Capturing the Diversity -The struggle to survive

As well as heading to Wideawake Fair with Anselmo, Edsel and I also went on a tour with some tourists led by Ray and Stedson one time and visited the Mars Bay tern colony.  The lava fields beyond the airport complex are probably the most Mars-like landscape on the island and again the skies were full of sooty terns coming back and forth with food for chicks.  How they ever found their offspring in the melee is a mystery, but I suppose birds must look down on us humans in megacities and wonder the same thing.

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Heading to the Wideawakes

We got close to the colony edge and could see some of the little fluffy chicks sitting, almost cooking, against the hot lava in full sunlight.  In amongst the thousands of sooty terns flying overhead, I could see the larger outlines of half a dozen frigate birds.  Their huge pterodactyl like wings and beaks silhouetted against the bright sky, they glided around searching for an unattended nest, then would suddenly swoop down.  One caught a fluffy chick in its long pointed beak and soared upwards with it. Immediately it was under attack by several  adult terns, and dropped the chick, who bounced on the lava, picked its feet up and tried to run.  But the frigate bird was down upon it once more, snapping its beak around the neck and flying off with it.  Some of the party I was with were sad to see the chick go, but it had to be explained to them that all the frigate bird was doing was feeding its own offspring.  You had no sentimentality towards the squid that the adult tern was feeding the chick.

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Frigates on patrol

You had to face up to a lot of the facts here – Ascension frigate birds are critically endangered, the sooty terns are both prolific here and elsewhere.  A frigate taking 40 chicks for her own offspring is a drop in the ocean compared to the successful breeding of a hundred thousand new terns each year.

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