May and early June (2015)
While we have had no major rarities of late,as would be expected at this time of year, the early dry season has brought us an interesting influx of birds from the arid inland regions of Australia. The rarest, in a local context, was a White-backed Swallow that made a brief appearance on one of our Bush and Plains Tours on 10th June. This was quite an unexpected highlight, representing just the fourth Broome record of this desert species, and the first in our area since 2009. Also scarce around here were a pair of Red-capped Robins that were first spotted from the back door of our office on 17th May and remained in the same small patch of bush until at least 2nd June. These were the first Red-capped Robins we've recorded for about three years.
Appearing the day after the robins was a Grey Fantail of the arid inland race albicauda, a distinctive form of this widespread species. Just like the robins, it has been at least three years since the last one of these was seen around Broome. It hung around the BBO for three days, during which time it could be viewed alongside alisteri Grey Fantails, which are regular winter visitors to Broome from south east Australia, and the resident Mangrove Grey Fantails which often disperse through the woodland at this time of year.
After a couple of extremely poor years for button-quails, these too seem to have spread into our area in the last couple of weeks. Most have been unidentified brown blurs buzzing away from the tracksides out on the plains, but a lone bird sitting on our driveway right outside the shadehouse on 31st May allowed close enough views to be easily identified as a Little Button-quail even without binoculars. We also recorded single Stubble Quails at Kidneybean Claypan on 9th and 23rd May.
The best waterbird sighting was a Spotless Crake at the Roebuck Plains lakes on 24th May. Although they could well be lurking in suitable habitat within our region most of the time, we haven't actually seen any for a few years. Also very notable was a Great Crested Grebe on 7th June, which had been joined by two more by the 10th. This is another very scarce bird around here, with just one record since 2012. Additionally, a lone Black-tailed Native-hen was seen at the lakes on 10th May.
This is typically a fairly quiet time of year for waders, but there have been a few notable sightings. Pick of the bunch was an Oriental Plover in full breeding plumage, found standing on the mud flat right in front of the BBO viewing platform on 31st May. Dry season records of this species are very unusual and it is rare to see such a striking specimen. Also unusual for the time of year was a Long-toed Stint at the lakes on 1st June. At least one Sharp-tailed Sandpiper and 15 Marsh Sandpipers also look set to overwinter with us, while at least 18 Asian Dowitchers and a Common Redshank should also be with us through the dry. Australian Pratincoles were abounding on the plains during May, but have suddenly dispersed to leave just a small number in the Kidneybean area.
We have been seeing Cockatiels, Budgerigars and a small number of Pictorella Mannikins quite regularly out at the lakes. A flock of 12 Cockatiels flew east over the BBO on 9th May, a couple of Varied Lorikeets passed over on 10th June and small numbers of Budgerigars have been noted overhead on several dates. It has been a terrible few years for Flock Bronzewings, so a count of 5 at Kidneybean on 1st June was the biggest 'flock' recorded since 2012. A single bird flying across Roebuck Bay's mudflats on 4th June was quite unexpected.
As part of a new project to learn what seabirds are using Broome coastal waters at different times of year, we have tagged along on a couple of fishing charter boats to see what is out there. The highlights of an excursion on 5th May were 200+ Hutton's Shearwaters, 10 Streaked Shearwaters, a Bridled Tern and a few Wilson's Storm-Petrels. On 5th June we recorded another Bridled Tern, a small number of Hutton's Shearwaters, plenty of Wilson's Storm Petrels and a couple of Common Terns. An intriguing series of records involved Wilson's Storm-Petrels close inshore in Roebuck Bay. After 7 were reported from One Tree on 23rd May, we counted 34 just from the viewing platform on the 24th and at least 48 on the 25th. It is highly unusual to see so many in such shallow water and so close to land.
Wilson's Storm-Petrels are probably always present offshore, but rarely come close enough to see them from land. So many of them in Roebuck Bay, in perfectly calm weather, is hard to explain. Photo: Ric Else
Finally, other recent highlights have included an Australian Owlet-Nightjar posing in full view, and in broad daylight, out on a lakes tour on 24th May, a Peregrine in the bay on 28th May and the usual excellent selection of raptors on the plains and around Kidneybean.