• Jer Strez
Jun 8: Best bird of the day was a dead fish

Which is of course a little unfair to the ethereal Fairy Prion. Let me explain…

Elliot Leach showed up at my place bang on time at 05:45, and we immediately headed to Pinkenba where we met Louis Backstrom and Brad Woodworth, ready for our Moreton Island adventure. There was very little wind, and even waiting to get on the ferry I got an uneasy feeling that the seawatching off Cape Moreton wasn’t going to be as good as yesterday off Point Lookout. Still, we were determined to give it a go, and have fun exploring Moreton Island anyway. There wasn’t much of note on the ferry ride over, with a count of 520 Silver Gulls in the mouth of the Brisbane River being the most interesting observation. Several Australasian Gannets were in Moreton Bay, but nothing else of interest, although it is tricky birding from the super-fast resort ferry.

Arriving at Tangalooma, we made our way to the tours desk and picked up the rental vehicle. After a few minutes we were on our way north along the western beach, turning inland along the middle track and heading across the island to the ocean beach. There was a reasonably stiff onshore wind, and a few white horses on the ocean, but not the full-on seabird wreck conditions that I was hoping for. Undeterred we headed north toward Cape Moreton, noting a dead Australasian Gannet on the beach. Arriving at the Cape, we quickly headed to a vantange at about -27.032078, 153.466687 and began seawatching. Almost the first birds we set eyes on were a magnificent pair of Brown Boobies heading north, and soon after Elliot clocked a Fairy Prion also heading north, although the other three of us couldn’t get onto it.

After a while, a few more Fairy Prions began passing, all flying north, and eventually we all got good enough scope views to nail the diagnostic features of this species, a year tick for me, and the prion that is most commonly seen from or near land. After the excitement of the first 15 minutes we thought we’d be logging a good bunch of seabirds as the morning progressed, but it wasn’t to be. The wind dropped, conditions brightened, and we didn’t add another species for the next three hours, although we did see another Brown Booby around midday, and in total we had about 30 Fairy Prions. We decided to call it a day at 1230 and head south along the ocean beach before the incoming tide made it impassable and cut us off over high water.

We had to decide whether to continue all the way to the southern end of the island, or loop round via the Bulwer road and bird the heathlands that cover the northern third of the island. After some debate we settled on the former option, reasoning there was more chance of finding something interesting by looking at the shorebird roosts around Mirapool and Reeders Point.

Driving south along the beach, Elliot noticed a small dead fish lying in one of the wheel ruts on the beach, and it turned out to be a porcupinefish – a bizarre-looking thing indeed! Pushing further south, we eventually arrived at Mirapool Sandspit about half an hour before high tide. There were no shorebirds roosting yet, although I had a Fairy Prion flying south just over the waves only 100m offshore – amazing! Only a couple of Eastern Curlews were on Mirapool Lagoon, so we headed over to Reeders Point, where there was a nice mixed flock of shorebirds. About 100 assorted small shorebirds were disturbed by a couple of Whistling Kites low over the roost, and disappeared to the north, but remaining were 70 Pied Oystercatchers, 13 Pacific Golden-Plovers (including one bird in full breeding plumage), and about 50 Red-capped Plovers. We couldn’t turn up much else around the Kooringal area apart from a Little Wattlebird that a couple of us got on to.

Eventually we made our way back to Mirapool, and by now there were 25 Eastern Curlew and a nice flock of 132 Gull-billed Terns on the lagoon, and a mixed flock of shorebirds on the spit, comprising 4 Pied Oystercatchers, 9 Lesser Sand-Plovers, 32 Double-banded Plovers, 15 Red-capped Plovers and 96 Red-necked Stints. Time was running away from us, and we were already running a bit late. We made our way north up the ocean beach, but as we reached Rous Battery there was suddenly a mini-explosion under the bonnet and steam billowed out everywhere! Upon opening the hood we realised the radiator had exploded, spraying coolant everywhere. It was clear we weren’t going to be driving any further, and time was already pressing – it was 5.30 and the ferry was due to depart at 6.45 to take us back to Brisbane.

We called up the resort, and they scrambled a couple of folks, who kindly brought a second vehicle so we could drive ourselves back to Tangalooma in a desperate bid to catch the ferry. The boat was prepared to wait a short while, but they called us just as we were turning onto the middle track to say it couldn’t wait any longer and had left without us!!! Resigned to our fate, and somewhat crestfallen, we trundled back into Tangalooma, handed in the keys, and searched out some dinner.

After eating, and in part determined to capitalise on being stuck on the island overnight, and in part to put some distance between us and the DJ, we wandered along to the jetty with a spotlight to see what we could find. A couple of crab species and an interesting fish provided some interest, and we then wandered along the Tangalooma by-pass track through the woodland to see if we could turn up any nocturnals. A couple of Southern Boobooks and three Squirrel Gliders were our reward – definitely better than nothing.

The resort had made us up a small room, and we finally turned in about 11pm, four tired and probably pretty smelly birders sleeping in close proximity in the tiny space. Glad we weren’t the ones going to be making up the room in the morning. The day’s adventure had left us all pretty tired and we all slept soundly.

With one year tick today (Fairy Prion), my year list rose to 280 species. I spent 7 hours 23 minutes birding (at least that is the total of the eBird checklist durations), walked 3.8 km and drove 150.0 km. My chronological year list is here.