Photographing birds – Adele Island

annabelleWildlife

A masked booby on Adele Island on the Kimberley coast.
Masked Booby parents guard their young chick at Adele Island, the most remote island off the Kimberley coast of Western Australia. (Annabelle Sandes/© Annabelle Sandes | Kimberley Media)

 

65km off the Kimberley coast lies Adele Island, a low grassy fish-hooked shaped mound  surrounded by extensive sandy reef flats.  Although a tiny speck on the map, Adele is an important breeding ground for Masked and Brown boobies (Sula dactylatra and Sula leucogaster), Lesser Frigage birds (Fregata ariel), terns, pelicans, and various waders.

In 2010 and 2011 we visited Adele Island with a small group of passengers on SPV Kimberley Escape as part of Kimberley Whale Watching’s “Kimberley Whales & Reefs Expedition”. Offloading at 6.30am on a spring tide there was only  a limited time frame to explore the island as the tide was rapidly receding.  Ignoring the outgoing tide can involve a wait for several hours until the reef is covered enough again to allow dinghy access over the shallows.

It’s impossible to convey the delicious sense of isolation at Adele attended  by a soundtrack of wheeling flocks of seabirds overhead.  At the first signs of daylight, as the rising sun illuminates a mackeral sky from below, vast numbers depart the island to forage for small fish and squid, flying single file in small flocks, only inches above the water.  The spectacle is repeated at dusk, as wave after wave of birds return to roost for the night.

The largest colonies of birds on Adele Island are Brown boobies (Sula leucogaster), members of the gannet family that breed on the coast and islands.  The mating pair lay two chalky blue eggs on the ground in a mound of broken shells and vegetation.  Pairs remain together over several years and perform elaborate greeting rituals.  The chicks are covered in snowy, white down when young, and are intensely curious, often approaching humans.

The low light before dawn proved challenging, necessitating a high ISO to capture the gentle pinks and purples.  Using a tripod enabled me to set up the camera, frame a shot and retreat, so as not to frighten the birds.  A tripod is also an imperative when videoing birds at close hand to eliminate hand shake.

A flock of boobies leave Adele Island at dawn

A flock of Brown boobies leave Adele Island at dawn

A masked booby on Adele Island on the Kimberley coast.

A masked booby on Adele Island on the Kimberley coast (© Annabelle Sandes | Kimberley Media)

A young Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster) rests in coastal grassland on Adele Island on the remote Kimberley coast.  The chick is still shedding the last of its down. (Annabelle Sandes/© Annabelle Sandes | Kimberley Media)

A young Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster) rests in coastal grassland on Adele Island on the remote Kimberley coast. The chick is still shedding the last of its down. (© Annabelle Sandes | Kimberley Media)