May 8, 2013
Passage of Budgerigars over the observatory was a regular feature early in this period, with sightings of small eastbound flocks on most days. Other sightings included a Lesser Frigatebird in the bay on 22nd April, a Spotted Nightjar on the plains on the night of the 23rd and 4 fat, migration-ready Common Redshanks on the plains on the 25th. Over 1,000 Masked Woodswallows were swarming above the observatory on the 26th and the first 2 Grey Fantails of the year were visiting the bird baths the same afternoon.
A drive onto the plains on the 27th saw a wide range of species and impressive numbers of egrets, Tree Martins (with a few Fairy Martins among them), ibises and herons making use of the rapidly diminishing areas of standing water. A couple of Black Swans were noteworthy and 65 Royal Spoonbills was a good count for the site. A Common Redshank was a highlight of the mangrove tour on 28th April and a Cattle Egret at the sewage ponds the following day was a new species for the year.
Hundreds of Masked Woodswallows were a daily sight over the BBO in early May, while the White-gaped Honeyeater and at least one Grey Fantail continued to frequent the bird baths. Yet more remarkable migration of Black Honeyeaters and Pied Honeyeaters was recorded from the observatory too. The most notable counts were 85 Black and 35 Pied passing through on 1st May, 30 Black and a spectacular 270 Pied on the 5th, and 30 more Pied on the 6th. A Red-necked Avocet was with the stilts in the bay during a shorebird tour on 3rd May, the long-staying Pomarine Skua was in the bay until at least the 5th and 2 Lesser Frigatebirds were there on the 7th.
Migration watch continued daily throughout. The first Terek Sandpipers were seen departing on 22nd April and about 550 Grey-tailed Tattlers left on the 23rd. The 24th was one of the best evenings of the year for migrating shorebirds, with 26 different flocks recorded leaving the bay including Whimbrels, Grey-tailed tattlers, Greater Sand Plovers, Red-necked Stints, Bar-tailed Godwits and Red Knots. Things tailed off quickly towards early May, although occasional flocks of Terek Sandpipers and Red-necked Stints continued to leave until the 7th at least.
April 22, 2013
Our first course of the year – Wave the Waders Goodbye – ran from 7th to 12th April and was a great success, with all participants getting to see a wide range of birds and, most importantly, learning a few things about the shorebirds of Roebuck Bay. Just about the full range of expected waders were seen in the bay, providing opportunities for most species to be seen at close range and for some similar species pairs to be studied side by side. The Pomarine Skua reappeared in the bay on the 9th and 10th as an unexpected bonus, although it did cause a bit of panic among the roosting waders.
A trip out onto Roebuck Plains on the 10th had a variety of other waders that are not found on the mudflats, including hundreds of Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, Little Curlews and Australian Pratincoles, with a few Oriental Pratincoles still mingling with their Aussie relatives. A fantastic array of other species was seen that day: Brolgas, Black-necked Storks and Australian Bustards all gave good views; a Yellow Wagtail and a few flocks of Masked Woodswallows were found; and an amazing 15 different species of raptor were recorded, including less common species such as Black-breasted Buzzard and Little Eagle.
An impressive species list was amassed again on the 11th, but the most remarkable event was a spectacular movement of Black Honeyeaters over the observatory: at least 353 headed east overhead during just one hour of counting late in the afternoon, and other small flocks had been noted passing through throughout the day. A few flocks of Budgerigars also went east and 10 Pied Honeyeaters were picked out among the Black Honeyeaters. Landbird migration was still in evidence the following morning, when at least 300 Budgerigars and 40 Black Honeyeaters passed east over the mangroves during the last tour of the course. Actually in the mangroves, all the speciality species were successfully seen, with White-breasted Whistlers and Broad-billed Flycatchers giving particularly good views.
After the end of the course we tried a few night time ventures onto the plains in search of nocturnal wildlife. A couple of Bush Stone Curlews were seen on the 14th; a Spotted Nightjar was a particular highlight on the 15th, and a Moon Snake was found outside the shadehouse when we got home; and the 17th produced a Bush Stone Curlew, 2 Barn Owls and the same nightjar again.
