A couple of years ago Rohan mentioned that George Swann of Kimberley Birdwatching was looking to organise a trip that would involve a visit to Bernier or Dorre Islands that I knew I had to get onboard. These islands are known as one of the last remaining homes and only realistic chance to see up to 5 rare mammals that were once common across much of the mainland before foxes and cats decimated them. Of particular interest to me was the Banded Hare-wallaby which appears to be the last remaining member of an ancient sub-family of macropods and something I had read about as a kid. This species may have persisted on the mainland until the 1960s but Bernier and Dorre are its last wild populations although has now been re-introduced to a number of secure fenced/island locations. When the trip finally came about from Perth to Exmouth via the Abrolhos, deep water canyons and a visit to Bernier Island I booked immediately!
I flew into Perth late on a Saturday and took a taxi to my Air BnB in Fremantle – having the obligatory plate of prawns and a few beers. The next morning I was up early and on the first ferry to Rotto as I had never seen a Quokka. On the ferry ride over there was a lovely Bridled Tern flying beside the boat – lifer number one for the trip! On Rotto I immediately saw Quokka upon leaving the wharf area and there were many around the settlement. It was hard to get a picture of these food pigs without a man-made feature in the background. I had plenty of water and sunscreen so decided to hoof it and go for a long walk. The salt lakes were excellent with many birds including large numbers of Banded Stilt and Fairy Tern as well as a few Sanderling – a scope would be handy for the next visit. I was rather upset when a car spooked a flock of Banded Stilt and one clipped a powerline and cartwheeled to the ground dead. There is no reason for these rickety powerlines above ground in such a critical wetland habitat. There were a good number of reptiles out as the day warmed up with King’s Skink being prominent. Encountered many Quokka’s while I walked but they were mostly very skittish – very different to the ones around the settlement. On the south coast I spent a bit of time seawatching with many shearwaters and more Bridled Terns seen. That night I caught up with Rohan for a couple of beers and dinner ahead of the trip.
Up early I walked down to the wharf spreading jocks and socks across Fremantle as my duffle bag had split. It was a good crew of people assembled for the trip who I either knew or knew by reputation. Eventually the boat arrived – the very lovely MV Diversity II – Diversity Charters and we loaded up and set sail. It was an excellent boat with many creature comforts and my cabin mate was the legend Nigel Jackett. Passing Rotto we saw good numbers of Bridled Tern and Shearwaters and as we headed into deeper water the first Noddys of the trip. As we headed into deeper water Great-winged Petrel became more prominent as well as a couple of Grey-faced Petrel which is a good record off this coast. The absolute highlight was a pod of Striped Dolphin which cavorted and bow rode for a bit and was a lifer for many onboard. Later in the evening there was a pod of pilot whales but they were not close enough for ID being in the transition zone between Short-finned and Long-finned. First night on-board I was a bit knackered and retired early.
The next morning we were again all up on the foredeck seeing some good seabirds including our first Lesser Noddies – another lifer and one of the key species for the trip. More Striped Dolphins were cool and a small flock of Roseate Terns flew by which would have been a lifer for me but was not quite tickable – I did not have to worry. We cruised into the southern islands of the Abrolhos group starting at Pelsaert Island – a key seabird nesting site. I had read a lot about this island group over the years but never thought I would be able to visit yet here we were! We went ashore on Pelsaert Island in the afternoon with many highlights including large numbers of nesting Common Noddy and the local subspecies of Pacific Gull. Plenty of Osprey and Sea-eagles, reptiles and other seabirds rounded out the list. Killer views of Roseate Tern sorted that out – another lifer. A number of Australian Sea-lions played in the shallows which seemed out of place in such a warm environment. That night WA boys counted some 51,200 Lesser Noddies coming into land – it was a steady impressive stream. The rest of us had a few drinks and talked some shit.
Next morning we were up early and tendered across further down Pelsaert Island to where the Lesser Noddies nest. They were extremely approachable and are now on my tickled list. Also of interest were Spotless Crakes, waders and many more terns. I really enjoyed just wandering beside these seabird colonies full of noise, smells, life and death. Sea-eagles were a constant presence on these islands and must do very well.
From here we cruised north to the next cluster of islands and went ashore at Wooded Island where we wandered around with lighting flashing overhead. Good numbers of terns were a highlight and again that night the boys counted some 39000 Lesser Noddies coming into roost. A bull Sea-lion trying to seduce a female was also of interest. There are very few passerines on these islands with Silveryes, Welcome Swallows and the odd Pipit being about it – not even a stray Singing Honeyeater makes it out here. While we were out the crew caught some squid which was expertly prepared by the chef Danny and was excellent! as were all his meals.
The next morning we headed to the northernmost group of islands in the Abrolhos which are the scene of one of the more gruesome parts of Australian history where the Dutch ship Batavia ran aground back in the 1600s and some of the survivors went on a murderous rampage against the rest of the ships people. We went ashore first at West Wallabi Island and immediately started finding reptiles EVERYWHERE! Every rock and log seemed to have geckos or spiny-tailed lizards and curled up in the rain were carpet pythons at regular intervals. Also everywhere were Tammar Wallabies for which the island is named – a very attractive mid sized wallaby which I had seen previously in SA and WA. The real prize here though was the local “subspecies” of Painted Button-quail – apparently one of the five most likely bird taxon in Australia to go extinct. Good news is we had no issues finding them – there were certainly platelets everywhere. Despite the rain it was an excellent morning exploring and the amount of vertebrate wildlife was impressive. We also got to see Wiebbe Hayes’s fort where he and his men held off Cornelious’s musket wielding murderer’s with sticks and stones. It seems unlikely that this is the original structure.
After a good feed we went to East Wallabi Island where again there were plenty of Tammar Wallabies and a few Painted Button-quail. Reptiles were again excellent. Amazingly there was full mobile reception on top of the hill so I was able to call home and update the family. It would have been good to spend more time here but its fair to say the Abrolhos definitely were ticked off the bucket list.
Overnight we headed north into deep water and on towards the ultimate goal of the trip Bernier Island – but that will have to wait for the next installment.