Issue 19
Monday, 06 November 2017
Charles Darwin University
E-news
Research associate Amanda Lilleyman was surprised to find a Bar-tailed Godwit in a mist net, at a saltpan near East Arm, in Darwin, while hoping to catch and tag Far Eastern Curlews (right). Photo: Nolan Caldwell
Research associate Amanda Lilleyman was surprised to find a Bar-tailed Godwit in a mist net, at a saltpan near East Arm, in Darwin, while hoping to catch and tag Far Eastern Curlews (right). Photo: Nolan Caldwell

Researcher chirpy despite elusive curlews

By Ellie Turner

Sitting in the dark, shorebird researcher Amanda Lilleyman watches the mist nets she has set on salt pans in Darwin Harbour, hoping to catch Far Eastern Curlews.

Tagging the critically endangered birds will be crucial to a major research project into the little-known precise requirements for their roosting and feeding habitats, but curlews are elusive.

Amanda, a research associate at CDU’s School of Environment, said she was optimistic that some curlews would be caught and fitted with GPS tracking devices, weighing 20g apiece, before they began the annual 10,000km migration north over the Yellow Sea to Siberia in early 2018. 

“Curlews are intelligent and very sensitive to changes in the environment,” she said. 

“We have caught about 60 birds from other species, though, including the critically endangered Bar-tailed Godwit. 

“They’re not our target species, but are still useful to the project; we attach coloured leg flags to signal that they were caught in Darwin, to help piece together international bird migration puzzles.”

Code-engraved alphanumeric yellow flags allow researchers to collect data on individual birds.

Amanda said curlews were endemic to the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, with about 75 per cent of the population estimated to spend the non-breeding season in Australia. 

She said The Curlew Project, funded by Darwin Port Corporation and the Federal Government’s National Environmental Science Program, would analyse the bird’s habitat requirements at non-breeding sites.

“The project will assess the overall availability of suitable habitats, the impacts of developments within Darwin Harbour and the port, and ways to mitigate these impacts,” she said.

Amanda said the highest count of Far Eastern Curlews so far was 264 at East Arm Wharf.