WA Survey Route 30 Sep - 19 Nov

Finished counting in WA with an afternoon flight north of Perth on the coastal plain.  Counted moderate numbers of waterbirds at several wetlands.  There are large areas of uncleared land on the northern coastal plain and many wetlands are in good condition with Crackers Swamp, north of Moore River being an impressive example.

    

No flying because the plane was due an oil change and minor repairs were also effected

Second last day of survey in WA.  We covered the coastal plain from east of the Scott River in the extreme south-west to Perth.  Large numbers of birds of a variety of species were counted, especially in Hardy Inlet near Augusta, Vasse-Wonnerup Estuary near Busselton, Lake Clifton, and Peel-Harvey Estuary near Mandurah.  Many small wetlands were full of fresh water (a pleasant contrast to the Wheatbelt) and contained significant numbers of birds.  A sorry benefit of the flight was that an aerial view shows clearly how much waterbird habitat on the coastal plain has been cleared and drained for farming and habitation, especially south of Bunbury

We travelled from Albany on the South Coast to Bunbury at the southern end of the Swan Coastal Plain today, covering much of the south-west corner of the State.  There were large numbers of waterbirds in Wilson’s Inlet, beside the town of Denmark on the South Coast, and this was the highlight of the day.  Some coastal sedge swamps also supported large numbers of birds, including many moulting Australian Shelduck.  Farther north the Lake Muir system had fewer birds than expected, although large numbers of Australian Shelduck and Pacific Black Duck were recorded.  Numbers of birds on farm dams were also lower than previous counting has suggested, with most dams having no birds.

Surveys between Katanning and Albany and on the South Coast showed large numbers of Australian Shelduck and Black Swan, with occasional lakes supporting significant numbers of Grey Teal.  While water was widespread, nearly all lakes were only shallowly flooded and waterbird habitat was limited.  This was especially true for species restricted to fresh water.

After a two week hiatus because of bad weather, surveying resumed today.  We flew to Esperance in a commercial jet and began surveying again in the Cessna, which had been sitting at Esperance.  The windy weather continued.  Lake Shaster to the west of Esperance had a lot of birds as we surveyed westward towards Katanning.  As we moved into the Katanning area we encountered some large flocks of Grey Teal, as well as numerous Australian Shelduck.  There were flew birds in Lake Dumbleyung, which was highly saline because of low water levels, except for about 40,000 Banded Stilt.

With better than predicted weather, we were able to make one of the two flights scheduled for the day. However, there was little water and almost no waterbirds in the south-eastern Wheatbelt where we surveyed. Low cloud and some showers made survey difficult.

The wind increased overnight and persisted all day, with heavy rain at times and hail on parts of the South Coast. Not a day for flying!

Wetlands around Esperance on the South Coast were overly full as a result of plentiful summer rain and elevated watertables and waterbird numbers were relatively low in the Ramsar-listed Lake Warden system. Lake Gore and associated wetlands farther east were also full and supporting lower than expected numbers of birds, although Australian Shelduck and Musk Duck were plentiful in Lake Gore. Wetlands to the east of Esperance were mostly hypersaline with little water and few birds. As we returned to Esperance at the end of the day’s surveying, the weather began to deteriorate again, with strong winds as we bounced over blue gum plantations counting very few birds.

The survey resumed today, with wetlands being surveyed in the eastern Wheatbelt and Goldfields. Nearly all were dry and we were able to move on to the South Coast at Esperance where there is more water. The only lake surveyed in the western part of the Wheatbelt today, the Yenyenning system, held fewer birds than expected and these were mainly Australian Shelduck, Grey Teal, Black Swan and the two species of stilt.

Strong winds, thunderstorms and rain brought the survey to a halt for five days while we waited for more stable flying conditions. Adrian spent some of the time surveying Perth wetlands on the ground, looking at Herdsman, Mongers, Thomsons, Bibra, North and South Lakes, as well as Alfred Cove and the lakes on Rottnest Island.

