27 August 2011

six minutes, seven days

ileearly 6h26. early is acceptable, even recommended. just wait…

ile0856h35. the importance of being on time.

ile0866h41. just six minutes later. in your opinion, it is a waste of effort to show up late for a sunrise. the difficulty of getting out of bed, the cold, the sleepy eyes… all that work for nothing if you are late! a sunrise doesn’t wait. it’s there, and then six minutes later, it is gone.

ile087a this morning you are tagging along for a comptage larolimi. larolimi? short for laro-limicoles, the family of shorebirds. terns, black-winged stilts, avocets, gulls…

ooo. this is complicated, especially in english. you’ll come back to bird species at île de ré later on.

this job involves hopping on  top of the reserve van with the longue-vue to count how many birds have coupled up, potentially will couple up, or have coupled up with babies along with their ages.

ile087well. not you, technically, as you can’t identify everything quickly enough, so your job is to listen and mark down the observations.

IMG_1877ligne deux, mouette rieuse, vingt-six couples, deux sternes, hmm, ah, je vois un autre, ajoute une couple pour les sternes, ligne trois, avocette, un couple, avec au moins un poussain de deux jours, peut-être plus mais j’en vois pas, un autre couple, un eouple, trois couples là-bas, on s’en fiche des aigrettes, un couple, un couple, ah, je vois l’autre poussain, ajoute 2 petits de deux jours, les sternes, je vois sept couples, hmmm, un couple peut-être, arque 1cc car je suis pas sure, pour les….”

this happens quickly. rarely does your chef breathe. you mark everything he notes, repeating what he says to avoid any errors.

[line two, laughing gull, twenty six couples, two terns, hmm, oh i see another, add a couple for the sterns, line three, avocet, one couple with at least a chick of two days, maybe more but i can’t see, another couple, another couple, three couples there, we don’t care about aigrettes, a couple, a couple, oh, i see the other chick, change it to two babies of two days, the terns, i see seven couples, hmm, another couple maybe, put down potential as i;m not sure…]

ile088then you go on a side trip to not only count birds but also to check out all the libellules. dragonflies. he tells you to note the blue ones as they are less common than the green ones.

ile088awhat you enjoy here – and what you’ll never forget – is it being completely silent. and as you walked through the shoulder high grass, hundreds of baby dragonflies would all float up at once. silently. if you weren’t looking, you’d miss it because you certainly couldn’t hear it.

broken[another brief île de ré pause] then, the unthinkable happens. your camera decides to stop. stop working. completely. and so here is a little goodbye to your favorite buddy for the past three years.

the next few days are spent considering your options. but you have to think fast, because your time on the island is dwindling down.

seven days later you’re back to making photos.

off to la maison du fier! on continue!

ile108back to the MDF. la maison du fier. it’s the former salt hangar that now houses a museum, reserve offices, and the LPO. ligue pour la protection des oiseaux. the league for the protection of birds. the french version of the national audubon society, basically.

ile110the LPO was founded in 1912 to stop the puffin massacre in brittany. because of their bright red beaks, they became an easy target for recreational hunters. a group of people felt compelled to put an end to such senseless killing, and thus the LPO was born.

but today the LPO reaches out much further than birds – it is about the environment as a whole. so all animals – bats, insects, birds, etc. are covered. ecosystems and plants as well. after all, in the circle of life, if you don’t protect the environment, you won’t have insects, and without insects, you won’t have food for the birds… so everything matters for the LPO.

ile093so here at the maison du fier volunteers with their gilets [vest] are happy to try and answer any questions about trails, birds, visits, etc. that you’ve got.

ile097there’s also a little aquarium that is known as le bébé de hervé. and if you are lucky, you might be present during feeding time. [hervé’s baby]

ile101upstairs, which is off-limits to the public (sorry), you can sometimes find injured birds that people will bring in. they only live temporarily here as the centre de soin [care center] is actually on the mainland and the birds must be transported.

ile103this afternoon you’re shadowing another comptage. same birds, but on a different area on the island. [count]

ile104teamwork is best.

ile105it still blows your mind how accurately they count.

ile106“137 couples de gravelots" [137 ringed plover couples]

ile107ah oui? moi je vois 139. regarde-bien a gauche, il y a une  couple juste derrière les tadornes là-bas” [oh? me, i see 139. look well at the left, there’s a couple right behind the shelducks over there”

you look with your binoculars, but honestly, you still have trouble differentiating between the bécasseaus, the barge à queue noirs, the chevalier gambettes, the gravelots…. while ignoring all the tadornes, goélands, and other birds that are not part of today’s count.

then you take a peek with the longue-vue. now you see the differences. but still, not well enough to count all the hundreds of birds so quickly!

ile114tonight’s dinner is a specialty from mayotte. from your favorite half mahoran/malagasy. who went all the way to la rochelle* in search of a huge fish plus some maniocs [yucca] and some plantains.

*the nearest big city on mainland france.

ile115then, in the middle of dinner, a pause poubelle happens.

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