The morning sunrise over the channel was spectacular – and what a relief to have clear sky and sunshine for the day. We photographed the frigatebirds soaring over the island and the channel, waiting for the wind to die down and for the birds to drop closer to our level before catching the strong gusts and cruising to higher altitudes. In the mid-day heat, when the tide was low, we walked across the lagoon with cameras on our backs in an attempt to photograph the mangroves and the colony from the topside (not underwater). We took the wrong route at first and rather nervously held our cameras aloft as we waded through water waste deep, but soon spotted the shallow ridge and avoided almost certain disaster!
The area is vast – a shallow lagoon fringed with mangrove forest and covered in rippling layers of sand and water. Two hours later we hurried back across the lagoon before the tide turned – too late, we discovered, the strong current was already pushing against our strides. Luckily it was still only at calf level.
After packing up (what seems to be our favourite past time), beaching the tin boat and lining our equipment along the beach we waited for the boat. I sat on my pelican case photographing the frigates again – they are masters of the air and perform great aerial displays from their dizzy heights, mainly to steal something from another bird. The frigatebirds intercept boobies, the Western Indian Ocean version of the gannet, on their way back to land after the seabirds have been fishing at sea and steal their catch by chasing them relentlessly until they regurgitate all their hard earned fish. They also pick on each other, squabbling in the air for pieces of nesting material or simply for what looked like just the fun of it!
Our captain did arrive, albeit late enough to make us wish we hadn’t given the tortoise the remains of our rice or emptied the juice cartons, and we motored back to Picard, narrowly avoiding another thunderstorm, and the luxury of the research station. We arrived at high tide; we are now back in Spring Tides so the tides are at their maximum range, and there was a swell pushing onto the beach that made unloading tricky. Rather than risk the equipment Gilbert moored the boat and we piled into the small tin boat for a ride ashore – piling out on the beach before being dumped by the waves. It was the IUCN team’s last evening and after a hearty supper with a glass of wine, the last thing any of us felt like doing was unloading the boat – but at 23h30 the tide was low and we trundled across the sand flat one pelican case after another.