Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Australia Day storms brings seabirds onshore

Above: Immature White-tailed Tropic Bird, Cylinder Headland. 
Cyclone Oswald battered North Stradbroke Island over the Australia Day weekend knocking over trees, taking out the power and disrupting the ferries. However some keen birders who specialise in seawatching and love ocean-going pelagic birds were in their element (out in the wild winds on Point Lookout!). Cyclonic winds and storms blow seabirds – which mostly live well out to sea - onshore. On Australia Day, in just seven hours from 8am-3pm Colin Reid spotted a fantastic array of seabirds including Black-winged Petrel, White-necked Petrel, Streaked Shearwater, 1000s of Wedge-tailed Shearwater, Buller's Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater, Short-tailed Shearwater, Fluttering Shearwater, Hutton's Shearwater, Pomarine Skua, Arctic Skua and 27 Sooty Tern! Colin, who has seawatched at Straddie many times, said that it was ‘one of the best we’ve ever had off Pt Lookout’. Sadly not all the seabirds survived the high winds. The rarely sighted White-tailed Tropic Bird pictured below was found barely alive on the Cylinder Headland but later died. Many carcasses of seabirds, mostly Shearwaters and Noddies, wrecked on beaches have been reported.

Immature White-tailed Tropic Bird, Cylinder Headland. The two distinctive 40cm, ribbon like, central tail plumes which stream behind the adult birds have not yet grown. White-tailed Tropicbird are ocean going birds which occur in the tropical Atlantic, western Pacific and Indian Oceans and breed on tropical islands (including Christmas Island). These birds are highly evolved to live at sea and only nesting adults are found on land. The birds feed on fish and squid, caught by surface plunging, but this species is a poor swimmer. These birds are also unable to walk as their legs are located far back on their body, making walking impossible, so that they can only move on land by pushing themselves. Tropicbirds disperse widely across the oceans when not breeding, and sometimes wander far – even to Stradbroke Island.