NWA Wader & Tern Banding Expedition 2016 PART 1

North West Australia Wader and Tern Banding Expedition PART 1 ~ 6-28th February 2016 ~ 

Now that I'm almost over my jet lag I think it's time to put into words just how awesome the expedition was for all you folk who weren't there. The expedition was so brilliant in every way that I can't quite find the right words to describe it; from the location to the banter and everything in between was just so good it's hard to put into words, but I will try; I'm going to split it up into two parts based on the two halves of the trip because there's so much to talk about & I've got loads of pictures I want to include! For those of you who I'm friends with on Facebook there are many more photos on there than I will be able to share in a blog post, so please check out my 'NWA Wader & Tern Banding Expedition 2016' album. So let's get onto the trip...

I left the UK on the 3rd and arrived at Broome Airport on the 5th February. There I was met by one of the expedition leaders and my friend Ros who had been out in Oz for a few months before the expedition. After a few errands we headed to Broome Bird Observatory where we stayed for 2 nights before heading to Anna Plains on Sunday 7th. Anna Plains is one of the biggest cattle stations is Australia. It is located approximately 270km south of Broome and consists of just under 1 million acres of open rangeland, stretching from the shores of Eighty Mile Beach to the Great Sandy Desert.
Tawny Frogmouth (Podargus strigoides) at Broome Bird Observatory
Eighty Mile Beach
We stayed at Anna Plains for 11 nights and had 9 catching days on Eighty Mile Beach. For all the shorebird catching, we were using a method called cannon netting. This requires 3 cannons to be dug into the beach, each loaded with a projectile which is connected to the net and the cannons are wired up to a firing box which is located in the hide which we build in the sand dunes some 40 metres or so away from the net. Typically, two nets are set, each approximately 40 metres away from the hide, one north of the hide and one south of the hide. Two nets are set to increase the chances of the birds being in the correct positions to make a catch.
The view from the hide during set up
Eighty Mile Beach is some 220km (140miles) in length, forming the coastline where the Great Sandy Desert approaches the Indian Ocean. It is one of the most important sites for migratory shorebirds in Australia, and is recognised as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. While we were there we witnessed some incredible shorebird spectacles that will remain with me forever! On one particular day the beach was just covered in shorebirds, mainly Oriental Pratincoles, for as far as the eye could see. It is estimated that there were around 300,000 Pratincoles in view that day which I believe is one of the highest counts of birds in view at one time ever recorded in the world, so that was pretty special!
Looking North... 
Looking South...
As well as the fact that there was such an immense number of shorebirds, there were also good numbers of birds of prey about, using the thermals to glide along the sand dunes at the back of the beach. Now this presented us with some issues because while we were twinkling (using vehicles to push the birds along the beach towards the nets & catching areas), the birds of prey spooking all the birds could be quite helpful in that it was a natural disturbance, not caused by us in the vehicles. However, once we were getting closer towards making a catch, and so the birds are all congregating in the right places and look like they'll need only the tide to push them up the beach as it comes in, having a bird of prey fly over or past can be a real pain and cause some very tense moments as you don't know whether the shorebirds will just all up and fly off to another part of the beach, or whether some will do that and the rest will just circle for a few moments and then return to the catching areas...it can, and did, all get very tense on a number of occasions!
White-bellied Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster)
Some shorebirds being disturbed by a bird of prey
Black Kite (Milvus migrans)
One bonus of there being so many birds of prey together with such a high density of shorebirds, was that it made for some brilliant photographic opportunities! These images were taken just as the flock in the catching area took off after a White-bellied Sea Eagle flew past and disturbed them all. It was incredible to witness and I'm very lucky that I managed to capture the organised chaos of those fleeting moments in a series of images. Luckily, after the Eagle flew past the birds settled back on the beach and we made a successful catch.
A mixed flock of shorebirds taking off after being disturbed by a bird of prey
Shorebirds taking flight after a bird of prey flew over
These are some of the totals for each catching day at Eighty Mile Beach (re-traps are in brackets):

