Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Perth Wader Sites (Part 1: Lakes)

This is the first post of a two-part guide to wader sites near Perth, covering lake sites. The second part will cover coastal and estuarine sites. The sites are ordered according to how good they are for waders, although obviously the precise order will always be debatable and will vary with conditions, so it’s a rough guide only. The occurrence of waders at all the lakes listed here is dependent on water level, so it’s useful to seek local advice on which lakes are in best condition at that particular time. To assist with this, we will endeavour to provide periodic updates on the conditions of the lakes around Perth through summer, either on this page or on our Twitter site. GPS positions are included for some of the spots mentioned to help with finding them.

Lake McLarty: When water levels are right (typically Dec-Feb), Lake McLarty was formerly the best wader site in the Perth area (and indeed the entire south-west), with counts in excess of 10,000 waders frequently recorded. Unfortunately, the cessation of periodic cattle-grazing in the reserve combined with reduced water levels from lower rainfall and increased draw-down has resulted in a steady increase in grass growth, and grass now covers the majority of the lakebed. This has resulted in major declines in wader numbers at the lake, with few (if any) counts over 1,000 in the last two seasons. Uncommon species like Pectoral Sandpiper, Long-toed Stint and Ruff are still fairly regular though.

As the water level falls at the start of summer, flooded grass areas become available for waders. At this time, Sharp-tailed Sandpipers are typically the commonest migratory wader present, usually with small numbers of Curlew and Pectoral Sandpipers. Black-tailed Godwit, Common Greenshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Red-necked Stint, Long-toed Stint, and Wood Sandpiper are also regulars in small numbers. Resident waders including Black-winged Stilt, Red-necked Avocet, and Red-capped Plover are also generally common, and Banded Stilt can sometimes be found in small numbers. In the current situation, this remains the situation until the lake dries.

A mixed flock of waders at Lake McLarty, including Sharp-tailed and Curlew Sandpipers, and Red-necked Stints.

In the past, as the water level continues to fall, areas of mud would become exposed and the number and variety of waders present at the lake would increase significantly. This no longer happens at this stage, so numbers and variety are much lower. Red-necked Stint, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, and Curlew Sandpiper are typically the commonest species, while Black-tailed Godwit, Common Greenshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, and Long-toed Stint are usually present. Less common (but still regular) species include Ruff, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Pacific Golden Plover, Grey Plover, Greater Sand Plover, Red Knot, and Wood Sandpiper. Estuary species have been recorded more frequently in recent years, including Bar-tailed Godwit, Red Knot, and even a Ruddy Turnstone, which was present for several weeks in late 2010. Black-winged Stilt and Red-capped Plover are typically the most common resident waders at this stage, but good numbers of Red-necked Avocet and Banded Stilt are also regular.

In most years, at least one rarity has been found amongst the waders McLarty. In the last decade or so, these have included Baird's Sandpiper, Oriental Plover, Inland Dotterel, Oriental Pratincole, WA’s second confirmed Latham’s Snipe, and a long-staying Little Curlew. Double-banded Plover has also been reported on several occasions between March and June when water levels have been suitable.

To reach the lake, travel south from Perth along the Kwinana Freeway, which becomes the Perth-Bunbury (Forrest) Highway. At Mills Road (roughly an hour from Perth City), turn right (west) and travel for approximately 4km, where you pass a gate on the right. About 200m further along the road, there is a limestone track on the right (marked by a post on either side of the entrance). Drive a short distance down this track and park under the large tree on the left (GPS 32d 44’ 55.37’’S, 115d 42’ 51.38’’E). From here, you can see the lake shore. You can also access the lakes western shore by following Mills Rd as it loops around to the north and becomes Birch Dr, and parking near a water tank and gate about half-way up the lake’s western shore (GPS 32d 42’ 14.52’’S, 115d 42’ 33.15’’E). You can also reach this area by following the limestone track through until you reach a T-junction with Birch Dr and turning right.

Inland Dotterel at Lake McLarty in late 2010, one of many rare waders that have turned up at the lake over the years.

