Shelley McMurtrie's blog

signing off from Campbell Island for the last time

Pleurophyllum in flower
Southeast Harbour
Monument Harbour from Pizeau Peak
Shelley sampling
Itchy nose
Sea lion
Sea lion
Campbell Island Shag
Campbell Island Teal
Yellow-eyed penguin
Campbell Island Snipe
Farewell party

The field component of our CIBE programme is almost complete. Tomorrow (the 8th February) we will be loading our gear onto the Naval vessel HMS Wellington and leaving the shelter of the Perseverance Harbour on the 9th to head back home.  

This will be my last before making the trip home, as tonight the BGAN satellite will be packed away ready for loading. There are many blogs and videos yet to come, to cover all the trips and experiences here, but they will have to wait until I get home.

We have packed up all of our field gear and most of the food, and have a day of cleaning around base before loading day arrives, so most of us now are hanging around base trying to do what we can before the madness of loading day. It seems strange now with our departure looming, as my thoughts are straying ever more often towards home and to seeing loved ones again after a 9 week hiatus. But this has been the most amazing experience and I feel very privileged to have been here for so long and to have been able to study the many streams on this island that literally weeps water.

These are just a few piccies that I am fond of – more will come once I am back home.

Shelley signing off from Campbell Island for the last time!

[Shelley McMurtrie]

An ascent of Mount Honey

New plant record
Albatross on north face
Lunch time
On summit of Honey
Honey summit view
Matching photo points
Plant transect
Two tarns to sample
Tarn sampling

Today dawned in spectacular fashion with calm waters and not a cloud in the sky. Given the fine, windless day and the arrival of the Orion tourist ship, a planned trip up the Col Ridge with botanist Colin Meurk was soon changed to an ascent of Mt Honey from the north face, rather than the usual track up the west flank. Mount Honey is often covered in clag (low cloud) so we had to make the most of the perfect conditions to get up there, and with the arrival of the Orion ship there was the added bonus of cutting three hours off the trip by a quick boat ride across the harbour.

The boat left us at the north-facing foot of Mt Honey with the peak looming above us at 11.30am. This was a special moment for two reasons:
1)  This was the first time I had worn my tramping boots instead of waders and the comfort and ease of walking was delectable.
2)  This was a symbolic day for Colin and I. Heading to the top of the highest peak on Campbell Island together; after three years of fundraising, organising, and generally doing the hard graft; would be a moment to celebrate our achievement of making this trip a reality.

The day had another special moment in store for us as Colin found a new species record for the island soon after we started the ascent of the revegetated south slip – a diminutive grass (sorry Colin, I have forgotten the name, but most certainly a photo moment anyway)!

The slopes of Mt Honey soon steepened into bluffs covered with Bulbinella and snow grass (Clinocloa) and my height issues were challenged as we scrambled up vertical bluffs - albeit only several meters high, but with a 200 m high steep slope below that gave plenty of scope for one to splatter amongst the lovely ferns covering the hillside (what pretty patterns it would make), and a 1.5m long kicknet on the side of my pack that liked to get stuck in the vegetation at the most inopportune nail-biting moments. With a last climb up a bare slip face and comparatively easy walk up the west ridge we reached the top of Mt Honey. As we stepped onto the large rocks atop the ‘mountain’ the wind dropped away, the sun shone through a blue sky, and 360 views that seemed to reach to the edge of the world awaited us. I could think of no better way to celebrate our achievement than to stand at that point on such a day, and it was nice to think that the island turned out this day just for this very moment.

But work awaited us and so we made our way along the east ridge, re-sampling Colin’s plant transects and photo points, before dropping down on the southern slopes in search of tarns for me to sample. The south slopes were marred with peat scars, interspersed with low growths of Bulbinella and P. hookeri, with Royal Albatross wheeling overhead. I found two sizeable tarns on the southern branch of the hill overlooking Southeast Harbour where I collected water, sediment, and invertebrate samples, and notes for Krystyna to possibly return to core. At 6.45pm we finally packed up our gear and made our way back up Mt Honey and the long walk home around the head of Perseverance Harbour. The conditions continued to remain accommodating, with a wonderful twilight sky and exceptionally low tides around the Harbour, allowing us to reach base and a cup of tea by 10.15pm.

[Shelley McMurtrie]

Farewell to the Maia

Bringing the Maia's tender aboard
Eddie - Maia crew member
Maia's plush interior
Alex and Shelley
Alex and Annabel
Garden Cove team photo
Colin, Shelley, Ben, and Annabel
Farewelling the Maia
Maia at anchor

It is 10.30pm and I am just back from taking photos in the waning light and persistent drizzle. The base is quiet with the Maia having just left, sounding its fog horn as it lifted anchor and drifted off into the rain and mist. In a way it is like the silence that descends on a house when the kids have gone back to school, that seems all the more quiet after the fun and laughter of the school holidays (funny I should be using that simile given that I have no children of my own!). With our original nine team members, the extra four that arrived with the Maia, the two visiting artists Annabel and Ben, and the four Maia crew, the Met Service building was bursting at the seams, and it felt like it was reliving a measure of its heyday when the base was permanently manned.