08/02/16 - 6.5km South of Anna Plains
  • Great Knot                      407 (24)
  • Curlew Sandpiper           49 (1)
  • Grey-tailed Tattler          25 (1)
  • Terek Sandpiper             20 (1)
  • Greater Sand Plover       5 (0)
  • Ruddy Turnstone           1 (0)
  • Sanderling                      1 (0)
  • TOTAL = 508 (27)
  • RUNNING TOTAL = 508 (27)
Terek Sandpiper (Xenus cinereus)
Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)
09/02/16 - 23km South of Anna Plains
  • Red-necked Stint            125 (0)
  • Greater Sand Plover       120 (3)
  • Oriental Plover               5 (0)
  • Terek Sandpiper             2 (0)
  • Grey-tailed Tattler          2 (0)
  • Red-capped Plover         1 (0)
  • Broad-billed Sandpiper  1 (0)
  • Oriental Pratincole         1 (0)
  • Ruddy Turnstone            1 (0)
  • TOTAL = 258 (3)
  • RUNNING TOTAL = 766 (30)
Greater Sand Plover in moult (Charadrius leschenaultii)
Red-capped Plover (Charadrius ruficapillus)
10/02/16 - 28km South of Anna Plains
  • Greater Sand Plover               59 (1)
  • Grey-tailed Tattler                 49 (2)
  • Bar-tailed Godwit                  56 (2)
  • Great Knot                             18 (2)
  • Terek Sandpiper                    15 (0)
  • Little Curlew                         3 (0)
  • Oriental Plover                      5 (0)
  • Lesser Sand Plover                2 (0)
  • Sanderling                             1 (0)
  • White-winged Black Tern     22 (1)
  • Gull-billed Tern                    1 (0)
  • TOTAL = 231 (8)
  • RUNNING TOTAL = 997 (38)
Gull-billed Tern (Gelochelidon nilotica)
Little Curlew (Numenius minutus)
11/02/16 - 40km South of Anna Plains
  • Oriental Pratincole     89 (0)
  • Oriental Plover           6 (0)
  • Red-capped Plover     6 (0)
  • Red-necked Stint        4 (0)
  • TOTAL = 109 (0)
  • RUNNING TOTAL = 1,106 (38)
Oriental Pratincole (Glareola maldivarum)
Red-necked Stint (Calidris ruficollis)
12/02/16 - 41km South of Anna Plains
  • Great Knot                          149 (10)
  • Greater Sand Plover            48 (2)
  • Grey-tailed Tattler               33 (1)
  • Red-necked Stint                 27 (2)
  • Terek Sandpiper                  21 (1)
  • Red-capped Plover              14 (0)
  • Oriental Plover                    15 (0)
  • Ruddy Turnstone                 3 (0)
  • Broad-billed Sandpiper       2 (0)
  • Sanderling                           2 (0)
  • Oriental Pratincole              2 (0)
  • TOTAL = 316 (16)
  • RUNNING TOTAL = 1,422 (54)
Grey-tailed Tattler (Tringa brevipes) with breeding plumage
Oriental Plover (Charadrius veredus)
13/02/16 - 40km South of Anna Plains
  • Great Knot                          205 (21)
  • Red-necked Stint                101 (0)
  • Grey-tailed Tattler              43 (0)
  • Terek Sandpiper                 43 (0)
  • Curlew Sandpiper               8 (1)
  • Red-capped Plover             4 (0)
  • Broad-billed Sandpiper      2 (1)
  • Ruddy Turnstone                2 (0)
  • Bar-tailed Godwit               1 (0)
  • Sanderling                           1 (0)
  • TOTAL = 410 (23)
  • RUNNING TOTAL = 1,832 (77)
Broad-billed Sandpiper (Limicola falcinellus)
Sanderling (Calidris alba)
14/02/16 - 23km South of Anna Plains
  • Red-necked Stint                    82 (5)
  • Greater Sand Plover               43 (1)
  • Grey-tailed Tattler                  24 (1)
  • Terek Sandpiper                     15 (0)
  • Bar-tailed Godwit                   6 (0)
  • Sanderling                               2 (0)
  • Great Knot                              1 (0)
  • White-winged Black Tern      13 (0)
  • TOTAL = 186 (7)
  • RUNNING TOTAL = 2,018 (84)
White-winged Black Tern (Chlidonias leucopterus)
Birds being twinkled towards the net by the Northern team - so
many shorebirds!!
Wednesday 17th was a day off catching so we chilled for most of the day and then myself, Milly and Ros headed to the beach at about 16.00 so they could do some drawing and I could just bird and do some photography. It was a lovely afternoon and we got back right on the dot at 18.30 for dinner. We saw 15 species, including White-bellied Sea Eagle, Greenshank, Caspian Tern and White-winged Fairywren (no males unfortunately).