A Pink-eared Duck was with the Grey Teal on the plains on the 19th, when there were still good numbers of Australian Pratincoles there. A few migrant Zebra Finches were gathered at Entrance Point, with 8 Painted Finches joining them in the bushes.
The daily migration watch, of course, continued throughout the period and there were several particularly exciting evenings of mass shorebird departures. Some of the highlights were around 2,000 Bar-tailed Godwits leaving on the 6th, 550 Black-tailed Godwits on the 11th, 360 more Black-tailed Godwits and 105 Whimbrels on the 14th, and a wonderful variety of species departing on the 16th that included about 700 Whimbrels, 115 Curlew Sandpipers and smaller numbers of Red-necked Stints, Grey-tailed Tattlers, Lesser Sand Plovers and both species of godwit, all noisily beginning their journeys to the Northern Hemisphere overhead.
April 7, 2013
As the flocks of shorebirds continue to leave the bay each evening, we have been enjoying seeing their excited mass departures from the Migration Watch site every day. The two most numerous species in the bay, Great Knots and Bar-tailed Godwits, began to leave from 22nd and 30th March respectively, with much more godwit action already in early April. Other movements of note included 105 Greater Sand Plovers heading north on 24th March, 12 Ruddy Turnstones on the 26th and the first Grey Plovers departing in mixed-species flocks with the Bar-tailed Godwits from 5th April. The next couple of weeks are expected to be the busiest period for the departing shorebirds and and most of the remaining species should be making an appearance any day soon.
Masked Woodswallows were still conspicuous in late March, with 400 over the obs on the 20th, 120 on the 21st and smaller number on several days since. Lesser Frigatebirds were seen on three dates towards the month’s end and the lingering Common Noddy, left behind in the bay by Cyclone Rusty, was still looking a bit lost in front of the BBO viewing platform until 2nd April. The Semipalmated Plover was last recorded in the observatory’s log on 23rd March and appears to have now left us for the winter once again. The 23rd was a good day for owls, with a Barn Owl sighting and at least 12 Southern Boobooks seen along Crab Creek road while driving back from town after dark. The first Black-necked Stork of the year was in the bay on the 24th, followed by sightings on several subsequent dates. A look at the sewage ponds on the 26th found 3 Radjah Shelducks, a White-throated Honeyeater and a Yellow Wagtail, while another Yellow Wagtail dropped into the Bay during migration watch later in the same day.
A flooded section of Roebuck Plains has been attracting spectacular numbers of birds in recent weeks. Of particular note were around 200 Black-tailed Native-hens that were found to have taken up residence there on 27th March. Many Whiskered Terns and a small number of Common Terns were also present and at least 5 Australian Hobbies were chasing dragonflies over the floods. Some visible migration on 31st March, including 120 Glossy Ibises and 3 White-faced Herons flying south over the obs and 8 Cockatiels and a few Budgerigars past Gantheaume Point, were the first indications of some more significant movements to come over the following days.
Diurnal passage was in progress over the obs all day on 1st April. Very little time was spent actually counting migrants, but 108 Budgerigars and 21 Black Honeyeaters were seen and 5 Fork-tailed Swifts lingered for most of the morning. Many more of all these species must have gone through unseen. Around 200 Masked Woodswallows were hawking insects overhead for most of the afternoon and 6 Pied Honeyeaters arrived in the evening. Raptor movement was also interesting, with a constant stream of Whistling Kites, Black Kites and Brahminy Kites drifting slowly north at great height.
An early morning session at Entrance Point the following morning produced some excellent migration and good numbers of birds arriving at the point from the north. For two hours from dawn 208 Budgerigars were counted, most of which seemed to continue straight south over the bay. At least 25 Zebra Finches were gathered in the bushes next to the car park, but much more surprising was a stunning flock of 65 Painted Finches clustered around the rocks on the west of the point. Even more surprising still, and the bird of the morning, was a single Pictorella Mannikin that joined the Zebra Finches at the car park. A group of 9 Cockatiels made a brief appearance and 9 Black Honeyeaters appeared overhead before seeming to drift off to the east. There was lots of migratory activity among some of the common species too: 43 Little Friarbirds were counted moving south through the bushes; more than 30 Brown Honeyeaters assembled at the point and spent the morning restlessly flying south towards the sea, always soon aborting the attempt and returning to the land; 3 Mistletoe Birds arrived high overhead and also thought better of attempting the sea crossing; and many small groups of Rainbow Lorikeets also came in noisily from the north.
