After lunch, we were given the option of more banding, or birding. As Michael assured me he knew a great spot for terns, I went with the birding option, and George, Michael and I headed to Ray's Rest with the incredible Paul, all the while dreaming of rare birds. Michael got doubly excited when he realised it was low tide, which "is the best time for terns". Like a fool, I believed him.
We saw a total of 3 terns, all Caspian Terns. This was after a 4km walk in the sun, and the price we paid for this infinitesimal victory was 'birder's burn' on our necks due to our ubiquitous binocular straps. Cheers Michael. We then walked on to the main hide, where we saw many more terns, although sadly only Caspian and White-Fronted Terns. No Arctics, Commons or Antarctics for us. We birded around the stilt ponds for a few hours, again seeing the Curlew Sandpiper, Marsh Sandpiper, Sharp-Tailed Sandpiper and Brown Teal among the more common birds. Despite earlier disappointment, this was a great time for birding, and we eventually returned to the Shorebird Centre exhausted, as the others regaled us with tales of banding success that afternoon...
After dinner was when the real excitement began. As the sun set, we strung mist nets over the fetid, stinking Stilt Pools, in preparation for Godwits, Knot and Pied Stilts. Adrian, the 'boss bander' of the weekend, staked out with a thermal imaging scope (so jealous 😀 ) while the procedure was explained to us. One or two lucky individuals would be selected to go with Adrian to retrieve the birds, and take them to the banding station we had set up between the two big vehicles. Then another person would have the honour of banding, while the rest of us would watch with envy. The first bird silly enough to fly at night was a Bar-Tailed Godwit, which we banded, measured, weighed and released again. Red Knots began coming in as well, plus a Pied Stilt and a few Wrybill. When it was my turn to band, I reached into the box, praying that whatever was in there didn't have teeth. My hand wrapped around a soft and smooth Godwit, and I drew it out of the box. The first thing that struck me was its leg, kicking to get away. The second thing was the oddly soft, rubbery bill and amazingly smooth feathers. I held the bird in amazement, and the infinitely gentle face contrasted with the seemingly limitless fury of the bird. Eventually it settled down, and I gingerly begun to put the band on, took my measurement and carried the bird out to the mudflats. There I released it, and left, never to see that bird again. But, if anyone ever sees ZUZ again, PLEASE let me know!
I then lay down in the damp grass for a kip, wrapped in my jacket, and got up when it was time to pack up the net. Got into bed at 1am, and for once got up at a sensible hour the next morning, at about 8am. We finally left at around 2pm.