Sunday, 9 October 2016

My experience as a Myna eradication volunteer by Maxine Little

The team setting up the traps
Coming into North on the staff boat, the first impression packs a punch. The water is impossibly blue and clear and the granite peaks stand out in stark contrast. Two months in, this place is still enrapturing us with its beauty every day.

As volunteers on the Indian myna eradication project, Jeremy and I spend every day outside, maintaining cages, feeding decoy birds and brainstorming inventive ways of catching the little buggers. The work is quite flexible and we tend to go with the flow a bit depending on how the day shapes up. Learning to relax and step into the slower stride island life is important but also good for us!

Myna birds ready for dissection
A typical day starts early, getting up at the crack of dawn to feed the decoys and bait the traps in time for the mynas to come looking for their breakfast. Back in time for breakfast ourselves, we take a break, input data or help out the eco-volunteers. The afternoon is busy, as most catches are found then. For each myna caught, we take their measurements and dissect them to determine their sex. We have become pretty quick at this and whizz through them in no time. You never truly get past the idea of ending a life but we do it with the best intentions and in the most humane way possible. This is by no means a pretty job and we come home covered in bird poo, blood and hairy caterpillar rashes, but the knowledge that we are making headway in this conservation effort is well worth it.

A king Myna (also known as baldie)
The decoys are a really important part of the trapping process and we are getting to know their little personalities; one I have dubbed Fatty as he cant seem to get enough of the food and even takes it from my fingers! The current celebrity is a Kingmyna we caught last week, aptly named Baldie due to his completely bald, yellow scalp, the cause of which is unknown.

Weve been really lucky to get wisdom from experts in the field such as Chris Feare who is a wealth of knowledge and the lovely Rachel Bristol who came for the day to teach us about blood sampling which weve been busy with since. My favorites, the sweet little barred ground doves, get a bit of a shock from the tiny needle prick and often when we have finished with them, they sit there in a daze, leaning a little to one side. It is funny to see but they soon recover and fly off.

Giant Aldabra tortoises interested by the decoy traps
What I like about working here is that every day can be different and unexpected. For example a few weeks ago we drove past Tarryn (one of the environment managers) and the eco-volunteers in the buggy and she called out something unintelligible about turtle eggs. Not ones to miss an opportunity, we did a quick u-turn and followed them to the beach where we spent the next hour translocating green sea turtle eggs away from the threat of high tides. Feeling the late-stage hatchlings moving within the eggs was an incredible experience. Nature tends to throw itself at you here, from the scarlet Madagascar fody that shares your table at lunch, to the bats that swoop low over your head, and even the occasional and horribly awkward and vocal mating of two Aldabra tortoises on the side of the road.

When time permits, we make the most of the islandI occasionally sneak off for a dive and Jeremy takes himself up one of the three mountain peaks. A swim and some sun over lunch never goes astray either. At the beach if Im lucky, I might run into Ange, the white-tailed tropic bird whisperer, who is always happy to show me the latest nests and fluffy chicks. Our day often ends sharing a sundowner on West Beach with the other environmental volunteers, a moment to slow down and relax. As we head home to fall into bed, our path is lit by the Milky Way, so bright and clear out here.

 Maxine Little.

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