Come March, or rather at the start of the southeastern monsoon, a remarkable phenomenon begins to take place. Sooty terns start to gather in huge numbers around the island. During April and May they slowly take up their positions in the colony on the northern part of the island. Nesting begins in June and during a ten day period almost 90% of the total number of eggs are laid. A month later the hatchlings arrive, and after only two months, during which time the parents feed them fish and squid, they are strong enough to take to the sky. By the end of October they are all up in the air. An interesting thing I noticed while observing them up close, was that in the seemingly chaotic settlement there was order and discipline. Each pair with their chicks possessed a small piece of the territory, and all the other birds respected that. Occasionally one of the young would cross into their neighbour’s yard but would soon regret it because the neighbours are not that welcoming, and would chase them away. It is estimated that the colony numbers around a million and a half individuals! To see in one place more than a million birds is truly an unforgettable experience.
The most numerous bird species on the island, apart from the Sooty tern colony, were the Brown noddy (Anous stolidus), Little noddy (Anous tenuirostris), Fairy tern (Gygis alba) and in fewer numbers the White tailed tropic bird (Phaethon lepturus). The Noddies are extremely noisy and usually make simple nests on the branches of surrounding trees. On the other hand White tailed tropic birds are mainly quiet and calm as they sit peacefully in their nests situated at the feet of wider trunks. Some even make nests in the grass out in the open so I always had to take extra care not to accidentally step on any. With their long white tail feathers these birds are to me definitely one of the most elegant in the world. It truly is a pleasure watching them as they glide over your head.
Fairy terns are the worlds only terns which are entirely white. They always move in pairs and I had a feeling that they were constantly courting one another. It is an interesting fact that they do not construct nests, for I have found chicks only in forks and depressions in tree branches. A thing which continues to delight me whenever I visit an uninhabited island is the almost complete lack of fear among the birds. They aren’t the least bit afraid of your approach, although once or twice a few individuals would spread their wings as a warning sign if I came too close.
In the evening I went to the western coast in order to watch the birds return from their fishing grounds. Thousands of them flew above me as I was sitting on the beach. Aside from the already mentioned Sooty terns and Noddies, there were in smaller numbers Bridled terns (Onychoprion anaethetus) and Greater crested terns (Sterna bergii). On the sand not far from where I was sitting, waders were searching for food. There were Curlew sandpipers (Calidris ferruginea) and Ruddy turnstones (Arenaria interpres). Whenever a wave would splash on the beach they would quickly run to safety, only to return to search for food in the wet sand when the water subsided. When birding on the beach or at any sandy and windy location a good quality pair of binoculars are indispensable. Blowing sand is a serious hazard and can severely damage optics. Luckily I had my Noctivids with me. The innovative Aquadura coating performed magically keeping the glass clean and scratch free.
When I got up at one point and made my way towards the bungalow I noticed out of the corner of my eye something big and dark on a nearby tree. I was so excited to recognise a familiar face. There on a branch, sitting all by himself was a Great cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo). Only one individual on the whole island! When I just think that there are so many of them in most parts of Europe and that here it is only a vagrant species. I saluted him with the thought that we might see each other again closer to home. Who knows!
Below are links to a couple of videos: