Ashmore Expedition 2010, 16-23 October; Summary
By Mike Carter & Rohan Clarke 28 October 2010.
In 2010, the annual Kimberley Birdwatching's eight-day
Broome-Ashmore-Lacepedes-Broome expedition ran from 16-23 October. Logistics
and permits were organised by George Swann. Personnel were Jim Allen, Xenia
Dennett, Jan England, Dougald Frederick, Greg Harewood, Geoffrey Jones,
Geoffrey Lane, Bill Ramsay, Joy Tansey, Tom Wheller, Barb Williams, Albert
Wright, Eleanor Wright, Rohan Clarke, George Swann & Mike Carter. Our boat was
the air-conditioned 21 m MV Flying Fish V skippered by George Greaves. Jacqui
fed and nurtured us and Maurice O'Connor assisted in numerous ways. All three
skippered dinghies when required.
We sailed from the beach near Gantheaume Point in Broome on 16
October (Day 1) at 07.35 and spent the next two days and nights travelling at
sea. We maintained a NW course throughout Day 1 but at night changed our
heading to NNE. By dawn on Day 2 we were in 500m deep water and cruised along
the continental slope in waters of similar depth throughout the morning and
then veered to pass just to the west of Scott Reef in the afternoon. During the
morning of Day 3 we adopted a more NE course heading directly to Ashmore Reef
entering the lagoon at ~11.30 where we joined the Australian Customs Vessel
'Ashmore Guardian', with it's complement of federal government wardens
(erstwhile DEWHA), at the inner mooring.
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. All members of the party went
ashore daily on West Island each afternoon and early morning of our stay,
ferried there by three dinghies that were also used to make landings on Middle
Island, East Island and a sand bar (a high-tide wader roost) near East Island.
A warden escorted us ashore on Middle and East Islands. 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. On our first
afternoon ashore, 18 Oct., we met Chris Doughty, Simon Mustoe and other members
of their group, who were enjoying their last visit ashore after a three-day
After a last visit ashore on West Island, we released our mooring at Ashmore at
09.00 on Day 6 (21 October) and sailed on a SSE heading through waters of
depths between 500-770 m. By dawn on Day 7, we were approaching the shelf break
on a direct course just east of south for the Lacepedes and for most of that
day we were over shelf waters of less than 100 m deep. We anchored off West
Island, Lacepedes (16º50.44'S 122º06.35'E) around 19.15 that day. Next morning,
Day 8 (23 October), we were ashore on West Island, Lacepedes, from 04.50 to
08.15. Back aboard and tenders stowed, we sailed for Broome, berthing at the
wharf (18º00.09'S 122º12.96'E) at 16.45.
Cloudless skies subjected us to relentless sunshine but temperatures were
moderated by cooling breezes so it was never unbearably hot and unusually for
this season, not humid. When we boarded on Day 1, there was a 35-knot SE wind,
much stronger than previously experienced on these trips, but this had
moderated by noon and by evening was only 8 Kts. For much of the rest of the
trip winds fluctuated between 8 & 15 Kts. Luckily, nearly calm conditions
prevailed on our arrival at the Lacepedes and the next morning so smooth
conditions facilitated an easy landing.
Sea states were rougher than usual with wave heights often 0.3-0.5 m and up to
1.5 m at times with foaming crests. The sea was always at least rippled and the
usual glassy to flat seas not experienced. One or two were a little queasy at
times but none was sick.
92 species of bird identified (with another 'warbler' awaiting determination)
indicate exceptional diversity. These included 34 seabirds, 28 shorebirds, 6
waterbirds and 21 landbirds.
Whilst at sea a continuous log of position and faunal observations was recorded
manually and on computer.
At-sea highlights included:
Abbott's Booby: 1 on 17 Oct. is our 3rd record and believed to be the 6th for
mainland Australian waters. Like birds last year, it circled our boat
inquisitively for several minutes.
Jouanin's Petrel: 1 seen well on 17 Oct.
