June to August (2016)
Our busiest period of the year in terms of human visitors, with plenty to keep staff busy! We hosted a fantastic bunch of students from La Trobe University in late June, who visit the observatory most years to learn about the birds of the area and the ecology of Roebuck Bay, before walking the Lurujarri Heritage Trail up the Dampier Peninsula. Dry season shorebird banding also recommenced in June and July, with a range of species from Red-necked Stints to Whimbrel caught and banded across the first few catches of the season. Most of these birds are first-year birds, overwintering in Australia before making their first breeding trip to the Arctic next year.
The first adult waders began to return to Broome in July, joining the (mostly young) birds that spent the Dry in the bay with us. The first recorded return was a Common Sandpiper seen at the sewage ponds on the 13th June. Since then, the first Wood Sandpiper (23rd July at the sewage ponds) and Sharp-tailed Sandpipers (9th August in the bay) have also been recorded – these species usually breed in their first year, so tend to be completely absent for a period during the Dry. Curlew Sandpipers, Red-necked Stints and Greater Sand Plovers have also been amongst the more noticeable returning birds, while the single 1st winter Common Redshank that remained in the bay over the Dry has now been joined by two returned adult birds. Asian Dowitchers also continue to be seen regularly on the high tide roosts in the bay.
Out on Roebuck Plains, things are very dry. All of our major wetlands were dry by the end of July, some didn’t even fill this year. As a result, it’s no surprise that our freshwater wetland species have mostly deserted us – the sewage ponds in town is currently the best hope for these species! The Yellow Chats are still hanging around in good numbers out at Kidney Bean Claypan, for now at least, and have been very co-operative at times.
As is typical for this time of year, the rare sightings have dropped off somewhat but we have still had a few local rarities turn up to keep things interesting. An Arctic Jaeger was seen during the Dry season wader count at Bush Point, our first for the year. A White-browed Woodswallow was seen amongst Masked Woodswallows on the edge of Roebuck Plains on the 28th July, our second for this year. A small group of Eastern Cattle Egrets were seen on a couple of occasions near Dampier Creek in mid-August and George Swann found a Tawny Grassbird in tall saltbush on Roebuck Plains on the 19th August.
An evening adventure spot-lighting in Roebuck Bay's mangroves yielded one of Broome's lesser known reptiles, Resetar's Mangrove Snake (Myron resetari)! We in fact found two of them - moving through the mangrove roots as they searched for their mud-dwelling prey of small fish, gastropods and crustaceans!
Over the next month or so, we expect to welcome back more of our Wet season migrants, with the likes of Barn Swallows, Eastern Yellow Wagtails, Little Curlews and Oriental Plovers all expected to appear. We also wait to see whether the Semipalmated Plover will return for yet another season – the star of the sewage ponds usually arrives in the first few days of October.