From: "Mike Carter" <>
Date: Sat, 14 Nov 2009 15:14:19 +1100
Ashmore Expedition 27 October to 3 November 2009; Summary

By Mike Carter, 14 November 2009.

Trip Details.

The 2009 eight-day Broome-Ashmore-Lacepedes-Broome expedition ran from 27 
October to 3 November. Logistics and permits were organised by George Swann of 
Kimberley Birdwatching. Personnel were Sue Abbotts, John Berggy, Rohan Clarke, 
Stewart Ford, Tania Ireton, Brian Johnston, Geoffrey Jones, Elizabeth Lloyd, 
Barb Longmuir, Bill Moorhead, Jack Moorhead, Carol Page, Jenny Spry, Dave Torr, 
George Swann & Mike Carter. Our boat was the air-conditioned 23 m MV Flying 
Fish V skippered by George Greaves. Jacqui fed and nurtured us and Maurice 
attended to our other needs. All three drove dinghies when required.

            We sailed from Broome (17º59'S 122º11'E) on 27 October (Day 1) at 
06.30 and spent the next two days and nights travelling at sea, arriving off 
West Island, Ashmore at 12.53 on 29 October (Day 3). We maintained a NW course 
throughout Day 1 but at night changed our heading to NNE. By dawn on Day 2 we 
were in 450m deep water and cruising along the continental slope into 
increasingly deeper water that reached depths of 1,800 m by mid afternoon. We 
approached Scott Reef at dusk and continued past on a NE course. During the 
morning of Day 3 we tended to adopt a more northerly course. When west of 
Ashmore Reef we headed east passing a naval patrol ship and the Australian 
Customs Vessel 'Ashmore Guardian' (with it's complement of DEWHA wardens) as we 
passed through the channel entrance.

Our berth for the next three nights (Days 3, 4 & 5) was at the inner mooring 
(12º14.33'S 122º58.95'E) just off West Island. Most members of the party went 
ashore daily on West Island; each afternoon and early morning of our stay. Our 
hosts, Flying Fish Charters, had three dinghies. These were used to affect six 
landings on West Island and one each on Middle Island, East Island and a sand 
bar (a high-tide wader roost) near there (the later three sites in the company 
of DEWHA and/or Aust. Customs wardens). Neap tides limited the time we could 
spend ashore on all but West Island, water depth within the lagoon being 
inadequate for navigation except at high tide.

After a last visit ashore on West Island, we released our mooring at Ashmore at 
08.50 on Day 6 (1 November) and maintained a generally southerly heading 
through waters mainly around 500m deep. At dawn on Day 7, we were still in deep 
waters on a direct course just east of south for the Lacepedes. By 07.30, we 
had crossed onto the continental shelf and from 08.30 we were in increasingly 
shallow waters until we anchored off West Island, Lacepedes (16º50.41'S 
122º07.00'E) around 19.30 that day. Next morning, Day 8 (3 November), we were 
ashore on West Island, Lacepedes, from 05.15 to 08.15. Back aboard and tenders 
stowed, we sailed for Broome, berthing at the wharf at 16.45.

Whilst at sea a continuous log of position and faunal observations was recorded 
on computer. Sea conditions were benign throughout with rippled seas on a low 
swell created by light N breezes. Cloudless skies subjected us to relentless 
sunshine. Although hot, it was not unbearably humid.

Oil leak from Montana H1 drilling rig: This rig (12º55'S 124º50"E') is ~200 km 
ESE of Ashmore Reef. We saw no unequivocal evidence of the presence of oil, 
oiled birds or of damage from the spill. Whilst ashore on both East and Middle 
Island, single emaciated Common Noddies with potential light oil contamination 
on the mantle were taken into care by DEWHA representatives. As Noddies have 
naturally oily feathers it is possible that these were simply dishevelled 
individuals that were in the process of dieing of natural causes. At sea we 
observed two distinct creamy slicks estimated to be 200-300m long by 10-15m 
maximum width (petering out at both ends). These were both on Day 6 with the 
first just south of Ashmore and the second at 12º39'S 122º47'E (56 km south of 
Ashmore). Close inspection revealed these slicks consisted almost entirely of 
short rod-like structures 4-5 mm in length and ~1 mm in diameter. There was no 
petroleum-like smell evident. Whether this was a bi-product of the spill 
(aggregated petroleum based product and/or dispersant) or a more natural 
product is unknown. Apart from Bulwer's Petrels, observations at sea were a 
little depauperate compared with other years. Thus we wondered whether the 
slick had attracted birds away from our transects as investigators Simon Mustoe 
and James Watson, independently observed concentrations of predators, 
(seabirds, cetaceans and sea snakes) at the edges of the slick.