Lack of places to re-fuel makes the Wheatbelt as challenging to survey as many more remote parts of Western Australia. Another challenge is the large number of power lines near wetlands that cause hazard for low-level aerial survey. In terms of wetlands, the northern and central Wheatbelt contained many flooded areas, especially saline pans in old palaeo-drainage lines. Many of these saline pans contained Red-necked Avocet and Banded Stilt, as well as Australian Shelduck. Farm dams contained mostly Australian Wood Duck. Very few wetlands encountered today had high species diversity.

The Murchison continued to provide good counts of waterbirds, with Wagga Wagga Lake outstanding. Eurasian Coot were numerous in many wetlands, together with Black-winged Stilt, Australian Shelduck and breeding Black Swan. Several large saline lakes supported thousands of Banded Stilt. Waterbird numbers in the Wheatbelt wetlands are lower, to date, than in the Murchison.

After servicing of the plane was completed we returned to Geraldton to continue the survey. Once again, the Murchison offered a mix of wet and dry wetlands, with flooded claypans and river sections containing a variety of waterbirds. There was little predictability in which wetlands would hold water. Most of the northern Wheatbelt region was dry but occasional wetlands held water. Species composition in these wetlands reflected the increased salinity associated with agriculture in the Wheatbelt and Australian Shelduck were more common in these saline wetlands than elsewhere. Hutt Lagoon, a major naturally saline lake north of Geraldton, which runs along the coast behind the first dune, contained disappointingly few waterbirds although a flock of about 4000 - 5000 Banded Stilt was seen.

Service plane

Service plane

Many pans in the western Murchison held water and contained a variety of waterbirds.  The inverse relationship between wetland turbidity and use by waterbirds was again evident but some of the larger pans provided busy counting.  However, the largest wetland in the area, Wooleen Lake, remained dry so that there were not huge numbers in any wetland.

Many pans in coastal parts of the southern Gascoyne contained waterbird and a variety of waterbirds, although numbers were usually <100 in individual pans.  There was a strong inverse relationship between turbidity level of water in the pans and the numbers of waterbirds present.  More eastern areas were dry.  The Shark Bay area was also dry but large numbers of Pied Cormorant, egrets and Silver Gull were seen along the coast between Shark Bay and Carnarvon.  Whether or not birds were present, the Shark Bay coastline was truly spectacular.

Low numbers of waterbirds of a variety of species were seen in the middle and lower reaches of the Ashburton River, southern Pilbara, with Black Swan being common.  Ashburton headwaters were dry and little water was present away from major watercourses in any part of the catchment.  The eastern side of Exmouth Gulf was surveyed at low intensity and high tide but appears to support significant numbers of shorebirds and related species.  Lake McLeod was relatively dry and many of the mangroves around the lake were dead but over 100 000 Banded Stilt were present.

Large numbers of shorebirds and related species were counted in some saline mudflats and mangroves between Port Hedland and Dampier, adding to the picture of the Pilbara coast being important habitat for shorebirds.  Most river pools supported a variety of waterbirds but this changes as the substrate becomes rocky, when numbers decline.  Black Swans were dominant in many pools.  Both Pilbara water supply dams, Harding and Opthalmia, supported large numbers of waterbirds.  This reflects their shallow depths and flat gradients.

Surveyed Roebuck Bay and Eighty Mile Beach.  These outstanding shorebird sites contained about hundreds of thousands of shorebirds and related species.  By contrast, the Port Hedland Saltworks, although nationally listed for its shorebird values contained almost no birds.  In the northern Pilbara, pools of the De Grey River supported small numbers of a variety of waterbirds, while the mouth contained significant numbers of shorebirds.

Finished Kimberley with more survey in the rocky north-west.  The few open basin wetlands that contain water through the dry season support small numbers of waterbirds and parts of the mangrove shoreline support low numbers of shorebirds.  Flying is difficult because of the ruggedness of the landscape, strong winds and widespread fire.

North-west Kimberley contains mostly rocky river courses and few waterbirds, despite some very scenic country.

Lake Argyle, the water supply for irrigation around Kununurra, contained over 200 000 birds with vast numbers of Magpie Geese and Plumed and Rufous Whistling Duck and various species of egret.  The southern part of this dam has very little gradient and there are vast shallows and large deltas around the inflowing Ord and Bowman Rivers to provide ideal waterbird and shorebird habitat.  The Ord River below Lake Kununurra (the dam downstream of Argyle that’s acts as a distribution point for irrigation water) is kept permanently flowing as a result of controlled release from Lake Kununurra and supported about 20 000 waterbirds along its length, mainly Magpie Geese.  The coastal beach between Cambridge Gulf and the NT border supported significant numbers of waterbirds – its productivity has previously been largely overlooked.  However, Lake Argyle and Lake Gregory, surveyed on 6 October, dominate the waterbird habitat of the East Kimberley.

Obligatory rest day for the pilot

Lake Gregory, south of Halls Creek, is well known for vast concentrations of waterbirds and in excess of 100 000 birds were counted there, with thousands of Australian Pelicans and very large numbers of Hardhead.  Pink-eared Duck, Pacific Black Duck and Grey Teal were also numerous.  Several hundred Freckled Duck were seen.  Waterbodies to the north in the Sturt Creek system contained relatively high waterbird numbers for Kimberley river pools.

Most of the rivers and wetlands in the southern part of the East Kimberley were dry.  However, the sandy rivers of the upper Ord catchment contained low numbers of waterbirds in the pools that remain in these rivers.  Shallow dams created in this flat landscape resemble natural wetlands in many ways and also contained moderate numbers of waterbirds.

Le Lievre Swamp and other wetlands in the Camballin Directory site, on the floodplain of the Fitzroy River, supported large numbers of waterbirds with Straw-necked Ibis and Brolga especially noticeable, together with many ducks.  While the area is principally wet and early dry season habitat, Le Lievre remains and an important wetland in the late dry season.  The Fitzroy River itself, with its wide sandy channel and large river pools, is much more significant water bird habitat than the rocky rivers of the the North-West Kimberley.

There are some basin wetlands on the eastern side of the West Kimberley that contained water as late as October and supported moderate numbers of ducks, large wading birds and other assorted species.  Straw-necked Ibis are a prominent component of the wetland fauna and Brolga sometimes also occur in Significant numbers.  Lake Gladstone was the best example of this type of wetland.

Thursday, 2nd October – Observers are Stuart Halse and Adrian Boyle, Heli-Muster pilot  Paul Rossato

Not many birds were counted around Derby in the West Kimberley.  The large saline mudflats support few shorebirds and most rivers are dry.  There are very few wetlands that hold water into the dry season.

Broome Airport, second day of survey 5:15 a.m., getting ready for take-off. Photo of freshwater wetland in middle of Cape Leveque, north of Broome.  Full of Pacific Black Duck and other birds

Flew Cape Leveque area.  Low numbers of waterbirds.  Highest numbers recorded in small basin depression wetlands away from watercourses (equivalent to the 3 wetlands surveyed previous day).  Very few waterbirds and shorebirds using the extensive tidal mudflats but the Willie Creek wetland was richer than other areas, with the freshwater wetlands on the eastern margin of this Directory site supporting a mix of species.

 

Flew out of Broome.  Tested eqiuipment and methods on Roebuck Plains National Directory site, counting Lakes Eda and Campion and Taylors Lagoon.  Moderate numbers of waterbirds of mix of species, including Grey Teal, Hardhead and Pacific Black Duck.

Return to National Waterbird Survey

Read journals for the other survey routes:

Northern Territory

Eastern Australian waterbird survey

South-East survey region

Cape York and Gulf of Carpentaria

Murray River

Central Australia

Victoria-Tasmania Region

Adelaide Region

Ground Surveys

Project: 
National Waterbird Survey
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