Shorebirds and Stencils Workshop with Kate Gorringe-Smith.

Shorebirds and Stencils: Workshop with Kate Gorringe-Smith.

This weekend workshop started with a field trip to the Onkaparinga estuary at Port Noarlunga. With locals intent on the football game playing on the adjacent oval, our group of ‘twitchers’ and artists gathered in the mid-morning sunshine. Tony Flaherty from DEWNR had set up a bird watching area – banded stilts, both adult and juvenile, a pied cormorant, ibis and a greenshank were amongst the birds spotted.

Tony gave us a comprehensive introduction to shorebirds. Firstly, shorebirds are birds are those that live on or near the shore – a different category to seabirds.

The Onkaparinga is an important estuarine environment, made up of dunes, tidal flats and the samphire/salt marsh areas. The area is managed by a number of different agencies; and since 2009, with the housing developments nearby they are trying to manage the ecosystem in a more natural way, with a coherent plan. Weed control and revegetation are the priorities. This is following well-meaning revegetation efforts in the 1970s, where introduced species such as Casuarina glauca and Tea-tree were planted. These have reduced the areas of tidal flats, and shorebirds need open space. The saltmarsh areas are also important for the shorebirds, and for fish. When the area floods, this marsh area provides an important foraging ground for fish. South Australia has about 6 species of saltmarsh, which is a good diversity. Mangroves can encroach on saltmarsh areas, and reduce diversity. There was also an attempt to plant mangroves in the estuary – however, there is no record that the Onkaparinga was ever a habitat for mangroves; and if they had taken hold, this would have led to an increase in flooding of Port Noarlunga.

Prior to the reservoirs and weirs, the Onkaparinga used to be the second biggest estuary in South Australia. Environmental flows are vital to the continued health of the river and its inhabitants. There needs to be fresh water coming down to trigger the breeding of some fish – for example bream and black bream.

Shorebirds are found in about 70 sites on Gulf St Vincent from the proof range to Goolwa. Younger migratory shorebirds, though hatched in the Tundra, and making their first flight to SA at about 6 weeks of age, may spend their first winter here. Studies conducted have included the winter count of shorebirds. Studies in South Australia have focussed on the Grey Plover, a migratory bird from one section of Thompsons Beach (north of St. Kilda), with some birds banded and satellite tracked. Interestingly, it was found that these mighty travellers head north via Taiwan/China and the Yellow Sea, resting and feeding here before the final leg to Siberia. The tidal variations in both China and Northern Australia form the right conditions for ‘shorebird supermarkets’, and it is extremely important to protect these areas, for the continued survival of these species migration. The birds have to time their arrival with the melting of the snow. The South Australian birds ended up on Wrangel Island, which is located in the Arctic Ocean between Chukchi Sea and East Siberian Sea. Grey Plovers from Western Australia have been found to travel to mainland Russia. Migratory shorebirds rely on big high pressure systems that usually occur at this time of the year (March), as these set up south easterly winds blowing over the deserts, and this is thought to assist the birds’ migration. Weather is important to these birds with weather events e.g. typhoons possibly affecting flights. Once in Siberia, the shorebirds have 24 hours of sunlight, and massive Arctic tidal mudflats which can be accessed over the short summer. Courtship, nesting, with about 4 eggs laid and chicks (not all of these survive) have to occur within 8 weeks. The adults leave first, followed by the juveniles.

There are 8 known flyways across the world, including from Africa through the middle east and then north; South America to the Tundra and Australia/New Zealand to Siberia/Alaska.

To increase knowledge of these flyways and migratory birds, banding has been carried out. The Victorian Wader study, Friends of Shorebirds SE are examples of the conservation efforts. On Facebook, there is the page Grey Plover, where you can follow the migration online, with a satellite tracked bird (On Facebook look for the grey plover linocut style image in red and white).

Tony recommended further bird watching at Magazine Road wetlands – a range of birds. Snapper Point – Hooded plovers nesting, and these birds like the southern surf dominated beaches. If areas were permanently fenced to protect these breeding birds, it has been found that birds of prey can perch, so a rope fence offers better protection. Young birds can also be subject to raven and silver gull predation. Also, it has been found that if dogs are restrained on a leash, they have a less erratic movement, and the nesting birds fell less threatened. Back to bird watching locations, Thompsons Beach, the vernal pools at Parafield recommended. The Price/Dry Creek salt fields provide artificial conditions for the shorebirds and with their closure, this will disturb the birds and may have long term affects. There is estimated to be between 15 000 and 25000 shorebirds in SA, though the numbers has decreased in recent years. Shorebirds have a lifespan of 25-30 years.

