Participants: Doug Herrington, Dominic Chaplin
The inaugural BirdLife Northern Queensland outing to Michaelmas Cay was a great success.Although rather hot, all participants enjoyed perfect sea conditions, smooth and calm, great for enjoying the wildlife both above and below the water. The Seastar boat was selected. This is the first boat to arrive and it's small friendly and personal nature makes it a great choice for a day out.
January was chosen as this coincides with the tern's breeding period. The terns were gathering in large numbers with plenty of nests and chicks present. With no predators these sea birds were all extremely tame and the chicks were even more tame. They would walk right underneath you in an attempt to find some shade. One chick spent the morning sheltering beside my camera bag in an attempt to get cool. The Brown Boobies had a fixed perch and would vigorously repel all invaders.
All possible perches were taken up and anyone sitting still for long enough could become a vantage point.
All over the island large colonies of birds were gathering. Some birds mixed it up a little but most preferred to stay in groups of the same species.
In recent years Red-footed Boobies have been present out on Michaelmas Cay. One intermediate phase morph was present. The Red-footed Boobies seem not to like the Cay itself but prefer to rest on boats moored nearby. We had one distant view of this bird sharing a tender.
We had originally planned to make a careful count of all the species present. But with such large numbers coming and going, an accurate count is extremely difficult. It is only possible to walk on a smaller portion of the island to avoid disturbing the colonies but the Sea Star captain kindly took us around the back of the island where we could get better views of some of the shyer frigatebirds and Brown Boobies.
We made a very rough estimate of the numbers present to give an idea of what was present:
|Lesser Crested Tern||1,000|
|Sooty Tern||5,000||to 8,000|
|Common Noddy||10,000||to 15,000|
|Black Noddy||3||seen but probably more overlooked|
|Black-naped Tern||3||near the Cay but none on land|
After a few hours at the Cay we headed the short distance over to Hastings Reef. Several Black-naped Terns and a couple of Bridled Terns, not seen on Michaelmas Cay were present. Conditions at Hastings Reef were perfect for snorkelling. Turtles and sharks were seen but for me the highlight of the day was not a bird but the experience of swimming amongst a slow moving school of 20 giant green Hump-headed Maori Wrasse. This was described to me as like swimming with a herd of dinosaurs.
Words & images copyright Dominic Chaplin, Gordonvale Jan, 2012