There’s about 25 km of beach running from Gantheaume Point north to Willie Creek. This is Cable Beach, sun, surf, camels, tourists, very popular. But the further north you get the fewer people you encounter. The numbers would drop off faster if driving on the beach was forbidden, sadly it is permitted. There is some debate as to whether a full-time or part-time four-wheel drive is better on the beach. Personally, I think the best car for the purpose is somebody else’s car.
About 13 km up the beach from the Cable Beach Resort, or 25 km by road, is the suburb I know as Coconut Well, officially Waterbank. If you have a spare three or four million you can buy a nice home here. It won’t have mains electricity or town water but it will have a nice view.
At low tide there are some rocks exposed that are interesting to poke around in. Fish dart around in the tidal pools. There will be some migratory shorebirds about and perhaps a Frigatebird will fly over and if you’re really lucky you may see a Beach Stone-curlew …
The photo at the top is of an Eastern Reef Egret hunting through the pools. They often stand motionless, sometimes with their wings out to create some enticing shade. When a morsel presents itself the neck uncoils like a spring.
Every serious Australian bird watcher will find their way to Broome. The reason above all else is Roebuck Bay and the thousands of migratory shorebirds that visit every austral summer. Whilst the Bay is the main game it’s not the only game in town. There are a few hotspots around Broome itself that are easily accessible for the visitor and you won’t need to hire a guide to reach them.
Broome is situated on a peninsula and if we start at the southern end there is …
It’s well signposted. There are two spots to check out. As you approach the end of Port Drive turn right past Toll Mermaid Logistics along Kabbarli Road and follow it to the end. The beach here is good for waders and terns. Check the navigation structures offshore for Brown Boobies. Lesser Frigatebirds are regular. The scrub behind the beach has hosted some interesting species on occasion. All manner of goodies can turn up after a cyclone. Remember Indonesia is a mere 775 km away (485 mi).
The second spot is the cafe at the base of the pier. The garden looks out over Roebuck Bay, there are some scattered mangroves fairly close. Across the road you can look out on some rocks for Reef Egrets. There is a walkway along side the pier which may be open and it is worth walking a short way. Ospreys nest on the pier.
Taking Port Drive back towards the town centre Clementson Street is on the right. Look out for a large water tower. The Sewage Treatment Plant is tucked away behind commercial properties on the south side of Clementson St. Access is via a dirt track very close to the corner with Port Drive, or a dirt track immediately east of the commercial properties. The latter is the better option after rain. The splendid new hide is on the west side of the main ponds and works best in the afternoon. There is also a small pond on the west side of a usually dry creek that is used to provide water to the golf course that is also worth checking out. Caution is required in the wet.
Mangroves – Town Beach to Streeter’s Jetty
If you continue east on Clementson to the end it takes a right angle bend onto Dora St. 2nd on the right is Hopton Street. Right again at the end of that takes you to town beach. Next to the carpark is a groin that runs out into the sea. Looking north from here there are mangroves stretching as far as the eye can see. Access is pretty good from Town Beach to Matso’s Brewery, opposite Bedford Park for example.
Streeter’s Jetty is behind Chinatown at the end of Short Street. If you stand at the base of the jetty and look to the right you will see some pipes protruding from the wall. Birds congregate here for fresh water, an excellent spot for photography.
providing they are not in use are worth checking out for Yellow Wagtail, Golden Plover and Little Curlew, including …
Father McMahon Sports Field
Behind the Aquatic Centre, 2nd on the right heading NW on Cable Beach Rd from Frederick St.
Oval on corner of Frederick & Lyons Streets near the shopping centre.
There is a gate on Lyons St opposite Miller Way.
Administratively Broome is part of the Kimberley but in terms of geology and biology it doesn’t quite fit. If you drive north to Derby you cross the Boab line and then the Fitzroy River. Now you’ve got one toe in the real Kimberley.
As you approach Derby the Prison Boab is off to your right. The tourist will want to have a quick look. The bird watcher will also want to stop. There is a cattle trough adjacent to the venerable tree that attracts the odd thirsty bird.
The next stop for the birdo is the sewage pond. On the left just past the speedway sign you’ll find a sign to Derby Wetland pointing down Conway Street. The road surface changes to dirt (dry season, mud in the wet). Don’t be tempted by the bitumen off to your right. At the end of Conway turn left, the ponds are now on your right, turn right again to keep them there. Shortly you encounter tracks off to the left both will take you to the wetland, the second one is usually in better condition.
The sewage plant may be the only one in the world to have a Boab tree within its boundaries. There was a fine White-bellied Sea Eagle sitting in it when I was last there. Good birds can be seen through the fence.
The wetland has been improved in recent years. The waste water used to run out the back making a very nice wetland where I’ve seen Ruff and other delicacies. The Golf Course coveted the water. So a pond was created to give the illusion of a wetland and the water was put to good use. It’s now an ideal place for Purple Swamphens and White Ibis. Whereas in the past every serious bird watcher in Australia found their way to Derby in the course of their career, maybe now every serious golfer treks here instead.
Then it’s into town, look out for Little Curlew on the ovals. I have even seen them on the median strip. The port is worth a visit. You can peer into the mangroves at the boat ramp. There’s a nice cafe by the pier.
