Student - November 1, 2012

Waiting for the mail boat

Who? Jessica van der Wal, biology graduate
What? Final internship on the behaviour of stitchbird offspring
Where? Tiritiri Matangi Island, New Zealand

28-hew-Jessica-en-geelbandhoningeter-7.jpg
There were only two houses on the subtropical island where I spent three months doing research. One for me and one for the two permanent rangers. But I knew what I was getting into. Having done one final internship with close supervision, being thrown in the deep end was just what I wanted. This time my contact with my supervisor was infrequent. It was a real challenge; if anything went wrong, I had to come up with a solution myself and make decisions.
Tiritiri is an island nature reserve, and a real paradise. I used to swim off a beautiful beach, amongst penguins and rays. I was studying the behaviour of the young of the rare stitchbird. Using binoculars, I tracked the birds in the forest, saw who they were hanging out with, and made that the focus of my analysis.
It was an unusual way of life. There was no internet and to make a phone call you had to go to the Island's highest point. I often sent handwritten letters to family and friends and in return I received letters written by hand - that was really nice. I would stand on the dock waiting for the mail boat to arrive. It was like living in another era. At times it was lonely, but luckily tourists came by now and then and I would cook for them and take them on night-time trips to see kiwis, New Zealand's well-known flightless birds.
Every three weeks I would take the boat to Auckland to go shopping. After the peace and quiet on the island, it always took me a while to adjust to the city's hustle and bustle. New Zealanders are really nice people. They are clearly proud of their country's glorious nature so it makes sense that their favourite pastime is tramping, walking in the wilds. Everyone does it wearing leggings, even the men. Just try introducing that in the Netherlands!

Re:act