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The Great Barrier Reef is a world icon; it can be seen from space, it has hundreds of separate coral heads, it has islands, and hundreds of animals (mostly fish) in each and every reef habitat. It is both continuous and a broken chain. It is quite grand. The Smithsonian Journeys tour groups spent a day traveling to and from Michelmas Cay from the harbor in Cairns. It is a long and, usually, glorious day. This post describes the most common bird species of the cay. Michelmas is a protected area where thousands of ocean-going terns nest. The majority are Common Noddies (Common or Brown Noddy) and Sooty Terns. These two species are pelagic, coming to land only to nest. There are also a few thousand pairs of Greater Crested Terns and a couple hundred Brown Boobies.
Humans are welcome at Michelmas only if they are brought by a permitted boat and only if they stay inside the narrow confines of a heavy rope laid in the coral sand. The birds get to go wherever they want. The water’s edge is lined with sooties and noddies the whole of our visit.