March to April (2018)
The northbound shorebird migration was the wildlife spectacle in Broome during March and April. Our first Eastern Curlews departed on the 7th of March, with their mournful whistles heard over the BBO just after sunset. The first departure of the Eastern Curlews marks the commencement of our daily Migration Watch, where BBO staff and guests perch themselves on stools on the red, pindan cliffs each afternoon from 4 - 6 pm, counting the shorebirds as they begin their monumental migration. The Migration Watch generally ends in early May, once the majority of flocks have departed.
During this period the BBO ran two of our very popular Wave the Waders Goodbye courses, where our course participants learnt about shorebird, tern and raptor identification, shorebird ecology, and of course, witnessing migration! The surrounds of Broome remained mostly inaccessible, but despite the tough conditions, we recorded around 130 species on both courses.
From our Migration Watch vantage point, we observed 316 flocks leaving Australia, comprising 14,533 individuals! The most common species included Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits, Whimbrel and Great Knots. Three flocks of Asian Dowitchers (a local specialty!) also departed in their stunning, brick-red, breeding plumage.
On the 14th of April over 100 locals and visitors to Broome attended our Public Migration Watch on the beach in front of the Observatory. We held a fantastic sausage sizzle, and were incredibly lucky to watch 1,056 shorebirds migrating! A moment everyone present will remember, was a flock of 190 northward-bound Whimbrel in ‘V-formation’, noisily chatting just above our heads with the last rays of sun catching their undersides. Everyone was silent, children included, looking skyward, jaws dropped.
Away from Roebuck Bay, there have been many other birding highlights - in fact, too many to list! Of National significance were more House Swifts and Edible-nest/Himalayan Swiftlets with Tropical Cyclone Kelvin (mid-Feb) and TC Marcus (late March). Locally scarcities found by Broome’s sharp-eyed birders were Pied Herons (including a rufous morph), Tawny Grassbird, Oriental Cuckoos, White-browed Crakes, Pictorella Mannikins, and a Siberian Peregrine Falcon (race calidus).
A pair of Australian Painted-snipe and their fledgling were found by local George Swann along the Great Northern Highway where it crosses Roebuck Plains, the first noted breeding record of the season, but a very important one at that! Also at this site were a multitude of nesting waterbirds, with large numbers of Wandering Whistling-Ducks, Magpie Geese, herons and egrets, crakes and terns, all cashing in on the aquatic insects, frogs and small fish that were abundant on flooded grasslands.
Broome now heads into the dry season following our wettest wet season on record (Roebuck Plains received nearly 2,200 mm). The ephemeral freshwater lakes of Roebuck Plains Station will showcase a birding bonanza for the remainder of the year, and we anticipate our full-day Lakes Tours to be in high demand! Our August photography course, and the Congress and Campout in September are sure to leave participants wanting to return to Broome for more!