West Island was qualitatively different from the other Islands by
virtue of its vegetation and was the main focus of our birding
activity. It had a ring of shrubs and trees around its circumference
with a grassy interior – which could easily be converted to a runway.
Due to its isolation, there were vacant ecological niches – there were
no raptors and relatively few passerines.
I found the local population of Buff-banded Rails fascinating. They
varied in size, behaved like shorebirds at low tide, and flew
relatively long distances when flushed. (There were of course many
regular shorebirds on the islands, including the odd Night Heron.)
While there were a few interesting birds in the open area – eg Yellow
Wagtails, indeterminate cuckoo-shrikes and the odd Oriental Plover, the
main twitching focus was on the shrubs/trees.
There were hundreds of Reef Egret nests spread around the island, and
sometimes it seemed like every tree/shrub had a nest or two or three.
The island was also cuckoo heaven with a relatively high density of
Oriental, Horsfield and Little Bronze Cuckoos, presumably passage
migrants heading south. The Orientals were camera shy and would fly
off the instant they knew you were looking at them.
There were a few Red-tailed Tropicbirds nesting beneath the shrubs (the
parents didn’t flush when you walked past) and we saw a few
White-tailed Tropicbirds flying overhead. We also came across an
Oriental Reedwarbler hopping about in one of the shrubs. It eventually
posed nicely for the camera.
We came across two species that aren’t on the Australian birdlist
around “passerine corner”. These were an Asian Brown Flycatcher – a
plain bird that seemed to be a bit like a cross between a robin and a
whistler - and a grasshopper warbler (almost certainly Mittendorf’s).
The latter looked a bit like a reedwarbler and was happy to skulk
around the base and lower canopy of a couple of adjacent trees. [It was
a difficult subject to photograph in the dim light].
We called in on the Lacepede Islands on the way back to Broome. These
are relatively close to the mainland and had large nesting colonies of
Green Turtles, Common Noddies, and Crested and Lesser Crested Terns.
We also came across a flock of thousands of Roseate Terns roosting on a
mud flat. Again there were plenty of waders there, including a few of
the northern race [ophthalmicus] of Sooty Oystercathers with their
prominent eye rings.
All in all, it was an interesting two weeks. My worst dip were the
Barn Swallows – there were none to be found while I was there.
I know I will be passing through Broome at some later date [on my way
to check out the Black Grasswrens on the Gibb River Road]. While I
probably won’t be going to AR again, it was nice to see the vagrants
[the reason that people go back one or more times] I also appreciated
seeing the breeding seabirds on the islands, and the turtles, cetaceans
and sea snakes along the way.
Given the high temperatures you experience heading out to, and on the
islands, I would definitely recommend a few days birding around the BBO
beforehand to acclimatise to the heat.
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