November, 2011

Our work

Our work
You might be surprised to read that our work is far broader than nature reserves and Big Garden Birdwatch. Read more about what else we do.

Saving Species

The need for species conservation has never been greater. Despite notable successes in improving the fortunes of a number of bird species, more are being forced onto the list of those that need attention, both globally and in the UK. If we want to have a
  • Ascension Island – data logging masked boobies

    Today we went back down to Letterbox to attach data loggers to masked boobies to find out where they go when not sitting on their eggs – we have very little idea where they forage, or how far afield they travel.   (In case you are wondering, the area is called Letterbox because, well, there is a letterbox down there – these can be found all over the island in strategic locations and visitors sign the books inside.)  This time almost all of the Conservation Department came so that we could learn from Liz and do some scouting to determine future population count areas.

    Unaware of their pending stardom, Liz would nab a booby as it sat at its scrape, and it would end up pushed unceremoniously head-first into a canvas weighing bag.  We also took measurements of bill, leg and wing, Liz ringed them and then attached the small data logger underneath the tail where it is protected by the feet when the bird dives into the sea.  Once freed, the boobies made a bit of a fuss and then quickly settled back down on their own eggs – females honking, and males sounding like they are wheezing at the other end of a long cardboard tube.

    The loggers should record a location every 2 minutes for 3 to 4 days, so the plan is to retrieve them later in the week and download the collected co-ordinates for plotting.

    Back up on Louie's Ledge, we used the telescope to count frigatebirds on Boatswainbird Island.  Every other week, Nathan and Dane will come to the same spot and count the same sample areas on the island.  To do a full survey requires a trip onto the island, which is expensive and very time-consuming, and while a representative sample won't tell us how many birds there are in total, it does provide a consistent marker to enable us to follow the fortunes of the population as a whole – full surveys will probably be done every ten years or so.  There was plenty of action today, with males puffing up their bright red neck pouches in the hope of catching a female's eye.

    The birds here are very curious, and even the little fairy terns come almost close enough to touch, hovering just out of reach above our heads.  While we were on the ridge, frigatebirds used the thermals to rise up and check us out.  I like to think this was a fitting acknowledgement of the hard work we are putting in on their behalf!

    Signing out,

  • Ascension Island – tropicbirds, brown boobies and fairy terns

    A less strenuous weekend, Saturday we met Drew, a volunteer from the American Air Base, and headed out to North West Point.  In a landscape of tortured lava, yellow-billed tropicbirds make their scrapes in protected cracks near the sea, while brown boobies have turned the offshore islets white with guano.  Fortunately, it was overcast and we were spared the usual blistering heat that blasts up from the rocks.  It's an unforgiving landscape, and even brushing against lava scratches the skin, so we carefully picked our way along the coast.

    Nathan and Dane had marked out nests with tags, so we were checking progress and looking for new breeders.  The tropicbirds are remarkably sanguine about being photographed – and look at that amazing tail!

    Sunday we had a change of scene and went up Green Mountain, Ascension's National Park, to count fairy terns on the cliffs, passing through eucalyptus and mimosa groves in the pouring rain.

    With more moisture, the slopes of the mountain are covered with scrub and trees, and the very top yields a surprise – a massive impenetrable bamboo grove, surrounding a typical English pond, complete with water lilies and goldfish!

    The day's work done, we headed to the old Ariane rocket site for a walk along the coast, with waves crashing against the lava, and frigatebirds, boobies and noddies flying home above us to Boatswainbird Island.   The power of the sea was incredible, forcing up massive plumes of spray, and I found this octopus sheltering in a rock-pool.

    Today we are office-based, so no more news until Tuesday...when we are back down to Letterbox to install the sound system and attach data loggers to masked boobies.

    Signing off,

  • Ascension Island - decoys deployed!

    (Written yesterday, but I managed to lock up the computer by forgetting the password - not that smart!)

    We're back from Letterbox and a successful deployment of the first batch of frigatebirds.  What looks like a great tan is really a layer of Ascension Island dust, stuck fast with suntan lotion.  The day started early with a drive across the island, passing through groves of invasive Mexican thorn, avoiding sheep (non-native), rabbits (ditto...a bit of a theme here) and land's most disconcerting to be half-way up a mountain and find a crab happily going about its business.

    The walk down to Letterbox was amazing and mainly involved behaving like a mountain goat (not present on the island, rather surprisingly).  Here is Nathan crossing the cliff face – that pencil-thin line is the track.

    After 30 minutes or so, we rounded a corner and got the first glimpse of of our destination – not the headland in the middle, but unfortunately the one to the right, which not only involved going down on tortuous tracks and scree slopes, but also up again.

    We were lucky today as it was not too hot and there was a stiff breeze – it can be an oven in the gullies otherwise.  Oddly, there are cherry tomatoes growing everywhere, another invasive, presumably spread by the sheep, rats and birds.  As they shouldn't be here, it was a guilty pleasure to munch on the warm fruit.
    As the land started to level out in places, we came across the first masked boobies on nests.  This one has a tag in the background to enable the seabird team to keep track of progress.

    Eventually we arrived at the decoy site, on the cliffs above an area where the frigatebirds lounge about on the rocks.  Construction started – attaching wings and tails, filling the models with rocks, and hammering iron stakes into the ground.  Our one disappointment was blowing the fuse on the sound system, but we'll sort that out later.  Then all of a sudden we were finished!  The decoys look amazing and if they don't work, then nothing will.  We were all elated with the outcome, although this was slightly tempered when we realised that we now had to do the whole trip in reverse, and the majority of it was now uphill.

    Anyway, here I am again at the computer so we made it back safely with aching legs and filthy clothes.  Tomorrow we'll probably stay on the flat and visit the brown boobies and noddies at North West Point.  More on that later.

    Signing off,