At first glance, the beaches of Ningaloo Western Australia look too clean. Sterile.
The sand is so white you wonder if its already turned into marble. The water is the clearest turquoise glass.
If there was an animal on that wild beach or in that water surely you’d see it from miles away.
So it comes as a surprise when a green turtle appears at your feet.
Ningaloo Reef and the WA coast is home to four endangered marine turtle species, and you really can see them from the shore. Identification guide to turtles of ningaloo here.
Walking along the water’s edge, a pair of Australian Pied Oystercatchers Haematopus longirostris flash their huge vermillion beaks as they probe the sand for bivalves. Their beaks are like long, strong tweezers, and can feel the movement of molluscs in the wet sand. They know the Ningaloo beach is full of hidden life, and they know how to get to it.
A shadow darkens the marble beach. It’s an Eastern Osprey Pandion cristatus, flying low, watching for fish. There are so many fish in the water, this superb raptor (bird of prey) will have no trouble catching dinner.
A little further out a flock of immaculate Roseate Terns Sterna dougallii fly past, doing the same as the Osprey. These brilliant aerialists fly fast and nimble, and plunge into the water from a height when they see a prospect. You can see one in the photo above has turned its head completely upside down! The birds with the red beaks are in breeding plumage, the ones with black beaks are the same species, but not breeding.
Any exposed rock or structure near shore is colonised by wild birds and animals. The wreck of the SS Mildura lies off the northern point of the North West Cape, and is a regular resting place for Common Noddies (brown-coloured terns) and Crested Terns. The BirdLife Australia bird list for the area lists 12 species of tern that are regulars at the Ningaloo Coast.
Back at the beach, a soft sound in the trees above is a Little Corella Cacatua sanguinea, snoozing in the heat of a Ningaloo day. These white cockatoos can be quite noisy when flying in big flocks, but mostly silent when resting. You can walk under trees full of them, and not even notice.
The shore is not all marble sand. At Yardie Creek, the Cape Range limestone forms cliffs, that beach-using birds love to nest on. Read about the diverse wildlife of the Cape Range here.
From a neon-green fig on the rocky cliffs a warbling song is heard. Out pops a Singing Honeyeater Lichenostomus virescens – white and gold like the beach. The Ningaloo birds are the palest I’ve seen of this species.
On scattered rocks near the shore, a scurry of striped green, purple and red rock crabs are Sally (Mottled) Lightfoot Crabs Grapsus albolineatus. There are so many, moving so fast that it’s hard to take a photo of just one. But with the numbers of avian predators around, it’s no wonder they move fast.
Any sheltered bays or inlets will host wild animals having a rest from the wind and wildness of the sea. At the Mangrove Bay hide birds cycle through a roster of appearances: One morning, its Australian Pelicans Pelecanus conspicillatus, Grey Teal and a Striated Heron. Later that day its a Great Egret, White-faced Heron and some Grey-tailed Tattlers. I can’t wait to see the cast in September 2020.
Our newest tour Island Birds & Humpbacks will visit this area in September 2020 and March 2021.
NOTES & REFERENCES:
Identification Guide to Marine Wildlife of Ningaloo: https://www.dpaw.wa.gov.au/images/documents/conservation-management/marine/20170303_marine_life_northwest_finalweb.pdf
World Heritage Listing Ningaloo Coast: https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1369/
Wikipedia Ningaloo Coast listing: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ningaloo_Coast
National Heritage Listing Ningaloo Coast: http://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/pages/96f9d558-fd97-4022-9e63-82c0e18349a1/files/10588104.pdf
Crustaceans & Molluscs of Gnaraloo https://gnaraloo.org/crustaceans-molluscs-of-the-gnaraloo-wilderness-area/
BirdLife Australia Birding around Exmouth: http://www.birdlife.org.au/images/uploads/branches/documents/WA-Cape_Range_and_Exmouth-36AB.pdf