Thomsons Lake: Thomson’s Lake in Beeliar is one of the better wader lakes near Perth when the water level is right (usually early to mid summer). When the water level is still quite high, there can be good numbers of Black-winged Stilt, and sometimes Banded Stilt, Red-necked Avocet, Common Greenshank or Wood Sandpiper. As the water level falls further, the number of smaller waders increases – the lake is often at its best for waders in the last couple of weeks before it dries completely. Sharp-tailed and Curlew Sandpiper, Red-necked Stint, Black-winged Stilt, and Red-capped Plover are generally the commonest species at this time. Other regular visitors (usually in small numbers) include Common Greenshank, Wood Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Long-toed Stint, Red-necked Avocet, Banded Stilt and more rarely Black-tailed Godwit. A few rarities have also been recorded over the years, including Gallinago sp. Snipe, Hooded Plover and Oriental Pratincole. After the main lake dries, flocks of Red-capped Plover and the occasional Red-necked or Long-toed Stint can still persist in small muddy puddles around the lake.

Thomsons Lake Nature Reserve is surrounded by a feral animal exclusion fence, so access is restricted to five gates. The best access is from the gates on Russel Rd, Pearse Rd, and Branch Circus. The gate at the carpark off Russel Rd (GPS 32d 09’ 37.69’’S, 115d 49’ 39.30’’E) leads to a track down toward the lake – the lake bed can be accessed through gaps in the typha a short distance to the left, or further around to the right. At the north end of Pearse Rd there is a turnaround where you can park (GPS 32d 09’ 19.67’’S, 115d 49’ 14.47’’E). This is the closest access point to the lake, but you have to walk through an area of tall grass to reach the lake bed. The Branch Circus carpark, is on the right about 1km along Branch Circus (GPS 32d 08’ 15.67’’S, 115d 50’ 11.98’’E). Walk through the small gate and follow the limestone track to the nature reserve fence and go through the gate. Follow the track along the fence for about 500m then turn down the track on the left and follow it to the lake shore (bear right near the pumping station). The Russel Rd and Pearse Rd access points are closer to the lake shore than the Branch Circus carpark, but if the waders are most concentrated in the NE area of the lake (as they can be, particularly when the lake is almost dry) then Branch Circus can be a better access point.

Forrestdale Lake: Forrestdale Lake generally attracts similar species to Thomsons Lake, but dries out earlier in the year. Sharp-tailed Sandpiper is typically the commonest species, with smaller numbers of Curlew Sandpiper, Red-necked Stint, and Common Greenshank also regular. Small numbers of Long-toed Stint, Wood Sandpiper and Pectoral Sandpiper also occur quite regularly. Rarer sightings over the last few years have included Pacific Golden and Grey Plover, and Sanderling.  Black-winged Stilt and Red-capped Plover are usually the most common non-migratory waders at the lake, but small numbers of Red-necked Avocet and Banded Stilt are quite regular, and Red-kneed Dotterel has been recorded on occasions.

Long-toed Stint in breeding plumage at Kogolup Swamp. Long-toed Stints are regular visitors to the Perth area in small numbers - Lake McLarty is the most reliable site for them, but they are also fairly regular at Thomsons & Forrestdale Lakes.

The best way to access the lake shore is from the southern side; there is a parking area at the end of Commercial Rd ends (GPS 32d 09’ 44.80’’S, 115d 55’ 47.72’’E), where there is a track leading to the south-west corner of the lake. There is also a viewing platform at the north end of the lake, accessible from the small parking area at the end of Moore St (GPS 32d 09’ 05.85’’S, 115d 56’ 25.02’’E). The Commercial Rd entrance usually provides closer access to the waders.

Kogolup Lake: Located just north of Thomsons Lake, the south (Kogolup Lake) and north eye (Kogolup Swamp) of the lake often support a small number, but decent variety of waders when the water level falls in summer. Kogolup Swamp is shallower and typically attracts more wading birds, but there can be a few on Kogolup Lake if the water level is low. The commoner species include Common Greenshank, Marsh and Wood Sandpiper, and Black-winged Stilt. Less common visitors include Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Red-necked Avocet and Banded Stilt, while Pectoral Sandpiper and Long-toed Stint are occasionally seen. The Kogolup system, particularly the northern Kogolup Swamp, has also attracted a good number of rarities including Gallinago sp. snipe, and more recently Australian Painted Snipe and Masked Lapwing.

A Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. These are one of the commonest migratory wader species in the south-west, generally preferring lakes, but also regular on estuary sites like Peel Inlet.

