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