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1 February 2005 Life along Land's Edge: Wildlife on the Shores of Roebuck Bay, Broome
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Life along Land's Edge: Wildlife on the Shores of Roebuck Bay, Broome.—Danny I. Rogers, Theunis Piersma, Marc Lavaleye, Grant B. Pearson, and Petra de Goeij. Photos by Jan van de Kam. 2003. Department of Conservation and Land Management, Kensington, NSW, Australia. 162 pp. ISBN 0-7307-5540-1. AU$39.95 (hardcover).

This book is a delight for bird enthusiasts, as well as for people interested in bird habitats and international conservation. Its focus is Roebuck Bay near Broome, northern Australia, a location of global importance for long-distance migrants along the Asian-Australasian flyway. As this tastefully designed book shows, the unique location of Roebuck Bay has sparked much of the Australian research on shorebird migration and stopover ecology conducted by hundreds of skilled amateurs and international researchers.

Written by a fascinating Australian-Dutch ensemble of at least six “mudbashers”—birdwatchers, doctoral students, and senior scientists—this publication is a gem. It does an outstanding job of combining the pure fascination of migratory birds with brilliant habitat descriptions and presentations of scientific findings. Without doubt, the attractive layout and design, the maps, and above all the outstanding shorebird and habitat photos by the international wildlife photographer, Jan van de Kam, will enchant the arm-chair reader as well as the (shore-) bird enthusiast, avian researcher, and scholar; these photographs are thrilling and must be among the world's best on the subject.

Studies by the authors started in Roebuck Bay in 1996, and this globally important stopover site for long-distance shorebird migrants became famous for its intense mudflat studies, shorebird radio-telemetry, wader cannon-netting, and leg-flagging and banding projects (including being the home of leg-flag and band recoveries from such far away locations as Papua New Guinea, China, Korea, Japan, Mongolia and Russia). Roebuck Bay also hosts the Broome Bird Observatory and draws in “waderologists” and researchers alike from the entire world. Its natural beauty, high species diversity and huge bird abundance make Roebuck Bay a convenient but spectacular paradise for “shorebirdoholics.” This brilliant overview of birds and their fragile habitats will not only provide the reader with a detailed description of the geology, tides, beaches, mudflat ecosystem processes, food webs, and human history but will also help the reader to understand why the tropics have the most productive mudflats and consequently attract huge numbers of migratory shorebirds.

The 162 pages, divided into eight chapters, deal with issues like “Why is Roebuck Bay so special?”, “Tropical Seasons,” “Australian Birds,” and “People and the Bay.” I really like the table that provides for more than 20 shorebird species the minimum estimates of the flyway population as well as the highest single counts in Roebuck Bay. Advanced and complex research questions such as mudflat ecology, energy balance of migrants, heat stress, fuel, and predator-prey issues are well explained. The index of plants and animals is very helpful and well arranged, too.

As displayed in the superbly colorful photographs, the Roebuck Bay area offers not only extensive sand beaches and mudflats, but also mangrove forests, salt marshes, and plains, all of which support a distinct assemblage of species (e.g., plants, mussels, snails, crabs, lobsters, fish, snakes, birds and manatees).

I also enjoyed the short section on Aboriginees, who had already valued locations like Roebuck Bay for thousands of years due to their productive ocean and wildlife. The international pearling industry was attracted to the area in the 1880s, but declined; tourism is probably now the major player in Broome. Thus, shorebird habitat in Roebuck Bay has remained relatively intact over the past century but is constantly challenged nowadays.

This book is attractive to a wide audience ranging from naturalists to birdwatchers, tourists, and conservationists. It is not a purely scientific treatise, but is suitable as an introductory textbook on migratory shorebirds and their habitats and could be used as an additional reading for undergraduate students. Complex biological topics are explained in delightful and lay terms. For my taste, the short chapter on conservation challenges facing Roebuck Bay could be longer and more explicit, especially regarding the devastating impacts of development and infrastructure. However, the beauty of this book, as well as the location and creatures it describes, all speak for themselves. Without any doubt this a major publication for Australia and for every international bird, migration, and shorebird habitat enthusiast.

FALK HUETTMANN "Life along Land's Edge: Wildlife on the Shores of Roebuck Bay, Broome," The Condor 107(1), 189, (1 February 2005).
Published: 1 February 2005

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