Saturday, February 7, 2009

Inskip Point - part 2

As the photos on the previous post show it was a very pleasant evening at Inskip. However, we were there to count shorebirds first and then terns as the evening progressed. There are always large numbers at Inskip and this time was no different. There were over 2000 shorebirds with all the expected species there. However, for next time it will be better to count earlier in the afternoon as the evening light from the west made ID difficult. Of course the ideal way to count shorebirds at this roost is to kayak out to the sandbank but an accident to my knee a week or so ago has made kayaking impossible for the present. Even walking is a challenge!
Observing and counting the terns was great. I saw the first juvenile Crested Terns of the season. I also saw Little Terns going in to breeding plumage. These Little Terns are from the northern race that breeds up in Asia. The one in the photo below has already changed the color on the bill.
Counting the terns is an exciting and challenging occupation. As yet there is no long term data for terns on roosts such as Inskip Point and we really know very little about the habits of migratory terns while they are down here in Australia. Jill Dening has data from the Caloundra sand banks over a number of years and the numbers down there show that it is a most significant roost for migratory terns. Jill and her group are also collecting similar data for the Noosa River roost. But very little is known about the tern roost at Inskip. Jill was here with us to count and teach the rest of us some of her techniques. As evening came on we first counted the terns which were already roosting out on the sand bank. Then we stood with eyes glued to the channel between Inskip and Fraser Island to count groups of terns as they came in from their feeding grounds out at sea. We were rather fortunate as the terns were only coming in that way. On previous counts last season they also flew across the narrowest point of land and came in across Pelican Bay. This needed two sets of counters standing back to back to see the arriving birds from the two different directions. In the earlier part of the evening the birds are clear against the sky but as it gets darker they fly in closer to the sea and become much harder to see. This evening they mostly arrived in groups of 20 to 60 birds. I noticed Jill clicking over her counter and recording 50 at a time. I can now see a difference in the Crested Terns and migratory terns (Common, Little, and White-winged Black) as they fly in but it will be a long time yet before I am quick enough at this recognition to count them this way as they fly in. We counted in excess of 6,700 terns.
I have left these next pictures very large when you click on them to give a better idea of what we were counting.
Early evening and the terns on the sand island kept disturbing and flying up then settling down again.
A sky full of terns disturbing from the sand island - one of our number suggested they look like a swarm of mosquitoes!
Terns flying in down the channel - still easy to see in the glow of the setting sun but more and more difficult as the light gets dimmer.


  1. I've never really mastered the art of counting large no's but enjoy watching anything when they sizable flocks. Good to see Little Terns, one of my favourites.
    Hope the knee recovers quickly. Regards Frank.

  2. Hi Frank, thanks for your wishes re my knee. Regarding big numbers - especially terns! - I am told practice and practice again!

  3. Hi Mick
    Didn't realise you could not get the Kayak out.
    Great images of swarms of Terns.
    Interestingly, I didn't think Little Tern was a migrant. Very interesting. The southern ones stay put, as far as I know.

  4. Hi Denis, we get two "kinds" (that's not the right technical term I know!) of Little Terns here. Some from down south come here after finishing their breeding cycle and they don't leave Australia. The others come down from Asia and then return there.

  5. Mick - hope your knee recovers quickly and you can get the kayack out again soon.

    I think I would lose count having to count as many birds as that - especially when they're so active! Good luck Lol