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A Brown Noddy seeks shelter on the Odyssey, taking a break from the high winds.
Photo: Chris Johnson

June 14, 2002
A Port in a Storm!
  Real Audio

Log Transcript

This is Genevieve Johnson speaking to you from the Odyssey as we search for whales in the central Indian Ocean.

It has been a rough and rainy couple of days tracking sperm whales 160 miles east of Diego Garcia in the Chagos Archipelago. Regular squalls have seen the crew wearing wet weather gear on deck, not exactly what we had been expecting only 8 degrees south of the equator.

Late yesterday, we crossed paths with a fellow ocean traveller, which by its ruffled appearance was tired from fighting the high winds and seas. It was a fragile, fluttering Brown Noddy that spun and tumbled through the blustering gale in what appeared to be a desperate attempt to land aboard Odyssey. Unfortunately, the boat was rolling violently in the wind and waves, which made any attempt to land a challenge to the little bird. It was sunset and the Odyssey must have appeared as a welcome port in a storm to this gale-weary creature.

After several unsuccessful tries, the first of which resulted in the Noddy plummeting feebly into the swell, it finally managed to make a triumphant although somewhat shaky landing on the heaving handrail. It could barely keep its balance, its tail feathers rising and falling with the movement of the boat, its legs spread wide to lower its center of gravity, as 30-knot gusts slammed across the aft deck, hitting the bird squarely across its chest. We all watched with bated breath, thinking the little bird's fragile legs too weak to hold out under these conditions. From its worn, dishevelled appearance, we could only imagine what it had been through.

Regular squalls have seen the crew wearing wet weather gear on deck, not exactly what we had been expecting only 8 degrees south of the equator.
Photo: Chris Johnson

We couldn't bear to leave it to the elements and when Jacob walked over to pick it up it made no objection, readily accepting the assistance. We moved the exhausted creature to a sheltered corner on top of the aft starboard deck locker, and by morning, our temporary guest had left-apparently recovered sufficiently to take flight once more.

The Brown Noddy is a tern of sooty-brown color with a wedge shaped tail and a whitish cap. The species got its name from its behavior during courtship when two birds face each other and 'nod' furiously, showing off the pale plumage on their foreheads. The Noddy spends the majority of its life flying above the sea, in either coastal or mid-ocean waters, occasionally sweeping low to bathe or to settle on the surface for a short period. We have seen these birds wherever we have sailed in the tropics, but unlike the numerous boobies and occasional petrels that have used Odyssey for resting, or at the very least as a convenient perch, this is our first visit from a Brown Noddy.

Usually, Noddies spend their daylight hours hovering at the surface in search of small fish and squid, which they snatch from the water with their long sharp bills. Then, as the sun begins to set, they head towards shore where to perch for the night on a rock or tree. Throughout history, mariners have relied on these birds to find the land: it is the direction towards which these birds fly in the late afternoon.

It seems likely that Brown Noddies may once have bred on all tropical islands, but they have been wiped out in many places because they and their eggs are good to eat. Introduced pests such as rats and cats also kill both adults and chicksd.

The crew were very pleased to be able to assist at least one of these delicate seabirds!

Log by Genevieve Johnson

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