Redonda, the Kingdom of Redonda, to give it its full and noble title is a very large clod of igneous rock providing a vista for several of the surrounding Caribbean islands, Montserrat, Antigua, Nevis etc, but rarely visited by locals save for her fishing grounds, nor yachtsmen without a slightly masochistic streak. Or a need to count seabirds. Think St Kilda except less fun to land on, but I suppose less of the Scottish gales we miss.
Katharine, Megan and I had been looking forward to this abandoned rock since the start, and fortunately after some pretty gusty wind on Nevis the wind settled in the North East and allowed us to sail down to Redonda. The anchorage is dubious, tucked into the south west there used to be a pier for unloading the mined guano and phosphates, and a post office (formerly with two token staff counting buttons or some such, the minimum infrastructure required to hold the island as a territory for Antigua). There is no evidence of either now as boulders cascade down from the 600' cliffs immediately behind, well into the sea. The pilot guide recommends anchoring in settle weather only as close to the shore as possible, and only for a lunch stop in settled weather. 3m swell working its way from the North East makes 100yds from the shore feel very close!! we squirmed about trying to find the mythical plateau to drop our hook into but ended up chucking it onto a patch of sand about 15m deep and hoping to set away from the cliff with the waves smashing next to us. Then in peculiarly British fashion and following years of watching dad we threw Lista into reverse and put down the hammer whilst intently trying to find a sight line to prove we had dug in. Grand. Our French kin folk seem to adopt a strategy of flicking off the anchor with a nonchalant "boff" and then lighting as gauloise and going down below to fix a glass of Chateauneuf de Pape well before the anchor has scratched the surface of the water, never mind loop a nice bit of coral for them. "Chapeau". Even with 70m of chain and an additional 50m on a stern anchor to hold us away should the wind change attached to another 40m of braid rope it wasn’t exactly stress free anchoring! 5 nights we stayed, 2 nights of sleep.
The first full day was too rough to land anywhere safely so Katharine and Megan completed aerial counts all day every hour as I fidgeted attempting to appear calm about our position next to the colossal cliffs. Aerial counts are brilliant and most practical for some species like the Tropic birds where the method allows us to assume a nest for a breeding pair by their very presence near a land form (if they are not breeding they are far out to sea, i.e. pelagic) if a count of actual nest is unfeasible, but there’s nothing like walking the land for Frigates and Boobies. Now then, behave class. We inverted some power from a very busy Wind Turbine and Kath and Megan spent the evening entering their data.
Day two Megan Katharine and I prospected for a little bay to land the dinghy, eventually finding a boulder beach on the south end to storm with a big splash and drag manoeuvre. Emily stayed aboard Lista Light with one finger on the engine start button. With 50m of climbing rope, rat traps, VHF, binoculars and water we traversed the boulders and made a slow ascent up the 60 degree crevice (ghaut is the local word) of unconsolidated scree and dust. Mountain goats roam here and are pretty nimble. a dead one quarter of the way up proved that even the best-in-class can get it wrong in loose rocks. not rock climbing but not far off!
At the top there is a plateau scattered with mining artefacts from back in the day, and lots and lots of lizards (endemic, rare ones apparently). Redonda was a dream come true and we got data never recorded before on nesting of frigates, much bigger counts on tropicbirds and masked boobies as well as a good number of red footed boobies. Basically a real beacon of hope and a feeling we are really doing some pioneering work. Without human pressure, goats and rats amount to the only introduced threats which limit the possibilities of Redonda but plans are already in discussion to eradicate - anyone got an air rifle and a few sausage butties and I’m your man.
We also are starting to get a look into the ecology and behaviour of the birds (something the schedule of our work would never allow proper scientific study of), we know a Brown Booby is likely to take flight at our presence and we must take extra care, a Masked Booby will sit tight under the most intrusive interruption, maternal instinct, or just as likely paternal as they share the parental chores, coursing through the brain above the desire to take flight. And we know a Red-Footed Booby will happily share a scrubby tree with Magnificent Frigate birds, despite their thieving (kleptoparasitic to use the correct term) tendencies. I digress, Redonda is about the wildlife so enough chat, just images.
We swam ashore on the next day with Emily this time as the boat wasn’t looking like wandering off in the reduced swell. It wasn’t an entirely brilliant plan but with the exception of a couple of bumps and bruises we got there ok. The "dry" bags were making slightly aspiration claims. We split into pairs and divided the island north and south, and completed a 100% count in a long day. Peregrine Falcons scoped above us, Kestrels watched on and our subjects seemed slightly bemused with our presence. The goats evaded my rocks at the last minute as always. “God loves a trier” as they say. Lista sat patiently in the bay below. Montserrat had a clear top and chuffed away on her volcano. We perched on cliff edges and counted the crap out of everything.
It’s a privilege to have landed to do this research, I hope not too many people do (old meanies) because this place, if left undisturbed, will provide a much needed helping hand to the birds to nest and folk will see the product of that all over the seas in the Caribbean and thousands of miles beyond. Plus the “anchorage” is grim and you won’t sleep much. And you'll break your dinghy trying to land it. And get eaten by rats if you do get there. And disable yourself trying to clamber up. And. And. And .. .. ..
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