Alone at Sea with my Terns

Crested Terns.

I do not know where I would be without the forever present Crested Terns to keep me company. A large Tern with an easily distinguished pointy bright yellow bill they are the ‘Aussie locals’ and range well out to sea as well as along the beaches and inshore in the estuaries. I see them with Silver Gulls around the boat ramp where I launch my boat and I see them resting in the estuaries on sandbanks. Interesting Silver Gulls, birds which almost everybody commonly call Sea Gulls, never venture very far to sea and I never see Silver Gulls offshore where I work and I would suggest they are more ‘land loving’ birds.

Many Crested Terns make the journey offshore to fish everyday and are one of the very few birds which will rest beside me on my boat, at which time I say as one Aussie to another “G’day, how are you today?”  At the end of the day when I discard my bait Crested Terns will suddenly appear from nowhere and very often startle me as they will dive from above and miss me by inches to gather a piece of free tucker from the sea next to my boat.


The first fish caught is immediately swallowed but I have noticed that Crested Terns will drop and re catch the second or third baitfish, sometimes a number of times. I believe that they are weight testing for flight before swallowing, if it is too heavy the fish will be discarded and the Tern will try and catch a smaller fish. I caught this one in the act.

I have even begun to learn Tern talk, there is a loud piecing whistle which means “I’m here, have you any discarded baitfish for me today?” Late afternoon is also the time of day the predatory sharks are most likely to be lurking nearby. This is when Crested Terns will sound a loud alarm like warning cry for sharks which means “Do not dive into the water there are sharks” and once one Tern sounds the shark warning cry all will stop diving in the water for my leftovers. When I first heard this cry I became excited for I thought I had a visit from a new bird I had not seen before and it took me quite some time to understand what the meaning was. Next time the sharks showed up while the Terns were above there was that same cry again and there was no way not even one Tern would venture into the water for a piece of my discarded bait. It is always gratifying to decipher things like this and now when I hear this cry I instinctively  look around for sharks.  

I have also heard Crested Terns sound a soft high pitch cry for Jaegers which means “Do not bother fishing because there is a Jaeger here”. Jaegers are powerful ‘bully’ birds that make a living by harassing other birds which have just scored a meal. If a Tern plucks a fish from the sea the Jaeger will power in and relentlessly pursue the Tern, persistently matching every turn, climb and dive in an aerial dogfight which may last several minutes and is ever most fun to watch but which the Jaeger always wins for there is only one outcome as even the most dogged Tern will finally, even if swallowed, hand over its bounty. Many Terns have learnt that it is useless to even try to evade a pursuing Jaeger and will instantly give up their bounty to avoid a battle which always ends in defeat.

The fact that the Terns will not even bother to fish is understood by the close by Jaeger . The Jaeger now aware that he has been spotted and has lost the element of surprise will move away. However the Terns know about this trick and will still refuse to fish. Realizing the standoff is at a stalemate the Jaeger will move further away until it is just a dot on the horizon. Sooner or later one Tern will decide that it is safe to fish again and will swoop down and pluck a fish from the sea. But the Jaeger now ever so far in the distance knows precisely which Tern scored a fish and now powers in on an intercepting course and as always persuades its mark to give up the bounty.


White wing Black Terns and Common Terns.

Late Summer and Autumn one can observe incredibly vast flocks containing thousands of White winged Black Terns and / or Common Terns off the coast of southern Queensland. I see these flocks mostly within about eight miles of shore when motoring home. They will be feeding on the small baitfish being herded to the surface by pelagic fish such as Tuna and Mackerel. Both of these Terns migrate here from their breeding grounds all across the Northern Hemisphere and these amazing Terns may arrive here from as far away as Siberia.

Richard Freeman.


Framed Prints of Terns



Terns at Currimundi Lake.


Only a five minute walk from where I live at Currimundi is an important resting place for Local and Migratory Terns. For as long as I can recall there has been a large sandbank or sand plug at the entrance to Currimundi Lake where one can observe good numbers of resting Terns and is a great place to easily ID the many different Terns as they rest side by side. I have obtained this photo below when many of these different terns were using this sandbank to take shelter from gale force winds which were blowing at sea.

This sandbank has been here for eons however in recent years our local Council regularly attempts to remove part or most of this entire sandbank which in turn Mother Nature returns. I’m sure this disrupts the Terns here as I see the numbers declining. 

I hope for these wonderful Terns which may have astonishingly flown all the way from areas as far as Siberia that Mother Nature has her way.             



Alone at Sea with Humpback Whales.

Alone at sea with Sharks.

Alone at Sea with my Dolphins.

The Wreck of the ‘’SS Dickey”.

Alone at Sea with my Gannets.

Alone at Sea with my Fairy Prions.

Alone at Sea with my Albatross.

Alone at Sea with Jellies and Stingers.

Alone at Sea with my Giant Petrels.

Alone at Sea with my Storm Petrels.

Alone at Sea with my Terns.

Alone at Sea with Jaegers and Skuas.

Alone at Sea with the Shearwaters.

My 5.6 metre Shark Cat.

Weather at Sea.