dub birder experiencing the ultimate Chatgasm aboard the mighty Pyramid. 10,000 Albatross, 1 Rock, throw in some guano and you've got a porno!! (pic by Dan Burgin)
After the echo of new years had just about reverberated out of my cranial stations a new vibration startled the old grey matter - a message, relatively out the blue, offering 5 weeks on the legendary Chatham Islands volunteering for the infamous Chatham Island Taiko Trust. If im honest they had me at 5 weeks! And so, it was thus, that I travelled, abreast a great ancient steel (or alloy, ahoy!) albatross the 800 or so kilometers of arid Pacific to the hallowed peaty turf.
A real place of isolation and lack of development, superficially untarnished by humans' destructive hand - looking wild and rugged as the wilds of Scotland or moors of the westcountry. An awing beauty, but of course like so many places across the planet, a misleading one. As this was, until the arrival of the various forms of people a completely forested island alive with huge abundances of seabird and terrestrial life, mostly endemic which soon disappeared with the bush and introduction of mammals and marsupials (aka predators/competitors). As such the work I was involved with echoed much of New Zealand's plight - predator control or exclusion. A really eye-opening experience and super rewarding to contribute to, knowing every dead Possum, Cat and Rat was exponentially benefiting the endemic flora and fauna that in reality has know adaptation or strategy of dealing with these recent introductions. However it wasn't all same as, with radical translocation projects of species like Chatham Islands Albatross (a critically restricted and therefore vulnerable crippling blow your tits off Procellariiforme) giving me the privileged opportunity to perch on the 'SHARP END OF THE WEDGE!'
It's difficult to describe the graft and crippling nature of the work and er nature, so here's some pics and garbled verse yo.
Endemic form of the New Zealand Fantail. Stonkingly common and charismatic.
Endemic Chatham Warbler, not too dissimilar to the mainland's Grey Warbler in song but clearly island pressure have transformed the (in my opinion) dullish Grey into a knee-cappingly good island hermit!
Chatham Island Pigeon, again similar to the mainland but bigger, fatter and brighter! Check out two-tone bill! suits you sir!
Despite the latent destructive impression of bareness where whence forest came before, it still makes for a rectal-tighteningly beautiful vista home to even more mega-triple neck spinners.
Chatham Island Oystercatcher, yes, endemic, again. Those bright pink legs were divine darling, went well with my sunburn dont you know pip pip cup of tea.
Although most of the Blue Penguins had departed after their post-breeding moult, this tardy individual provided an excellent opportunity to get reet up in it's grill. Some believe they are a different subspecies or even full species, looks like a 'normal' penguin to me though!
Chatham Island Pipit, fairly distinct from its mainland counterpart however not recognised as such. Great little birds that had me flinching everytime they called thinking a Dick's Pip was going over until I remembered I'm in New Zealand...
I spent a great deal of time whacking the old bush as it were (giggidy), enjoying some of this unique habitats residents including Red-crowned Parakeets, more specifically the Chatham Island 'form'. Totally criptastic birds, and radically different from anything native in the UK. As such I spent a decent bit of time learning their habits so eventually I may train them to form a super army to eradicate all I see as unfair in the planet. It didn't go well however, so I contented myself to quietly waiting and watching, getting more and more of a feel of there perky little green buggers behaviour and ecology whilst generally getting manic and tarnished by their beauty.
After a while I realised they were just bloody Crossbills with those honking great head-spades and all the frass and such that spilt to the ground! Funny to similarities you subjectively draw between vastly different birds.
Bluer than David Carmeron's lobotomized ballsack
With camp set amongst the rolling paddocks of the legendary Bruce and Lizz Tuanui farm, it was not uncommon for to see the odd cow, or sheep, or Lapwing (ps might be a sheep).
The hallowed predator fence, truly epic achievement by the most dedicated of conservationists. Soon to be teeming with tubenoses big and small whilst hyper restricted landbirds grovel within its protected confines.
Perhaps the moment I was most excited about was the chance to walk between Chatham Albatross on their only colony - The Pyramid. The purpose, besides shear sexual stimulation and bohemian pleasure was to translocate chicks to form a satellite colony in the newly predator fenced area on main Chatham, so all eggs weren't in the same basket, per se. Beautiful calm conditions dominated our skin for weeks for that persistent SW swell finally died enough to facilitate landing and removing chicks safely. A very long day but without a doubt one of my best. Check dem picture word two time sisters and brothers.
Get in a boat. See Buller's Albatross. Fantastic little Alberts that stayed with us for most of the journey.
Southern coastline of main Chatham complete with fogfall.
In the UK these may be Gannets, but this is the Chathams and they Albatross G! A huge swell and circling birds greated our approach to the sacred rock.
