1 The Gun Birder*
As far as I could tell, driving a bouncing 4WD with 4 passengers along a rough station track in search of Australia’s rarest bird wasn’t cramping the gun birder’s style one bit. All I could see were the vast, rolling plains of grass and samphire stretching to the horizon against an endless blue sky.
But our driver and guide on the Broome Bird Observatory Yellow Chat tour, unfazed by the spectacular scenery, could spot a bird at a hundred paces.
Calling birds to the left, right, in front and behind, he parked the 4WD at the massive lagoon, our destination and site of multiple Yellow Chat sightings, handed out the telescopes and set off at a brisk trot through the probably snake-ridden samphire towards the middle distance. The non-birdo Melbourne yuppie couple who’d joined us on the tour glanced at each other apprehensively. I was guessing the tour wasn’t proving to be exactly what they’d thought.
Then I saw it. Over by the lagoon, a dark bird shape lurked on the shore! I pointed it out to Pilchard. And the yuppies. AND the GUN BIRDER! Who immediately trained a telescope in the general direction and invited me to step up and identify the bird. As if.
But I obligingly hoisted my camera out of the way and peered through the eye-piece, immediately diagnosing why the bird hadn’t moved.
Because even when they’re bird-shaped, pieces of driftwood rarely do.
At least the sudden and immediate loss of credibility left me free to take photos. And I DID see the elusive Yellow Chat – although YOU won’t! Not here, anyway. They were too far away to get a good shot.
But who’d doubt a gun birder??
*Gun Birder = Birding expert
2 The Massive Blush
Although one of the most significant migratory shore bird sites in the world, where thousands of waders – more than 300 species – congregate each year, it’s still apparently OK to drive along the pristine shores of Roebuck Bay.
Because successfully negotiating the huge 9+ metre tide, treacherous rocks, mangroves and soft sand hazards would REALLY give those driving skills a workout, wouldn’t it?!
Having to phone a friend to pull you out when you’re bogged might be a little embarrassing.
But then who do you call when BOTH of you are hopelessly bogged and that massive tide’s rolling in??
However, the chances of a massive all-body blush on the skipper who had to explain why two vehicles were trapped in the bay below the Broome Bird Observatory to the insurance company were actually very low.
Because from all accounts there WAS no insurance …
3 The Fog
In north-west western Australia’s Broome region, the Indigenous Yawuru people’s season of Barrgana is characterised by day after punishing day of endless blue sky, daytime maximum temperatures between 28°and 31° C, coolish nights and no rain.
That’s why the smart travellers head to Broome during the Aussie winter from June to August.
The smart birders head to the Broome Bird Observatory in August as the temperatures increase because that’s when the migrating wading birds start to arrive.
A change dropping the temperature by a few degrees was a welcome respite from the mini-heatwave in the depths of the moistureless and arid dry season.
But who knew an early morning fog would momentarily change the landscape into a magical wonderland??
4 The Birds, the BIRDS!
After my embarrassing sighting of the rare driftwood bird (see #1 above), I spent the rest of our BBO stay with my mouth firmly – and uncharacteristically – shut. I and my small camera with the non-detachable lens were decidedly outclassed by the big lens birding brigade, so my photos from the Broome Bird Observatory show embarrassingly few actual birds.
Maybe my big bird photography lens envy was cramping my style.
As I swung our borrowed ‘scope (that’s ‘telescope’ for you non-birders out there) along the length of ‘Wader Bay’, the morass of what I thought to be pebbles and rocks at the waters edge jumped into focus to as hundreds and thousands of birds!!
But despite the excitement of clocking up lifer after lifer (birds we’d never seen before) through the magical magnification of ‘scope and bins (binoculars!) the huge mixed flocks moving ever closer with the tides remained resolutely rock-like in my photos.
And in league with Yellow Chat, many birds unaccountably failed to present in perfect photographic pose, best side conveniently facing my looming lens.
Is it so wrong to prefer mediocre landscape photography to mediocre wildlife photography?
5 And the Birders …
Those who know me will undoubtedly assure you I’d never be so impolite as to point out the faults of others (and you can probably hear them laughing wherever you are right now …).
NOT possessing the birding gene can work against one at the Broome Bird Observatory, but it isn’t necessarily a character flaw! It’s actually an advantage to budding anthropologists wishing to observe the ups and downs of daily life for participants in the extreme sport of bird-watching.
And causes endless amusement to those, who like me, have a fine sense of the ridiculous …
Of course it’d be rude to point out the birder’s quirks, flaws and foibles.
So instead, I’ve listed a few observations to demonstrate SIX subtle differences between ME and the REAL birders:
Seeing a bird – ANY bird – in the distance isn’t a signal to stop what I’m doing.
‘Eating’ and ‘Birdwatching’ are mutually exclusive activities. So are ‘Conversing’ and ‘Birdwatching’.
I’m a recovering non-birder with a photographic fixation. Don’t hate me because some of my photos don’t have birds in them.
Call me crazy, but I’ve been known to select holiday destinations without knowing what birds I’ll see there. And I collect brochures about attractions other than birding hotspots.
‘Good Morning’ means ‘Good Morning’. NOT ‘How many birds have you seen already today and what were they?’
I don’t know how many birds are on my ‘lifer’ list. No, I don’t want – or need – any help with that.
6 Is the Sea Blue? OR BROWN?!
Fresh from King Sound and the highest tides in the Southern Hemisphere, the school group from just up the coast in Derby descended on the Broome Bird Observatory viewing platform like a flock of rampaging emus.
Any self-respecting bird would run a mile.
But the famous Roebuck Bay tranquillity slowly worked its magic. Well … that and a few well-chosen witticisms from the long-suffering teachers.
‘Send me a postcard, mate,’ one teacher called out over the hubbub to a young student indulging his not-so-secret passion for telescope wrangling.
‘What, miss?’ He turned, puzzled.
‘Because if you keep that up, you’ll be WALKING home to Derby,’ she shot back at him.
Chastened, the group calmed and looked out over the famous blue, Blue, BLUE of the bay.
‘Where’s the mud, miss?’ another student ventured.
This time I was puzzled. Until I recalled that not so far up the coast at Derby, the tidal movement of the 9th biggest tide in the world moves tonnes of mud up and down King Sound.
So for these students brought up on its shores, the sea is BROWN! Who says travel doesn’t broaden the mind?!?!
But hiding in the twisted branches of a tree just a few metres away from the fractured peace of this rollicking school excursion, Tawny Frogmouth slept on, safe in his daytime disguise …
A few kilometres north of Broome and run by Birdlife Australia, the Broome Bird Observatory is a rare opportunity to explore a different side of Australia. If you’re not afraid to rub shoulders with birdos, the BBO offers accommodation, a camp-ground and tours to birding hotspots.
You don’t have to be a twitcher (ie birdwatcher) to explore the stunning coastline, discover amazing wildlife and wildflowers, walk the trails through woodland habitats or relax around the evening campfire.
But if you DO get the chance to experience this staggeringly scenic hideaway, I bet you’ll be back for more …
Have I talked you into it? Get started on YOUR Broome adventure with cheap flights right here!
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