Last Sunday, 27th November, we went to the Port of Broome to see what birds were about after a few days of teasing weather. There has been very little rain in Broome itself so far, but plenty of rain has fallen out of town and especially to the north. The main highway was closed for several days when the Fitzroy River at Fitzroy Crossing peaked at 11.3 metres, which was a rise of over 9 metres over 5 days. The river level has since dropped rapidly to below 6 metres and the highway is open again-for now!
The first thing we noticed when we arrived at the Port of Broome was a large cruise ship docked a couple of hours after low tide. There have been very few cruise ships over recent years thanks to a pandemic, but we have had a couple visit Broome in recent weeks. This cruise ship was the Noordam and is shown above a couple of hours after low tide with all of the shorebirds rapidly feeding along the water’s edge. This photo below shows the cruise ship two hours later once the tide had started to come in. We do have very large tides in Broome of around 10 metres, but this was less than 8 metres of movement. The flatness of the mudflats causes the sea to move very fast as it comes in.
Noordam as the tide comes in
The tide continues to come in until the sea reaches the bottom of the cliffs and the shorebirds have to find an alternative beach to roost on. We chose to walk from the Port of Broome around Entrance Point towards Reddell Beach. From the boat launching area you can walk around the beach towards Gantheaume Point and ultimately Cable Beach if you are a keen walker. Of course you do need to be mindful of these big tides! Our attention was soon captured by a tight flock of Terns feeding offshore. Most fishermen know that if you see birds hovering over the sea then there are bait fish just below the surface and ultimately bigger fish below the bait fish, so that is where you need to be. There were no fishermen in the area, but the Terns were clearly feeding well. It didn’t take long before we realised there were seven Terns amongst the flock of mostly Little Terns that were dark. These Sooty Terns had no doubt come in with our recent weather.
Sooty Terns feeding
It was incredible just how fast the Terns followed the bait fish in the current and then we suddenly got a shock. There are several Ospreys that nest around the Port of Broome and suddenly one stooped right besides us and dropped into very shallow milky looking water. I wasn’t as quick as I should have been at taking photos, but it flew away carrying what we thought was a fish. Well, looking at the photos afterwards we were very impressed to find the Osprey had managed to grab one fish in each talon!
Osprey carrying two fish
We followed the coast around and there were several small flocks of shorebirds arriving from elsewhere as the tide came in. They were predominately Greater Sand Plovers, Lesser Sand Plovers, Red-necked Stint, Grey-tailed Tattlers and Great Knot. As we approached the first rocky outcrop we observed a Common Sandpiper in the shade of the rocks. They appear to be the only shorebirds species that actively seeks out shade here. There were several Whimbrel as well as one of our individually marked older (over twenty years old) male Pied Oystercatchers and its mate from Cable Beach. Now their breeding season is over some of the Pied Oystercatchers choose to reside on different beaches, but others hold their territory all year round.
Pied Oystercatcher – male
We headed home after our walk at Entrance Point and stopped in at the new Town Beach jetty to observe the Noordam from another angle!
Noordam from Town Beach jetty
Already the teasing clouds were on the horizon and once again it rained out of town, but not in town! It looks like another week of billowing clouds in the afternoon and one day it will rain properly!
Rain clouds across Roebuck Bay
So, for now we have blue sky one way and billowing clouds the other way most afternoons and we watch and we wait…..