You can access Kogolup from the north or the south end of the lake system. At the south end, park in the Branch Circus carpark and go through the small gate (as described for Thomsons Lake), but instead of entering Thomsons Lake Nature Reserve, follow the bitumen path outside the fence. You will pass the southern end of Kogolup Lake, and a little further along the track, there is another track on the right that leads up the western sides of Kogolup Lake and then Kogolup Swamp. You can also enter Kogolup Swamp from the north by parking in a small paved area under a tree on the south side of Beeliar Dr (GPS 32d 07’ 32.17’’S, 115d 49’ 56.70’’E), about 1km past the Hammond Road South turn-off. The best area for waders is usually the flooded grass in the north-west corner of Kogolup Swamp, though Wood Sandpipers more usually frequent the south end.

Herdsman Lake: In the last decade, Herdsman Lake has rarely produced migratory waders in any numbers. Wood Sandpiper has been regular, but only in small numbers, and other species including Common Greenshank and Red-necked Stint were occasionally recorded, along with the odd rarity (for Herdsman) like Black-tailed Godwit, Common Sandpiper, and Long-toed Stint. When the water levels fall sufficiently to expose areas of mud, resident waders including Black-winged Stilt, Black-fronted Dotterel, and small numbers of Red-capped Plover and Red-kneed Dotterel are also regular visitors, along with occasional Red-necked Avocet and Banded Stilt.

Red-kneed Dotterel at Herdsman Lake. These attractive endemic waders visit the Perth area most often in summer and early autumn when their preferred inland wetlands dry up. Herdsman Lake is one of their preferred haunts in the Perth area.

However, recent slashing of Typha reeds in some areas of the lake, combined with the lowest water levels for a number of years, saw good numbers of migratory waders visit the lake in the summer of 2010/11. Sharp-tailed Sandpipers were the most commonly occurring species, along with a small flock of Wood Sandpiper. Pectoral Sandpipers were usually present in ones and twos amongst the Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, but in early autumn a flock of up to 17 Pectorals remained at the lake for several weeks. Rarer visitors that were recorded on occasion included Red Knot, Marsh Sandpiper, and Long-toed Stint. Unfortunately, the typha quickly regenerated and high water levels have meant that these wader numbers have not been repeated since.

The best potential areas for waders can be found at the north and south-west sides of the lake. To access the northern area, you can park at the Pony Club (GPS 31d 54’ 36.06’’S, 115d 48’ 15.38’’E) off Jon Sanders Drive or along The Foreshore. The small lake near The Foreshore (with a statue in it) and the shoreline due south of the Pony Club can also have a few waders. The south-west side of the lake is best accessed from the carpark at the southern end of Lakeside Rd (near Heron Pl; GPS 31d 55’ 43.79’’S, 115d 48’ 02.96’’E). Around to the right of the carpark, there is an open grassy area out in the lake which can be good for waders when the water level is low. The western shoreline is also worth checking if there are muddy edges.

Lake Cooloongup & Lake Walyungup: Located near Rockingham, a relative paucity of records suggests these lakes are under-watched compared to the more well-known wader lakes. This may be in part due to the relatively challenging terrain (particularly at Lake Walyungup) compared to other wader lakes. However, in recent years there has been an increase in records from Cooloongup in particular and observers have been rewarded with a reasonable number and variety of waders. Lake Cooloongup is generally the better of the two lakes, but usually dries before Walyungup. The wader species recorded at the two lakes are generally similar and include common species like Red-necked Stint, Red-capped Plover, Sharp-tailed and Curlew Sandpiper, Black-winged Stilt, and Common Greenshank. Red-necked Avocet and Banded Stilt are also quite regular, and because of their relative salinity and proximity to the coast and Peel Inlet, the lakes sometimes attract waders more typical of coastal and estuarine habitats, including Grey Plover, Greater Sand Plover, and Great Knot. Less common species including Long-toed Stint and Pectoral Sandpiper have been recorded regularly in recent years, and there have been several records of Hooded Plover from Cooloongup. There is also always the chance of picking up something especially interesting, such as Little Stint (reported at Cooloongup in 1994)

Access to the western shore of Lake Cooloongup is possible from the end of Elanora Dr (off Ennis Av) through Rockingham Golf Club. The north-eastern corner of the lake is also accessible via a track off Old Mandurah Rd near the Millar Rd turn-off (GPS 32d 17’ 09.69’’S, 115d 47’ 45.86’’E). Until recently this track was overgrown, but has now been cleared and is probably the closest access point to the lake. Lake Walyungup can be accessed from Safety Bay Rd. Access may also be possible off Old Mandurah Rd.