Thar she blows! Hard to see why it's called the Pyramid.
Rafts of them! The best Albatross!
Look at that bill against the clean grey and white patternation. Holy Chatham batman! Yes Robin I just came too. BBBAAAZZZZOOOCK.
Birds massing around the peaks. Nests were all over the rock with presumably younger, inexperienced birds nesting on the peripheral more accessible (for Skuas/human harvesters in the past) while older experienced birds in their prime got the prime real estates in the caves and cliff. True or not it was an unforgettable sight, sound and being a seabird colony - smell!
It is unnatural what these birds do to me. No, I retract that, it is totally natural! Appreciation of nature and birds is what made us humans great! While disconnection and unappreciation is what will end us.
OOOO MATRON! Postulating was common among the non-breeding courting birds at lower levels. Lots of feet slapping too - an artifact of porr walking ability or staking their claim who knows!
Holy Maccaroni Penguin! Look, there's bloody tons of them, in a colony, Albatross!! Trossing off mate!
Just cant get enough of that face colour juxtaposition.
Stick that on page 3 baby!
We had some time to quickly explore the colony before getting down to running the rocks and moving chicks from the selectors to the boat, so I jumped straight into an area containing both chicks with attending adults and courting non-breeders.The noises and styles blew every appendage into orbit. Holy Crap! It felt very special to witness the courtship of such a unique bird so far detached, in some ways (very similar in many others) from other seabirds I have been lucky enough to absorb. In particular that luminescent orange gape sent all my appendages into orbit! Virtual tubenose job! I tried my best to document some of this oinking and postulating and here a the lack-luster results...
Oh yeah and the chicks look like clowns! Friendly ones of course. They were hilarious and dangerous!
Like that crappy Mute Swan heart composition that everyone tries for but cripple-times better. A real hamstring bender of birds!
My last moment on the cock of a rock were spent craning the neck skywards admiring the gallions of birds circling and aborting landing attempts and retrying. It was spectacled in its aculation! Whatever that means. Blue skies, crisp Chatham Alberts, industrial rock all made for the ultimate clash of the titans which I duly desecrated with my my long hard lens. Unreal to the extreme. Get out there, help, screw your body and build experiences that will live within your bones infinitly.
Got on the old layering flex n ting blud clart reppin. Birds up and up and up..
Get ya feet out! Fleshy.
A Buller's even joined the party, not breeding on the Pyramid.
Synchronised aching movements threw my eyes and brain into a harmony rarely attained in this oxymoron counter-natural landscape. A trance which is as intoxicating as it is liberating for this ape of the sea. Yeah mate stick some verse in ya hearse of a brain.
With poetic intentions, or was it pure adrenalin powered sleep deprivation? We departed the holy land with the most precious of cargos, bound for main Chatham. Thankfully there was a fairwell squadron of pelagic eye wanderers to bid us adieu.
It's not all Orange conk this and tubenose that, there are brown familiar gull-like creatures too! This Southern Skua was one of a couple that I was uber chuffed to get some close up views of, cracking parasite!
Back on land some opportunistic seabird monitoring/porno work allowed some excellent Taiko and Chatham Petrel consumption. The old retinas were full those days I can assure you! Amazing to think these birds can locate their nests in the thick monoculture of heterogenius bush after weeks at sea. Hats off Taiko! If i were wearing one.
Cracking in the nest shot by Dan Burgin
A couple of nights were spent at Sweetwater witnessing a pantomime of courtship by Chatham Petrel, singing, a gliding together, truly mesmerising experience tweaking all the right places!
The mighty Morriori River
Crazy red fungi, did not sample.
Some free time was spent exploring various compass points of main Chatham with the surprisingly large island sparsely populated allowing human free viewing of cracking endems such as Chatham Island and Pitt Island Shags...
Post translocation the chicks settled well into their new colony and the daily positive conditioning by the 'blue beings' meant by the time I left they had stopped verbally complaining about having water, squid and fish shoved down their throats, with some even opening up and attaining bin dimensions! Luckily they clearly know we're arsehole humans as the defensive bill-clapping behaviour remained throughout!
Aint they cute!
Finally! Almost there, been to the toilet yet? Bet you need it after that scholarly length essay of ablog post. But lets not forget the insects. Equally pivotal in any ecosystem, especially insular ones. Lots of awesome moths which I shall not go into here so here's a couple of endemic damselflies and the Chatham Island Red Admiral to wet the appetite.
A riot of colour and of form!
A tip to the past, old Morriori tree carving in a rapidly degenerating piece of bush. A strange experience.
One final scan from the colony site where great seawatching was had on so many occasions, think I was paranoid about fog on this day so maybe checking the visibility!
All good things come to an end...back to the south island
Good night Vietman