Rock & Rolly Chilcott Islet

The wind was still blowing at 15-18 knots when we reached Chilcott Islet, part of the Coringa Group. We selected Chilcott as the more protected anchorage of the two islets in the group, but it was not a comfortable spot, particularly on the first night. However we resisted the temptation to move on straight away and instead spent a full day exploring. Let us show you why it was worth staying.

Our first activity for the morning was flying the drone in 12-15 knots from the deck before the wind picked up too much. Launching from Anui is the only way to fly. You cannot launch from the sand cay because of the quantity of birds and the protected status of the island.

It is always easy to take off and go, but bringing the drone back with Anui lurching about in the chop and wind is the real challenge! Landing it on deck was out of the question – it was hard enough keeping your own balance! The trick was to bring the beast back down to eye level, avoiding the rigging, so Wade could grab it. He did a great job of catching it even though he ended up with a cut on a finger. Those props are sharp and if you grab too high you get slashed! But fear not, the cuts were akin to paper cuts, so no stitches required, just a lot of grateful hugs for the hero! And we got some good shots!

Bommies everywhere close to the islet
Anui reasonably close in bouncing about, Windsong further out doing a great impersonation of a pendulum!

After the dangerous work it was time to dinghy ashore. We picked up Simon and Amanda who were a bit put off by the swell and were lying flat on the floor of their cockpit, feeling a bit green! initially they were going to stay on board. We had come too far to not check out the islet and its prolific birdlife. So we offered to ferry everybody ashore.

Sooty terns city!
Looking out from the beach

The island is a rookery for sooty terns, various types of boobies, frigatebirds, noddies. The species were a little more segregated on Chilcott than on East Diamond, with clear areas occupied by a large colony of sooty terns at one end, frigatebirds and boobies mingling in the centre and noddies at the other end. We saw so many chicks at different stages of development! So here are some of the cutest fluff balls we saw:

  • Sooty Terns Chicks
  • Booby chick
  • Sooty Tern Chick
  • Feeding time for a family of Bridled Terns
  • Masked Booby chick with Mum
  • Baby Booby
  • Red-footed booby chick and mum
  • Noody Chick

But the most exciting birds for us to see were the red-tailed tropicbirds, strikingly beautiful with their gleaming white plumage, their red beak and their red streamers elegantly trailing behind them. You only see them offshore, so this was a treat!

Birds in flight were also a delight to watch and photograph. We were lucky enough to see two male frigatebirds with their red gular sac inflated competing for the females ’attention in the air. They are magnificent flyers. They soar high in the sky and being black they naturally stand out. Add that red balloon and you really can’t miss them!

Here is a slide show of our flying friends:

  • Sooty Tern in flight
  • Red-tailed Tropicbird
  • Red-tailed Tropicbird
  • Greater Frigatebird competition for attention
  • Lesser Frigatebird
  • Brown Booby
  • Common Noddy

With warm, crystal-clear water, we all managed a couple of dives in the afternoon. Simon and Amanda had their hookah set up and surveyed small bommies next to their boat. We had a go too but were not that impressed. Instead Chris decided to freedive at the reef edge to the right of the boat.

Snorkeling area to the right of the boat

Although not in great health, the reef was in better condition than at East Diamond. It looked like it was in recovery. The Green protection zone may well be helping. There were both soft and hard coral slowly regenerating. The dominant specie was a mustard colour encrusting coral. Here are a few shots.

We stayed at Chilcott for two nights and are really glad we did. It was worth persevering. In the end we enjoyed ourselves. You just had to time cooking and showers before high tide to minimise the strong side chop and acrobatic moves in the galley and bathroom!

See you in a few days at North East Cay, in the Herald Cays Group.

22 thoughts on “Rock & Rolly Chilcott Islet

  1. The coral sure looks in better shape at this location which is wonderful! I would be turning green too, just like your friends. The birds are so beautiful too, they put this tiny islet to good use. 😌🇦🇺

    • Hi John, the islet offered little protection but at low tide was a lot calmer so we still had fun. The quantity of birds was astounding and we felt very privileged to see them at close quarters.

  2. Loved the birds Chris, what a variety. The chicks were wonderful to see, sooo cute. Good to see a bit of recovery of the coral. Am feeling better but still have medical appointments coming up.

    • The birds and chicks have been an absolute highlight. We will be here for a couple of months so we might still get you on board! Take care Susie!

  3. Such clear water!
    Wonderful images of cute chicks, and aerodynamic adults!

    Maybe there are some gloves that could help when playing catch the drone. Maybe something with excellent rubbery grip for confident catches and also great strength to resist propeller cuts.

    • Good thinking, Murray! But the conditions at Chilcott were out of the ordinary with the boat moving a lot as well as it being windy, so hopefully Wade won’t have to deal with that too often and is happy to go with bare hands!

  4. Your eloquent writing and glorious photos are always a pleasure. The chicks are as cute as the adults are beautiful.

  5. Your early photography passion was birds, so what a treat revisiting this must have been. Neville has taken note on the perils of ‘drone catching’. He’s done a great job … so far!

    • Hi Amanda, yes the bird life was stunning.
      We managed the drone at each location, but wind and swell are not an easy combination. I haven’t dared to land the drone on deck in 15 knots yet, too risky!

  6. Great pics Chris! The bird pics are particularly awesome …. one question tho, the sooty tern pic, was the horizon dead level or was some photoshop involved?

    • Hi Elgar. There is no visible horizon in the shot. It is simply the position of the tern in flight. It happened to be right in front of me so there was no adjustment needed.

      Straight horizons when land or water are visible do need to be straight and get adjusted in Lightroom when needed. A crooked horizon is one of my pet hates and in my view something a decent photographer should correct.

      • I’m with you about crooked horizons ….. that’s why I asked 😉 Taking a bird in flight and managing a flat horizon in the pic would have to be a fluke …. (or pure genius)

  7. Wow. I was blown away by your amazing shots of all of the different kinds of boobies, Chris, and other birds and the chicks all were so adorable. Kudos too for your in-flight shots–you captured so many birds so well. You are certainly getting bolder with your drone–I seem to recall you being quite hesitant when you got your new drone. Wade deserves a lot of credit for being willing and able to snatch the drone as it is hovering. Yikes!

    • Thanks Mike! Bird photography was my hobby many years ago and I had not had the opportunity to do much of it since living on the boat. We never expected the staggering quantity of birds on the remote Coral Sea islands, so it has been a treat!

      As for the drone, with a permit to fly it in the region, I was determined to capture aerials at each location we visited, but it has been nerve racking. No choice but to fly from the deck of Anui and at Chilcott in particular it was windy and bouncy! I haven’t landed the beast on the deck once during this trip even on calm days, so I am still very nervous. It is a joint effort with Wade and yes he is brave and pretty good at it!

      • The photos speak for themselves, but I am curious to know what lens you were using to photograph the birds. As I recall, at one time you were using a Tamron 18-400mm zoom lens. A few months ago I started using that lens myself pretty regularly and really like most of the results. I’d love to try out a drone, but most of the places that I visit do not permit drones.

      • The 18-400mm Tamron is permanently on my Canon. It’s the most versatile and really good to get ‘close’ to the birds without disturbing them.

        I ended up getting a permit to fly the drone in the Coral Sea Islands Territory. Outside of this, different states have different rules here but Queensland is thankfully lenient.

      • The lens is indeed remarkably versatile and I am growing to love mine. Over the past month I have used it on my Canon 7D for landscapes, big subjects like bison and wild horses, and little subjects like dragonflies and butterflies.

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