Lake Joondalup: Whilst not renowned as a wader site, Lake Joondalup can host quite large numbers of waders, particularly when the water level is low in late summer/early autumn. However, the majority of small waders in particular are often unidentifiable as most of the muddy areas are a long way from the viewing areas and it’s not advisable to try to walk out onto the lakebed to get closer as the mud is very soft and sticky in places – this is a cautionary tale on Lake Joondalup mud!

The common large waders at the lake usually include Black-winged Stilt, Red-necked Avocet and Common Greenshank. Banded Stilt and Black-tailed Godwit are also recorded on occasion – in June 2011, up to 6 Black-tailed Godwits were present at the lake in full breeding plumage. The smaller waders are usually mostly Red-necked Stint and Red-capped Plover, with a few Sharp-tailed and Wood Sandpiper, and Black-fronted Dotterels in some areas. However, less common species are quite easily overlooked because of the viewing distances and are probably present more regularly than is realised. Pectoral Sandpiper and Long-toed Stint have both been recorded on occasion in recent years. Other less common sightings have included Marsh Sandpiper and Hooded Plover, and there is always the chance for a major rarity like the Hudsonian Godwit present in early 2012.

There are several access points to the lake. There is a jetty with a viewing platform in Neil Hawkins Park, at the east end of Boas Av, which provides view over a large section of the mudflats. Picnic Cove is another popular site, look for the picnic area and children’s playground along Edgewater Dr – although you can only see a relatively small area of the lake, there are some mudflats quite close to shore, so a few waders can sometimes be seen at relatively close range. The eastern side of the lake can be checked from a number of sites along Scenic Dr, however in most places it’s difficult to get close to the lake shore, so views are usually distant.

Black-fronted Dotterels are a common resident wader at many lakes in the Perth area, including Herdsman Lake, Yangebup Lake, ALCOA Wellard wetlands, and even Lake Monger.

ALCOA Wellard Wetlands: This site is well-recognised as a good site for a wide range of waterbirds and bushbirds, but it can also host a few waders, particularly later in summer when water levels are lower and some other lakes have dried up. The most commonly recorded waders are usually resident species like Black-winged Stilt, Black-fronted Dotterel, and Red-capped Plover, but Red-necked Avocet, Common Greenshank, and Wood Sandpiper are also reasonably regular. At times, particularly when other lakes are dry, other species can occur, including Sharp-tailed, Marsh and Pectoral Sandpiper, Red-necked Stint, and Red-kneed Dotterel. Egret Lake is usually the best lake for waders, although the other lakes are all worth checking.

The nearby WA Water Ski Park can also have a few waders, including Wood Sandpiper, Black-winged Stilt, and Red-capped Plover. There is also an outside chance of seeing something special, such as Oriental Pratincole or Inland Dotterel, which have both been recorded in the past. The best area is the claypits on the eastern edge of the ski park, but there can sometimes be one or two waders on the ski lakes themselves. As the entire water ski park is private property, you must seek permission from the kiosk before entering.

The entrance to ALCOA Wellard wetlands is located along Bertenshaw Rd (GPS 32d 18’ 17.89’’S, 115d 50’ 18.45’’E), on the right about 1km from the intersection with St Albans Rd. The water ski park is located off St Albans Rd, north of Mudijong Rd. The main access road will take you to the kiosk. If you obtain permission, continue along the road to the eastern edge of the property to check the claypits.

Bibra Lake: A rather popular lake which can attract a few waders as it dries (usually late summer). The most common species are resident waders such as Black-winged Stilt, Red-necked Avocet, and Black-fronted Dotterel; however a few migratory waders are also present in some years. These are mostly common species such as Common Greenshank, Curlew and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, and Red-necked Stint, but Marsh, Common and Pectoral Sandpipers have all been recorded, and occasionally something more unusual turns up, like Gallinago sp. Snipe in early 2015 and 2016, a Hooded Plover in April 2005 and a Little Ringed Plover in December 1998.

There are several carparks along Progress Dr that provide easy access to the lake’s western shore. There is also a carpark near the Cockburn Wetland Education Centre off Hope Rd which gives access to the north-east corner of the lake, including a boardwalk that leads a short distance into the lake. There is also a path all the way around the lake.

