About Me

I'm a research assistant stationed on Gough Island in the South Atlantic Ocean. We are conducting research for the RSPB on birds living on the island. We will be here until late September or early October 2011. A map of the island can be found here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/niclemaitre/5381019736/

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Tristans and the St. Helena - 24 January to 30 January

This has been a busy week, with the Sagina work continuing apace. The anchors we use for (most of) the drops are 50mm scaffolding pipes driven into the ground. I was informed that they are very strong - "It took five people pulling to move one" - which to anyone with any experience of load hauling is not very much force at all. Better anchors are the Phylica trees and the Spartina tussocks (a bamboo-like grass) which we use when we can. So much for the "Health and Safety" forms we had to read and sign...

We also now are under a fair amount of time pressure. The M.V. Edinburgh will be here at the end of February to collect Ross and we need to have finished the inspections before that as the regulations (and common sense) will not allow me to do the work on my own.
Gough Island Moorhen, Gallinula comeri, adult male
We also did the monthly Moorhen call counts this week. This is probably the easiest part of the work on the island. The Moorhens are quite shy, and their nests are difficult to find making estimating their population size is rather tricky. Therefore, we have several sites on the paths around the Base where once a month we have to sit quietly for five minutes and count all the Moorhen calls in that period. The number of calls are then recorded and compared to previous years' data and population size changes can be estimated. Neither Ross nor I have all that much confidence in this method as it seems to be highly subjective, but in the absence of any other ideas we shall continue.
Tree fern on the Tafelkoppie path
The nice part of the Moorhen call counts is that we get to go up Tafelkoppie, behind the base (I have posted a map of the island on my Flickr page) and this time we were able to combine the Moorhen call counts with a scheduled trip to the small (10-20 nests) Tristan Albatross colony. We have to mark each occupied nest with a numbered plastic pole and check if each nesting bird has a metal leg ring and a plastic Darvic. The metal leg ring is placed on the bird and is unique. The Darvic is a large plastic band with an alphanumeric (i.e. G56) code stamped into it in large easy to read letters. We place Darvics on the nesting birds to enable quick identification with minimal disturbance to the birds.

Ross placing a Darvic on a Tristan. The egg is under his hat on the the extreme left of the photo, to protect it from the Skuas.
Prince, on top of Mt. Zeus
This was a really enjoyable trip up Tafelkoppie as Prince, the senior meteorologist, was able to come with us. This was his first real hike on the island since he arrived. We were really lucky with the weather and because we had plenty of time, climbed Mt. Zeus and were rewarded with a magnificent view. I shot a panorama from the top and have uploaded it here. My Photoshop skills weren't up to blending it together properly but if anyone feels that they can do a better job, email me and I shall send you the images.

The scale of features and the distances on this island are strange. Covering even short distances at the lower altitudes on the island takes lots of time because of the vegetation and burrows. When you get above 400m, into the alpine/sub-antarctic vegetation then walking is much faster (though you do still have to be wary of waist deep mud holes) but distances seem much further than they truly are. For instance, what looks like it will take at least 30 minutes to cover can be covered in about 10 minutes and the entire time you are walking it looks as if it will really take 30 minutes, until you walk into whatever you were aiming at. Hopefully, I will get better at estimations soon.

A Tristan threat display
The highlight of this week was the passing of the R.M.S St. Helena. She is on a tour of the islands, from St. Helena to Cape Town to Tristan and then back to Cape Town. She sailed past on Saturday and we were able to talk to some of the passengers who include my Grandfather's cousin Roger Le Maitre, a geologist who was involved with the risk assessment of the Tristan volcano in 1961, and Micheal Swales, an ornithologist who was one of the first scientists to study the Rockhopper penguins on Gough in the 1950s. The Administrator of St. Helena, who is in charge of all the British south Atlantic islands including Gough, was also on board and had many questions about island life and work. Sadly the St. Helana could not stop and was soon gone.
R.M.S. St. Helana
We had planned an even busier week, with a three day trip to the Tristan colony in Gonydale planned for the weekend, but the weather chose not to play along and we remained in base. I'm really glad we did as we have had nearly 100mm of rain since Friday and 60-80kt winds. Not nice camping weather at all. Hopefully we will have more favourable weather next week.

1 comment: