After a few days in Oakland to repack our bags (dump the books and fancy clothes, swap in the camping gear and insect repellent), bond with our furry boy Nico and squeeze in a quick surf at Bolinas, we boarded our 13 hour flight to Sydney. Then we turned right around again to fly to Heron Island on the Great Barrier Reef.
I was first on Heron Island over 20 years ago as a zoology student at the Heron Island research station. The research station and the neighbouring resort have changed totally since then, but the island itself seems largely unchanged. At this time of year the island is home to (almost infested by) tens of thousands of nesting seabirds.
During the day, every tree has scores of nesting White-capped Noddy Terns. They were getting ready for the nesting season by building their nests which they are incredibly bad at. Its hard to imagine why they are so ineffective. I watched a nesting pair for two days as the male flew dexterously around collecting suitable looking Pisonia leaves which he then ferried to his nest building mate. She would juggle the leaf to find a good spot for it and then look on impotently as it fell off the nest. After two days she was still sitting on just a single leaf.
As the sun sets thousands of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters fly in from the west to meet up with their burrow mates and work on their sandy burrows. The pairs sit close to each other and moan to each other or squabble with their neighbours causing an extraordinarily creepy cacophony all through the night – like hundreds of deep throated babies wailing. The resort has a supply of earplugs in each room.
When you walk around by day or night you have to be careful not to tread on a bird or get run over by one as they come in to land. They are completely fearless. Bird poop becomes an integral part of your casual attire on Heron Island and pervades the otherwise pristine atmosphere.
The seas are full of life as you would expect on a coral atoll. And from the beach you can see rays and sharks and turtles right off shore in just a foot or so of water. The Green sea turtles were just beginning to come up on the beach in the evening to lay their eggs. You can wander out carefully at night and spot their tractor-like tracks heading up the beach and then get fairly close to them by listening for their digging. They spend hours laying hundreds of almost golf ball sized eggs in a deep pit which they then cover before heading back to sea. Here’s one heading back to zero gravity after a hard night’s work.