Rare bird species recorded near Exmouth

The team recording birds at a high tide roost site
The team recording birds at a high tide roost site

Bird surveys in Western Australia’s north-west have helped provide a reassuring insight into the migration and population of several native bird species, some of which are endangered.

Led by by the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, with support from Birdlife Australia and volunteers, the surveys of the Exmouth Gulf islands and mangroves reinforced why the area is known as a key biodiversity area for migratory birds.

Among the exciting revelations was the sighting of a red-necked stint with a yellow leg flag band, which proved that the golf-ball sized bird had travelled more than 1000km from Broome to Exmouth – and most likely had only just returned from breeding grounds over 10,000km away.

A significant flock of 600 roseate terns, and a small flock of eastern curlews, a protected species, was also recorded. Pilbara regional manager Arvid Hogstrom said the surveys provided encouraging news about birdlife on the Exmouth Gulf islands.

“Vulnerable species like the eastern curlew and bar-tailed godwit are wary and sensitive to disturbance,” Mr Hogstrom said.

“Both of those species are also listed as critically endangered under the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, so it was exciting to find them on the island.

“Fairy terns were also targeted during the survey, we were looking for birds which were banded at the Houtmann Abrolhos Islands.

“The surveys will help guide a draft management plan for islands between the Exmouth Gulf and Cape Preston, which aims to develop habitat protection strategies to cope with projected increase in human use.

“Some strategies include designated camp sites on islands best able to absorb the potential disturbance generated by human activity and encouraging visitors to camp on their boats away from these sites.

“Providing community education about island nature reserve values and threats to migratory species and their habitats is also important.”

Migratory birds may fly 11,000km in the space of nine days and after a short breeding season often return exhausted to safe places like WA’s islands, Ashburton Coast, Roebuck Bay, and Peel-Harvey Estuary for rest and recuperation.

They feed on the rich mud flat fauna to build up the enormous stores of fat required for their annual commute.

Recreational fishers are asked to report any sightings of tagged fairy terns resting on Pilbara islands to the Parks and Wildlife Service’s Exmouth office on 9947 8000.

The surveys were funded through offsets under Chevron’s Wheatstone Project.