North East Herald Cay Heaven

Oh what a feeling when you arrive at this cay: from the blue abyss 800m deep, to a 5m deep anchorage in sand, with graduations of aqua, turquoise and ultramarine all around. Welcome to our favourite Coral Sea anchorage to date: North East Herald Cay!

And what did we do there? The usual: beach walks, shell collecting, birdwatching, swimming, kite surfing, snorkeling, although that last one was not a hit. The only difference is that the Herald Cays are in a green conservation zone, so no fishing or spearing!

You might think you see one bird rookery, you’ve seen them all, but let us tell you this coral cay is special. It is a bird sanctuary, a RAMSAR site, which is a designated wetland of international significance.

By far our favourite birds were the Red-tailed Tropicbirds. This time they were not just a few nesting under the bushes. They were in large numbers, flying and doing The Dance! Courtship display flights with two or more birds were on especially mid-morning, but really any time of the day at the end of the islet, and above our boats! What a spectacular sight.

Courtship flight with interloper on the side looking dejected!

If tropicbirds were the nice guys, the thugs were the frigatebirds. Those large seabirds are known from one thing: stealing food from other birds, especially boobies. Do you know why? They can’t touch the surface of the water or they get water logged and drown. They do scoop water to drink with their beak and catch flying fish. But variation in their diet comes courtesy of the experts at plunge diving for fish: the boobies. Any type of booby is fair game for them: brown, masked, red-footed boobies will do. The frigatebirds circle above the boobies as they dive for squid and other tasty fish, and as the fishers take-off with their catch, the frigatebirds pounce on them and harass them until they drop their bundle or regurgitate it! Nasty stuff, especially when the squid vomit, as Wade called it, lands on our deck in a purple mess!

With enough wind to kite surf, the toys came out on one day. The setting was spectacular: clear water in a large protected area behind a sand spit, clear of bommies, the safest set up we could hope for. The birds were quite intrigued by these big contraptions and came a little close at time, but it was great fun and nobody got hurt.

Behind the sandspit was the perfect kite surfing area
Amanda going downwind for the photo!
Wade having fun
Heavenly conditions for kite surfing

We eventually tried snorkeling, not hoping for much. The reef was just bare rock with hardly any coral cover: a waste land underwater. Although there were a few larger fish (we were in a green conservation zone), it was again like a desert and the current was strong. Apparently large storms assail the region in cyclone season and the reefs close in are all but destroyed. We only have one critter to show for one short dive, this magnificent Emperor Angelfish.

We did see some moray eels in the rockpools behind the island, a first for us. They were Grey Morays hunting for rock crabs. We saw a moray attack a poor crab which lost three legs and the corner of his head after it got targetted twice! We were very careful on the edge of the rock pools as the eels were aggressive, hissing and launching at us!

Let’s end this post with two much nicer views:

Tropicbird flying low down
Windsong and Anui side by side

Meet us at South West Cay in the Herald Cays Group in a couple of days!

21 thoughts on “North East Herald Cay Heaven

  1. Amazing beautiful photos! The watercolor is amazing, the Tropicbirds are so attractive. i had no idea that the Frigate bird can’t swim, it’s kind of odd that they live surrounded by water. Great post, guys! 👍🏻🇦🇺😎

    • Hi John, we were not aware the Frigatebirds could not land on water either. Glad you enjoyed the post. The colours out there are so striking, the bird life so abundant… we were very privileged to be there.

  2. Lovely post Chris. So many birds, shame about the coral. Great scenery. Glad you enjoyed the windsurfing Wadie.

  3. Somewhat corny to write it down but two common phrases come to mind : ‘free as a bird’ and ‘the cruelty of nature’ . . . beautiful photos Chris . . . the colours are unbelievable . . .

  4. Great bird photography Chris! Your words convey the joy & excitement of your adventure very well.

  5. So chicken or egg?
    Do the Frigate bullies get sent to the (permanent) naughty corner for a flying fowl (sic) because they are bullies, or bullies because they were just friggin’ unlucky re waterproof feathers?
    Maybe the universe really does have a sense of humour…

    • Good one, Bill, it is a bit of a chicken and egg situation! I must admit I had never heard of a seabird unable to land on water and thought that was rather inconvenient! So maybe it explains the bullying behaviour towards other birds who can!

  6. Wadey!!
    Squid vomit makes for great bait! 🤣
    Just bummer about the green zone or you could recycle the vomit into a nice catch! 🤣
    Beautiful bird pics Chris and a great location to stay! And some kite activity…yay!
    I’m going to do some foil kiting lessons soon.

    • Hi Waz! Nice to get your comment. The fishing was good at Diamond Islet. But since then we were in green zones. We hear you about the squid!

      Sounds like your Achilles is mending. Must make life a bit easier!

      • Yes. Nearly 5 months since surgery.
        Been doing stacks of chores which Physio mate reckons has helped to work the foot and leg. The flexibility is still taking time, and by the end of the day my heal is sore coz I’m still not distributing the weight properly as the muscles build.
        I’ll text you some images of the new stairs and some other stuff

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