Some of these birds, including most of the Painted Finches, remained at Entrance Point for a few days, and Zebra Finches increased to 50 birds. A group of 3 Swiftlets – of uncertain species so far – appeared at the sewage ponds on 4th April, with a single bird still present the next day. A Pomarine Skua in the bay was an unexpected Migration Watch bonus on the 4th and 5th, and 3 Yellow Wagtails flew over the viewing point on the latter date.
Wave the Waders Goodbye – our first course of the year – is about to begin, so it will be a busy week at the BBO. With that and the ongoing daily Migration Watch, there should be plenty more interesting sightings to look forward to soon.
March 20, 2013
Now that the annual shorebird banding expedition to Broome and 80-mile Beach is over and the Australasian Wader Studies Group have departed for another year, we have time to take a breather and look back on some of the many notable sightings from an exciting three weeks.
With the ominous presence of Cyclone Rusty looming threateningly offshore, late February produced some challenging cannon-netting conditions and frequent bouts of torrential rain. Notable sightings from the first few expedition days still included a couple of Red-necked Avocets and 2,500 Black-tailed Godwits counted in the bay on the 23rd, 115 Oriental Pratincoles flying north overhead on the 25th and more than 1,000 Whiskered Terns at Crab Creek. Up to 3 Black Honeyeaters were seen near the observatory on the 25th and 26th, 20 Budgerigars flew overhead on the 23rd and small numbers of Masked Woodswallows continued to trickle through.
The silver lining to Rusty’s spiralling storm clouds, however, was a fantastic array of seabirds taking refuge in the bay and at the port. A trip to Entrance Point on the 27th found a wonderful variety of storm-blown terns that included at least 35 Common Noddies, 12 Bridled Terns, 3 Sooty Terns and 5 Roseate Terns. The rocks were covered with Brown Boobies, 20 Lesser Frigatebirds were soaring overhead (with a further 20 seen out in Roebuck Bay) and a thorough scanning of the feeding flocks offshore found 4 Arctic Skuas, a Pomarine Skua and a Streaked Shearwater that gave repeated fly-bys among the foraging terns. In addition to all the seabirds, a Beach Stone-curlew popped up in front of the assembled shearwater-watchers, a Black Honeyeater was in the nearby bushes and a Dugong made a brief appearance at the surface.
The expedition moved to 80-mile Beach on the 28th for nine more days of wader banding. Rusty had moved far enough south not to cause us any serious concern and had strewn various rare and interesting seabirds along the coast by way of parting gifts. Several Arctic Skuas were seen along with a Pomarine Skua, and numerous Lesser Frigatebirds patrolled the sky above the dunes. Bridled Terns and the occasional Sooty Tern were present among the resident species and the dark, floppy shape of Common Noddies, unfamiliar to the roosting waders, caused frequent perturbation among the gathered flocks and much frustration in the cannon-netting hide. A Wedge-tailed Shearwater picked up on the tide line was sadly moribund, as was a Streaked Shearwater found later in the week.
Birding around the cattle station and wetlands resulted in a long species list and some interesting sightings. Pied Honeyeaters were amazingly numerous almost everywhere. Black Honeyeaters were almost as common and were easily found in the dunes behind the beach. At least one Shoveler (presumed to be Australian Shoveler) was found on a nearby marsh and 4 Banded Stilts were an unexpected bonus at the same site. Both Oriental Pratincoles and Australian Pratincoles were present in small numbers and a few Oriental Plovers and Little Curlews were also recorded.
