Lazy Days in Broome, Western Australia and the Broome Bird Observatory

June 12, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Another beautiful day passes in Broome. As the town bus returns pearl laden tourists to their respective holiday roosts, the tide recedes on Cable Beach to the collective chink of frosted wine glasses and another unforgettable sunset.

Yet there is more to this idyllic destination than beach towels, bathers and balmy evenings. To be in the heart of the Aussie outback and never see the rusty red coastal cliffs and mangrove tidal beaches, walk among Pindan woodland or bump your way along a corrugated dusty dirt road is akin to bypassing Paris on a grand ‘Tour de France’. As I lay peacefully by the poolside, I had a growing feeling that I could not call myself a ‘real’ West Aussie until I had also dipped my toes in that Australia of Crocodile Dundee fame.

Living up to my self-imposed ‘real Aussie adventurer’ image appeared as simple as casting aside the flip-flops and sarong, and calling a local car rental company.  One hour later, I was proudly cruising along Broome’s frangipani scented streets in my rented 4-wheel drive.

Excited by the prospect of freedom to travel beyond the boab'ed borders of town, I mapped out a rough itinerary for the next day.  Whilst my significant other was ensconced in a meeting among palm fronds and lily ponds, I would be 4-wheel driving down outback roads, trekking through wild spinifex grasses and wading along crocodile infested shorelines. Well, almost…

I booked a Shorebirds tour at the Broome Bird Observatory (BBO), estimated time of departure…. 0830 hours.  For a nature lover, a day of trying to identify a curious bird in the poolside palm did not compare to visiting what is regarded as one of the top four sites in the world, and the best site in Australia, for viewing shorebirds. Greater Sand Plover, Charadrius leschenaultii - (Broome, WA)Greater Sand Plover, Charadrius leschenaultii - (Broome, WA)

BBO is located 25 kms from Broome, at the end of Crabb Creek road in Roebuck Bay.  The turn off to Crabb Creek road is about 9kms east of Broome. "You can't miss it", were the famous last, cheerful, words of the BBO staffer over the phone.

Early the next day, and 20 kms down the highway later, I realised that I may have become the first person ever to miss the only turn off to the right for a long way. Thanks to a dose of adrenalin for adventure, I was up early enough to find a take away flat white coffee (thanks to Blooms café), buy plasters for my feet (just in case), get lost and still make it to the BBO with enough time to collect the binoculars. Outback road, Broome, WAOutback road, Broome, WA

BBO was established in 1988 as a research and education facility by Birds Australia ("Australia's peak scientific and recreational birding organisation"). Roebuck Bay is said to have more than 800,000 birds visit annually. Terek sandpiper, Xenus cinereus (Roebuck Bay, Broome, WA)Terek sandpiper, Xenus cinereus (Roebuck Bay, Broome, WA)

We jumped into the BBO van with our guide, Pete Collins, who was armed with a sense of humour, as well as an impressive pair of telescopes. Over the next two and a half hours we visited different spots on the nearby shoreline, such as Wader Beach and Richard's Point, characterised by striking red rocks, ochre mudflats and opaque waters.  Whilst we had missed the peak migration period, which is from late March to early April, we still saw hundreds of birds resting on the beach or doing a routine fly-past, including black-winged stilts, gull-billed terns, bar-tailed godwits and great knots.  Pete proved experienced, knowledgeable and ready to answer any question about the birds and their incredible annual journey. Broome Bird Observatory, Roebuck Bay, WABroome Bird Observatory, Roebuck Bay, WA

In these days of global warming fears, the work done by Pete and volunteers at the BBO will undoubtedly prove invaluable in helping us to understand the real effect of a changing climate on the world around us. If you want to support the BBO in its activities and become a FOBBO (friends of the BBO), you can send an email to bbo@birdsaustralia.com.au or phone on +61 (8) 9193 5600.  Roebuck Bay Migratory Waders (Broome, WA)Roebuck Bay Migratory Waders (Broome, WA)

Following the tour I negotiated more bumpy roads to Willie Creek Pearl Farm, stopping every now and then to watch the whistling kites perched on trees by the roadside or to take a short walk through the bush that reads like a scene from a Tim Winton novel.  'Pindan', the Aboriginal name given to this dry grassland with scattered wattle and eucalypt trees, dominates and characterises the West Kimberley.

In addition to a large selection of cultured pearls, Willie Creek Pearl Farm also has a great tour offering information about pearl farming, a beautiful waterfront location with cobalt waters and white sandy beaches and, according to the prominent warning signs, the occasional crocodile.

I decided to end my adventures at a place closer to town. Gantheaume Point, or 'Minyirr' as the Aboriginal people know it, is a sacred and spiritual area known for its protection and healing properties, according to a welcome message from the Rubibi Aboriginal Land, Heritage and Development Council. It is easy to see why. At sunset the striking layered rocks, shaped by the wind and time, glow in varying shades of orange and red against the steel blue waters of the ocean.

It is also a place of significant prehistoric interest. Incredibly, the Broome coastline is home to nine different types of dinosaur footprints, including sauropod (a dinosaur which reached up to 30 metres in length) footprints and stegosaur hand and footprints. Theropod (bipedal dinosaurs) tracks are said to be visible at Minyirr, though easily missed and invariably covered by the high tide. Gantheaume Point, Broome, WAGantheaume Point, Broome, WA

It is a magical place to end a day of Aussie adventure. Despite the promise of rough and rugged outback roads, I didn't actually need the 4-wheel drive mode. I did, however, travel 150 kms through the pindan, negotiate (potentially) crocodile infested swamps, twitch with the best and watch the sun setting from a rocky vantage point once walked by dinosaurs. For the moment I had appeased the 'inner Aussie', though admittedly in a style that may be more reminiscent of Russell Coight than Crocodile Dundee. Sunset, BroomeSunset, Broome


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012-Georgina Steytler012-Georgina Steytler

A big thank you to Kingsley Klau , of PhotoCoffee for this photo of me with my beloved camera (and dog in background).

 

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