The Inverawe Native Gardens were looking for their 100th bird species and I thought I’d get a feather in my cap by spotting it.
My mission had started earlier in the year when I noted from the gardens’ newsletter that species 98 and 99 had turned up at the gardens at Margate and the owners, Bill and Margaret Chestnut, were excitedly anticipating what in cricket parlance would be a ton.
I thought that with a little research, and hard work on the spot, I might record the 100th but, in my case at least, it turned out to be a mission impossible.
A beautiful blooms of a red flowering gum had in February attracted at first a party of musk lorikeets. Then rainbow lorikeets joined the fray, as both the parrot species did battle with a pair of brush wattlebirds which had earlier claimed the tree as their own.
Within days a party of yellow-tailed cockatoos turned up, to tuck into the feast of pollen and nectar themselves, scattering the flowers over pathways.
Gamesmanship in the gums, or even a battle in the bottlebrushes, was not on my radar, however. Looking at the checklist of birds spotted in the 9.5ha gardens since they opened as a tourist attraction - and a lesson in sustainable gardening – more than a decade ago, I could see that even though birds of bushland were represented, there were big gaps where waterbirds and shorebirds were concerned.
On this mission, on a fine sunny day in early autumn, I would concentrate my birding expertise on waders for that elusive 100th species and birding fame, at least in Margate.
When I arrived late in the morning everything was in place for some serious wader watching. The tide in the North West Bay that borders the gardens was out, and though my binoculars I could see waders and waterfowl dotted across the marshes and mudflats.
Migratory shorebirds were in the process of leaving Tasmania on their epic journeys across the East Asian Australasian Flyway to their breeding grounds in the far northern hemisphere and I was confident I would spot the most common, the red-necked stint.
There might even be a chance of spotting other, less common, waders not on the list, like greenshank and bar-tailed godwits.
And, failing the migratory birds, I thought I had a fallback in a resident wader that does not leave Tasmania in the winter, the red-capped plover.
Bill Chestnut joined me for a two-hour survey of seagrass, marsh, grassland and mudflat but we drew a blank for any new species. All I could find were the resident pied oystercatchers and masked lapwings among shorebirds and the teals, pacific black duck and black swan I had seen on previous occasions.
As Chestnut explained, the mudflats of the North West Bay comprise heavy clay washed down from the Mt Wellington foothills, which packs hard when wet or dry and does not support the abundance of aquatic, invertebrate life of the sandy and looser mudflats found at other locations where shorebirds gather, like Ralphs Bay on the eastern side of the Derwent.
Although the definition of a wetland is simply an area inundated periodically by water, wetlands and the habitats within them can be very complex environments. The birds that inhabit them can be very choosy where they roost and feed. Clearly, it appeared the long probing bills of godwits and curlews were not suited to the mudflats below the InveraweGardens, nor were the shorter bills of the little stints, tiny birds the size of sparrows that probe the surface of the mudflats in a kind of rapid, stitching motion.
The oystercatchers seemed happy enough, however, and I could only speculate they might be catching the myriad tiny crabs I saw scuttling across the clayey mud before the tide came in.
Certainly the white-faced herons were doing the same and, giving up on finding the 100th species, I settled in for an afternoon of searching for the birds already on the Inverawe list, including all of Tasmania’s 12 endemic species.
And I would leave spotting the 100th Inverawe species to someone else.