Tracking the Oriental Pratincole – Update #21

“It is absolutely marvellous the way these satellite-tagged Oriental Pratincoles continue to come up with surprises.”

Clive Minton April 2019

This morning after checking the data, I would have called Clive and updated him on the progress of this project. It is likely the response to this latest update would have also contained the words ‘absolutely marvellous’ and then we would have talked about ongoing/future work. How I miss our chats.

So, the great news is SEC is back in Northern Australia around Lake Argyle, 60 km south of Kununurra, Western Australia. SHE has reached the Australian shoreline overnight, on the Legune Coastal Floodplains in the Northern Territory and SEP seems to once again fly ‘under the radar’ and surprises us with another possible location after further low-quality data was received. Interestingly, SEP may well be around Lake Argyle too. It is due to SEP’s   intermittent signals that we are still not quite giving up on SUN in Taiwan and a possible return to Australia.

Map of migration paths of four satelite tagged Oriental Pratincoles from Australia to India, Cambodia and Taiwan, 22nd December
Figure 1. Migration tracks of four satellite-tagged Oriental Pratincoles as of 22nd December, 2019.

Oriental Pratincoles on the move

First back to Australia

SEC (PTT 83596)

SEC reached the shores of Northern Australia on December 9th, moving to a location 70 km east of Lake Argyle the next day. Two days later it moved to the banks of Lake Argyle remaining in this area at the time of this report.

Departing Anna Plains on February 26th, 2019 and with its breeding site in Cambodia, this makes a total return trip of over 8000 kms.

Map showing flight path of Oriental Pratincole, SEC, from Australia to Cambodia and back, 20th December 2019
Figure 2. Oriental Pratincole, SEC's location near Lake Argyle, approximately 850km from the 80 Mile Beach release site as of 20th December, 2019.
Zoomed in map of Lake Argyle, Western Australia, showing location of Oriental PRatincole, SEC, 21st December 2019
Figure 3. Zoomed in view of SEC's location where it is recovering on the banks of Lake Argyle, Western Australia on 21st December, 2019.

2000km in less than 48 hours

Leg Flag SHE (PTT 83595)

SHE left Central Java in the early hours of December 20th arriving on the shores of the Legune Coastal Floodplain, Northern Territory in the last hour of December 21st, covering a distance of approximately 2000 km. It is interesting that both SEC and SHE have taken a circular route around Southeast Asia, both making short stops in Central Java on southward migration before making landfall in Australia.

The Legune Coastal floodplain was also the final Australian site for SUN before heading north towards Taiwan.

SHE is currently 980 km north east of the Eighty Mile Beach release site and has completed an 8700 km round trip.

Map of migration path of Oriental Pratincole, SHE, from Central Jave to Australia, 21st December 2019
Figure 4. Oriental Pratincole, SHE’s flight path from Central Java to the Australian Mainland - a distance of 2000km in less than 48 hours - on 21st December, 2019.
Map showing location of Oriental Pratincole, SHE, in the Northern Territory, Australia, 21st December 2019
Figure 5. A close-up view of Oriental Pratincole, SHE’s current location on the Legune Coastal Floodplain in the Northern Territory as of 21st December, 2019.

Flying under the radar


Leg Flag SEP (PTT 83593)

After very limited, inaccurate data in mid-November showing that SEP may have travelled to South Sumatra, we once again received more poor-quality data on the December 20th suggesting SEP is now north of Lake  Argyle, Western Australia. It is unfortunate that the PTT is not providing the same quality data as SEC and SHE, missing the  opportunity of discovering SEP’s route and timing of its flight south. Regardless, after a breeding  attempt in India, SEP has completed an extraordinary return trip of over 13,000 km – 5000 km more than its Cambodian breeding counterparts.

Map showing location of Oriental Pratincole, SEP, near Lake Argyle Western Australia
Figure 6. Possible location of Oriental Pratincole, SEP around the Lake Argyle region of Western Australia received on 20th December, 2019.
Close up of tagged Oriental Pratincole, SEP, in India
Photo 1. Satellite-tagged Oriental Pratincole, SEP, photographed in India by Subbu Subramanya.