The last four days have been a great and busy time, with the teams that arrived hitting the ground running. The history team especially didn’t have a moment to recover after their arrival – with only three weeks to get their extensive programme completed they were out the first day here (in the wind and the rain that hasn’t ceased since the Maia arrived) and didn’t get a break-day until today. Ben and Annabel I think reveled in their time here, and we all enjoyed their company and enthusiasm for this magical place. We look forward to seeing what great works will come out of this trip (of course no pressure guys!).

For me this changeover rings in a different direction for my freshwater research. With the arrival of Krystyna Saunders and the departure of Alex James, we will be moving away from the babbling brooks and trickling streams of the island, and looking instead at the tarns and small still-water bodies.
It was sad to see the Maia leave harbour and disappear into the twilight, but I am glad that I remain here for the duration of the trip. I can feel the days ticking down with an ever increasing speed and there is still so much to do - not only regarding my freshwater research, but also the videography and photography that makes this trip memorable for our expedition members and followers alike.

[Shelley McMurtrie]

A time honoured tradition

CIBE Team plus Artists
CIBE Team plus Artists and Maia Crew

With the Maia here for four days we had the opportunity to follow the time honoured tradition of taking an expedition team photo. The usual place for this is down at the wharf by the ‘Welcome to Campbell Island’ sign, but the island had other plans for us. We awoke this morning to steady rain and low cloud that gave the definite impression that it had comfortably settled in with its feet up, and had no intention of moving on for some time.

The process of taking any type of large group photo is much like herding cats (e.g., an unpleasant experience at the best of times) and the likelihood of 13+ people happily standing about in the wind and rain for a photo shoot had about the same probability as winning Lotto. So we opted for an ‘outside’ shoot on the DOC Annex porch, which while out in the elements was at least next to the building and in the dry. Thankfully Ben (one of the artists on the Maia mid-term resupply) was there to help me herd people into the perfect spot within the small confines of the porch, without anyone coming to blows.

So we have made it through the halfway point of the expedition, and through the photo shoot - two great milestones!

[Shelley McMurtrie]

The little things in life

Hooker Valley
Time For A Rest
Mrs. MacGyver
Water Sampling
Ready To Head Back To Base
Mt Faye Saddle
Grateful For Waders
Getting Closer To Base
Time To Rest

After a four-day trip away to the northern extremes of the island we were on our way home again. We had traversed and sampled a part of the island seldom visited by people – Hooker Stream that runs through the Hooker Valley. With the local name of ‘starvation valley’ I guess it is no surprise that not many people decide to frequent this part of the island (or return if they do), but I was thoroughly chuffed we made the effort.

On the final trek home with a pack overloaded with samples, and having clocked up around 30km stumbling through sucking quagmires, hopping across chest-high sedges, falling into 2m holes (in the case of Alex James), and bashing through head-high thick draco - all in thigh waders - I was ready to daydream about what I was looking forward to on my return to base camp. The simple things in life are often the ones that bring the most pleasure, and these were the things that came to mind first.

1) a nice hot shower (I am sure our compatriots at base camp were equally pleased about this too when they smelt rather than saw us arrive home).

2) a flush toilet (of course I have no problem with long drops but digging a hole in the bush under the urgent deadline that a stomach ailment invariably demands is a challenge to even the most charitable of us).

3) a nice glass of Mountford Reisling, slowly savoured to celebrate a fun and successful survey trip, as the stiffness starts to set into the bones.

Of course the first two of these we have Steve Croasdale to thank for – who got the Marshall water heater running and donned a wetsuit to dive into the inky blackness of the water tanks to fix them for use. The last we have our kind sponsors Mountford Estate to thank for. Kathryn, your statement about “you just must be able to put your feet up after a hard day in the field and sip on a lovely glass of wine” was certainly right in this case. Thank you!

[Shelley McMurtrie]

Seeing the new year in with a bang

Temporary Fix Up
Replacing Window
Broken Glass

2011 was rung in with a bang here on Cambell Island – literally. Mark Crompton and Alex Fergus were up very early on the 2nd of January (e.g., 1am) seeing in Alex’s birthday when they noticed the windows in the MetService lounge were flexing rather alarmingly. The next minute one of the windows crashed in, with glass going everywhere and the wind and rain battering into the room. A quick response from these two lads so early in the morning was quite commendable.

