Chris Hassell, committee member for the Broome Bird Observatory, explains why it is an important part of the Broome coast. Next year is the 30th anniversary of the bird observatory. It was set up with funds from donations and the Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union (RAOU, which became Birds Australia and more recently Birdlife Australia) after the shire president allowed them to get their block of land.
Broome Bird Observatory is THE best place in Australia to see shorebirds and generates its own money through tours, accommodation and hosting research groups, like the Australasian Waders Study Group. The site has had solar power from January 1996 and it still has the original panels (with additions) and a new inverter. The solar panels were designed to pivot and follow the sun each day from east to west, making them more efficient.
The site is now owned by Parks and Wildlife and leased at a peppercorn rate.
The observatory has a variety of habitats which is why it is so good for birds. There are the Roebuck Bay mudflats with its terns, egrets, herons and other shorebirds. The bay has some of the biggest tides in the world, with a nine metre tidal range. The oyster coloured mud has a satin-like sheen. Most of it is fine silt absolutely brimming with benthos.
Roebuck Bay was once the estuary for the mighty Fitzroy River reflected in fossilised dinosaur footprints that emerge from the mud flats and disappear into the border of red Pindan cliffs. The great diversity of benthic life in the mudflats attracts many thousands of local birds and migratory shorebirds from the Arctic and also draws scientists (knicknamed Mudbashers) who focus on identifying the creatures in the mud and their complex relationships. Roebuck Bay is a key nonbreeding season location for shorebirds who travel the global flyway that stretches north to the Yellow Sea and the Arctic.