Beaches without people

Beach stone curlew

Beach stone curlew

Australia’s Top End beaches are off limits for swimming. And for a good reason. If a Saltwater crocodile doesn’t get you, a Box jellyfish probably will. As a result, in contrast to the rest of Australian coastline, Northern Territory beaches are often virtually empty. And what happens if you take people away from the beach? Wildlife comes back.

Black kite

Black kite

The beaches of Casuarina Coastal Reserve at Darwin’s Lee Point are teaming with wildlife. The first inhabitants that catch the eye are Black kites. There are dozens of them: in the air, on the trees fringing the beach and even on the beach itself – looking for tasty morsels washed up by the tide.

Black kite on the beach

Black kite on the beach

Such high density of predators makes other beach residents a little nervous. The Beach stone curlew keeps a wary eye on the kites as it forages on the beach. It is an uncommon species across most of its range and it relies on undisturbed open beaches for habitat. It is the only member of the stone curlew family that is not strictly nocturnal.

Beach stone curlew keeping a wary eye on the kites above

Beach stone curlew keeping a wary eye on the kites above

Red-capped plovers burst into short sprints when kites glide overhead.

Red-capped plover

Red-capped plover

Red-capped plover trying to stay unpredictable

Red-capped plover trying to stay unpredictable

Some of the birds however, are more worried about other members of their own species than about the kites. Lee Point is home to a breeding colony of Great crested terns. While communal living provides the benefit of safety in numbers it also drives the competition for food and mates. It is not just catching the fish that makes a successful hunt, it is also being able to swallow it mid-air before being robbed by others.

Great crested terns

Great crested terns

Great crested tern with its catch

Great crested tern with its catch

Great crested tern making a quick getaway

Great crested tern making a quick getaway

Fast food or no food

Fast food or no food

Great crested terns displaying

Great crested terns displaying

Great crested tern yearlings

Great crested tern yearlings

Among the Great crested terns there are a few Caspian terns, and an occasional Little tern, as well as a fair number of Silver gulls.

Little tern

Little tern

Caspian terns

Caspian terns

As the day goes on more beach-side residents arrive. A flock of Great knots swoops in and settles on the rocks exposed by low tide. This species is a winter visitor to Australia that will soon return to its breeding grounds in Siberian tundra. A few red blobs in the flock on closer inspection turn out to be Red knots.

Great knots

Great knots

Red knots among the flock of Great knots

Red knots among the flock of Great knots

More species come and go throughout the day: Reef egret, Intermediate egret, Whistling kite, little Solder crabs. It is refreshing to see such species diversity on the beach in contrast to the usual Homo sapience homogeneity.

Gulls and terns hunting

Gulls and terns hunting

 

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