77 species of bird were identified (and a Snipe sp.) including 34 seabirds.

            At-sea sightings included:

Abbott's Booby: 2 circled our boat inquisitively for several minutes on 28 Oct. 
and we watched one fishing on 1 Nov. These are the first for any Ashmore cruise 
and only the 4th or 5th records for Australian waters away from Christmas 

Jouanin's Petrel: 1 on 29 Oct. as we approached Ashmore and one after leaving 
on 1 Nov.

             Landbird highlights on West Island, Ashmore (all photographed), 

Island Monarch: 1 adult each day. This is the fourth Australian record, all at 
this site.

Asian Brown Flycatcher: 1 on 29 Oct. This is the fourth Australian record, all 
at this site.

Oriental Reed Warbler: Up to 3 daily.

Oriental Cuckoo: 1-3 daily.

Collared Kingfisher: 1 daily, considered to be of Indonesian origin.

Australian Koel: 1 exhausted bird on 31 Oct.

Fork-tailed Swift: 8 over the island & 7 at sea. Notable because 2 or 3, 
roosted in a palm tree. At sunset on 31 Oct., one made several attempts to 
cling belly-up to the underside of a frond before securing a hold. Then a 
second arrived. Next morning, 2, left the tree in the twilight of dawn, quickly 
joined by a third.

Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike: 2-4 daily. Photographs of one showed unmarked white 
underwing coverts indicating the Australian taxon.

Magpie-lark: 2 daily.

Eastern Yellow Wagtail: 2-3 daily on West Island and one on Middle Island on 30 

Barn Swallow: 2-4 most days.

Tawny Grassbird: 1-2 most days.

The usual local tropical seabirds, Masked, Red-footed & Brown Boobies, Great & 
Lesser Frigatebirds, Common & Black Noddies, Bridled, Sooty, Crested, Lesser 
Crested, Roseate, Gull-billed (both Australian and Asian taxa) and Little Terns 
were seen. The first ten of these had or were nesting on Middle or/& East 
Islands. Many species, including Lesser Crested Terns, were also nesting on the 
Lacepedes. On West Island, Ashmore, there was only one nestling Red-tailed 
Tropicbird when we arrived and this departed overnight on 31 October. This 
compares with 8 occupied nests last year. Only one White-tailed Tropicbird was 
seen at sea and only one over the Island compared with 2 pairs prospecting 
there last year.

Other migrant Seabirds of note included (last years numbers in brackets): 
Tahiti Petrels 9 (24), Bulwer's Petrels 64 (29), Streaked Shearwaters 14 (10), 
Hutton's Shearwaters 4 (31), Wilson's Storm-Petrels 29 (20), Matsudaira's 
Storm-Petrels 9 (50) and Long-tailed Jaeger 1 (3). 

            Twenty-four species of shorebird included a Broad-billed Sandpiper 
(at a sandbar near East Island) and a Pin-tailed or Swinhoe's Snipe that on the 
morning on 30 October flew-in at considerable height and circled West Island, 
Ashmore before landing.

Cetaceans were less numerous and diverse than recent trips but the compensation 
was good sustained views of at least 2 Fin Whales, a first for an Ashmore 
cruise and most aboard, see 
Striped Dolphin was also recorded for the first time. Others were Humpback 
Whale 7 (12) and Bottle-nosed, Pan-Tropical Spotted, Spinner and Risso's 

            Reptiles included Green, Loggerhead, Australian Flatback Turtles 
and various sea-snakes.

Other observations included numerous fish and other critters, particularly by 
those that went snorkelling, adding interest to another superb trip.

The 2010 cruise will be from 25 October to 1 November. Persons should register 
their interest ASAP with Kimberley Birdwatching or Mike Carter. 

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

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