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Rottnest Island

Rottnest a staging ground for waders


When it comes to bird watching Rottnest Island coach captain Bert Genat describes himself as an “enthusiastic amateur”, and the Island is the perfect setting for him to partake in his pastime.

Not only is Rottnest Island home to many birds, it is one of the transequatorial migratory birds staging grounds during their marathon 20,000-25,000km round trip to the Arctic Circle.

While many more birds flock to the Island in summer, bird watching on Rottnest is excellent all year round.

“Birds are a real attraction on Rottnest and people are genuinely interested in the Island’s bird life,” said Mr Genat, who has worked for the Rottnest Island Authority for 8½ years.

Mr Genat, of Fremantle, recently visited the Broome Bird Observatory on Roebuck Bay, established by Birds Australia in 1988 as a centre for research and conservation. The excursion was funded under Rottnest Island Board’s staff development grant.

During his trip the former primary school teacher attended a Wave The Waders Goodbye course, where he expanded his knowledge on the shorebirds, of which there are 214 species worldwide and 75 in Australia, including plovers, sandpipers, stints, curlews and godwits.

Of these, 36 are transequatorial migratory birds, 21 are vagrant species, and 18 are resident shorebirds.

The transequatorial migrant breeds in the Arctic Circle and flies to the Southern Hemisphere during the non-breeding season.

“Three million transequatorial migratory birds visit parts of Australia and Rottnest Island is one of the staging grounds. The East Asian Australasian flyway involves 22 countries, 55 migratory species and some five to six million birds,” Mr Genat said.

“From southern Australia the birds travel to Roebuck Bay or 80 Mile Beach on their 20,000km return journey to Siberia. China is an important stopover for migratory waders.”

“These birds can fly at 70km per hour, and will fly non-stop for three to four days. When they stop to feed, they will do so for about three to four weeks feeding up to gain back the 50-80 per cent body weight they lose during flight.”

Mr Genat said that of the 36 transequatorial migratory birds, eight were regular visitors to Rottnest including the Red-necked Stint, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling and Curlew Sandpiper, and a least a further eight have been listed as vagrants.

“The birds like the Island’s salt lakes, swamps and beaches and use them as resting and feeding grounds before leaving in February and March.”

Mr Genat said about 50 species of birds could be seen around the island, which is an A Class reserve, and more than 100 species had been recorded on Rottnest at one time or another.

Bird watching on the Island is always an adventure, and it can spring surprises with the sighting of a bird rarely seen anywhere else, or the experience of encountering a species that is common elsewhere but never before been recorded on the island.

Coastal birds around Rottnest Island include the Pied Cormorant, Osprey, Pied Oystercatcher, Silver Gull, Crested, Caspian, Fairy and Bridled Tern, and Eastern Reef Egret.

About 10 per cent of the eastern end of Rottnest Island is made up of salt lakes, containing brine shrimp. Brine shrimp are a very important part of the food chain for some of the waders, particularly the Banded Stilt. Other birds to be seen include the Red-necked Avocet, Ruddy Turnstone, Curlew Sandpiper, Red-capped Dotterel, Australian Shelduck, Red-necked Stint and Grey Plover.

Birds Australia (WA) conducts a bi-annual count of bush and migratory birds on Rottnest Island in summer (February) and in winter (June), as part of a nationwide count.

Over the June long weekend 12 Birds Australia volunteers spent two days counting migratory birds and bush birds.

Sue Mather from Birds Australia said there were 12 wader survey sites at Rottnest and the most common species of waders found on the Island were the Red-necked Stint and Banded Stilt.

This year, 791 Red-necked Stints were recorded in summer and 55 in winter, and 5735 Banded Stilts were recorded in summer and 406 last month. Sue said Rottnest was an important site for these birds.

High water levels in the Swan River and constructions works have seen more birds travel to Rottnest for refuge and food. One if these is the Pied Oystercatcher, whose numbers have increased from four in summer to 55 in winter.

Ms Mather said that two Red-necked Phalarope were recorded in summer and the first record of a Spotted Crake in winter.

“Substantial rehabilitation and regeneration programs at Rottnest has seen bush bird numbers increase, especially the Painted Button-quail.”

For more information on bird watching on Rottnest Island call the Rottnest Island Authority on +61 8 9432 9111.

For further information on the wader study, please contact Bill Rutherford at Birds Australia on +61 8 9584 8102 or email him at billy_paula@hotmail.com.