After a brilliant time at 80-mile Beach, it was back to the BBO for a final week of cannon-netting. With so many birders around again there were plenty of interesting sightings. An early Welcome Swallow was a notable record at the sewage ponds on 9th March, while Broome’s long-staying Lesser Black-backed Gull was also there during this period and a Yellow Wagtail was present on the 12th. A Varied Sittella on the edge of Roebuck bay was quite a surprise on the 12th, and the variety continued with 20 Varied Lorikeets flying overhead during the same morning. The first Jacky Winter of the year was seen near the observatory on the following day and the first 4 Magpie Geese flew over the plains on the 14th. A final unusual sight was 4 Pink-eared Ducks bobbing around in Roebuck Bay at high tide on the 16th. The expedition was a success, despite the adverse conditions to begin with, and more than 3,000 shorebirds were banded during three exhausting but unforgettable weeks.
Finally, the BBO’s annual ‘migration watch’ is now underway and we will be recording the daily departure of migrant shorebirds from the bay each evening. The first northbound waders were 9 Greater Sandplovers on 12th March and the first flocks of Eastern Curlews departed from the 16th. Between now and early May we will be expecting to see spectacular movements of several species as they begin their incredible journeys to Northern Hemisphere breeding grounds.
February 23, 2013
With the three-week Australasian Wader Studies Group cannon-netting expedition about to begin, there is just time for a short rundown of the year’s notable sightings so far, particularly the amazing passage of migrants over the observatory yesterday afternoon.
January’s first highlight was an impressive movement of an estimated 10,000 Oriental Pratincoles passing over the observatory on the 3rd. A Banded Honeyeater seen on the same date is the only record of the species so far this year and a dead Great Frigatebird found washed up on the beach in town on the 31st was unusual.
A visit to Nimalaica on 2nd February produced a Channel-billed Cuckoo, at least one skulking White-browed Crake and, most surprisingly, an Australian Painted Snipe that flew up out of the marsh. Oriental Cuckoo is another scarce species in the region and single birds seen at the obs on 4th, 9th and 20th February could well have been the same individual. Dollarbirds were seen frequently throughout the period, including at least 13 counted along the road between the obs and town on 5th February.
A long dry spell made access to the lakes possible on the 6th and a fantastic range of species was seen. The highlights were a Comb-crested Jacana, a Black-tailed Native-hen, a small group of Varied Sittellas, the first Budgerigars of the year and at least 150 Masked Woodswallows near Lake Campion. Around 150 Sharp-tailed Sandpipers were at Lake Eda, with a single Long-toed Stint picked out among them. A Lesser Frigatebird flew over the BBO viewing platform later in the day.
The usual Semipalmated Plover was seen at the sewage works on 9th February, with a Radjah Shelduck also still present there. A flock of 25 Masked Woodswallows was over the obs on the same day and another 100 passed overhead on the 13th. Also on the 13th, a Black Honeyeater made a fleeting appearance in the trees next to the birdbaths, although it couldn’t be tempted down to join its Brown cousins at the facilities. On the 15th, the first Red-necked Avocet of the year was near One Tree and a Black Swan bobbing around far out at sea in the bay was a surprising sight.
The first new big rarity of 2013 was a Lesser Black-backed Gull that attracted admiring twitchers to the malodorous environs of Broome Tip from late January. On 17th February it was discovered roosting on the beach right in front of the observatory viewing platform, allowing excellent views of its subtle identification features in rather more salubrious surroundings, and without its usual supporting cast of filth-stained corellas and ibises.
A shorebird training day on the 18th included a good opportunity to look through the large flocks of roosting waders in the bay, and at least 20 Asian Dowitchers were found among the godwits and knots. A bit of non-avian excitement was provided by three Lemon Sharks circling in the shallows near a washed up Shovelnose Ray.
Following a heavy shower on the afternoon of 22nd February, a spectacular movement of birds passed north over the observatory for three fantastic hours of non-stop visible migration. Most of them were Masked Woodswallows, with a minimum of 3,060 of these birds snaking their way high across the sky in a continuous band that proceeded almost unbroken from 2pm to 5pm . Joining the chirruping procession of woodswallows was an eclectic mix of other species that included an incredible 300 Pied Honeyeaters (with the occasional Black Honeyeater mingling with them) and approximately 70 Fork-tailed Swifts, 50 Tree Martins, 7 Varied Lorikeets, a Spotted Harrier and a Whistling Kite. A tiny red dot seen amid a high cloud of woodswallows and honeyeaters was presumably a Crimson Chat, and three unidentified cormorants also appeared far overhead and dutifully joined the same path as all the smaller birds. Amazing!
