Sunday, September 4, 2011

Michaelmas Cay Birding

No trip to Cairns is complete for any birder without a trip out to Michaelmas Cay.
Only a few tour organisations go out to the Cay and after some investigations I decided to book with a smaller provider called Passions of Paradise. They take less people, therefore providing more personalised customer service. I was impressed with their willingness to accommodate me, being the only person on their boat who did not even take swimming gear as my only interest was birds.

I can only imagine what the other customers thought. All these people in skimpy bathers with towels and sunscreen, then there was me.... wild scruffy long red hair in pigtails, khaki outfit, hiking boots, huge camera and binoculars....

I positioned myself on the front of the catamaran and was immediatedly searching for birds, before they had even left the wharf.
An Osprey was nesting on a pylon on the way out and then it was a large number of Crested Terns.
A sea snake was skimming along the surface further out which was a treat to see!
Scanning the horizon allowed me to spot a few Humpback Whales and we were able to stop the boat and they came in fairly close.

Closer to the Cay the Terns got a lot more interesting and I enjoyed scanning the pylons for Bridled Tern amongst the Crested Terns.
Crested Tern

I was verry happy to find a lone Intermediate Morph Red-footed Booby  perched on a boat motor!
Red-footed Booby Intermediate Phase

Great Frigatebirds, Brown Booby, Sooty Terns and Common Noddys were everywhere. I’ve never seen so many birds!
Common Noddy

Sooty Tern feeding immature

Sooty Terns

Sooty Tern on egg

Sooty Tern

I spend about 45 min in the small roped off humans allowed  area of the cay staring in wonder at the tens of thousands of nesting birds. It seemed that almost every bird was sitting on an egg. Thousands of young chicks were calling for their parents while a lone white-morph Eastern Reef Egret was wandering happily, and well fed, between them.

Sooty Tern

I was then taken around to the back of the island in the glass-bottom boat for a private tour. We were able to get in fairly close tothe cay allowing me to scan the terns for any interesting birds! Black-naped Terns, Lesser-crested Tern and Little Terns were identified along with Black Noddy, more Frigatebirds and Brown Booby.
Black-naped Tern

Great Frigatebird

Lesser-crested Tern

We then had lunch on the boat before moving on to Paradise Reef for an hour. During this time I enjoyed a glass of Chardy and a chat with the Skipper and it was then back to Cairns.
What a wonderful experience and privilege to be able to witness these breeding birds at such close range!! I am relieved this area is constantl policed and protected to ensure the birds are not disturbed by human interferance.