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
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 Island.
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. http://www.pbase.com/image/119350458
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
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
http://www.pbase.com/wildlifeimages/fin_whale. 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 Dolphins.
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.
30 Canadian Bay Road
Mount Eliza VIC 3930
Tel (03) 9787 7136
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