November 15, 2012
With the season starting to wind down now, the staff here at the Obs have had more chance to get out and about and see some birds, even though most of the tourists have left the Broome area with the rising temperatures there is still a fantastic array of birds to be found, the day to day highlights are as follows; more »
October 28, 2012
HERE IT IS, the news you’ve all been waiting for! The famous Broome Semipalmated Ploverhas just pitched up on Simpson’s Beach in town for its fourth summer being spotted yesterday (27th October) roosting with other birds to begin another lonely summer moving between the beach and the Sewage Works, it was first seen on 23rd October 2009 and became the first record for Australia before returning every October since! more »
October 21, 2012
11th OCTOBER WAS A FABULOUS DAY, a brisk easterly wind and an approaching weather system produced an excellent 6000 Fork-tailed Swifts over the Obs, all passing east into the wind with a fine array of other species caught up in the movement including around 2000 Masked Woodswallows appearing from mid-morning, often forming huge spiralling flocks with the Swifts, towering above the Obs before drifting off to the east then, a bit later small flocks of Pied Honeyeaters, Black Honeyeaters and Crimson Chats also started moving through, much lower, often just skimming the tops of the trees not giving much time for us to look at them, the Chats often just a flash of scarlet in with the black-and-white Honeyeaters. It was still impressive the following day but with slightly smaller numbers totalling at least 800 Fork-tailed Swifts, 1000+ Masked Woodswallows, 25 Pied Honeyeaters, two Black Honeyeaters and several hundred Tree Martins – a fantastic and impressive couple of days. more »
October 2, 2012
FIRSTLY, an advance apology for the slight laziness of this post as we have just finished our first Birds of Broome course and have just enough time to draw a deep breath before the next course in a weeks time, so without the clever and witty prose you are used to in the previous posts (!) here are some of our latest sightings from the Broome area;
WHITE WAGTAIL – a stunning adult male of the race leucopsis (sometimes called ‘Amur Wagtail’) was found at the Sewage Works in Broome on 24th Sept and was still present the next day, the first record in Broome since April 1999.
Black-tailed Native Hen – one lingering around some small pool on the side of the highway c70Km east of Broome, seen on several dates.
Crimson Chat – male on Roebuck Plains Station on 24th Sept.
Banded Lapwing – the group of four mentioned in a previous post are still present and have been joined by a fifth bird.
Banded Honeyeater – a juvenile was drinking from a cattle bore on Roebuck Plains Station on 25th Sept.
Oriental Pratincole – the first returning migrant was recorded on Roebuck Plains Station on 25th Sept.
White-winged Black Tern – the first returning migrants were recorded at the Sewage Works on 25th Sept.
Dollarbird – the first small influx of returning migrants were noted around Broome on 26th Sept, with the two overwintering birds still at Nimalaica.
Black Falcon – the lingering bird around the lakes on Roebuck Plains Station is still present and still being fantastic.
Channel-billed Cuckoo – the first returning bird was recorded at 12 Mile on 29th Sept.
These are just the recent highlights, more and more waders are continuing to pour into the area including many juveniles, its certainly an exciting time of year, anything could turn up!
September 23, 2012
AS SEPTEMBER DRAWS ON more and more birds which have spent their breeding seasons to the north of Australia are returning to Broome, waders, of course are often the most notable returnees with good numbers of Oriental Plovers turning up now and after the first in the Bay on 13th September increasing numbers of Little Curlews are appearing including a nice flock of 11 on a recent Lakes tour; as well as spotting these scarcer species we are also seeing the first juveniles of the commoner species arriving now with the latest new ones in being juvenile Turnstone and Greenshank in the last couple of days – its brilliant to be scanning through a flock in the Bay and suddenly come across a bright, all new looking juvenile with clean, crisp edges to all its feathers in amongst all the other slightly tatty looking adults – magic! more »