Shorebirds at sunset
Greater Crested Tern (Thalasseus bergii)
The evening was spent enjoying the brilliant company and surroundings over a bbq by the pool, followed by a late night trip by a few of the expedition members and some of the station hands to the hot spring, which was lovely. Plus we saw two Nightjars on the way back afterwards which was a real bonus!!
The final night BBQ by the pool at Anna Plains.
On Thursday 18th we said our farewells to Helen and co at Anna Plains and made the journey back to Broome Bird Observatory (BBO). The journey was pretty uneventful, aside from stopping to look at a number of dead snakes & lizards, as I think most people were feeling a little delicate after the night before. After arriving back at BBO, unpacking and sorting out all the gear, a couple of us headed into town to the Sewage Treatment works, AKA Poo Ponds (don't birders visit all the best places!), for a spot of birding before dinner. It was a really productive hour-and-a-bit, notching up 29 species for the bird log, including Radjah Shelduck, Long-toed Stint, Black-fronted Dotterel, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Pink-eared Duck and Semi-palmated Plover, all of which I believe are good records for the area!
Broome Poo Ponds
A dodgy digiscope pic of Radjah Shelduck (Tadorna radjah)
Another dodgy digiscoped pic, this time of Plumed Whistling
Duck (Dendrocygna eytoni) on the left, and Black-fronted Dotterel
(Elseyornis melanops) on the right
I will leave Part 1 there and continue my ramblings in Part 2 which you can find here.


  1. Brilliant pics, Josie. What an amazing bunch of memories to treasure.

  2. Whoah that looks like an amazing place. No doubt about it, I'll have to go there. Brilliant write up and stunning pictures. Nice mix of species, how were your ID skills? Were the bird catch volumes as expected? Were the re-traps typical, better or worse than expected and were there any interesting controls?

    1. Thanks Finn! Yeah we'll definitely have to persuade your parents in a few years time to let you go - you'd have a brilliant time! You get used to id-ing stuff pretty quick which is good. I believe the total number of birds caught for the whole expedition was the highest total ever. This is probably a combination of luck, the team and the fact that it has been very dry with little rain so far this 'wet season' and so birds are pushed off the plains and onto the beaches more so than usual. I'm not sure with regards to the first part of your question re re-traps but the % of juveniles was down quite significantly on the long term mean. We did get some interesting controls, including birds from China, Japan and Russia! We also got some good longevity records, including a Black-winged Stilt that was 22 years old! Plenty of birds that were older than you and a good number older than me as well, which is really weird and awesome at the same time! Hope that answers all your questions, but do ask if you have more! :D

  3. Wow Josie, sounds like you had a fantastic time, I enjoy ready your blogs and your photos are amazing xx keep up the good work

  4. Absolutely breathtaking sight. The images are amazing.

  5. OK, thats settled - I'm going on this expedition the first chance I get - and I thought the number of waders down in Victoria was impressive!

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  6. To be honest, I've never been interested in birding stuff abroad. That's changed after reading your blog. Bloody incredible Josie with some fantastic images.
    Keep going. Live your life to the full.
    Loved the shore birds at sunset and the Terek Sandpiper in the hand - stunning.
    Pleased it all went well and you're home safely.