Friday, 4 April 2014

Sleeping with Petrels - Not

Day 6 cont. We had stuffed ourselves with Pizza for lunch, but now it was time to head back to the coast. We drove along an endless sandy track until we got to a bay with a couple of small boats, a shack and the remains of a large number of fish. Getting into the boat was a challenge but that was the easy bit. Most of us had stripped off, some more than others but this was not a time for modesty. It was practical to get as few clothes wet as was possible. Especially as you were going to sleep in them. Our guide and his girlfriend were great, as were the boatmen, in loading and unloading our kit and food.
It was a short ride out to the 'Petrel' island but quite a lively one, with huge waves breaking on the outer rocks.
Getting on board - the easy bit
Setting off and yes thats me in the corner losing my religion
Getting off the boat was a good deal more hairy if not downright foolhardy

 The island itself was only 6ft above sea level, flat and almost circular, perhap70-80 metres across at the widest point. It was actually getting on to the damn thing that was the problem. The boatmen manouvered the boat as close in as they dared but the water was still chest high as one by one we disembarked. We linked arms to support each other as we struggled over the slippery rocks but many of us got as ducking if a big wave hit us as we waded ashore. Much to the amusement of the wimps onshore. Anyway we made it and no harm done. Our guide put down a trail of wooden planks for us to follow, avoiding the Petrels nests and leading to a central area where we would spend the night.
The island was partially covered by sparce vegetation only some 4 inches high, underwhich the entrances to the White faced Petrels nest burrows could be seen.We set out our sleeping bags on the stone covered crusted sand and had our packed dinner as the day turned to night. It was some time after dark that the first White faced Petrels came in. Flying low, picked out in the red beam of a single torch the birds surrounded us, as more and more came in. It was a magical birding experience. The birds started to land on the patches of vegetation, very ungainly on land as they moved to their nest sites but beautiful little birds nonetheless.
All too soon it was time to switch off the torch and climb into the sleeping bags. Sleeping though was almost impossible, for me at least, trying to get into a comfortable position on the hard ground. As soon as you moved there was another rock sticking into you somewhere you didnt want it. And then it was dawn and then it was time to strip off all over again and then we had to wade up to our armpits and try to scramble into the boat as it heaved up and down. Everyone helped everyone else though, which was good and we were soon heading back to dry off on dry land. All together what you might call an experience!
On the drive back to the hotel we encountered an obliging flock of Black crowned Sparrow Larks and a photogenic Hoopoe Lark.
Hoopoe Lark
Black crowned Sparrow Lark - All photographs in this post courtesy of Michael Baker

After lunch, it may have been Pizza, we saw an Egyptian Vulture, a first for the trip. It was then back to the airport for the final time after what had been an extremely successful and enjoyable tour. The White faced Petrel was my 700th Western Pal bird, a personal landmark but more importantly it was great to meet up with some old friends and make some new friends. Thanks to them and to Vaughan for his organisation and tireless good humour.

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