Ashmore Reef Cruise 2003; Trip Report

Subject: Ashmore Reef Cruise 2003; Trip Report
From: Mike Carter <>
Date: Fri, 03 Oct 2003 19:57:48 +0000

Ashmore Reef 20-27 September 2003 Trip Summary

Just back from another (my sixth) successful expedition to Ashmore Reef aboard the yacht Jodi Anne 2. On this occasion, the party consisted of Richard Baxter, Rob Berry, Gail D’Alton, John Duranti, Snow Perry, Warwick Pickwell, Geoff Walker, Bob Way, George Swann (who also organised the cruise) and Mike Carter (leader). Two non-birding Americans, ‘country collectors’, also came along to tick off Ashmore Reef. Officers on the Customs Vessel moored at the Reef dutifully stamped their passports!

We sailed from Broome on 20 September and returned there early morning on 27 September. This is the earliest we have run this trip, all previous cruises were in October or November, and this affected the variety and number of birds seen.

 Observations at sea were greatly aided by good weather and mostly slight seas. Consequently most of the all-black Procellariiformes for which these trips are noted were much in evidence. There were two Jouanin's Petrels together, 55 Bulwer's Petrels, 34 Swinhoe's and at least 61 Matsudaira's Storm-Petrels. However, we didn’t glimpse even a possible Leach's Storm-Petrel but Wilson's Storm-Petrels (19) were relatively abundant. Only 1 Wedge-tailed Shearwater was seen at sea but there was c.30 active burrows on West Island, Ashmore. We logged 7 Tahiti Petrels but no Streaked or Hutton's Shearwaters. Other birds seen at sea included 8 species of tern, 2 Pomarine and 1 Arctic Jaegers, and most surprisingly, a Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike heading south for the summer in Australia!

The number of Matsudaira’s Storm-Petrels seen on the second day, up to 18 at one time, was undoubtedly because they were attracted to a slick in our wake produced by cod-liver oil and chopped up fish. This enabled sustained and close viewing of this normally difficult to observe species and hopefully some photographic record.

Ashore on West Island, Ashmore, we saw 3 White-tailed Tropicbirds. 10 pairs of Red-tailed Tropicbird were breeding there as well as numerous Eastern Reef Egrets. Among 13 species of wader were 10 Sanderling and 3 Oriental Plovers. Passerines were unusually scarce, (none of the usual Oriental Cuckoo), but we did find our first Tawny Grassbird for the island, 3 Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes and what, for the time being, I will call a White-winged Triller. Whether or not this was a female White-shouldered Triller, the resident taxon 110 km to the north where the White-winged form is unknown, we may never know. Perhaps more on this later.

Our permit, allowed us to circumnavigate Middle Island, Ashmore Reef. The shoreline is steep enabling a close approach but only at high tide using inflatable dinghies. So from a distance of about 3 m we were able to observe the vast numbers of breeding seabirds there, including Tropicbirds, Masked, Red-footed and Brown Boobies, Great and Lesser Frigatebirds, Sooty Terns, Common and Black Noddies. Also the numerous waders at their high tide roost on the beach. Among these was for some, the bird of the trip. A Little Stint in full breeding plumage.

 Ashore on West Island and overlooking Middle Island in the Lacepedes,  we again experienced large numbers of breeding seabirds, mainly Brown Booby & Lesser Frigatebird. Common Noddies & Bridled Terns were preparing to nest and at least one pair of Masked Booby were displaying. The Roseate Terns had finished their breeding but the flock which assembled there at dusk was estimated to exceed 15,000. Twenty species of wader at this site formed large flocks at high tide.
            A detailed log and report is available.

Mike Carter
30 Canadian Bay Road
Mt Eliza    VIC     3930
Ph:  (03) 9787 7136
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