Michaelmas Cay Reports

Dave O'Brien's reports on the wildlife at Michaelmas Cay, Great Barrier Reef.

Monday, July 11, 2011


Use web searchs to learn about Michaelmas Cay

This report is prepared by Seastar which makes regular trips  to Michaelmas Cay on the Great Barrier Reef.
 (See http://www.seastarcruises.com.au/ for cruise details and go to /activities/birdwatching for bird lists and numbers)

Red-footed Boobies were seen in early July 2011. (Update by skipper due soon). John Seale


Well after weeks of very average weather there is something nice to report.

It is very sunny and pleasant today.
We saw 2 Red Footed Boobies on the Glass Bottom Boat, numerous Brown Boobies (??) on the driftwood on the western edge of the island.
1 Masked booby with the brown boobies.
Frigate birds were present, but not active, possibly as it is flat calm now.
All the usual terns.
Also had some strangers today, some rain forest parrot, bright green with red plumage and a willie wag tail!!
Both came to the boat after we were on the moorings.
Still not many chicks, there are some but very few in number.

We had one Red Footed sighting today.
We are still unable to take the ender around the island due to ist increased size.
In this instance we just went around as far as we could go and were able to see it amongst some brown boobies.
Still no chicks.
Noticing many dead birds on other side, could be pre-flight juveniles starving as parents still missing from cyclone.
Overall numbers increasing.

Report as at 19/2/11
Bird population has increased slightly. Maybe 40-45% to before cyclone.Still no chicks .
Grass has returned to green and is growing.Unable to go around island even at higher tides due to new shape.
2 frigate, 5 booby, and the usual tern numbers.Have not seen any ruddy turnstones.

Reporting from Seastar at Michaelmas as at 7/2/11
(NB Cyclone Yasi passed over the reef at about midnight 2/2/11. Cairns was on the north side, luckily).

Definitely much different than last week, the cay appears to be higher, larger and a different shape.
Much reduced vegetation. Grass is now patchy, sparse and brown in colour.
Bird population reduced considerably possibly only 30% remain compared to last week.
Distinct lack of mature breeding birds, no chicks present.
Juvenile noddys exhibiting unusual behavior, on approaching the Seastar mooring some 500 metres off a small group of noddys (app 10) approached the boat and alighted on the hand rails next to customers. When stopped on the moorings, more approached and were landing (to the delight of) on the customers shoulders and hats.On the dinghy trip to the island more noddys were landing on those, including my hat, in the dingy.Showing no fear.
Currently there are 6 on the bow and 2 looking in the bridge at me.
Other species, crested, boobies very low in number.
2 frigate birds present.
I have now observed 2 greater crested chicks, some adult crested and many pre-flight juvenile noddys.

The Michaelmas Cay Report ( Jan 28th 2011)
There has been an abundance of bait fish in the water the past weeks and a corresponding increase in birds feeding.
Today we were treated to possibly the largest gathering of frigate birds I have seen at the cay. We counted 15 in all and all but a few were chasing the boobies and terns for a meal.
The strong winds, possibly associated with TC Anthony, created a perfect environment for hunting.
Customers were treated to chases only metres from the boat, classic frigate activity.
I suspect most will move on when the cyclone arrives.

The Michaelmas Cay Report (for the week comrnencing Feb 8th 2010

This report is prepared by David OBrien who is a biologist with reef tourism
company Ocean Spirit Cruises. Ocean Spirit makes daily trips to Michaelmas
Cay on the Great Barrier Reef.


The monthly total bird count on the cay was conducted early this month by
members of the Marine Parks Authority and was found to be 25,000. Strong
winds from two small cyclones have reshaped the cay recently and many eggs
from nesting seabirds were destroyed.
Bird species regularly seen on the cay include Sooty, Crested and Lesser -
crested Terns, Common Noddies, Brown Boobies and Silver Gulls. Bridled
Terns are seen daily at the moment and are usually found in small numbers
resting on moorings, usually in pairs. Small numbers of Frigatebirds (usually
Greater Frigatebirdslare seen on most days and are either riding thermals or
perched on driftwood at the western end of the cay. Ruddy Turnstones
regularly search the beach amongst the Terns. Small numbers of Black-naped
Terns are on the cay but usually rest out of sight when resting. However, they
can be seen flying around the cay during the day.
Special birds for the cay include the relatively recent arrival of up to 15 Redfooted
Boobies. The best way to see them is to scan the railings of the Ocean
Spirit semi-submersible on arrival and before the crew take their small tender
over to pick up the semi-sub. Both adult and immatures are present on most
days. When disturbed they fly tp the other side of the island where they are
not visible. lf time and tides permit, the coxswain of Ocean Spirit will
sometimes take birders around to the other side of the cay.
This week, for the first time, I saw a rather unusual colour morph of Common
Noddy. lt's a young bird and, apart from its brown bill and feet, is almost
totally white. l've seen this bird begging for food from its normal coloured


The Michaelmas Cay Report (for the week commencing January 4th 2010)

This report is prepared regularly by David OBrien who is a biologist with reef tourism company Ocean Spirit Cruises (which makes daily trips to Michaelmas Cay on the Great Barrier Reef). Notes on the activity of seabirds and other marine animals are presented for your information.


The monthly total bird count was conducted by members of the Marine Parks Authority on January 6th and was found to be approximately 14000, including 6000 Common Noddies and 4000 Sooty Terns. There were also significant numbers of Crested Terns and Lesser Crested Terns.

Bridled Terns are present in small numbers and are usually found sitting on moorings and marker buoys.

The reduced winds have brought the small number of female Greater Frigatebirds down onto driftwood perches on the island or they can be seen riding thermals near the cay.

Red-footed Boobies (very rare birds for Michaelmas) have been present for about 2 weeks and are best seen by scanning the railings of Ocean Spirit’s semi-submersible before the crew step onto this craft and frighten them off. There appear to be at least 2 adults and at least 5 immatures. Although they generally land out of sight on the other side of the cay on leaving the semi-sub, one rested on the rope boundary fence on the 5th , offering excellent views of gular panting and preening. Their Brown Booby relatives are common and there are some proud parents of enormous fluffy white chicks watching their offspring exercise their wing muscles. One chick is readily seen and there are three others which are mostly hidden from view.

Small numbers of Black-naped Terns can be seen flying above and around the island on most days.

The other regulars include Silver Gulls and Ruddy Turnstones.


This week, Hump-headed Maori Wrasse have been quite visible from our semi-submersible and solitary

Bump-headed Parrotfish or Buffalo Fish have been seen by snorkellers and on the semi-sub. A large (two metres) Shovel-nosed Ray has continued to turn up occasionally, usually found resting on the sandy bottom near the beach. Watch for the little Black-tip Reef Shark that regularly patrols the shoreline of the beach.