March saw the beginning of field work for the MIPEP team. Once we were field-trained, we soon headed out to start work.
The rabbit hunters and dog handlers went into their hunting blocks, while the rodent team (Ange, Leona and dogs Cody, Bail and Chase) with Dean as our guide got familiar with the island. For eight days we trekked down the island south via the east coast, then returned via the west coast. Along the way we were also setting up rodent monitoring lines, (tunnels that contain tracking ink cards and peanut butter lures) ready for the next time we would be coming into that area to work.
Our first stop was Green Gorge hut to meet up with Dean. Then we started heading south along the east coast to Waterfall Bay hut in nice weather. After a couple of days there having a look around we set off south again to Hurd Point. We picked our way for hours past and around royal, king and rockhopper penguin colonies, through tussock and the notoriously rugged coastline of Macca. The rodent dogs managed their way through too, the wind and rain hammering them.
After getting to Hurd Point and setting up our rodent tracking tunnels, we went over to check out the pretty hostile conditions and un-negotiable terrain of the southern coast. The weather was naturally foul, shortening our planned route somewhat, but we got a feel for the Macca weather experience none the less.
The next day was good enough for the team to start heading back up north to the west coast and up past more royals and rockhoppers. By the end of the day, the weather became pretty stunning, the wind had dropped and the sun was out. Making our climb up onto the plateau rather hot under the layers of wet-weather gear.
As we came to Tiobunga hut, we found it in a state of absolute calm, the calmest we’ve seen the island since we arrived. The lake in front of the water tank hut was as still as a millpond. With dogs in the kennel and dinner in our bellies, I discovered sleeping up in the top bunk of a water tank hut is not entirely favourable.
During the night we could hear the wind come up sharply. By the morning it was quite the inferno of wind outside the hut. We listened on the radio for the weather forecasts and heard how other teams were struggling with the weather even on the east coast so it was decided we wouldn’t be attempting to get over the escarpment for a while yet. We stayed bunkered down at Tiobunga.
Rodent dog Cody wasn’t sleeping in his kennel anymore, he was standing out in the wind rather unhappily. Eventually Ange moved him to another kennel, thinking he might be more comfortable there. Less than half an hour later the very kennel that he had been afraid of rolled away in the wind towards the lake. I think Cody was trying to tell us something, lucky dog! After this, we discovered that one of the aerials on the hut snapped in half as well: the winds were incredible.
By mid-afternoon the wind had settled ever so slightly. We decided to head out towards the escarpment jump-down into Sandell Bay and make our way along the coast to Davis Point hut. We were treated to an amazing sunset on our arrival as it descended behind the six metre waves still hammering the west coast.
The next day we got up bright and early as we had a big day ahead of us. We were still on the southern side of the map, not even halfway up the island yet, and our destination was the station that day. It took until we were at Eitel hut for lunch when we could finally just use one side of the Macquarie Island map.
We arrived back at VJM by the end of the day. The dogs were pretty keen to get into their kennels and out of the elements.
Leona and Ange