Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Birds should know their place!

Our trip is drawing to a close, and in addition to the normal watch-keeping and domestic duties, we are having to make decisions - some pleasant like deciding what to wear when we get ashore ... and some less pleasant like deciding which meals to make as all our meat has to be thrown out because of the Australian agricultural rules.

Bird visits reached a crescendo last night. For the second time, there was a bird who insisted on landing on top of the mast (he was silhouetted against the red mastlight - but flicking this on/off had no effect whatsoever). In addition a collection of very LARGE birds (far larger than seagulls) had mastered the ability to land on the solar arch without being inconvenienced by the large wind turbine. We used the air horn on them, but this didn't bother them in the slightest. We considered trying to fashion a slingshot to shoot frozen chicken breasts at them thus - getting rid of two problems at once - but in the end, they seemed to have gone.

It was later (at 0300 on my watch) that I went out geared up to do my exercises. I was startled by a large CROAK, the furious flapping of wings and a horrible smell. One of the big guys had obviously gotten trapped in a small space behind the wheel in the cockpit and could not take off. As this already happened to me a few years ago with two quite small birds, I rushed forward and got out my plastic music stand (music CAN be a useful skill) On that occasion, I'd gently lifted them with it and lofted them into the air. I still remember their huge, scared eyes as they looked back at me from where they'd settled in the boat's wake.

This time, however, I had a presentiment that matters wouldn't be so simple so I woke Larry out of a sound sleep as I rushed forward to get the plastic stand. Sure enough, when Larry followed me out he found the bird was far too heavy to lift with the stand. Larry explained that the ghastly smell was primarily the stomach contents which the bird had regurgitated in an effort to make himself lighter. That way he could take off on the impossibly small runway that we'd provided. {Larry knew the technique. In his fire-bombing days in Alberta in the 60s they left the bomb bay doors unlocked so that if they needed to gain altitude, they could drop the load of mud.}

We considered the tiny space, and decided we should somehow give him a 'platform' from which he could step up onto the top of the companionway steps and take off. So we released the lifeline gate back there, and Larry took a full garbage bag (that way if the bird imbued it with that horrific odor, we could place it in another garbage bag). With some more encouragement from Larry and a lot more rancid fish oil (these birds preen themselves with regurgitated oil, so every time he beat his wings he spread more of it around) the bird hopped up and took off - seemingly unharmed.

When I got up this morning, Larry was finishing cleaning a huge mess left on top of the solar panels which had to be scrubbed with a long brush. There were also the huge globs in the cockpit itself. The various birds who have found the top of the mast a welcome roost had not only left huge piles of feces beneath them, but had damaged the inexpensive visual wind indicator at the top of the mast. Mercifully, they left the pricey electronic version and the radio antenna unharmed.

That makes at least six birds who have inconvenienced us on this trip. There was the smaller black land bird who actually zoomed into the interior and past the sleeping Captain twice in one night, there were the two shearwaters who landed and spent the night together on the bow, there were the two birds who pole-sat on the mast and now this huge fellow.

Birds should know their place!

At 6/22/2016 23:20 (utc) our position was 17°28.71'S 156°59.04'E

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