Caring for Gough's land birds come rain, wind and snow...
Ever since my pal worked on Gough Island, it had been a place I had hoped I would one day be able to visit, especially with a love for seabirds being at the root of a lot of my work. With my background in island restorations and aviculture this project was the perfect opportunity to achieve this, and upon arrival as senior aviculturist in 2020, the island did not disappoint! This truly is one of the most incredible places I have ever lived and worked, with a landscape I never tire of as it changes through the seasons, and the most awe-inspiring wildlife spectacles surrounding us.
Having witnessed first-hand the destruction the mice were having on albatross chicks and seeing an empty cave where it should be filled with breeding prions, the postponement of the project due to Covid-19 was a devastating blow. This affected me to a degree I hadn’t anticipated feeling when having to return to the UK. However, this made me more determined to return to be part of this year’s effort to restore the island back to its former seabird safe haven!
Arriving as part of the first team on island I have been lucky enough to experience all stages of the process in 2021, including constructing the temporary avicultural and baiting facilities, capturing the safeguard population of Gough moorhen and Gough bunting, assisting with monitoring wild birds, and, most importantly, my main focus being the daily care of the safeguard populations before, during and after the baiting team undertook the bait applications across the island. There is so much to keep us busy the time has flown past!
The aviculture team has been working incredibly hard to ensure the best possible care is provided for our birds, with a love for the two species growing on a daily basis. It is hard not have a few favourite individuals as each bird has certain preferences, or provides us with new challenges and we get to know them through their time in our care, although one common factor for each bird is the amount of cleaning and feeding we must undertake for each. Who knew such a small passerine could produce such a large amount of poo each day?! I am very proud of my team, and various volunteers (from the baiting team) along the way, for all the hours and hard graft put in to ensure this area of the project is a success, and for the care and attention they give each and every bird we have under our watch.
As the baiting phase was completed, it was a huge milestone for the project, and as the baiting team left the island in August the aviculture team waved them goodbye, carrying forward the baton to continue the final phases of the project on island, and complete the work to safeguard the land birds.
It’s been quite the journey so far, and one I will never forget, working as part of a team with some of the most hardworking and inspirational individuals in my career so far! We still have a couple of months to go, and the moorhens and buntings in our care continue to do well, so we are looking forward to the day we can release them safely back into the wild. It will be a privilege, and I am sure a somewhat emotional moment, to see the first chicks for both land and sea birds reared on what we now hope is a mouse free island (although we will not know officially for at least another two years and probably longer). This is a project everyone involved should be truly proud of!
The team have had to work outdoors every day since taking the birds into care come wind, rain and snow. They've endured winds of 161km/h (100mph), temperatures of 2 degrees C, and had 140 mm of rain fall in one day!
This year the RSPB and its partners have attempted to eradicate the house mice on Gough and make it a seabird paradise once again. The project was originally scheduled to go ahead in 2020, but the coronavirus pandemic meant the RSPB and the Tristan da Cunha government had to abandon these plans and airlift the team home. With the delays the project now has a significant funding deficit.
If you would like to help close this funding gap, you can donate directly to the restoration project at https://www.rspb.org.uk/join-and-donate/donate/appeals/gough-island/
Acknowledgement The Gough Island Restoration Programme is being carried out by the RSPB in partnership with Tristan da Cunha, BirdLife South Africa, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (South Africa), the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, Island Conservation, Conservación de Islas, Manaaki Whenua - Landcare Research and BirdLife International. The programme is part-funded by the RSPB, the UK Government, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and other generous individuals and organisations.