The Black-fronted Dotterel is November's Bird of the Month.
The Black-fronted Dotterel is a regular visitor to the Parklands, most commonly found when the ponds are low. It is a very small plover, usually seen making short runs along muddy, sandy or gravel edges of shallow water. When resting among stones at the water's edge, it is so well camouflaged that they can be very difficult to notice.
Its body is beautifully decorated with the upper body streaky-brown and white below. On the white breast is a broad black V-shaped band reaching up to join a black mask which spreads from behind the bill, up the forehead, back through the eyes and around the nape of the neck. The bill is rich red with a black tip, and the eyes have a red ring around them. The white of its face forms a band between the mask above the eyes and the brown-streaked crown. There is a chestnut band passing along the upper body at the shoulder of the wings. The legs are yellowish to pink.
The Black-fronted Dotterel is found throughout Australia, and while not being one of our internationally migrating waders, it has managed to colonise New Zealand since the mid-twentieth century.
They inhabit the margins of lakes, wetlands, rivers and farm dams inland, to the sewage treatment ponds, stormwater drains, park ponds and estuaries of our cities, but are rarely found along the coastline.
They do not tend to migrate seasonally and pairs often remain within a suitable area. However, drought can trigger population movement in search of viable habitats.
When hunting for food, the Black-fronted Dotterel runs rapidly along the edge of shallow water, stopping suddenly, body horizontal and head bobbing up and down to peck for both terrestrial and aquatic insects, small crustaceans, molluscs and seeds.
In southern Australia, the Black-fronted Dotterels usually breed through spring and early summer. In northern Australia, they tend to breed from autumn through winter, avoiding the wet season. Inland, they may breed whenever rainfall and habitat conditions are suitable.
Their nest is a small saucer-shaped scrape on gravelly ground, usually near the edge of the water. The nest is exposed and often surrounded with stone chips or pieces of shell to help conceal the speckled eggs and chicks, camouflaged for protection.
Two or three eggs are laid and both adults share incubation for about 26 days. The hatched chicks leave the nest after about 24 hours to find more protective cover and the adults share the caring for them. In favourable conditions, the pair may lay two or three times in a season. If the nest or chicks are approached, the adults, like other plovers, will run off feigning injury to distract a potential predator.
In the Park:
Black-fronted Dotterels have been recorded on most ponds in the Parklands, although due to their small size and cryptic plumage, they are easily overlooked. Some of the best places to find them are along the eastern edges of Randwick and Duck ponds, although they can appear wherever water levels expose mud or sand flats. Watch for the small flicker of them running, and then focus in to enjoy the bird’s beautiful plumage.
Image: Tony Spira