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The Sooty Tern uses its body to cast a shadow in order to protect its young chick from the blazing equatorial sun.
Photo: Chris Johnson

November 29, 2000
Roger Payne Visits Hull Island
  Real Video
  56k - 200k

Log Transcript

Here we are now at Hull Island, it's in the Pheonix group and it is a deserted island now because there was a human settlement here for awhile, 1939-63. But, they gave up and left it back for its orignial owners, which are fishermen; terns. Also back in the woods, these are Sooty Terns, and then back in the woods, there are Fairy Terns and other species of birds as well. It's a fabulous place, loaded with bird life and I think, if I can tell from the way I feel right now, that this is going to be about the hottest place I have ever been to in my life.

This place is a blizzard of sooty terns. They nest at the back of the beach beyond the reach of the highest tides.

Finding a wreck like this in so remote a place disturbs any sailor. Particularly the bent propeller blades-evidence of the panic of the moment frozen forever in time. Engraved on the prop is the date it was made, 1965, France, 11,000 miles from here. Did it come through the Panama canal" or around one of the stormy capes? Mysteries.

Maybe the ancestors of these terns saw it arrive, and could tell us. But they have more important concerns-providing shade for their chick in the burning sun. This recent hatchling found shade under a stick. But it's the wrong shape. Or perhaps the chick is.

As they approach each other, its parents make strange bowing movements. The chick moves in under them, and they stand still, which is important so the sand will have time to cool. Away from the shade it is probably too hot for the chick to stand on for more than a few minutes.

Its impossible to imagine but these waddling creatures with wing stubs will become the ultimate masters of long-winged flying grace. But to achieve that they must somehow avoid being cooked on the griddle of this blazing hot beach. It's life at an extreme.

Well, we had a wonderful time, but hot, man was it hot there! So we are going to go back to the Odyssey and sail away from Hull Island, a beautiful place, as wild and deserted a spot as I have been in my life, and I think it is as many birds as I have seen in one place. It's just a jewel - of the Pacific.

Log by Roger Payne

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