshank. In previous years, the trend has been the opposite.

'Knowing that these birds have travelled thousands of kilometres from Europe, arctic Siberia and northern China to be here is truly amazing.

'These birds are listed and protected under international agreements between Australia and other countries that the birds visit including Japan, China and the Republic of Korea,' he said.

Other birds seen during the survey included an adult female black-necked stork, brolgas, red-necked avocets, magpie geese, chestnut teal, Australian pratincoles, black-chinned and painted honeyeaters, white-throated needletails and glossy black cockatoos.

Curtis, along with staff from Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) and Eco Logical Australia (ELA), observed a total of 137 bird species during the joint waterbird surveys under OEH monitoring and Commonwealth-funded Long Term Intervention Monitoring (LTIM) programs.

A fortnight later, water levels at the sites had dropped resulting in fewer waterbirds when visited again by new local OEH staff member David Preston, along with Curtis, Lew Macey and Ainslee Lines from NSW Bird Atlassers.

Local OEH Wetland and Rivers Conservation Officer Jane Humphries said the Gwydir, Gingham and Mallowa watercourses were nationally important areas and a unique and highly productive part of the western Gwydir catchment floodplain.

'With the help of volunteers like Curtis, we are able to record the diversity of vegetation and animal life and see the effects of environmental water and natural flows in action,' Ms Humphries said.

In late November, Curtis, Lew, Ainslee and David also spotted a koala during the local bird atlassers survey - an added bonus for the volunteers and OEH staff alike.