Monday, 7 April 2014


Bar-tailed Godwits
When I booked to visit Ashmore Reef, leaving from Broome on Wednesday 26 March 2014, I arranged a day's birding in Broome beforehand.  My requirements were the Semipalmated Plover and the Common Redshank, and my guide was George Swann.

George picked me up at my hotel at 6.  He had Dr Rob Hamilton, a birder from Hobart with him.  For the day, I managed 94 birds, despite the heat.  George and Rob, who spent hours wading through ankle deep wetlands, saw several more.

The day started well at the sewage works where we had immediate and excellent views of the Semipalmated Plover in breeding plumage.  It was more brightly coloured than the drab bird I'd seen illustrated but I confess I did not notice that its bill was orange at the base.  The Semiplamated Plover is an American bird breeding anywhere in the far north from Alaska to Newfoundland.  When I'd learnt before I left home that the bird was in breeding plumage I was worried that it might leave before I could get there.  I later learned that it always leaves on the same day in April.  A creature of habit indeed.

We also saw both races of the Yellow Wagtail cooperatively playing side by side.  There were several other waders, including Black-wnged Stilt with some very cute chicks.

From the sewage works we went to Station Hill looking for raptors.  Here I saw my first giant burrowing frog, which was fun, even if not very raptorial.  Then it was on to Roebuck Plains.  Highlights for me were my favourite woodswallow (White-breasted), Red-backed Fairywrens and Magpie Geese with goslings.

I was surprised to learn that George remembered taking my parents birding some 25 years ago.  He particularly remembered that they had Painted Honeyeaters nesting in their front garden.  No wonder he's such a good birder with a memory like that.

Regardless of what the field guides say, George tells me that there are always a few Common Redshanks in Broome.  He had seemed quite confident of showing me one so I was relaxed and expectant as we drove to Little Crab Creek the first time.  Somehow he had misjudged the tides and there were no waders to be seen at all, let alone any redshanks.  We drove back and admired thousands of waders in Roebuck Bey - truly a spectacular sight.

The second time we approached Little Crab Creek I was not quite so relaxed.  What if I missed out on this wretched bird yet again?  I had looked for it so many times and, if I missed out on this occasion, I reckoned it would now qualify as a bogey bird.  In September 2009, at the end of Klaus' Black Grasswren tour, instead of going home, I had flown to Broome from Kununurra in order to look for a Common Redshank.  I had tried my best, and the wardens at the bird observatory on my behalf did so too, but I was not blessed with a redshank on that occasion.

Broome is a long way from Melbourne.  If you put up with the heat, I reckon you're entitled to a lifer or two.

As we walked through the mangroves to the entrance to Little Crab Creek we were diverted with Dusky Gerygones, Yellow White-eyes and White-breasted Whistlers.  We saw Mangrove Grey Fantails, Lemon-bellied Flycatchers, while Brahminy Kites and a Peregrine Falcon flew overhead.  But I was not satisfied with all this entertainment.  There was only one bird that would gratify me today.  With muddy feet we reached the entrance to the creek.  In seconds George had a couple of Common Redshank in the scope for me.  Yippee!  Two birds I requested and two birds George delivered.

I knew then that my trip to Ashmore Reef would be a success.

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