One bird species that we occasionally observe around Broome is the Yellow-billed Spoonbill, but we had not seen one for a few years until recently. There are Royal Spoonbills that frequent the Broome Poo Ponds and the shores of Roebuck Bay, but not the Yellow-billed Spoonbill. On a recent camping trip where as usual we took the “road less travelled” we stopped at the Fortescue River to go bush-walking. The section of the Fortescue River that we went to was half way between Nullagine and Newman. Approaching from Newman the road is bitumen, but approaching from Marble Bar and Nullagine the road is gravel. It is approximately 100 kilometres from either town.

We pulled up next to the bridge that goes over the Fortescue River and headed off down towards the water on May 28th around 08:30am. The river level is low this time of year and the bird-life was very good. We soon observed several bird species and then a Yellow-billed Spoonbill flew overhead. That was our first Yellow-billed Spoonbill for 2021, so that was exciting in itself. They are widespread throughout Australia, but it does not mean you necessarily easily observe them.

We were even more delighted as we followed some cattle tracks to discover not only more bird species than we had hoped, but also more Yellow-billed Spoonbills. There was an island in the middle of the river and the tall trees held Yellow-billed Spoonbill nests and there were several families within the vicinity. By the size of the juvenile birds the adults must have laid the eggs several months ago when the rains came to that area of Western Australia.

As you can imagine I soon got busy taking photographs of the Yellow-billed Spoonbills. Not only is it a bird species we rarely encounter, but we had never found a breeding colony before. Not all of the nests had been vacated yet either. The Yellow-billed Spoonbills had found the perfect environment to breed and we were lucky enough to come across it. We were very cautious and only stayed in the area a short time. The juvenile Yellow-billed Spoonbills had much shorter bills than their parents and it was very obvious.

Juvenile Yellow-billed Spoonbills

In this photo below you can see the difference in the length of the bills between the juvenile and adult Yellow-billed Spoonbill.

Juvenile and adult Yellow-billed Spoonbill

One family of Yellow-billed Spoonbills all lined up together on the one branch over the river and made for an impressive group of birds.

Yellow-billed Spoonbill family

The adult Yellow-billed Spoonbills had beautiful breeding plumage and as you can see there is a significant difference in the bill length to the juvenile birds.

Adult breeding plumage in Yellow-billed Spoonbills

Discovering this breeding colony of Yellow-billed Spoonbills was definitely the highlight of our walk. Next week I will introduce you to some more of the bird species that we found along this short section of the Fortescue River.

Written by Clare M
Clare and her husband, Grant, have lived permanently in Broome, Western Australia since 1999 after living in various outback locations around Western Australia and Darwin. She has lived in the Middle East and the United States and traveled extensively in Europe. She monitors Pied Oystercatchers breeding along a 23km stretch of Broome's coastline by bicycle and on foot. She chooses not to participate in social media, but rather wander off into the bush for peace and tranquility. Thankfully she can write posts in advance and get away from technology!