Exciting waterbird tracking update!

Story and photos by Heather McGinness

We have very exciting news! For the first time ever, we have GPS satellite-tracked an Intermediate Egret travelling from Australia to Papua New Guinea!

This trip was documented by high-resolution GPS fixes ranging from one minute apart to one hour apart, showing the precise route and how long it took: 38 hours from coast to coast.

‘Yurru’ (pictured at top of page), which means ‘rain’ in the Wangaaypuwan dialect of Ngiyampaa, is a juvenile Intermediate Egret that weighed just 450g when fitted with a solar GPS Global System for Mobile (GSM) satellite transmitter in the Macquarie Marshes on 16 February 2023.

After being fitted with a transmitter, Yurru departed the Macquarie Marshes just over four weeks later on the evening of 19 March 2023 flying north ~30km before resting. The next morning, it departed at 7:45am and flew to the Narran Lakes arriving at 10:55am on 20 March. It stayed in the Narran Lakes for two days and nights, feeding and visiting colony sites until the morning of the 22nd when it left at 9:15am to fly north-east. It followed the Lower Balonne River system upstream and arrived at St George at 8:56pm that day. It stayed in the St George area feeding for approximately three weeks until the 13th of April before setting off in the morning again at 8:25am flying north-east again and arriving at the QLD coast at 6.56pm. It then stayed and foraged in a very small area for another three weeks, around 15km west of Ogmore QLD, until 8 May 23.

Yurru's international journey. Credit: Heather McGinness

Yurru then departed at 6:43am on 8 May and flew north, crossing the coastline and leaving the Australian mainland at 7:11am, arriving in Papua New Guinea on 9 May at 8:55pm. Since then, Yurru has travelled south-east down the coast of Papua New Guinea, passing Port Moresby and stopping to rest at various wetlands. We’ve found it interesting that Yurru went so far north before turning to the Papua New Guinean coast and then travelling back south, so we will of course be looking into wind and weather conditions at the time.

Yurru current location PNG. Credit: Heather McGinness

In Australian Bird and Bat Banding Scheme (ABBBS) records, there are only two leg-band recoveries of Intermediate Egrets found in Papua New Guinea from Australia, both of which were birds banded as nestlings in the Macquarie Marshes in January 1994 and then seen in Papua New Guinea in May 1994; a similar time period we’ve seen here.

While we knew that Intermediate Egrets were capable of completing such a trip, this track shows us detail never seen before, making this an exciting discovery about travel timing, stopovers, routes, altitudes and speeds.

Our work in the waterbirds theme has shown us many wonderful and amazing things over the years and this result is a real highlight. Our team here are excited to start investigating some of the reasons why Yurru moved when and where it did. Stay tuned!


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