Thursday 15 January 2015

On board Silver Discoverer in the Southern Ocean: Campbell Island Blow Out

View over Northwest Bay. Note relaxed hair and scarf!
Looking down from the high viewpoint at the end of the 3km boardwalk into rugged Northwest Bay, something was clearly wrong. We'd walked effortlessly up over 250m, through the grass tree 'forest' and over the megaherb tundra to see the nesting Southern Royal Albatross. The sun shone brightly and the view was glorious. We gathered for photos and just enjoyed the moment. What was the matter then?
Silver Discover at anchor in Perseverance Bay
Located beyond 52deg30', Campbell Island is well into the furious fifties and the daily agenda is usually a healthy dose of stiff wind, drizzle and mist. Instead, this 'walk in the park' is a rare event that has our Silversea expedition staff shaking their heads. On the last two visits here this year the walk to the summit was cancelled before the peak was reached. Violent gusts made it impossible to stay on the narrow, single-file boardwalk and pouring rain removed any pleasure in a victorious ascent.

Southern Royal Albatross on nest
Indeed, on my previous visit five years before, we revelled like kids standing at an angle while the relentless wind held us up. No such blow today. This also means that without uplift, albatross flight operations are suspended. Nesting birds instead sit serenely on their plots observing the curious mammals in red jackets come to check them out.

Landing site at old wharf
Back down on the ramshackle old wharf, near the old meteorological station, fur seals poke their heads up from the tussocks, barely interested in our passing, while young elephant seals cruise the shallow waters around Tucker Cove at periscope depth. Giant petrels, Antarctic Terns and the endemic Campbell Island shag are active all around the shoreline while in the shrub, pipits dart between branches while the super-rare snipe has made a miraculous comeback. Even more exciting, if that is possible, is the Campbell Island teal, the world's rarest duck. Tick that box too.

World's rarest duck (R Eime)
Campbell Island has a similar history to most of NZ's sub-Antarctic islands in that it was the victim of decades of human mistreatment. Feral animals including the usual cats and rats made short work of the nesting and flightless birds. New Zealand's expert parks team perfected the science of aerial baiting here before the technique was moved to Macquarie Island.

Next: Antipodes and Bounty Islands.

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