Just for the record

With input from Chung-Yu Chiang

Leg Flag SUN (PTT 83591)

Still no signals at all from SUN since the 1st September.

In the very slim hope that we may receive some data, this map will remain on this final page for a little longer.

Map of Taiwan showing last known location of Oriental Pratincole, SUN, in Chiayi County, September 2019
Figure 7. Still no accurate readings for Oriental Pratincole, SUN. Pinned area marks probable location from last reading (low accuracy) on 1st September, 2019.

What next?

The story so far

With northward migration occurring around late February, there is little time for recovery before migration commences once again as the birds fuel up for their next northward flights.

At the time of this report, SEC, SHE and (probably) SEP are all in the Lake Argyle region within 200 km of each other. In the late November early December period I was alerted by colleague, Amanda Lilleyman of some reports of flocks of Oriental Pratincole flying south-west over Humpty Doo in Darwin, Northern Territory.

Past observations at Anna Plains Station saw very large numbers of Oriental Pratincole coinciding with huge numbers of locusts. These insect blooms typically occur soon after rain and as yet insect numbers on the station are still low due to the lack of sufficient rain (D. Stoate pers. comm).

Unlike the more predictable behaviour of the coastal dependent waders that more or less utilise the same roosts and foraging areas, it will be interesting to see what movements the Oriental Pratincole make between now and February as the wet season rains bring about the right conditions for insect breeding.

Map of northern Australia showing locations of Oriental Pratincoles, SEC, SEP and SHE within 200 kilomtres of one another, December 2019
Figure 8. Locations of SHE, SEP and SEC all within 200km of each other with some independent observations of large flocks of Oriental Pratincole flying south-west over Humpty Doo, Darwin, NT, November/December 2019.
Oriental Pratincole flying low over the sand of the beach after being release with a satellite tag by researchers
Photo 2. Release of satellie-tagged Oriental Pratincole at Anna Plains Station in February 2019.
Table showing dates and flight distance of 5 Oriental Pratincoles fitted with satellite tags
Table 1. Dates and distances flown since time of release in February 2019 (accurate location data only; analysis pending).

Download a PDF copy of this report – Oriental Pratincole Satellite Tracking Report 21


Clive Minton

The extensive and expensive satellite tracking program we have set up in NWA has only been possible through the efforts and generosity of a large number of people and organizations. It is difficult to know where to start with the formal acknowledgements so I will list them – but not in any particular order of priority.

  1. The members of the AWSG NWA 2019 Wader and Tern Expedition and similar NWA expeditions in previous years, are particularly thanked for their efforts in the field in catching, banding and deploying transmitters on a range of species.
  2. Landowners are especially thanked for permission to go onto their property to enable us to catch various species in order to deploy the satellite transmitters. In particular we thank Anna Plains Station for giving us the freedom to roam over large areas of grazed grassland when counting and catching target species.
  3. AWSG acknowledges the Yawuru People via the offices of Nyamba Buru Yawuru Limited for permission to catch birds on the shores of Roebuck Bay, traditional lands of the Yawuru people.
  4. AWSG acknowledges the Karajarri and Nyangumarta people for permission to catch birds to be marked for this project on the shores of 80 Mile Beach, traditional lands of the Karajarri and Nyangumarta.
  5. The cost of the satellite transmitters, which cost around $5000 each, and the satellite downloading costs (around $1000-1500 per month) have been met by a variety of sources. Private individuals (Charles Allen and Doris Graham) have made most generous individual contributions. Kate Gorringe-Smith and her team of artists involved in The Overwintering Project made a large, generous donation from funds raised during their various public exhibitions. The annual NWA Expedition members, collectively, also provided significant funds each year.
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Grace Maglio
Grace began working in conservation in the late 1990’s, but it wasn’t until she stopped in Broome halfway into a trip around Australia in 2013, that she discovered migratory shorebirds. She was spellbound and has been promoting their conservation ever since.
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