Birding around Broome & Ashmore Reef During the Build-up Part 3

To: Birding Aus <>
Subject: Birding around Broome & Ashmore Reef During the Build-up Part 3
From: L&L Knight <>
Date: Thu, 7 Dec 2006 21:03:03 +1000
For the last couple of years, Kimberley Birdwatching has organized an
annual charter boat trip out to Ashmore Reef [AR] in late October, with a stop at the Lacepede Islands on the way back. There are two birding elements to this trip –pelagic and on-shore twitching.

The “bus trip” out to AR departs from Broome and takes about two and a
half days to get there.  We had a good boat this year – it was 23
metres long and had two showers and comfortable air-conditioned cabins – a relevant factor in the sub-equatorial conditions. The seas was relatively flat most of the time [we set up a scope on the top deck at one stage]. About the only time people got seasick was on the first
day when conditions were fairly choppy.

We didn’t have a large range of sea birds.  Other than the terns,
noddies, boobies and frigate birds, Buller’s Shearwaters were very
common, and there were a few hotspots where we saw Matsudaria’s and
Swinhoe’s Storm-petrels. We also saw the odd Streaked Shearwater and one or two intriguing petrels. The main challenge was to get the birds to come close to the boat – we had to keep moving, so it wasn’t
possible to stop and berley [as is the custom on the shorter coastal

Outside of the birds, there were thousands of flying fish [some were
very large and could fly over 100 metres], quite a few sea snakes and
sea turtles, and a diverse range of dolphins and [small] whales.  [I
thought he spinner dolphins were the easiest to photograph.  The
skipper was keen on cetaceans, so was always happy to pause to have a
squiz at a pod.]

Ashmore Reef is an elongated lagoon with three low islands at a
latitude of about 12 degrees south. West Island is the largest and the only one to have any significant trees. It has a hand pump that taps
into a freshwater lens under the island, and historically was
apparently periodically occupied by fishermen from islands that are now part of Indonesia [Roti is 80 km north of AR]. It is possible to go snorkeling in the lagoon, where the water temperature is rather warm ~ 30C.

Because of its location, AR was a transit point for people pursuing an informal immigration route into Australia a few years ago, and now has a semi-permanent customs presence in the form of vessels rotating out of Darwin. The islands are nature reserves – you need a permit to
access West Island, and we were only permitted to walk around the
beaches of the other islands while accompanied by the customs officers.

East and Middle Islands have breeding colonies of terns, noddies,
boobies and frigate birds, and you can get good photographs from the
beach. In particular, there was the occasional Black Noddy in amongst the Common Noddies, a pair of Masked Boobies sitting with a freshly
hatched chick, and Red-footed Boobies roosting in the skeletons of a
few shrubs.  There were also hundreds of Juvenile Lesser Frigatebirds
sitting on the islands while clouds of terns, and frigate birds circled overhead. The Brown Boobies liked to do close fly-bys while we were transiting between the islands and there were plenty of turtles zipping in front of the boats.

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