Raine Island - Nature's Cradle on the Edge of the Coral Sea
Satellite Web Cast From Turtle Heaven and Hell
Journal Entry - 01- 29 - 03
Day of the Heron.
Director Hogarth on Herons : Today was the day of the heron - the night heron to be precise. They come to Raine Island at this time to breed, and their tidy stick nests are all over the central depression. You can stand at the top of the tower and through binoculars watch as they sit on their nests, or stalk through the grass almost like some predatory dinosaur. They are good looking birds, and both male and female have the long crest at the back of their heads. The herons were here when we left Raine in December, but now they seem to dominate the island. They stand and watch over everything, but their time is the evening when they know that the hatchling green turtles will come out of the sand. And it is the hatchling turtles that have brought the herons over to Raine from the mainland. On the winter trip I didn't see a single night heron - now they are everywhere. And when the turtles have completed their hatching, and the herons have fledged their young, they will leave again.

A heron triad on a hillock overlooking the central depression.
Today started for us at around 6.30AM, the sun was already up and it was already hot. The weather is kind at the moment, the seas are calm and there is little wind - strange weather for the wet season. It shouldn't be like this, there should be rising thunder heads and dark clouds and rain squalls, not calm and still days. First we sat and waited to get close ups as an adult heron came back to her nest. We sat a long way away so as not to disturb her or her chicks, perhaps only two or three days old. Our patience was rewarded, and after a shot while the adult bird returned to brood her young, more likely to keep them shaded from the fierce sun and from the ever present threat of the predatory silver gulls which are always on the look out for unprotected nests with chicks or eggs.

A heron runs down the beach front escaping with its hard won prize.
Later in the day we set up a blind on the southern beach, not too far from the tower, so that we could film and photograph the herons as they went about their evenings work. The hide was in place long before any birds were even thinking of their dinner, and Richard and Paul were both in the hide and out of sight as the day continued to grow hotter and hotter still.

Suspicion rules the day.
By around three in the afternoon the first of the night herons start to come out of the central depression where their nests are to stand patrol on the beach. They stand in ranks, looking in towards the centre of the island for that is where the hatchlings will emerge as soon as the temperature drops. By around five in the afternoon there must have been hundreds of birds standing guard, standing on watch.

A heron with a turtle hatchling about to flip it around in its mouth so it can eat it.
I was sitting on the beach some two or three hundred metres from the hide, and the only communication was by two way radio - whispered communication so that the birds would not be disturbed by any sudden noise. The idea is always to try and capture nature without influencing it in any way. And so I watched from a distance, I watched as the herons stood and waited oblivious to the hide, oblivious to the fact that they too were being watched by the clinical and cold eye of the camera.
At around six thirty the temperature had dropped and I could see the sudden flurries of birds fluttering to a certain spot and I knew that must be where a turtles nest had begun to emerge. I couldn't help but think of the effort that the female had gone to when she came to Raine to lay those eggs, the long journey from who knows where to get to this speck of coral sand, the long and arduous journey up the beach, the effort of digging her body pit and then the egg chamber, the gentle way that the female fills in the chamber once her eggs have been deposited into the warm embrace of the sand - and then the even longer journey back to the sea. And now all that effort seems to be for nothing as the hatchlings are plucked from the sand before they have even started to make their journey back to the ocean. The birds fight over their prey, there is a definite pecking order and dominant herons are quick to show their position to others down the order. And the hatchlings are taken one by one, held in the beak and juggled so that they can be swallowed head first. Nature can be cruel, but the turtles loss is the herons gain, for they too must survive. Yet I could not help myself thinking at what point will the herons dominate? I wonder how their numbers are growing as each year more birds know where to return. But perhaps a cyclone could blow all that knowledge away, and their is a cyclone named Beni far away, but we doubt that she, or he, will reach Raine.
And as I watched all this yet more turtles began their slow labour up the beach as the sun was sinking down to the western horizon. There were hardly any clouds this night, just the red orb of our distant star marking the end of another day. Now and again a turtle would pop her head out of the water drenched in the golden light of the sunset to ponder just where she should land to lay more eggs, perhaps more food for the herons in a month and a half. At one moment a tawny shark glided through the sunset water, probably also on the look out for food.

So the sun vanished, and then for the first time in my life I saw that brief moment when the last glimpse of the sun turned from red to green - and the day was gone.

But the herons were still at their hunting as I left Raine, to return in my own time my dinner. Mother Nature can be a strange beast.

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