Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Brushwood Island

John and Veronica organized the outing to Brushwood Island for all the yachts visiting Suwarrow. They graciously made room for us in the park skiff, along with the crew of Momo, an American boat with two young girls as crew, the first Americans we’ve met who have sailed with such young crew (their younger daughter was born while they were living on the boat in Mexico). Here are John and Veronica and two of their kids and Michelle from Momo on the way out to the island. Everyone else followed in their own dinghies.

Brushwood Island is a typical atoll island, a low motu made of coral. John explained that it is low enough that cyclone-generated waves periodically sweep right over it in the summer, which keeps the rat population down, and allows birds to nest here. The birds nest in and under the vegetation on the island. The first thing that you notice on going ashore is the tons and tons of sooty terns, both on the ground and on the wing.

There’s a school of thought that before humans showed up with rats, almost every scrap of land in Polynesia was this densely packed with seabirds during the nesting season. The South Pacific would have been a very different place, with millions of birds feeding in spots where we now see a hundred. Most of these sooty terns were recently-fledged juveniles. Here’s a picture of a juvenile (on the right) begging from an adult.

The juveniles were pretty clueless, in the way that newly-fledged birds often are, and very curious about the visitors to their island.

The little girls from Momo, meanwhile, couldn’t get enough of Elias.

There were also a lot of red-tailed tropicbirds around, both adults…

…and chicks.
The tropicbirds nested underneath low-hanging vegetation. It was fun to see how the nesting habitat of the different species was seperate, with boobies (brown boobies?) nesting on the ground in the open…

…and lesser frigatebirds nesting in the tops of trees and shrubs.

We’re used to seeing the same sort of niche differentiation at Alaskan seabird colonies, but there it’s the division between birds nesting on top of the cliffs, on the cliffs, and below the cliffs.

We also saw some fairy terns, and I was very keen to see their eggs or chicks, as, if I have it right, they just lay an egg in the crook of a tree branch without building any nest at all, and raise their chicks in that precarious way. But we only saw adults.

We wandered around for a while, then found a spot to just sit and soak it all in. There were always lots of sooty terns around.

And Elias practised his running, as he always does while ashore.

We could have sat there, well, for days, with appropriate rest breaks. But the others were ready to go sooner than that. My flip flops had exploded, so Alisa carried our whole kit back to the boat.
Where we joined everyone else for the ride back to Anchorage Island.

No comments:

Post a Comment