Kimberley Birdwatching's Ashmore Expedition Oct/Nov 2015; Report

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Subject: Kimberley Birdwatching's Ashmore Expedition Oct/Nov 2015; Report
From: Mike Carter <>
Date: Sun, 19 Jun 2016 02:02:31 +0000
Trip Details

Kimberley Birdwatching’s annual spring expedition to Ashmore Reef ex Broome
in 2015 ran from 30 October to 7 November. The format differed from previous
years in that it was nine, not eight, days in duration and that in addition
to spending the usual four days / three nights on Ashmore we also spent part
of a morning on Browse Island, and one whole day at Adele Island. We did not
however, visit the Lacepedes. George Swann of Kimberley Birdwatching (KBW)
was responsible for logistics and organisation and together with Rohan
Clarke, secured permission to land on the Islands. The birding personnel
were Fred Allsopp, Heather Allsopp, Graham Barwell, Richard Baxter, Dave
Bullock, Graeme Bullock, Mike Jarvis, Barry Lancaster, Paul Newman, Rob
Quinan, Colin Rogers, Tom Smith, John Weigel and Andrew Wood, with George
Swann, Rohan Clarke and Mike Carter acting as leaders. Our boat was the
‘Kimberley Expeditions’ 27m long air-conditioned catamaran ‘MV Oceania’
equipped with three tenders.

            We sailed from Broome on 30 October (Day 1) at 09.30 and spent
the next two days and nights travelling at sea. On Day 1 we maintained a NW
course traversing shelf waters no deeper than 92 m during daylight hours and
held that course after dark changing to a NNE heading around midnight. When
we awoke on Day 2 we had already crossed the shelf break, although in this
area the break is not well defined, then sailed along the shelf slope in
waters in depths gradually increasing from 400 m to over 500 m. By late
afternoon the shelf slope was steeper so the depth was increasing more
rapidly. At sunrise on Day 3 we were in waters over 1,000 m deep on a
heading just east of due north. From 10.00 we adopted a NNE course heading
directly for Ashmore and by 12.30 were preparing to enter the outer reef.
Having received clearance from the Australian Customs Vessel guarding the
Reef we entered the lagoon and were tied up at the inner mooring (12º13.2’S
123º00.3’E) just off West Island by 13.20. This was our berth for the next
three days.

That afternoon and in the late afternoons of the following two days and each
morning of the next three days, most of the party went ashore on West Island
ferried there by dinghy. Late morning and early afternoon of Day 4, we were
taken by dinghy to East Island to experience the vast numbers of nesting
seabirds there. We also landed on the adjacent Splittgerber Cay to view the
thousands of shorebirds, terns and herons loafing there at high tide. Next
day we circumnavigated Middle Island by dinghy and landed on the adjacent
sandbar known as the ‘Horseshoe’ which is another high-tide roost for
shorebirds and terns.

After a last visit ashore on West Island, we released our mooring at 10.00
on Day 6 (4 November) and when clear of the Reef, sailed for Browse Island
on a heading of 160º. We arrived after dark and anchored in sheltered waters
just beyond the encircling reef.

On Day 7 (5 November), when there was sufficient daylight to illuminate
underwater hazards and some exploratory runs to select a suitable route to
traverse the reef by dinghy were successfully completed, we were ferried to
shore, landing on the beach at Browse Island. We birded the island for over
3 hours then returned to our mothership, up-anchored and sailed for Adele
Island at 09.45, arriving there and anchoring well off-shore shortly after

Day 8 (6 November), was spent at Adele Island with most people going ashore
in the early morning and again in the afternoon, the tides at these times
being sufficiently high to facilitate access. After dinner at the anchorage,
we set sail for Broome at 17.30. At 16.15 on Day 9 (7 November), we were
rounding Gantheume Point approaching our final destination back at the port
in Broome.

            The weather throughout was hot and humid but for the most part,
not unpleasantly so. It did not rain and in general skies were cloudless and
except when adjacent to the mainland on Days 1 & 9, there was little if any
breeze. Therefore on Days 2-8, seas were calm.


