Michelmas Cay has lots of birds

Please consider all images as copyrighted – thank you. Contact me for use… DEClapp

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.


Typhoons can batter the outer portions, the eastern edges, of the Great Barrier Reef. Michelmas has suffered greatly over the past decade. When I first started to visit the Cay there were rolling dunes covered in grasses. In the past three or four years the dunes have been taken by the sea and the Cay (with thousands of nests) has been washed over by a storm driven sea. The cays are ephemeral for sure, but that doesn’t make it any easier to watch.
The bigger birds in the foreground are Brown Boobies. The concentration of gray birds just behind them are predominantly Greater Crested Terns.
These images are of a Common Noddy at a nest (above) and perched near to a nest on a post. Throughout the bulk of the year these birds are at sea feeding and resting on or above the water. There is also a Black Noddy but that is a very rare bird at Michelmas.


Greater Crested Terns have increased greatly over the past decade on Michelmas Cay. The gull just out of focus in the rear is a Silver Gull and is rather common along the mainland shore but not very numerous out on the Cay. Gulls, overall, are not a dominant avian feature of the Southern Hemisphere.
Sooty Terns are starkly black and white. There is a white patch between the top of the beak and the forehead and the undersides are nearly pure white.


This Great Crested Tern is returning from a fishing foray. The fish will likely go to a youngster but sometimes it is delivered, by a male, to an incubating female. This fish is not identified but I have often seen this species return with small flying fish.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: