I saw my first Rockhopper Penguin today. Well two of them to be precise. They really do hop around rocks - unlike the African Penguins I saw near Cape Town which tend to stroll around rather nonchalantly. But Rockhoppers are much more endearing - they have orange and red ear tufts and look pretty comical. I'll upload a photo when I get a chance. And I almost stood on a sleeping fur seal. (Not advised - they can be quite vicious!) I don't know who got the bigger fright. But when sleeping they look remarkably like rocks on the boulder beach.
Possibly never in the history of plant recording has so much effort gone into recording so few plants. Today we decided to survey a 1km square which includes 'the ponds' - a series of three large lake filled volcanic craters on the north-east side of the island. Clearly visible on Google Earth - check it out. We set off at 6.45am and walked up the incredibly steep Pigbyte path. Its so steep that in places there are ropes to help you up. The going is hard because the ground is covered by a thin layer of peat and is very spongey. Anyway by 8.15am we were on the Base - the 2,500 foot plateau which encircles the 6,000 foot peak at the centre of the island (covered in fresh snow this week). The path then continues up to 3,000 feet before descending to the highest pond. It was great walking on a path on the Base - we've seldom had that luxury. We walked along the narrow ridge between the middle and the highest pond. What a great sense of place!
After spending some time with a large flock of loafing Yellow-nosed albatrosses - you can almost stroke them they are so tame! - we descended through our target survey area. From about 2,000 feet to sea level - through almost impenetrable scrub on a landscape of steep slopes, deep ravines and sudden drops. The going is very slow, difficult and dangerous. In places my rucksack would touch the ground behind me because it was so steep - and because my rucksack is stuffed full of survey equipment, gear for four seasons and usually - although not by then - a big packed lunch!
There are not many species to record on Tristan - it is so remote not many made it here (at least not without the help of man). The flora has a high proportion of grasses and sedges, few of which are in flower. We struggle to identify them from remnants of last year's flowers and fruits. From there we had a level 3km walk back to Edinburgh of the Seven Seas. Easy you might think - wrong!! It was possibly even more dangerous than the higher ground. We had to walk along along a narrow strip of boulder beach, between a literally crumbling, near vertical cliff face and huge South Atlantic waves crashing in over the entire beach in places. It was here we saw the penguins and seals.
Stats: 12 hour day. 10 mile walk, 3,000 foot climb: 55 species recorded, plus a number of vegetation quadrats surveyed and 4 herbarium specimens collected. A botanist's lot is not an easy one on Tristan. Ah well, another of the 100 1km squares surveyed!