Friday, 30 December 2016

Ashmore Reef 04 -- East Island and Splittberger Cay

East Island and Splittberger Cay 

These were our middle-of-the-day destinations on our second day at Ashmore Reef.

Here is the view from the boat at 4.30am.

Both tenders, The Pig and The Blue Boat, were capable of getting up on the [aqua]plane. It took 15 minutes to plane over across the shallow reef to our destination.

A link to a video of our trip across to East Island is here.

East Island is just a sand atoll and at midday, with no clouds in the sky, the solar reflection gets the temp up to 50*C. At least. It is roughly circular and about 300 metres across. There is virtually no vegetation, just a couple of small dead trees that Red-footed Boobies were nesting in. Lesser Frigatebirds had made it their nesting central. As we approached we could see the ascending cloud of thermal-grabbers. Terns and Frigatebirds spiralling so high they were out of sight.

juvenile Lesser Frigatebirds Frigata ariel

We tied the tenders together and quietly tootled across to Splittgerber Cay which was about 5-600 metres away. We couldn’t get there too early as it is totally submerged at highest of tides but becomes an epic shorebirds roost when exposed. We quietly alighted, got all the scopes and cameras ready then, as a group, very slowly and silently moved over the top of the cay to witness more than 4,000 shorebirds roosting on the water’s edge no more than 20 metres to the closest birds. It was epic. 
There was no panic, human or avian, and the birds continued on nonchalantly as we observed them, discovered species we hadn’t seen before and counted them. The asian form of Gull-billed Tern, Asian Dowitcher, Terek Sandpiper, Common Greenshank and a single Marsh Sandpiper were the highlights. 

Asian Dowitcher Limnodromus semipalmatus

On our way back to the mother ship, we were followed by Sooty Terns and Brown Boobies whose white chests and bellies were green from the reflected light of the shallow water of the reef.

Brown Booby
Sooty Tern

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