North Lake: Located just north of Bibra Lake, in recent years North Lake has produced some impressive wader records. Although overall numbers are rarely high, it is a good site for good numbers of some of the less common freshwater species like Wood Sandpiper and Long-toed Stint. Pectoral Sandpiper has also been recorded. In recent years, North Lake has made its name for snipe, with four Australian Painted Snipe seen in late 2012/early 2013, another Australian Painted Snipe in early 2014, a Gallinago sp. Snipe in early 2015, and two in December 2015.

Access is best from the carpark on the western side of the lake, along Progress Dr.   

Yangebup Lake: Located just north of Kogolup Lake in the Beeliar wetland chain, Yangebup Lake retains water all year, though the water quality can be poor due to a nutrient problem. However, the sandy margins do attract small numbers of waders. The most common species are usually Black-winged Stilt, Red-capped Plover, Black-fronted Dotterel and Red-necked Stint. The lake is also usually a reliable site for Common Sandpiper, most often along the southern shore. Red-necked Avocet and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper are less common visitors and occasionally something more interesting turns up; in early 2011 up to five Pectoral Sandpipers were seen, along with a few Marsh Sandpipers, and in March 2010 a Masked Lapwing was present.

Although they generally prefer coastal and estuarine sites, Common Sandpipers are also regular summer visitors to Yangebup Lake.

The best area for waders is usually the eastern shoreline and the sand spit in the south-eastern corner, so the best area to park is along Tamara Rd near the corner of Tamara Rd and Yangebup Rd, where there is a gate into the reserve.

South Lake: One of the lesser known lakes in the Beeliar wetlands chain, South Lake is located just south-west of Bibra Lake. It is usually only suitable for waders for a few weeks in early summer as it dries out, but is worth checking if you’re nearby. The most regular waders are common species such as Black-winged Stilt, Red-necked Avocet, Common Greenshank, and Black-fronted Dotterel, but occasionally something more interesting turns up, like Red-kneed Dotterel or Banded Stilt.

Access to South Lake is via a limestone track off Bushland Ridge about 100m from the corner with Sustainable Av.

Lake Claremont: Conveniently located not far from central Perth, and also not far from the BirdLife WA office, Lake Claremont can attract small numbers of waders as it dries in summer. Usually these are non-migratory species like Black-winged Stilt and Black-fronted Dotterel; Red-kneed Dotterel also used to be regular, but there have been few recent reports. A few migratory waders such as Common Greenshank and Wood Sandpiper can often be seen, and in late 2010, up to 200 Sharp-tailed Sandpipers were present along with a few Red-necked Stint and at least one Pectoral Sandpiper. Two Masked Lapwings were also reported from the Scotch College playing fields nearby in August 2007.

There are a number of parking areas near the lake. Small amounts of roadside parking are available at the north end along Myera St & Strickland St (both off Alfred Rd). There is also a lot of parking in the south-east at the southern end of Davies Rd. Note that the eastern shore of the lake is part of the Lake Claremont Golf Course – there is a walking track and observation area on the western shore.

Lake Jandabup: In years past, Lake Jandabup regularly attracted rarer waders, including Wood and Marsh Sandpiper, and on at least one occasion Oriental Pratincole. Unfortunately, problems with acid-sulphate soils and over-use of the Gnangara mound aquifer have seen bird diversity and numbers at the lake fall considerably. However when the water level falls in summer, a few waders do still occur. The most common species is usually Common Greenshank, along with a few Black-winged Stilt and Red-capped Plover, but there is a chance of something more interesting.

The lake can be accessed from the south from a small parking area along Hawkins Rd, about 750m from the intersection with Trichet Rd. From this carpark, walk down the track, turn right at the T junction and then take the next left, which will take you down to the lake bed.

Gnangara Lake: This lake is not a well known shorebird site, and disturbance and development mean that bird diversity is usually low. However, the odd wader can be seen – these are mostly Red-capped Plovers, but the BirdLife WA bird guide for Wanneroo lists other species such as Red-necked Stint, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, and Curlew Sandpiper as possible, so there’s a small chance of something more interesting and it may be worth a quick check if you’re in the area.

Access to the lake’s western shore is possible from a carpark at the northern end of Alexander Dr, a short distance north of the Alexander Dr/Gnangara Rd intersection. The western side of the lake is accessible from Sydney Rd.


  1. great work, keep it up cheers Robin

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Great article. As long as everyone continues to report their sightings we should all have a great wader season this year.