Saturday, 12 October 2013

Michaelmas Cay: Boobies and Terns

Continuing our Far North Queensland experience, we took a day trip to the outer reef with Seastar Cruises. We chose this operator because they are a small, local, family-owned business, they operate a small boat (giving a more personal experience), they have two stops: one at Michaelmas Cay and one at Hastings Reef AND they are happy to drop birdwatchers on the island at Michaelmas Cay while others snorkel around the surrounding reef. We had a magnificent day and thoroughly recommend their services.

Michaelmas Cay is a small, coral sand island and the first thing you notice on approaching is the number of birds flying around.

Michaelmas Cay, Qld

Landing is restricted to a small section of the island, leaving the rest of the island to it's avian inhabitants.

Michaelmas Cay, Qld

We were told to look out for Brown Booby that frequently sit on the service boats moored just didn't take much looking...

Brown Booby, Michaelmas Cay Qld

Landing on the island and surrounded by birds :-)

As close to paradise as I am going to get... (photo courtesy of Joanne Smissen)

The most abundant birds on the island are Common Noddy and Sooty Tern.

Common Noddy + Sooty Tern, Michaelmas Cay Qld

They have very different behaviours. The Common Noddy seem happy to sit on the beach by the shore

or on the rope barrier and dune front, allowing close approach

Common Noddy, Michaelmas Cay Qld

but are very fast flyers that rarely hover making them more challenging to capture in flight so these are the best I could manage

Common Noddy, Michaelmas Cay Qld

Sooty Terns, on the other hand, are glorious flyers, frequently hovering in the breeze,

Sooty Tern, Michaelmas Cay Qld
some managing the most extraordinary contortions

Sooty Tern, Michaelmas Cay Qld

and feeding by skimming the water surface

Sooty Tern, Michaelmas Cay Qld

but they roost behind the dunes away from the public access beach so are almost impossible to photograph on the ground,

Sooty Tern, Michaelmas Cay Qld

although this juvenile didn't follow the 'rules'.

Sooty Tern (juvenile), Michaelmas Cay Qld

In addition to lounging around on boats, Brown Booby breed on the island.

Brown Booby, Michaelmas Cay Qld

A few pairs could be seen from the viewing area. This pair was close and had a young chick.

Brown Booby, Michaelmas Cay Qld

They also paid a lot of attention to each other.

Brown Booby, Michaelmas Cay Qld

There are lesser numbers of other species of terns on the island including Crested Tern, Lesser Crested Tern, Bridled Tern and Black-naped Tern but these hang out mostly on the lee-side of the island (that you cannot get to). I did manage to get one shot of a Crested Tern

Crested Tern, Michaelmas Cay Qld

and just as we got back to the boat I managed to scramble a couple of shots of distant Black-naped Terns

Black-naped Tern, Michaelmas Cay Qld

Perhaps the highlight of the day was this frigatebird. It appears to be a female Lesser Frigatebird just coming into adult plumage but the white throat/chest patch is ambiguously part way between Lesser and Great Frigatebird in shape so I am not convinced...happy to take advice from others more familiar with these species.

Lesser(?) Frigatebird, Michaelmas Cay Qld

...and as we departed for Hastings Reef, one last shot of the sand bar at the end of the island with the Cairns coast in the background.

Michaelmas Cay, Qld

1 comment:

  1. HI Ian that was a wonderful trip. I have not made that particular one but perhaps I will the next time I am over there. I have never seen Bobbies. You photographs were all great. Thanks for sharing this trip with us.


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