For most of the time whilst at sea, a continuous log of position and faunal
observations was recorded on ‘Palm pilots’ as well as manually. Each
evening, observations at sea and on land were collated at a ‘Bird Call’.
These results are tabulated and are presented in separate documents. If
anyone wishes to see these please contact me directly. As Adele was a
one-off adjunct to this trip, species and numbers seen there are given

            93 species of bird were identified: 34 seabirds, 26 shorebirds
(that includes a dead Long-toed Stint), 7 waterbirds, 1 raptor (a migrant
palearctic Peregrine Falcon) and 25 landbirds. An additional nine species
were seen at Adele these being Australian Pelican, Pied Cormorant, Caspian
Tern, Pied Oystercatcher, White-headed Stilt, Red-capped Plover,
Broad-billed Sandpiper, Brown Quail and Tawny Grassbird.  Whilst last year
most of the highlights were seabirds, this year the landbirds were more
significant. These were seen on West Island, Ashmore, or/& on Browse Island.

            West Island produced a Pechora Pipit, two Middendorff’s
Grasshopper Warblers, a Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler, an Arctic Warbler and
two other phylloscopus Warblers that may also be of that species, 3
Ashy-bellied White-eyes, up to 3 Grey Wagtails together, the first Ashmore
record of Pied Honeyeater and second of Black-eared Cuckoo, as well as
Little Bronze and Oriental Cuckoos. Unfortunately, the Pallas’s Grasshopper
Warbler was only identified retrospectively from photographs taken on our
last morning, so most of us missed this mega. An Australian Reed Warbler of
the subspecies gouldi that breeds in the south-west of WA was only our
second record of this taxon. One Green-headed Wagtail was among the Eastern
Yellow Wagtails and a single Barn Swallow was seen.

            Browse Island produced an Island Monarch that is the subject of
BARC Case 919, at least one definite Arctic Warbler as well as two
possibles, and an Oriental Cuckoo.

            Collared Kingfishers Todiramphus chloris were seen on West
Island (2) and on Browse Island (1). We consider that these derived from
Indonesia and in particular the bird seen on Browse Island and at least one
of those from Ashmore, probably from the Lesser Sunda Islands. Following
recent splits adopted by some checklists notably that produced by the IOC,
this is now a different species to its Australian breeding relative now
called Torresian Kingfisher T. sordidus. A submission regarding the Browse
Island bird is currently under consideration by BARC.

            At-sea highlights included 3 Jouanin’s Petrels, an Abbott’s
Booby, a Lesser Noddy, 76 Bulwer’s Petrels, 83 Swinhoe’s Storm Petrels, 18
Matsudaira’s Storm Petrels, 38 Tahiti petrels, 74 Streaked Shearwaters, 110
Hutton’s Shearwaters, over a thousand Roseate Terns and a Long-tailed

            The usual tropical seabirds that breed locally, Red-tailed
Tropicbird, White-tailed Tropicbird, Masked, Red-footed & Brown Boobies,
Great & Lesser Frigatebirds, Common & Black Noddies, Bridled, Sooty, Great
Crested and Lesser Crested Terns were seen at sea as well as ashore. The two
Gull-billed Tern taxa, the Australian breeding macrotarsa and the migrant
Asian breeding affinis, now generally considered to be distinct species,
were seen. 35 Little Terns were at Ashmore and 400 at Adele. Common,
Whiskered and White-winged Terns were seen at sea.

            Shorebirds were numerous and afforded excellent viewing. There
were Australian Pratincoles at Browse and Adele, and Oriental Pratincoles at
Ashmore. 5 Asian Dowitchers were together at a high tide roost on Ashmore
and 1-3 Oriental Plovers on West Island.

This was a particularly successful trip for other marine creatures with 10
species of Cetacean including  2 Sperm Whales, 2 Hump-backed Whales,
Short-finned Pilot Whales, False Killer Whales, Risso’s Dolphin, and our
first ever Blainvilles’s Beaked Whales. In the Ashmore lagoon we saw 2
Dugong. Reptiles included Green, Loggerhead and Australian Flatback Turtles
and at least three species of sea snakes. Fish, sharks and rays of various
species enhanced the pleasure.

Photos of many of the species mentioned above have been posted on the
participant’s personal blogs and on various ‘Facebook’ birding group’s

With the exception of Adele Island, this trip will be repeated from 2-10
November this year and places are still available. If interested, contact



or phone

              George Swann on 0429 706 800 or for reservations, 1300 874 707


Mike Carter, 03 5977 1262

181/160 Mornington-Tyabb Road

Mornington, VIC 3931, Australia

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