23 Apr 2018

23 Apr 18 - Atlantic Odyssey - Day Twenty Five: Ascension's Boatswainbird Island

Another early start as we were arriving at Ascension Island at first light. We probably arrived close to Ascension Island well before it got light, with the ship's crew leaving the final approach to the morning as it would be more interesting for the passengers. There was no point in arriving at the Georgetown harbour in the dark as there would be no opportunity to land early as we would have to wait for the island officials to come on board to check the Plancius's papers & everybody's passports. There are a number of nationalities that are not allowed to land at Ascension Island & one nationality is Russian. This isn't too surprising as the island hosts both UK & US military bases. We had one Russian passenger on the Plancius, but he was one of the four passengers who departed at St Helena to fly home.
Ascension Island in the early morning light
We heard from the Expedition staff as we approached Ascension Island, that we would be making a short stop at Boatswainbird Island. This is a small island just offshore from the main island which crucially has not had any problem with Rats or other introduced predators on it. Therefore, it has been a very important breeding island for the Seabirds. Obviously, this was a big highlight for most of the passengers. The island got its name from the sailor's old name for Tropicbirds which was Boatswainbird or Bosunbird. The bosun was one of the Petty Officers on a ship & often responsible for giving commands with his piercing whistle. The calls of the Tropicbird reminded the sailors of the bosun's whistle.
Boatswainbird Island: Boatswainbird Island is close to the main island
A closer view of Boatswainbird Island: The white colour is due to decades of guano
Most people were on deck to experience Boatswainbird Island
Martin from the Expedition staff
Kirk Zufelt (Seabird fanatic) & Bob Flood (filming for his next Seabird book?)
Jemi getting ready to take another of her 360 degree photos of people on the lower deck
As the Plancius got closer, it was clear that the top of Boatswainbird Island was filled with breeding Masked Boobies.
Masked Booby colony on the top of Boatswainbird Island
A close up of part of the Masked Booby colony
There was also another large Masked Booby colony on the mainland
A closer view of the Masked Booby colony
Masked Booby: Adult. This is the nominate dactylatra subspecies of Masked Booby which breeds on Ascension Island, as well as, in the Caribbean and on islands as far South as the Brazilian coast
Masked Booby: Adult
Masked Booby: Adult
We also saw the other two species of Booby that breed on Ascension Island: Brown Booby & Red-footed Booby.
Brown Booby: Adult. This is the nominate leucogaster subspecies which breeds on Ascension Island, as well as, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean
Brown Booby: Adult
Red-footed Booby: Adult. This is the nominate sula subspecies which breeds on Ascension Island, as well as, the Caribbean and Fernando de Noronha & Trindade Islands off the Brazilian coast
Red-footed Booby: Adult
Red-footed Booby: Subadult
The only White-tailed Tropicbird I had the chance to photograph was this juvenile on its first flight. Unfortunately, it clearly jumped too early in its life & ended in the sea. I didn't keep watching it, but suspect that it was probably feeding an Ascension Island Frigatebird chick soon after I took this photo.
White-tailed Tropicbird: Juvenile
White Tern: This is the nominate alba subspecies which breeds on Ascension Island & St Helena, as well as, Fernando de Noronha & Trindade Island