Capturing the Diversity – Fairy Terns and recolonising the island

Here round the eastern flanks of Green Mountain is one of my most favourite parts of the island, and that is saying a lot for an island which I love intensely.  The terrain is a little softer than Green Mountain itself, it is a regularly sloping plain (save for a few very steep drop offs).  It is a mixture of pine trees (casuarinas) and guava bushes, with a few other species thrown in and both the composition of the immediate landscape and the rolling views out to the coast make it especially charming.  But we had more to do, we headed back along the upper path to the car park, and headed out once more, this time up above  the Red Lion and the Bishop’s Path.  We drove the pickup through the small tunnel and parked up at the start of the path.  Its route was wooded for the first part, but openings gave us fantastic glimpses this time to the west coast -the populated part of the island.  All four settlements could be seen, as well as the airbase and the power station up at English Bay and dotted about the multitudes of antenna, seismographs, dishes and radar, as well as the wind turbines, that littered the western part of Ascension Island.  As the walk almost circles an old volcanic ridge, we moved on to the south side of the island.  With their shrill slightly haunting call, and the ghostly white of their plumage, a small colony of fairy terns that live here were soaring through the valley below.  The fairy terns, one of the most beautiful of Ascension’s creatures, are the only sea birds to nest so high up and away from the sea.  Although their numbers are small, they are protected somewhat from the rats and the cats by nesting on a cliffside in small pockets that each year are worn further and further away by their activity.

As to the other seabirds themselves, once the main predators  of eggs and chicks had been suppressed, they seemed to regain confidence in nesting on the mainland once more.  At this time they are restricted to just a few areas; some locations down near where the Wideawakes nested, little patches along the north west and north east coasts close to the huge BBC masts.  The biggest concentration are down in the south east corner  – the most distant from the human habitation and close to the largest set of stacks and islands from which recolonisation could take place.

Capturing the Diversity – to the top of the Island

Edsel and I walked up beyond this planting site on our first trip, taking along Greggy from the Environmental Health Department.  One path, called the Dew Pond, reached the very summit of Green Mountain.  It’s a relatively short path but steep in places, and made difficult by the humidity and general sogginess.  The thick vegetation of trees and bamboo trap the cloud, condensing the droplets that then run along branches, drip of trees, down trunks and settle in a sodden mossy mess on the ground.  Even the boardwalk put down here is little improvement over the muddy ground, and you have to watch out for slips and slides.  The Dew Pond itself was another ingenious device of the early settlers who wanted to farm up here.  The water captured by the vegetation up here was funnelled into the pond and taken down in a series of small pipes and storage tanks to water the crops below, although the creation of the water catchments was successful on a far larger scale and largely superseded the Dew Pond.  The pond itself is almost completed surrounded by huge bamboo stands, and is laced with water lilies and guarded by a plastic green alligator.

The Dew Pond is where the local Letterbox is sited, the destination of a one of a series of walks publicised as tourist attractions on the island.  You can go higher, but the walk to the peak is a bit of a disappointment, there are no amazing views as the tree cover is thicker than ever, indeed even if it were not the top of the mountain spends so much time in swirling cloud and piercing winds you probably would see nothing anyway.  The peak is obvious – the path drops gently down on the far side, but just in case  you miss it, someone has put a piece of anchor chain up there – some macho runner who has gone from sea level to peak in twenty minutes with it around his shoulders, no doubt.  The path does continue onwards to a break in slope, and the scene opens up to reveal the eastern part of the island.