As the sky began to brighten with an orange glow, a Zodiac was lowered and the scout party hopped aboard. In the scarce light, it was clear that wind and swell were pounding the reef around Ducie Island, a remote atoll and the fourth and final island in the Pitcairn group that we hoped to visit on this trip. Time seemed to stand still as we awaited the call—would it be possible to find a way ashore?
As soon as word arrived that a safe landing had been found, we bundled our cameras (and ourselves!) in waterproof gear, and the Zodiac drivers expertly brought us ashore. There, we were greeted by an incredible array of seabirds, helping us understand what the eradication of rats from an island such as this can truly mean. Swarms of noddies and white terns flew overhead, while nearly every patch of ground up above the beach was occupied by Murphy’s petrels—an estimated 250,000 pairs nest on the small island! We had to carefully watch our step for birds, as we meandered across the coral rubble, through the stands of beach heliotrope. Hermit crabs were everywhere as well, including occasionally up on branches well above the ground.
As we were exploring the maze of vegetation en route to the atoll’s inner lagoon, we spotted a bird that stood out from the others, a bird that had crash-landed in a bush and, in the process, gotten itself covered in sticky green seeds. With white underparts, this was clearly something different than the very common Murphy’s petrels all around us; upon careful inspection, we determined that we had found a Phoenix petrel, one of the rarest nesting birds on the island, with only an estimated six nesting pairs on the entire island. This species had been wiped out by introduced rats on the island years ago, and went unrecorded for 82 years. It was only rediscovered here six years ago—on a Zegrahm trip, no less!