Ashmore Reef Cruise March/April 2014

To: "birding-aus" <>
Subject: Ashmore Reef Cruise March/April 2014
From: "Mike Carter" <>
Date: Fri, 11 Apr 2014 15:02:22 +1000
Kimberley Birdwatching's Inaugural Autumn Ashmore Expedition 26 March to 2 
April 2014 - Summary 


By Mike Carter, Adrian Boyle & George Swann (11 April 2014)


Trip Details.

The inaugural autumn expedition by Kimberley Birdwatching (KBW) to Ashmore Reef 
took place from 26 March to 2 April 2014. This followed the success of four 
research cruises to the area at this season conducted by Monash University. KBW 
has run 15 cruises to Ashmore in spring since 1996 and the itinerary for this 
trip was similar; i.e. an eight-day Broome-Ashmore-Lacepedes-Broome expedition 
organised by George Swann. The birding personnel were Alan Benson, Rob Benson, 
Darryel Binns (Biggles), Karen Blake, Neil Brown, Rae Clark, Lisa Cockram, 
Peter Cockram, Chris Hamilton, Rob Hamilton, Ian Halliday, Dick Holroyde, Judy 
Leitch, Chris Melrose, Sue Taylor & John Weigel. Two researchers from the 
Monash University Ashmore Monitoring team, Jarrod Hodgson & Rowan Mott were 
also present. The co-leaders were Adrian Boyle, George Swann & Mike Carter. Two 
'World Travel Destination Collectors', Roman Bruhwiler from Switzerland & Terry 
Last from the UK, were also aboard. 

Our boat/ship was the four-storey high, 35 m long, 12 m wide, MV 'Reef Prince'; 
complete with four tenders, skippered by Nick Linton assisted by a crew of 

            We sailed from the beach near Gantheaume Point in Broome on 26 
March (Day 1) at 09.15 and spent the next two days and nights travelling at 
sea. We maintained a NW course throughout Day 1 cruising shelf waters up to 80 
m deep. That night we changed our heading to NNE and spent most of Day 2 
traversing continental shelf waters with depths of 400 to 600 m and as we 
approached Scott Reef towards nightfall, were in water over 1,000m deep. We 
stayed in deep water for most of the morning of Day 3 veering more easterly as 
we approached Ashmore Reef. By 12.30 we were in the lagoon having passed a 
naval vessel with its complement of customs staff anchored just beyond the 
entrance channel. 

For the next three nights (Days 3, 4 & 5), we were secure at the inner mooring 
(12º14.35'S 122º58.84'E) just off West Island. Most members of the party went 
ashore on West Island each morning and afternoon of those days. On Day 4, we 
circumnavigated Middle Island ferried there by our four dinghies but did not 
land. We also spent some time at the adjacent 'Horseshoe' sand bar viewing 
loafing shorebirds on the high tide. Day 5 we were ashore on East Island for 
~1.5 hours at high tide and spent an hour on Splittgerber Cay enthralled by 
massed shorebirds. 

After a last visit ashore on West Island, we released our mooring at Ashmore at 
09.17 on Day 6 (31 March) and sailed throughout the day on a SSE heading 
through waters of depths mostly 300-625 m. At 17.35 we changed course to 197º. 
By dawn on Day 7, we were already over the shelf break on a direct course for 
the Lacepedes, traversing shelf waters decreasing in depth from 91 m to 26 m. 
We anchored off West Island, Lacepedes (16º50'S 122º07'E) well after dark. Next 
morning (2 April), we were ashore on West Island, Lacepedes, from 04.40 to 
08.00. Back aboard and tenders stowed, we sailed for Broome, disembarking on 
the beach where we had boarded 8 days ago (17º58'S 122º11'E) at 16.50.

 Weather was hot and humid, generally with cloudless skies, nearly constant 
sunshine and little if any breeze. Sea conditions were generally smooth apart 
for a few hours on Day 7 when wave height reached 1.0 m. Boat movement was 
minimal allowing use of tripod mounted telescopes standing on the front deck! 



67 species of bird were positively identified: 30 seabirds, 22 shorebirds, 5 
waterbirds, 1 raptor and 11 landbirds. In addition, a small Snipe, either 
Swinhoe's or Pin-tailed, and a skulking reed-warbler (Acrocephalus spp.) was 
seen and well photographed on 28 March on West Island, Ashmore. There is a long 
list of potential reed-warblers that this bird might have been and while 
several of these can be eliminated and others including Oriental Reed Warbler 
are unlikely candidates, there is as yet no consensus as to its actual 
identity. There has been one similar bird seen here previously and future 
observations may resolve the matter. In the meantime, undoubtedly the greatest 
highlight of the trip was a YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER that was present and 
photographed on 29 March. This is only the second time this species has been 
reported in Australia, and the first was seen only a few metres from the 
favoured haunt of this bird.   

For most of the time, whilst at sea a continuous log of position and faunal 
observations was recorded on 'Palm pilots' as well as manually. 

            At-sea highlights included 3 Jouanin's Petrels, these trips having 
provided all but one of the 20 previous Australian reports of this enigmatic 
species, 4 Abbott's Boobies (more than on any previous trip) and a very 
confiding Red-necked Phalarope, our third record of this species. Others were 
Tahiti Petrel (2), Streaked Shearwater (332, our most ever), 280 Hutton's 
Shearwaters, and a remarkable 92 Bulwer's Petrels.

            On-land seabird highlights at Ashmore Reef included 2 Lesser 
Noddies and 11 breeding plumaged Roseate Terns.

            In addition to the at-sea sighting of the Red-necked Phalarope, 
Shorebird highlights included 8 Asian Dowitchers at a high tide roost on 

            Landbird highlights on West Island, Ashmore, in addition to the two 
warblers mentioned above, included Oriental Cuckoo (up to 4 daily), Shining 
Bronze Cuckoo (up to 3 daily), Barn Swallow and an example of a Siberian race 
of Peregrine Falcon. The occurrence of Shining Bronze Cuckoos here is 
interesting, as we have never recorded them on their southern passage in 
spring, only on their northward trek in March/April.   

            The usual local tropical seabirds, Masked, Red-footed & Brown 
Boobies, Great & Lesser Frigatebirds, Common & Black Noddies, Bridled, Sooty, 
Great Crested, as well as White-winged Black, Common and Little Terns were 
seen. The first ten of these were in the early stages of nesting on Middle or/& 
East Islands, Ashmore. Many were also nesting or about to nest on the 
Lacepedes. On West Island, Ashmore, there were 19 Red-tailed Tropicbird nests, 
one White-tailed Tropicbird's nest and this species was prospecting at Middle & 
East Islands.


        Whilst at sea, Cetaceans were much in evidence. We logged 14 pods of 
Spinner Dolphins totalling over 200 animals, those over shallower shelf waters 
being Dwarf Spinner Dolphins. We also saw 4 pods of Common Bottle-nosed 
Dolphins, a pod of 40 Short-finned Pilot Whales, 4 False Killer Whales and a 
single Sperm Whale. 


Other Critters including Green Turtles, adults and hatchlings, various sea 

Eels, numerous flying fish as well as various other fish including a sailfish 
that made spectacular leaps apparently attempting to dislodge a sucker fish, a 
flying squid and rays of various species including a Manta Ray, all added to 
the experience. 


Photos of many of the species mentioned above have or will be posted on (Adrian Boyle) and (Robert Hamilton)


This trip will be repeated next October. 


Mike Carter
30 Canadian Bay Road
Mount Eliza  VIC 3930
Tel  (03) 9787 7136

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