On Sunday 30 January, 81 volunteers across 25 teams banded together to count the waterbirds present across the Peel-Yalgorup Ramsar Site (Ramsar 482). The count, which covers the whole Peel-Harvey Estuary, Goegrup Lake and  Black Lake on the Serpentine River, the freshwater lakes Lake Mealup and Lake McLarty, and the Yalgorup Lakes (including Lake Preston and Lake Clifton), is the largest coordinated citizen science shorebird count in Australia.

The 2022 Shorebird Count in the Peel-Yalgorup Wetlands (Ramsar Site 482) marks the 14th consecutive year that PHCC has worked with citizen scientists to conduct local counts as part of BirdLife Australia’s National  Shorebird Monitoring Program. With more than 30,000 waterbirds counted this year, our site continues to meet Criterion 5 (supporting more than 20,000 waterbirds) and Criterion 6 (supporting 1% of a population of at least one species of waterbird) which qualify the site as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention. As an aside, the site also meets 5 other Ramsar Criteria.

The count in the Peel-Yalgorup System covers the whole Peel-Harvey Estuary, Goegrup Lake and Black Lake on the Serpentine River, the freshwater lakes Lake Mealup, Lake McLarty, and the Yalgorup Lakes (including Lake Preston and Lake Clifton). The Peel-Yalgorup Count is the largest coordinated shorebird count effort in Australia.

Our volunteers ventured out to count shorebirds across the various water bodies. The volunteers included those who have been counting at the same site site each year for many years (some more than 30 years), as well as new citizen scientists who received training in shorebird identification in the lead up to the count.

Most of the teams go out on foot, however three teams counted aboard kayaks, and another aboard a boat kindly provided by Mandurah Cruises. The sites covered on foot range from short walks to long treks through muddy conditions on the shores of our estuary and lakes. Counters use special spotting scopes and binoculars to count and identify all the birds they see within their count area.

The count focuses on water-dependent birds including migratory shorebirds currently spending the summer here before returning to the northern hemisphere to breed, for example Red-Necked Stints, Sharp-Tailed Sandpipers and the critically endangered Eastern Curlew, as well as resident shorebirds like Red-Capped Plovers, Pied Stilts, Hooded Plovers and Pied Oystercatchers that live in Australia year round.  Other waterbirds such as terns, gulls, pelicans, swans, ducks, cormorants, egrets are also included in the count.

PHCC plays a coordinating role in the count, allocating the teams across the sites to make sure the whole area is covered, and wherever possible ensuring the count teams all go out on the same day to reduce the chance of counting birds more than once.  Once the count is done, we compile the data and communicate it to the community, as well as sharing the data with BirdLife WA who feed it into their national database. PHCC run annual training programs to allow new volunteers to participate in the count, as identifying shorebirds and waterbirds requires a high level of skill and experience from volunteers.

The data that the citizen scientists collect is important in helping us understand how our waterbird populations are doing, especially the migratory shorebirds that visit our wetlands each summer. The data is also really important in advocating for the protection and restoration of our wetlands, for example in the recent community-led protest against the proposed marina development at Point Grey.

Unfortunately, while the count data demonstrates that our site continues to meet Ramsar criteria, the numbers of migratory shorebirds visiting Ramsar Site 482 is on a declining trend. Globally, shorebirds are experiencing many threats, especially loss of habitat due to degradation or development of the wetlands on which they depend.  

Anyone can help to look after waterbirds and migratory shorebirds by keeping their pets controlled, for example, keeping dogs on leashes in wetland areas to minimise disturbance of the birds and  keeping cats inside at home to avoid predation.  You can also help by keeping your distance from birds while out crabbing or boating and by getting involved in protecting waterways through picking up litter, and wisely applying fertiliser on your garden to reduce nutrient runoff into our waterways.

Those who would like to learn more about our local waterbirds and shorebirds can contaThose who would like to learn more about our local waterbirds and shorebirds can contact the PHCC at birds@peel-harvey.org.au

This project is supported by the PHCC through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.

We acknowledge the Noongar people as Traditional Custodians of this land and pay our respects to all Elders past and present