Swinhoe's Storm-Petrel: Single birds on 16 & 17 Oct.
On-land seabird highlights:
Lesser Noddy: 3 on Middle Island, one photographed with Black & Common Noddies.
These are the first seen on land on these trips but probably previously
overlooked. In April this year the species was found breeding on both Middle
and East Islands.
Roseate Tern: 30,000 roosting in the lagoon at the Lacepedes!
Long-toed Stint: 1 on West Is. on 18 Oct. Not previously reported at Ashmore.
Wood Sandpiper: 1 on 19 & 20 Oct. on West Is. Not previously reported at
Asian Dowitcher: 4 on a sandbar on 20 Oct.
Landbird highlights on West Island, Ashmore (all photographed), were:
Grey-streaked Flycatcher: NEW FOR AUSTRALIA. At least one juvenile and one
Arafura Fantail R. dryas semicollaris: NEW SUBSPECIES for AUSTRALIA of this
taxon from the nearby islands of Roti and Timor. 1 daily.
Tiger Shrike: 1 or 2 juveniles daily. This is the 4th or 5th record for
Australia and the 2nd for Ashmore following one seen here in April.
Middendorff's Warbler: We saw from 1-3 birds daily and obtained excellent
photos. There are four previous spring records and in April this year, three
birds were singing.
Warbler spp.: The identity of a bird photographed on 18 Oct. to be determined.
Island Monarch: 1 juvenile known to be present when we arrived was joined by an
adult. These are the 5th & 6th Australian records, all at this site.
Arctic Warbler: 1 or 2 daily. 8th record for Ashmore.
Oriental Reed Warbler: 1 daily.
Grey Wagtail: 1 daily.
Collared Kingfisher: 1 daily of the nominate race and therefore of Indonesian
origin, not recognised as having occurred in Australia but we saw one here in
Oriental Cuckoo: 4-6 daily.
Australian Koel: 1 male on 18 Oct.
Eastern Yellow Wagtail: Daily to a max. of 8 on West Island and 1 on Middle
Island, Ashmore and 1 on West Island, Lacepedes.
Barn Swallow: Daily to a max. of 3 on West Island and 1 on Middle Island.
Yellow White-eye: 2 daily often associating with the Fantail. Both surprisingly
brilliant yellow and vocalisation sounded different but when Yellow White-eye
calls were played, they reacted immediately and uttered similar notes.
(Horsfield's Bronze-Cuckoos were notable by their absence!)
The usual local tropical seabirds, Masked, Red-footed & Brown Boobies, Great &
Lesser Frigatebirds, Common & Black Noddies, Bridled, Sooty, Crested, Lesser
Crested, Roseate 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 were
5 Red-tailed Tropicbird nests. Two pairs of White-tailed Tropicbird were seen
over West Island and one over Middle Island.
Other migrant Seabirds of note included: Tahiti Petrels 9, Bulwer's Petrels 15,
Streaked Shearwater 92, Hutton's Shearwater 587, Wilson's Storm-Petrel 27,
Pomarine Jaeger 1, Arctic Jaeger 4 and Long-tailed Jaeger 1. The first ever
Flesh-footed Shearwaters on an Ashmore trip were seen at sea; 5 birds just
north of the Lacepedes. This follows the first ever reports of this species off
northern WA south of Browse Island in April.
Disturbed seas meant that Cetaceans were difficult to detect so were apparently
less numerous and diverse than recent trips with only three species of dolphin
identified and two unidentified whales.
Reptiles included Green (abundant on the Lacepedes) and Australian
Flatback Turtles and various sea snakes.
Other observations included numerous fish and other critters, particularly by
those that went snorkelling, added interest to another superb trip.
Photos of many of the species mentioned above have or will be posted on
The dates for the 2011 spring cruise will be advised when arranged. Persons
should register their interest with Kimberley Birdwatching or Mike Carter.
30 Canadian Bay Road
Mount Eliza VIC 3930
Tel (03) 9787 7136
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