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[Ashmore Trip 1] Day 15: Making it up as we go

June 6, 2013

[This is the fifteenth in a series of ‘Ashmore Trip 1’ posts, essentially diary entries. Internet was unavailable at the Ashmore Reef, so they are being presented one-day-per-day now that I am back in Melbourne.]


The Seabird Team, unable to track seabirds because of the nest-predation by hyper-abundant Silver Gulls, have all had to find other things to do today. R1 helped with shorebird counts (he’s by far the best at seabird ID of the PhD students). J1 and J2 set up camp near a booby colony to try to quantify the nest-loss rate to gulls. I opted to help the Rat Team set out their trap lines.

The method was simple: take pre-baited breakback traps and, as a group, set them out in a 4 x 5 grid, with one trap every ten metres. The main complication was that Brown Boobies were nesting along the edges of most of the grass patches that we wanted to place traps in. A considerable amount of time was spent looking for a gap between the boobies (technically a ‘cleavage’) where we could start each grid. For the last couple of plots, we were watched closely by J1 and J2 (through bird-watching scopes), to assess the effect of experimenter disturbance on gull depredation rate.

The work for all groups finished early (around 11:00), so we had a go at foraging mud crabs in the lagoon as we waited for the tenders to pick us up. These crabs measure ~20 cm across the top of the carapace, and apparently net $70 each on export. We collected a good haul – almost certainly enough for a dinner for the whole boat.

The ride back to the boat was uneventful, though those on the other tender spotted an ~2 m-long hammerhead, and took video.

We’ll head back to the island on dark, to see if we can bleed some Black and Lesser Noddies for molecular analysis.

Update at 22:00

We left for the island again around 45 minutes before sunset. Count Team counted noddies on the beach, R2 and A collected the last of the gear from near the frigatebird colony, and I, J1, and J2 attempted to bleed a booby. Our booby-bleeding was thwarted by huge clouds of mosquitoes, forcing a retreat to higher ground. We did manage to band, cloacal-swab and feather-sample the bird before retreating. Atop the hill, we liberally doused ourselves with DEET.

Once the others got back (around sunset), we shifted to hunting noddies for molecular samples. We couldn’t get any Blacks or Lessers, but caught and processed¬† ~30 Common Noddies: a good haul.

The return to the boat was a little hairy: sun had well and truly set, and the tide was a neap full, and falling. Because the tide was neap, the tenders could only just get over the sand flats while empty. Full, they hit sandbars several times. Several times, we had to get out and push to get them over the sandbars, our head-torches scanning everywhere for any sign of crocodiles.

Rather fortunately, any crocodiles who may have been present did not take advantage of their opportunity, and we made it back for the meal of mud-crabs.

Tomorrow, I’ll help the rat team again in the morning, and we’ll repeat the night-time noddy sampling. Plans are being devised for mist-net setups and locations that will catch Black and Lesser Noddies. Hopefully they’ll work. Hopefully also, we’ll continue to not be eaten by crocodiles. We’ll see.

PS: Thunderstorm on the Kimberley coast was just visible from Adele tonight. Dramatic.


From → Scientist

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