I assisted George Swann to conduct a census of the waders on Ashmore Reef
between 26 January and 3 February 2005. We sailed from Darwin at about
midday on 24 January and arrived at the Reef in the afternoon of 25th. Our
return journey commenced late morning on 3 February and we disembarked in
Darwin next afternoon.
Apart from some large flocks of terns in the Beagle Gulf, little was seen
enroute and only one Procellariiforme was seen, a Hutton's Shearwater. I
consider this is due to the fact that the entire journey was on relatively
shallow, continental shelf waters. Our usual more productive route from
Broome enters deep-water areas and traverses the continental slope where
upwellings bring nutrients to the surface providing richer pickings for
tubenoses. We did however see 5 Streaked Shearwaters late on 2 February when
a storm drove them into the lagoon.
Highlights ashore were an ORIENTAL REED WARBLER heard or seen almost daily.
It appeared to have established a winter territory on West Island (WI). We
only ever saw the bird after first hearing it sing. Although only seen on
three days, we believe an ARCTIC WARBLER was also resident on the island. It
too was rather secretive. The only other passerine was a single Yellow
Wagtail. Oriental Cuckoos were also resident with 5-10 seen daily. An
interesting sighting was a Cattle Egret in breeding plumage on Middle Island
(MI) on 29 January.
Breeding seabirds were14 pairs of Red-tailed Tropicbirds on WI together with
3 pairs of White-tailed Tropicbirds and another on Middle Island (MI). There
were a few active nest burrows of Wedge-tailed Shearwater on WI. Masked
Boobies were present on MI & East Island (EI) with maximum counts of 14 on
MI & 4 on EI with a single well grown juv. still present on each. Brown
Boobies were everywhere but not breeding, totalling over 6,000. The
Red-footed Booby population has exploded. Maximum counts were 220 on MI and
8 on EI and they were nesting on both. There are no trees so they utilize
everything resembling a bush, even dead sticks and have overwhelmed and
killed most of what little shrub-size vegetation is available. Only one palm
tree survives on MI. 6 pairs of Great Frigatebirds were nesting on MI and
appear to be prospecting the under-utilized WI. Up to 300 Lesser
Frigatebirds were on, or thermalling over, MI and 600 at EI. They were not
nesting but preparing to do so. No Terns were breeding but there were up to
700 Crested, 2 Common, 160 Little, 400 Sooty Terns as well as 600 Common and
3 Black Noddies present. Some species roosted with waders on sandbars
remaining exposed at high tide rather than on the islands.
At high tide, the waders assembled at six sites. The largest congregations
were on three sandbars, two to the east of EI and another between MI and EI.
Significant numbers also gathered on EI and MI and smaller numbers on WI.
Whereas some species were distributed around most or all roosts, others were
very site specific, notably Bar-tailed Godwit, Terek Sandpiper, Great Knot
and Grey Plover. Unfortunately, logistics and time constraints meant that
sites could not be counted simultaneously so the following are only an
estimate of the maximum total number of birds believed to be present at one
time. Snipe spp. 1, Black-tailed Godwit 6, Bar-tailed Godwit 4,560, Whimbrel
570, Common Greenshank 590, Terek Sandpiper 215, Common Sandpiper 6,
Grey-tailed Tattler 1,780, Ruddy Turnstone 1,680, Asian Dowitcher 8, Great
Knot 1,200, Red Knot 55, Sanderling 1,180, Red-necked Stint 970, Curlew
Sandpiper 215, Pacific Golden Plover 770, Grey Plover 1,500, Lesser Sand
Plover 33, Greater Sand Plover 2,500, and Oriental Pratincole 1.
Other birds seen were Little Egret (c.40), E. Reef Egret (>900), Nankeen
Night Heron (6), Buff-banded Rail (9 & 1 nest with 6 eggs on WI; 3 on EI)
and a Fork-tailed Swift.
Those that were concerned that the tsunami may have damaged the reef can
relax. It had no impact. The Australian Customs Vessel on station at the
time barely noticed a ripple.
30 Canadian Bay Road
Mt Eliza VIC 3930
Ph: (03) 9787 7136
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