Thursday, July 16, 2009

Meyer Islands

Last weekend we had the strongest winds in a year – more than 50 knots was recorded on the anemometer at Met. By Wednesday the bad weather was all a distant memory and the sea had almost calmed down, so we headed off to the Meyer Islands in the two boats to do some weeding.

Meyer Islands viewed from our base
The Meyers are not far offshore at all, but far enough to have escaped the worst depredations of the rats, cats and goats that ran riot on Raoul. The islands’ landscape has been shaped by the millions of seabirds that nest there, most of them burrowers like our own muttonbirds. This means that the ground is almost completely honeycombed by nesting birds and very prone to collapse under the feet of the unwary weeder. Perhaps because of this, it is also steep, soft and crumbly and if you add to that heady mix the prospect of an earthquake (small one yesterday, mid morning) it makes for an exciting time on the hill. Normally we can rely on trees, particularly the ever-reliable pohutukawa, to provide us with a solid hand- or foot-hold, but in this terrain even they seem to have had trouble establishing themselves.
'Jabba the Hutt' on the main ridge of the island

All movement was slow and cautious, mainly because no-one wanted to crush any of the thousands of furry puffballs that were baby petrels on the ground or in the entrance of burrows. Even the adult birds appear to have no fear of people and just emit the occasional warning squawk if they feel you are stepping too close to their nests. Or maybe it was the “feed me” squawk – who can be sure?
John Mac and friend

Birds zoomed in and out all day. They have a distinctive putt-putt squawk like a Vespa throttling back as the lights turn red.

Anyway, all this talk plus a little incident before breakfast* elicited an interesting discussion at the dinner table – should we even have been there? Was our haul of gangly alien buttercup plants worth the potential damage to the birds and their burrows? Essentially the “Twitches” thought ‘No’ and the others were more cautious in their judgements. One view asserted that we humans were part of nature too and that death and killing were unavoidable realities. Craig had a useful and pragmatic response – that good intentions and careful actions in an attempt to fix the thoughtless damage done in the past will always be worthwhile.

Ah, the dilemmas of modern conservation!

*The Breakfast Incident – as predicted by yours truly some days back, the East Side Pukekos dealt to Boy George yesterday morning. This was a major showdown, four of them on to him and feathers flying everywhere. Gaye heard the ruckus from the kitchen and came rushing out to the rescue (“They’ll kill him! They’ll kill him!”) while I was busy saying “No, No, you can’t intervene!”
She was restrained from administering mouth to beak resuscitation and BG limped away to contemplate his position and maybe fight again another day.

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