Working for birds in Africa


Thu, 01/10/2013 - 21:51 -- abc_admin

Georgetown and the anchorage: Georgetown, the tiny "capital" of Ascension provides opportunities to see three of the four long-established land bird species. The anchorage and adjacent Clarence Bay can provide occasional views of most of the resident seabirds but is not an outstanding seabird site. Georgetown was the only site for Ascension’s newest introduced species. The first House Sparrow Passer domesticus arrived as recently as 1986. In the absence of recent sightings, however, the species may well now be extinct on Ascension. The much longer established Common Waxbill Estrilda astrild and Yellow Canary Serinus flaviventris are both present in the Georgetown area, and the highly adaptable Common Myna Acridotheres tristis is abundant.

The most obvious seabird around the anchorage is the island’s most sought after species — the endemic Ascension Frigatebird Fregata aquila. Frigatebirds, mostly white-headed immature birds, are usually present but may congregate around a newly arrived ship. Fairy Terns Gygis alba, Brown Anous stolidus and Black Noddies A. minutus, Sooty Terns Sterna fuscata (when nesting) and, particularly, Brown Boobies Sula leucogaster occasionally pass through the bay, but views tend to be distant. Tropicbirds and Masked Boobies Sula dactylatra are usually scarce.

Boatswainbird Island: Boatswainbird Island is a large, 100 m high stack of some five hectares lying near the eastern tip of Ascension. This is the only nesting site of the Ascension Frigatebird Fregata aquila. In view of its unique importance, landing on Boatswainbird is prohibited. It is, however, possible to charter a boat and sail round the island. Alternatively, telescope owners can obtain more distant views from the heights of the main island at Weather Post, Powers Peak and Letter Box though some may find the walk to these areas arduous.

In addition to the frigatebirds, Boatswainbird Island holds the vast majority of Ascension’s Masked Sula dactylatra and Brown Boobies S. leucogaster. The Frigatebirds and Masked Boobies S. dactylatra tend to occupy the central areas of the summit plateau, with the Brown Boobies S. leucogaster concentrated along the fringes. A tiny population of Red-footed Boobies S. sula, probably no more than ten pairs, also maintains a fragile toe-hold here. Red-billed Phaethon aethereus and White-tailed Tropicbirds P. lepturus, from which the islet’s name is derived, nest in crevices in the cliffs and share ledges with Black Noddies Anous minutus and Fairy Terns Gygis alba. Small numbers of Sooty Terns Sterna fuscata occasionally nest on the summit of Boatswainbird Island, though this has become less frequent in recent years. Madeiran Storm-petrels Oceanodroma castro make their nests in small cracks in the cliffs and in hollows under rocks on the summit but are rarely to be seen during daylight.

Mars Bay area: Ascension Island’s famous Sooty Tern Sterna fuscata colonies, known locally as "fairs", are concentrated to the south and east of the airfield, between Mars Bay and Pillar Bay, especially between South Red Crater and the sea. Smaller but still substantial colonies can be found on the west side of Mars Bay, between South Gannet Hill and the sea. Please do not walk through the colonies as this causes unnecessary disturbance and may expose unguarded eggs and chicks to predators. Ascension Frigatebirds Fregata aquila are always on the lookout for such opportunities and are usually to be seen circling the fairs. The Sooty Tern Sterna fuscata population at Ascension has an unusual nesting cycle of 9.6 months so there is no particular time of year when the visitor can be absolutely assured of seeing the colonies at full strength. The breeding period can, however, last close to six months so the chances of a visit coinciding with the presence of substantial numbers of terns is fairly good.

Green Mountain: A road, known as "The Ramps" leads to Green Mountain Farm, from which a footpath continues to the summit. Although the upper parts of the mountain provide pleasant walks through an amazing variety of introduced vegetation, including bamboo, banana and ginger, and fascinating views over the volcanic landscape of the plains below, there are relatively few birds. A small proportion of the island’s Fairy Tern Gygis alba population does nest in the larger trees, however. This species also breeds on the cliffs to the right (ascending) of the Ramps road. These can be viewed, albeit distantly, from Middleton’s Path. The terns are present in greatest numbers between October and March. Most ornithological interest is focused on the scrubby lower slopes. This area probably holds the highest density of Yellow Canaries Serinus flaviventris on the island, as reflected by Canary Ravine on the northern flank. Common Waxbills Estrilda astrild and Common Mynas Acridotheres tristis are also present in good numbers. The special bird of the Green Mountain area is, however, the Red-necked Spurfowl Francolinus afer. This small gamebird has probably become more numerous in recent years. It can be very elusive, spending much of its time skulking in thick cover, but is now being seen regularly. Spurfowl occur throughout the lower slopes of Green Mountain. Searches of the Ramps and the NASA road in early morning probably provide the best chance of sightings. The Grazing Valley area on the NASA road is particularly recommended. Areas of prickly pear and acacia scrub around Palmer’s, on the south-east side of the mountain have regularly produced sightings, but the site is less readily accessible. This area of abandoned small-holdings can be reached from the Devil’s Ashpit road. If you intend to explore this area and other parts of Green Mountain away from the roads, you may benefit from the assistance of a local guide.

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