Boobies, Terns, Noddies and more!
The monsoonal conditions were brought back to the Top End over Christmas as Ex-Tropical Cyclone Ellie swept through the Northern Territory and brought days of heavy rainfall and wind!
Whilst this spelt a week of inside-activities for most people, local bird-watchers sprung into action at the chance of finding a blown in visitor! Gusts of wind up to 65km/h made for perfect conditions for seabirds to be blown into Darwin.
One of the more familiar sights of a monsoon in Darwin is the incredible Lesser Frigatebirds. Soaring high in the grey sky, these dinosaur-like birds patrol the open sea and breed on oceanic islands. Mainly feeding on flying fish, they are known to engage in kleptoparasitism which is stealing fish from the mouth of other seabirds! 🐟
Being on a boat in Darwin Harbour may allow you to get lucky and see a Brown Booby sitting on a buoy as it takes a rest from fishing. There was no need this week as they were blown in right to shore! There was up to a dozen Brown Boobies flying around Stokes Hill Wharf trying to catch a break from the wind.
Mainly feeding on fish and squid at the surface of the water in the open ocean, the Brown Boobies were treated to the delicacy of hot chips as tourists were throwing them off the wharf for these odd-looking 'Pelicans'.
Another visitor to the wharf, the elegant Bridled Tern is more commonly seen in Western Australia and Northern Queensland but up to half a dozen birds made an appearance in Darwin over the last week! They joined the Crested and Whiskered Terns as they swooped around the waters surface for food.
This was an exciting find for local birders as these terns don't visit every monsoon! Their darker colouration made them stand out easily amongst all the other Terns. The Brown Noddy was another seabird that made its way to Darwin and was spotted around Nightcliff. I never got to see the bird, but some other lucky birders did!
The winds allowed for good opportunities to photograph some of the more common terns around Darwin. Lee Point and Buffalo Creek are typically good areas to find many of these sea and shorebirds. Amongst the crowd of Crested Terns you can sometimes spot other species, such as the large Caspian Tern.
The importance of the Lee Point shoreline really comes to light again when weather conditions are rough like this. It is a haven for shore and sea birds as they recover from flying and is a reason we need to continue to push to Save Lee Point.
Once they have enough energy, the sea birds rise to the sky to hunt for fish. Usually difficult to photograph, the tiny Little Terns were suspended in the air for a second with the strong wind whilst they searched for any small fish at the surface.
The rough conditions did unfortunately see a lot of birds die from exhaustion. By the end of the week I had found a few dead Bridled Terns and Wilson's Storm Petrels washed up on beaches. Of course this also meant a lot of marine life and debris was washed up on the shores, with some species of bird taking advantage of it!
A frantic week, it was extremely interesting to see and learn about these vagrant birds. I would like to thank Gavan Keane and Lehi Archibald for sparking my interest in the seabirds and to Harn Sheng Khor for the photography tips!