CIRCLE OF LIFE: Bird photographer Keith Ireland captures a crested tern with its chick.
CIRCLE OF LIFE: Bird photographer Keith Ireland captures a crested tern with its chick. Keith Ireland

Holidayer uncovers different Crested Tern colour variety

OVER the years with my bird photography, I have been fortunate enough to have made visits to a number of islands off our coastline where there have been colonies of birds nesting.

These rookeries provide a wealth of subjects and the potential for some excellent results.

In this anecdote, I shall refer to those in the northern part of Queensland, where there are quite a number of islands where rookeries are to be found.

I have only had the opportunity to visit two of these.

A fair distance to the north-east of Cairns was Michaelmas Cay, a sandy belt of land, the majority of which was covered with the small nesting sites scraped in the sand by sooty terns and common noddies.

Brown boobies flew overhead but seldom landed.

We all had to be very careful not to stand on eggs or the birds themselves as they didn't seem to want to move.

Eschellby Island is another coral cay out to sea from Proserpine.

A group of six of us from the Rockhampton area headed north over a weekend to make a day trip there.

It is not a really large island, the lower part being comfortably above sea level but with a track going up a steep hill in the middle, to a lighthouse at the top.

After being dropped off from the boat, we found the whole area was covered with nesting crested terns, from ground level and up the sloping walk to the lighthouse.

Some had young babies like the illustration which shows a newly hatched chick just out of the egg.

One of our team was first to go up to look at the lighthouse.

When he returned, he said the birds were the same all over the cay right to the top.

After a bite of lunch, I decided to go to the top for a look around myself but the others were content to stay where they were.

In an area near the lighthouse, I found a small group of different crested terns.

While the common variety has yellow beaks, these had orange beaks instead which showed them to be lesser crested terns, a smaller but similar species.

The walk to the top had been worth it for me as I have not ever seen the orange billed variety again.