VS: copy Birding Broome + literature

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Subject: VS: copy Birding Broome + literature
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Mon, 16 Oct 2006 15:04:35 +0200

                                          BIRDING DOWN UNDER. 4. THE BROOME 

At the end of our Australian odyssey we had the great good fortune to be able 
to spend five days at the famous Broome Bird Observatory (BBO) on Roebuck Bay, 
a veritable bird paradise as well as a place of quiet and relaxation, where we 
could  either chase birds or eat lotus,  whatever we preferred. We were further 
lucky in getting to use the chalet, so we lived in luxury.

The BBO is reached via a quite three-dimensional sandy road from Broome, which 
already got my expectations up; in my experience the best birding spots are 
usually at the very end of the most miserable roads. And this proved so 
absolutely true also this time! After being welcomed by Peter Madvig and Peter  
?Collins we walked the short path down to the lookout platform and gazed out 
over the wide glistening mudflats of Roebuck Bay. With a tidal amplitude of c 
9m the bay looks quite differently at low water, when most of the bay is 
transformed into mudflats, and at high water, when the water laps the shores 
and the innumerable shorebirds and larids seek shelter along the beaches. There 
they present the fantastic show that has become so well known these last 
decades and which now also has been presented so evocatively by Jan van de 
Kam's brilliant photography in the book 'Life on the edge'.

During this first look the water was rising, but not yet high, and there were 
only a smallish flock of Silver Gulls and Crested and Lesser Crested Terns 
present, as well as here and there a few foraging small plovers, mostly 
Red-capped Plovers. We therefore moved to the beach itself, and there 
discovered the various fiddler crabs (as far as I could see there were at least 
four different species in this one small area, in addition to 3-4 different 
forms of other mangrove crabs), and the droll mudskippers with their constant 
repertoire of threatening and display behaviour. These were sufficient for 
hours of fascinating watching in themselves, but they also attracted various 
hunters: Gull-billed Terns patrolled the area ceaselessly, a few Sacred 
Kingfishers were usually present, and there were also always various wading 
birds: Striated Herons hunted with blazing eyes,  often suddenly freezing in 
unexpected heraldic attitudes, Reef Egrets and Great White Egrets  depend ing   
more on stealth and patience, and Australian Ibises pok ing  around somewhat 
further from the shore; a few times we noted a statuesque Jabiru far away on 
the mudflats. Of the shorebirds the large and long-billed Far Eastern Curlews, 
the few Whimbrels, and also I think the always active Greenshanks were the ones 
most interested in these coastal crabs, while most of the smaller birds 
concentrated on smaller prey or, in the case of the Black-tailed and Bar-tailed 
Godwits, extracted long worms from the mud.  Also the Pied Oystercatchers 
usually keep a little bit further offshore, as soon as that area is accessible 
to them.

Now and then all the birds suddenly flew up and on looking up--- a hard thing 
to do, when there is so much to see in the mud--- there was almost always a 
raptor in the air ,   most often patrolling Whistling or Brahminy Kites  (the 
also ubiquitous Black Kites were not so predominantly coastal as the larger 
species). Once there was an Osprey, and regularly the most impressive raptor of 
all, the White-bellied Sea Eagle, a common enough bird here and one that also  
posed in the tall trees near the coast and let itself be admired at leisure. On 
dead trees along the waterline here, as practically everywhere in Australia, 
there were cormorants (Pied, Little Pied and Little Black) and also Darters, 
and on the first day we also made the unexpected and impressive acquaintance of 
a stately Beach Curlew with its oversized bill; just in time, apparently, as we 
never saw it again.

At high water there were the amazingly diverse and large high water roosts of 
shorebirds and larids. One roost consisted mostly of Silver Gulls and various 
terns: mostly Crested, Lesser Crested and Gull-billed, but with usually a few 
of the enormous Caspian Terns thrown in. Only the largest shorebirds roosted 
together with these gulls and terns: Far Eastern Curlews, large flocks of 
Stilts, and usually a few Red-necked Avocets, and now and then a few godwits or 
a Whimbrel or two. But most of the smaller shorebirds concentrated on their own 
roosts elsewhere on the beach, where the two godwit species, Curlew Sandpipers 
and Great Knots were the main elements, but where diligent searching also 
revealed other species: Red Knots, Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, a few Terek and 
Marsh Sandpipers, Greenshanks, and also the famous Asian Dowitchers which I 
must admit I constantly failed to find in the throng. Greater Sand Plovers (and 
no doubt also Lesser Sand Plovers) and Red-capped Plovers ran around along the 
water's edge, together with Red-breasted Stints and now and then a Common or, 
much less often, Wood Sandpiper or even a few Sanderlings. Turnstones often 
kept themselves to themselves in separate small clusters, and the Grey-tailed 
Tattlers absolutely seemed to prefer a rocky roost rather than sharing the sand 
with the others.

