The Red-Capped Dotterel (Charadrius ruficapillus) is one of the most widespread beach nesting shorebirds in Australia and yet we had never been able to observe this wader at close quarters, let alone photograph it. It was particularly exciting to discover this little creature on my birthday, and it is with great pleasure that we are making this endearing little plover our #25 Bird Photography Challenge.
What does it look like?
A small shorebird of only 14 to 16cms, the adult male Red Capped Dotterel has a bright reddish crown and nape and grey brown mantle. There is a black incomplete band running down from the nape to the sides of the breast and a black line running from the black beak, through and past the eye. The forehead, chest, and underparts are white. The legs are black.
The female is a little duller in colour than the male, with a paler rufous and grey brown crown and hind neck.
How does it behave?
Often seen running along the beach on rapidly moving legs, the Red-Capped Dotterel displays a stop-run-peck feeding method. It forages for molluscs, small crustaceans and worms on sandy beaches and salt-marshes. The nest site is a shallow scrape on a beach or stony area, as shown in the image below. The eggs are generally a clutch of two spotted yellowish brown eggs. The nest blends in to its surrounds for camouflage and is often protected by a small plant or other beach rubble.
Did you know?
When nesting, the Red-Capped Dotterel adopts an interesting strategy to lure intruders or predators away from their eggs: it pretends to be injured, sending an alarm call and looking like it has a broken wing.
We first noticed this little fellow on the beach, alone, looking somewhat agitated, uttering little squeaky noises and flapping along the sand awkwardly – “I’m injured, come and get me, not my eggs” it seemed to say. The reason for this, was that unbeknown to us, we were passing very close to its nesting site. As we walked along the beach, we did come across its nest with two lovely eggs.
We quickly moved away and watched from a distance as she came running back to the nest. It would have been easy to step on this nest such was the camouflage amongst pumice stone and shell grit.
Where is it found?
The Red-Capped Dotterel is found in both coastal and inland habitat, including sandy beaches, sandflats, mudflats, lagoons and saline wetlands. Although it is secure in Australia, nesting birds are vulnerable to dogs and beach-goers.
The images here were taken at Butterfly Bay, Great Keppel Island, during our recent Queensland Winter Cruise, using a Canon 7Dii, and Canon 100-400 lens supported by a Gitzo monopod for extra steadiness.