Shearwaters (seabirds not shorebirds) migrate to Alaska/Aleutians, and used to migrate every 10 years. They are now arriving every 2-5 years and there is not enough food, leading to mass starvation events.


At the conclusion of the talk, we collected a variety of materials to use in printing. We headed up to the Bittondi Studio for the afternoon session of the workshop. Kate talked about her interest in shorebirds, and her ‘special’ bird the bar-tailed godwit. Kate then showed examples of her printmaking, followed by a demonstration of the printing, stencilling and overprinting techniques. This included linoprints being overprinted, ghost prints, using laser cut stencils, and hand cut stencils etching plates printed in relief, printing from plywood, and using some of the found plant materials as stencils.

Day two was back at the studio, experimenting with the range of materials on offer to produce a range of layered prints. From printing with seaweed to form works evocative of whales, to reusing plates to print and layer works in relief. The creativity of all participants was inspiring – all producing gorgeous experimental pieces.

Kate introduced us to her ‘Overwintering Project – Mapping Sanctuary’ and invited workshop participants to take part, at a reduced fee. (Further information on this project below).

Thank you to Tony for giving us such an interesting insight into the lives of shorebirds.

I’d also like to thank Kate for travelling to SA to give this workshop. Kate was incredibly generous with both her time and knowledge. This was an inspiring weekend, and I would recommend it to both experienced and beginner printmakers.



The Overwintering Project: Mapping Sanctuary


Invitation for Expressions of Interest, December 2016


‘Overwintering’: to spend the winter; e.g.: ‘many birds overwinter in equatorial regions’




The Overwintering Project is an environmental art project inviting artists from Australia and New Zealand to respond to the unique nature of their local migratory shorebird habitat. Australia and New Zealand have over 100* internationally important shorebird overwintering sites. These sites are not interchangeable: they each possess a unique combination of physical and biological features that make it the perfect sanctuary for migratory shorebirds to return to, year after year.





·         to raise awareness of Australia and New Zealand as the major destination for migratory shorebirds of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, as they spend the most time in their migratory cycle on our shores

·         to raise community and individual awareness of the intrinsic value and uniqueness of local shorebird habitat

·         to map a personal response to the richness of our shores

·         to link artists around Australia and New Zealand



‘Knowledge bestows ownership; uniqueness bestows value.’





Printmakers are invited to contribute one print created in response to the unique nature of their local environment. In pondering how their local habitat is precious to shorebirds, artists are also invited to reveal how it is precious to them. Migratory shorebirds provide the focus for the project, but artists can respond to any aspect that they perceive as rendering the area unique e.g. the geology, prey species, tidal patterns, flora etc.


Artists can ask for a list of sites in their vicinity or, if they are already aware of their local shorebird habitat, they can add their area to the list.


I am planning to organise events in each state inviting interested artists to attend talks by shorebird experts in or near their local habitat. If artists would like an event at their site, please contact me and I will try and organise one or put you in touch with a local expert.


The prints will become part of a unique print folio that will provide an in-depth personal response to our unique coast and the sites that our migratory shorebirds depend on in order to survive. I intend to find a permanent home for the folio in a state or national collection.


To be part of the Overwintering Project printmakers are asked to


·         submit two copies of the print made for the project to the co-ordinator: one to exhibit and one to sell to raise funds for shorebird research. Any form of original print is accepted. Paper size: 28 x 28cm.

·         submit a good-quality image of the print to the project, title and medium, a 100 words artist statement and a precise description of the location of your site

·         pay an administrative charge of $25***


This project is expected to continue for up to three years. It will be supported by a website that will list Overwintering Project exhibitions and display images of the art generated in response to each site. The final manifestation of the Overwintering Project will be an exhibition or exhibitions of the entire Overwintering Project print folio.


The Print Project provides both the fundraising aspect of the Overwintering Project, and the enduring core of work that can be exhibited at any time to aid shorebird or coastal conservation.





For further information including a map of sites, or to enquire about joining the project, please contact Kate Gorringe-Smith, Overwintering Project Co-ordinator.

0432 322 408