They ran outside and grabbed a piece of Steve’s plywood and timber to temporarily block the window – carrying it back in the high winds and dark trying not to get blown away. The wine supplied by Mountford Estate came in handy as a heavy weight to keep the timber in place. If they hadn’t been up at the time we would have awoken to a soggy disaster zone in the lounge, with papers and water everywhere and likely much of our electronics gear irreparably damaged.

The wind and rain was strong enough to wake the rest of us from our slumber, but we never thought we would awake to hear the tale from Mark and Alex of the breakin. Thankfully Steve Croasdale was there to fix the window with another pane of glass, and the offending window has been further secured with plywood.

[Shelley McMurtrie]

The bomb shed

Bomb Shed
Bomb Shed Sea Lion
Bomb Shed Sea Lion Lunge
Bomb Shed Sea Lion Chase
Inside The Bomb Shed
Inside The Bomb Shed

Alex James and I had a substantial day in the field yesterday (12.5 hour day) sampling Garden Stream, so today was a day at base camp to recover and get ready for a four-day field trip to Norwest Bay tomorrow. I made the most of our packing day and slept in – refusing to get out of bed until 9am. I got up for breakfast to discover I had to wear sunglasses in the lounge with the sun streaming through the windows and pushing the mercury up to a respectably balmy 19 degrees. Almost swimming weather for down here… almost.  

I decided to go up to the ‘bomb shed’ (the MetService hydrogen weather balloon building) and film Mark Crompton talking about how they used to fill and release the hydrogen balloons for weather monitoring (Mark may tell you more about this in his blog). The MetService rep Steve Croasdale has been asked to remove the building as it is badly degraded and an eyesore for those arriving on the island.

This is one of many buildings scattered around base camp that were once part of a thriving meteorological station infrastructure (the station was automated in the mid 90s). To hear how they were built (a major undertaking so far from the mainland), what they were used for, and what life was like down here for the full-time staff was incredibly fascinating and it has been a pleasure to be able to look through them and hear about them firsthand before the island claims back its dominance over the man-made structures.

Indeed, we may well be the last to stay in the MetService building – the windows will be boarded up when we leave and it will possibly never live again as it is now or once was when the MetService had this place fully manned year round. I am forever thankful to the MetService for allowing us to stay here – life here at base will be a lasting memory for me and in ways just as memorable as my experiences of the untouched landscapes and larger-than-life wildlife.

I have attached some stills from the filming – the full story will be put together once I am back on the mainland… so watch this space!

[Shelley McMurtrie]

Sticky traps and sticky hands

Sticky Trap
Traps Set
Jo In The Undergrowth
Cost In The Draco
Tucker Stream
Sticky Trap

Jo (our DOC rep) was back from helping out two phd students on the island with us, so Alex James and I invited her along when we put out the sticky and pitfall traps along Tucker Stream, to show her what stream ecologists get up to – when we are not sampling in streams that is.

With the thick Dracophyllum, we were crawling through the undergrowth to get to 20m out from the stream to set up our traps (at 0m, 10m and 20m from the stream); in such situations it's always good to imagine you're a sea lion as you crawl along on your belly. You wouldn’t think that it would take long to get to 20m but on Campbell Island it is a definite undertaking. The sticky traps will tell us how far away from the stream the adult winged terrestrial stage of aquatic insects such as chironomids will travel, while the pitfall traps will be a comparison to what types of insects are crawling through the undergrowth.

The comment from Jo was that “I’ve seen you guys do a lot of strange things today”. But we gave her a silver star for her efforts in helping us out (she lost the gold star when she crawled over 30m away from the stream without securing her tape measure - I promise we didn’t pull it out Jo!).

[Shelley McMurtrie]

The weather rules my life

Beeman Base
Beeman Base
Cloud Formations

The NZ book titled ‘a river rules my life’ comes to mind down here on Campbell Island. Not because we are sampling streams, but because of the similarity to how our lives are completely ruled by a single factor - the weather.

Days can progress either along the forecasted weather route (thanks Mark) or can deviate remarkably, although in our meteorologist's sage words (that's Mark), he is rarely wrong... What ever happened to that snow fall you predicted?

Unfortunately not all our days on the island are like the ones depicted here. Check out this footage of a wintery day; isn't it supposedly summer?

[Shelley McMurtrie]

Sampling Camp Stream

Camp Stream Waterfall
Camp Stream Patterns

With some favourable weather on the forecast we travelled a bit further afield (but not too far) over to Camp Cove and up Camp Stream. On our way were many sea lion encounters – they seem invariably intrigued in these two neoprene-clad bipeds that like to hang out in the streams like they do. We clearly are not that interesting however, as after a few minutes of sniffing they are off again to do their own thing.

We found Camp Stream to be a delightful tannin-stained waterway that was relatively easy going, with some picturesque mini-waterfalls along the way. Hopefully lots of interesting bugs in the samples too!

Click here to check out a video clip of this outing.

[Shelley McMurtrie]

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