We have spent most of our time recently with the shorebirds of Roebuck Bay. They have returned from the north, though more are returning and there is very little knowledge on their arrival back in the Bay. When they depart on their northward migration it is possible to go into Roebuck Bay in the late afternoon and watch them group up, call and then take off in beautiful V-formations. The return of the birds is a mystery. We have had a large flock fly over us once heading in the direction of Roebuck Bay, but generally they just gradually appear over the days and months. We get reports from overseas of our individually marked birds heading our way, but basically they are just suddenly back! We have seen most of the individually marked birds that have been seen in Taiwan, Hong Kong and China this year back in Broome, so that is encouraging to both us and the overseas observer. The flock sizes really vary from a few hundred birds to 15,000 shorebirds and can be rather overwhelming to any visitor to Roebuck Bay at this time of year. A small flock can easily be more birds than you think. You easily see the Pied Oystercatchers, but the other shorebirds can easily be undercounted!
Flock of over 150 shorebirds
We have recently done the first counts of shorebirds for our summer and a follow up count will be done in a few weeks time. This is important data to determine any population loss due to reclamation of mudflats in the Flyway. Sooner or later you will come across a challenging flock. You will not only need to count it, but need to identify the shorebirds. The Red Knot are very good at hiding amongst the flock and they are one of the species that are of most concern. You can think you have counted everything and then there is some movement and you discover there are birds you had not noticed.
A dense flock of shorebirds that need to be counted and identified
A challenging flock to count!
Just to add to our challenges over the count period we were faced with a beach covered in jellyfish! From a distance you were not sure if you were approaching birds or not and then when you thought it was only jellyfish you would have a group of Red-necked Stint stand up!
Jellyfish washed up
The shorebirds will not stand on the jellyfish, so it can be a useful “spacer” to spread them out a bit, but there’s no denying it is still a challenge to get an exact count on each and every species. The jellyfish have not been present every day, so it is obviously dependant on the sea and wind conditions. Thankfully we are not required to count them!
During our counts we did have one bird that stood out. It was initially overlooked as being a sea shell, as it was roosting high up with other birds in a shelly section of the beach. It is actually a Red Knot, but it is far from being “red” or even “grey”! It is completely white and we saw it being attacked by a Gull-billed Tern. We had seen it a few months ago, but this time I was able to photograph it.
“White” Red Knot
If you need to see a few thousand shorebirds and a great variety of species then you need to be here! Most flocks are producing Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwit, Great and Red Knot, Grey-tailed Tattler, Terek Sandpiper, Greater and Lesser Sandplovers, Ruddy Turnstone, Common Greenshank, Eastern Curlew, Whimbrel, Grey Plover (only females!), Broad-billed Sandpipers and if you are lucky an Asian Dowitcher!
Another good reason to be here is that it is mango season! The Mango Festival is 24th-27th November and there are cocktail and cook-off competitions and a chance to taste all the different varieties!
Come and enjoy the shorebirds and the mangos!!