Broulee Island Nature Reserve is a rocky hillock about 500 metres across, connected to the mainland by a sandy isthmus. I visited it briefly during my trip to the South Coast two weeks ago. As I was standing on a rocky stretch of shore photographing some thornbills on the nearby hillside, I noticed this big black bird behind me with something in its beak.
The oystercatcher vigorously shook its trophy – not an oyster, more like a periwinkle – showering sea water before putting the periwinkle down.
It then began the task of extracting the hapless mollusc from its shell:
It paused to check that I wasn’t doing anything sinister, before bending to its task once more.
Meal over, it paused to leave a souvenir of a previous meal on the rocks:
.... before shaking out its wings and rear end, and flying off:
With its handsome red beak and eyes and shiny black feathers, this was a Sooty Oystercatcher (Haemotopus fuliginosus). These birds can be found in small numbers all around the Australian coast. This one belonged to the southern subspecies – confirmed by the narrow orange eye-ring and yellow claws (just visible in a couple of the photos). The clear red iris suggests it was a male; the females have brown flecks.
There is a second species of oystercatcher native to Australia – the Pied Oystercatcher. (One is pictured below, on Bruny Island.) As the oystercatcher name suggests, both species feed on static or slow-moving coastal invertebrates such as shellfish, chitons and sea urchins. Indeed they are shellfish specialists, so powerfully built as to be able to dislodge and prise open creatures no other bird could tackle.