Above picture:  White-chinned Petrel flyby: John Graham (centre) guides a pelagic birding excursion off South Africa’s Cape Peninsula in November 2021; photograph by Trevor Hardaker

John Graham, a South African Electrical Engineer based in Cape Town and a keen birder, has made a 25-ha sponsorship to the Mouse-Free Marion Project.  He writes movingly of what motivated him to make his generous donation.

“A fanatical birder from my school years, my love for tubenoses was borne during many freezing winter mornings spent hunched behind insubstantial shrubs in front of the Slangkop Lighthouse at Kommetjie on the Cape Peninsula, often alongside my good friend Peter Ryan, sheltering from the teeth of raging north-westerly gales while squinting through a ‘scope at teeming seabirds effortlessly gliding and soaring offshore, apparently impervious to the worst that nature could throw at them.  After a few local ‘pelagic’ trips out of Hout Bay to get to know these majestic birds a little better I was extraordinarily fortunate to be given the opportunity in 1989 to join John Cooper and a shipload of scientists on South Africa’s former polar research vessel, the S.A. Agulhas, for a six-week takeover cruise to the Prince Edward Island group.  And what an amazing experience it was!  Vast open ocean with hardly another ship to be seen, storms to make one feel tiny, insignificant and oh so fragile, and the ever-present accompaniment of tubenoses, from the tiniest storm petrel to the regal Wandering Albatross.  They were all riding the wind and skimming the storm surf with effortless ease, in fact flying with ever more accomplishment the wilder the conditions.  Absolute mastery of flight!  And then walking on Marion Island, standing quietly alongside a globally Vulnerable Wandering Albatross on its nest while helping conducting a monitoring survey with nothing more than a mild admonishment in the gaze from this gentle giant.  While watching Wanderer pairs and groups engaging in their gurgling, grunting, bill-chattering courtship, with wings spread wide, how could one not grow to love them, and how could one not be committed to contributing to such an important initiative to arrest the carnage that rodents such as House Mice are wreaking on these birds at their breeding islands?  Rodents have been introduced by us to the home of these tubenoses who knew no terrestrial predators and have no understanding of how to respond or adapt to the ravages being imposed upon them.

“I’ve guided some 300 or so pelagic trips out of Simon’s Town on the Cape Peninsula over a period more than two decades after that Marion Island trip and have had the opportunity to share seabirds with birders from around the world, many of whom had never before seen an albatross.  During that time I have also seen the inexorable but marked decline in tubenose, and particularly albatross, numbers.  Again, how could I not contribute to an initiative such as the Mouse-Free Marion Project to at least make the island homes of these birds a haven for them once more?

“We all have the opportunity to contribute to making the Marion mouse eradication initiative a success so that the project is not constrained by issues relating to its financing.  This is probably the only time in our lifetimes that such an endeavour will be undertaken at the Prince Edward Island group, and if it isn’t 100% successful any subsequent attempt may simply be too late for many of the birds we love.  So, contributing to the project’s costs is a small and appropriate way of saying thank you for the years of marvelling at the beauty of flight as expressed by these ultimate masters of the air.  And at the same time helping to ensure that future generations might be able to have the same memorable experiences that I have had.”

John Cooper, News Correspondent and Member, Scientific & Technical Advisory Group, Mouse-Free Marion Project, 18 November 2021