In addition to all the bird and marine life, the shore itself also is most 
impressive. The cliffs are here as red as red can be (pindan-red, it is known 
as), and when the flood comes through the suspended material also colours the 
first yards of the water a deep red. The sandstone cliffs are eroded into many 
fantastic forms and on the sandy beaches there are large areas of pebbles, 
where one can find all sorts of beautiful forms and colours. Hermit-crabs 
patrol the beach, and near the border between sand and mud---usually 
surprisingly sharp--- small nassariid net snails, the 'Ingrid-eaters' of the 
'Life on the Edge' book, live in the sand and betray themselves through their 

Around BBO itself there is the Pindan, the dry forest which is so 
characteristic of these areas. Around our chalet a Rufous Whistler has its 
territory, so we are often regaled to its cheerful song and diagnostic 
'eeee-CHONG' calls. The other constant sound is the scissor-grinding call of 
the pair of Paperbark Flycatchers that also includes the chalet in its 
territory. In the trees around honeyeaters chase each other: small 
Rufous-throated and Yellow-tinted, and largish Singing Honeyeaters and Little 
Friarbirds. All these honeyeaters seem almost never to enjoy a quiet moment: 
all their lives they chase and are chased, flit from tree to tree, or sing 
their hurried little songs. The only one a bit less nervous appears to be the 
dark White-gaped Honeyeater, and this is also the one that bathes 'the normal 
manner', by walking into the water from the edge of the basin. All the other 
small honeyeaters, and also the Yellow Whiteeyes, that also come here to bathe, 
fly down straight into the water and out again, and sit and attend to their 
comfort activities on a branch above the water basin.

Other constant visitors at the water basins are the small doves, here mostly 
Bar-shouldered and Peaceful Doves, and the various finches: the Double-barred 
with their funny owl faces, and the elegant Long-tailed Finches. Larger 
visitors are the Grey Shrike-thrushes that please us with their rich song in 
the early mornings, the droll and always interesting Grey-crowned Babblers and 
the inevitable Great Bowerbirds. These have built several bowers in the area, 
i.a. a very strange double bower, where several birds seem to be active at the 
same time.  There are surprisingly few parrots in the pindan, but there are of 
course Pied Butcherbirds and Magpie Larks, and there are lots of Rainbow 
Bee-eaters. A Brown Goshawk comes regularly and looks whether there may be 
something to catch here, although I have not actually seen him attack. By far 
the largest visitors to the bird bath are the Agile Wallabies, for whom this 
clearly already has become routine, even though they still are quite careful in 
their approach.

One day Peter Collins takes a few of us on an excursion to the Roebuck Plains, 
in order to see the Bustards (which lie low this day) and the enticingly rare 
Yellow Chats. These plains are dry and dusty and at first side do not yield 
much more than Magpie Larks, Masked Plovers, and a plethora of Australian 
Pipits.  But further on, where the plains gradually change into salt-vegetation 
and there is a lot of saltbush and tall grasses, with lots and lots of large 
locusts, there are more birds. Singing Bushlarks and Brown Songlarks are 
flushed from the vegetation , and quite a number of beautiful Spotted Harriers 
hunt here, together with Whistling and Brahminy Kites, a few elegant 
Black-shouldered Kites, a Brown and even a Black Falcon. We do not know whether 
the locusts are the attraction or if the plains also hold rodents of some sort. 
The rests of a large lagoon hold no less than 10 Jabirus together, together 
with the usual shorebirds and plovers. On the way back, walking through the 
saltbush, we finally spot yellow flashes and come to grips with a small flock 
of the famous Yellow Chat, indeed a bird worth chasing; especially the males 
are really beautiful and light up this rather brownish-dull vegetation.

On the last day of our stay I finally see a chance to walk to Crab Creek and 
have a go at the mangrove birds, which somehow we have sorely neglected earlier 
during our trip. I start out early through the pindan, when the forest still 
rings with the songs of the shrike thrushes, and come across a nice extended 
family of Variegated Fairy Wrens  (There are also Red-backed Wrens here, 
watched several times near the coast). And finally I also meet up with the 
colourful Mistletoebirds, just before entering the bit of open plain; a young 
Pallid Cuckoo here is also the only one of the entire trip. A nice V-plough of 
15 Brolgas flies overhead and lands somewhere out of sight, as does a single 
Royal Spoonbill.

The mangrove forest is hot and full of small mosquitoes and sandflies, as 
usual, but there are also many birds here. Flocks of Yellow White-eyes forage 
here---I had seen those already near the BBO, where they also came to drink at 
the observatory--, and there is a lot of whistler song. It took much bending 
down and peering to get to see the birds, but finally I am in luck and watch my 
first ever White-breasted Whistlers, large and quite sturdy birds. I think I 
heard and glimpsed also Mangrove Whistlers, but not well enough to allow them 
to my life list. Two other birds also make it there, however, the small and 
dainty Dusky Gerygone (there were lots of those) and the also smallish and dark 
Mangrove Fantail. I also see a few of the red-eyed Mangrove Gerygone, but that 
is a bird I have seen before.
Five days at BBO was far from enough, but still it allowed us a first 
impression of this bird paradise. Thank you very much, Peters, for making this 
possible for us and for all your help during our stay!

           Wim Vader, Tromsø  Museum
            9037 Tromsø , Norway

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