Someone in an air-conditioned office thought it would be nice to put a walkway between the port and town through the most desolate landscape you’ll find this side of the Sahara. If you’re planning to migrate to Mars you could train here.
Meet Roderick Percival Smith, all the cows out here have individual names and wear their initials in their ear …
Well no. They all have the same tag and RPS stands for Roebuck Plains Station. The point of introducing you to Roderick is simple. There’s a lot of good birding out on the plains but it is a working cattle station and private property. You will need permission to visit and it’s a huge place. Local knowledge and permission is readily available if you go with the redoubtable George Swan or with staff from Broome Bird Observatory.
George is a top bird guide and lovely guy. He can be found at <Kimberley Birding>. The link for Broome Bird Observatory is <BBO>.
What’s happening on the plains depends on the weather, it might be dust or it might be under water. Presently it’s in between, some dust and some water. It’s nice although the temperature did reach 42°C (107°F) the other day.
You may be lucky enough to encounter Yellow Chat. They are not easy to find but if they’re about George Swan or the guys at the Observatory will know where they are. In breeding plumage they are a knock out. The ones I found this time were not at their finest but hey, that’s the way it goes.
Last year the rain gods were very generous to Broome. The last wet was a big wet. Even after the intervening dry season, lakes out on the Roebuck Plains still hold a good amount of water. The birds are loving it.
First a couple of photos for the true aficionados, answers at the bottom …
Like the two above, many of our shorebirds are very long distance migrants breeding in the far north of the northern hemisphere and coming to Australia to escape the northern winter. Dual citizens as it were …
Whilst others are resident.
Others aren’t shorebirds at all, they just have long legs, well adapted for feeding in shallow water. This would include the Brolgas in the headline photo, herons and Ibises – waders in the American sense.
Now the answers, these two individuals have been discovered in the last few days. The upper one is a Pectoral Sandpiper. These breed in Alaska and the Russian far east and most winter in South America. A few join the east Asian flyway and find their way to Australia or New Zealand.
The second bird is a Little Stint. Their breeding ground is in the Eurasian high arctic. Most go to Africa to escape the northern winter. A few find their way further east. It’s only a small minority that find their way to Australia.
There are mangroves aplenty around Broome and plenty of birds that use them. There are about 19 species of mangrove up here so the habitat varies from place to place and to some extent the suite of birds varies, too.
Access to mangroves is often difficult due to deep mud and the density of the vegetation. Mosquitoes can be a little tedious as well. There are a couple of spots that are reasonably easy of access and quite rewarding to visit.
The mangroves that run from Town Beach to Chinatown can be entered in various places and are really good for Red-headed Honeyeater. Streeter’s jetty is the most famous in birding circles and is excellent. Out of town at Little Crab Creek is the place to go for Dusky Gerygone. Between the two you can find just about all of the local mangrove specialists, and it’s not only the birds …
Fiddler crabs and mudskippers abound. they probably make a nice meal for some of the larger denizens. And there is plenty of invertebrate life in the mud.
A couple of the Pachycephalidae are mangrove specialists, the Mangrove Golden Whistler and the White-breasted Whistler …
Both very handsome birds.
The Honeyeaters are represented by these two …
The Red-headed is always found in or near mangroves, the Brown is found in a much wider range of habitats but is common in the mangroves.
Nicely posed to show us how it got its name, the Broad-billed Flycatcher will wander into adjacent Melaleuca woodland but is essentially a mangrove species.
The tidal zone provides a living for the Striated Heron but it nests in the mangroves …
And circling above the mangroves, the Brahminy Kite.
Where my interest in nature came from is anybody’s guess, none of my family shared in it. It was evident very early, by age eight I was off on my own making lists of the birds I came across. Whipps Cross was my patch.
When I was older and got a bike I could venture further afield. I tended to concentrate on larger birds, I didn’t own any binoculars until much later.
I counted it a particularly successful outing if I managed to see a Jay or a Great Crested Grebe.
So, naturally, I managed to fit a little birding in between seeing the sights of London, starting with Whipps Cross where I saw both a Jay and a Great Crested Grebe plus a couple of birds that were not present in my young days, Little Egret and Egyptian Goose. Interestingly I didn’t come across Chaffinch or Yellowhammer.
Other spots that I visited included Fisher’s Green near Waltham Abbey. This was a place that I used to fish at. It’s changed a great deal since then. Some old powder mills are gone. Gravel extraction has produced extensive shallow lakes. It’s now a great place to see water birds and even an otter if you’re very lucky.
Another old favourite was the Lea Valley reservoirs running from the back of Hackney Marshes out to Tottenham. Arriving there I found that Europe’s most extensive urban wetland was in development and would open October 20th. The place where I saw my first Smew was being recycled as Walthamstow Wetlands.
Although it wasn’t yet open it wasn’t all that closed either so I found my way in and had a wander and found perhaps the most exciting bird of the UK trip …
In flight it showed triangular white patches at the base of the tail. The photo shows the patterned plumage and the white supercilium. It’s a Whinchat, exciting because quite unexpected on the outskirts of London. It’s a summer visitor to Britain, I may just have been lucky to see it as it made its migration southwards.
But it’s not all about the novel or the rare. It’s nice to spend time with old friends.