Terry McDonnell's Diary


Friday, June 10, 2005 Thursday, June 9, 2005
Wednesday, June 8, 2005 Tuesday, June 7, 2005
Monday, June 6, 2005 Sunday, June 5, 2005
Saturday, June 4, 2005 Thursday, June 2, 2005
Wednesday, June 1, 2005 Tuesday, May 31, 2005
Monday, May 30, 2005 Sunday, May 29, 2005
Sunday, May 22, 2005 Sunday, May 15, 2005

Friday, June 10, 2005 We have just finished our final briefing, and farewells are in the air. Some of the Earthwatch volunteers are leaving before first light tomorrow.
 
We have all had a unique experience and have been touched by the incredible hospitality of the Portuguese people. Marcelo, his wife Paula, and the A Rocha staff all deserve our heartfelt thanks.
 
Our greatest challenge now is how and where to go from here. We all understand the importance of actually doing something about things environmental when we get back to our counties, homes, and workplaces.
 
It is also hard for us to convey the connection between our data collection work on the storm petrels and the effects of climate change on ecosystems that is occurring on this planet. I suppose the work of Dr. Thomas and Marcelo will indicate that, yes, things are changing for these birds because of warming sea temperatures, different plankton growth rates, and increases or decreases in food chain organisms and nesting sites—all examples of how climate change does affect the ecosystem. The birds act as an indicator or warning for us to take note of and act upon.

Thursday, June 9, 2005 We took only four birds at the new trial site on the west rather than the south coast.
 
Here’s a quotation taken from yesterday’s briefing with Will Simmons, A Rocha’s science officer and biologist: “The environment is a savage beast, and we are poking it with a stick.”  This is in contrast to the talk about how delicate the environment is. Paul O’Neill’s environmental statements he made when he was Alcoa’s CEO were also mentioned during the briefing.

Wednesday, June 8, 2005 Last night on the rocks was spectacular. We were 10 in number, watching the waves crashing below us and sending towers of spray in some places high above. The misty night was not cold, with warm southeasterly winds at about 12 knots.
 
Our dawn return hike via the sandy beach was a surprise, for it was no more. It was washed away, leaving only rocks upon rocks.
 
We tagged 12 storm petrels this night in contrast to our previous effort of 106. I guess the birds were busy living up to their name and enjoying the stormy sea.

Tuesday, June 7, 2005 We processed 106 birds last night.  The scientists are pleased.

Monday, June 6, 2005 Today is the anniversary of D-Day.

Sunday, June 5, 2005 Our duties in processing these delicate storm petrels after freeing them from the mist nets include:
  • Ringing with a metal ring for Europe’s database and for future identification.
  • Weighing to determine how well-fed they are and if they are in good enough condition to ensure a successful migration north.
  • Taking a feather to use for DNA testing that will determine the bird’s sex.
  • Measuring and inspecting the wing to determine the size and general age and health condition of the bird.
  • Inspecting the feet for injury, as some have damage that is likely caused by fish.
 
Also measured is the weather, sea temperature, wind, clouds, and light conditions (the latter with a lux meter).
 
We also have been infrared filming the nearby beach to determine if the petrels are nighttime beach feeders. Dr. Thomas was excited with these particular results.

Saturday, June 4, 2005 I’m awake after another night working the cliff face. We have ringed a heap more birds with a metal ring and have collected the information from them that will be stored on the European database.
 
Our multi-cultural team is working well together, and Alcoa, Diado, and HSBC can be proud of their volunteers.

Thursday, June 2, 2005 We were up early and have caught and rung some birds. This entails placing an identification ring on the bird, weighing, checking for a brood patch, measuring wing size, photographing, determining the age, and evaluating the condition, including fat reserves. Dr. Thomas is good at giving instructions to us amateurs.
 
There is much excitement among the scientists over a woodpecker that was netted. We have more briefings, eat lunch (the food is good), and then take a siesta in readiness for tonight’s expedition to the coast.
 
The purpose of this expedition is to continue building the database that has been accumulating for some years. Its point is to see from this information the effects of global warming on the European storm petrels’ migratory patterns.
 
It’s now 7 p.m., and we are at the site on the cliff after having walked about 1.5 kilometers (one mile). Our first task is to set the mist nets between bamboo poles and stretch them across the cliff face. These nets, combined with megaphone broadcasting of
recorded petrels in their UK breeding grounds, soon have us recording data on the stormies, as they are fondly called. They are silent, fragile little birds with a body mass of 25 grams (0.9 ounces). They flutter into our nets, and before too long we have ringed and recorded numerous birds.
 
These European petrels migrate vast distances from the Arctic Circle to the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa and back. They breed and nest on a couple of islands in the north. Little is known about them and their habits. For example where do they breed apart from a few colonies off the British coast? What do they eat? When and how do they sleep? And most important for them and us, what effect is global warming having on their feeding and migratory lives?
 
Some birds have been caught that were tagged 30 years ago. Most of that time was spent on the wing zigzagging above the windswept sea.
 
Dr. Thomas and Marcelo are extremely dedicated to the project and the environment, which is ever important to them and to us.
 
My dear wife Rosemary I hope is well? So far, I have had little chance to get through on this phone system. I have tried and tried without success.
 
Earthwatch, the main organization behind us being here, is like Greenpeace in that it is concerned about the environment. Greenpeace tends to highlight the environment through media, whereas Earthwatch is, in a way, a silent achiever. It seeks sponsorship and funding for environmental projects in many countries and promotes and provides volunteer helpers from various sources. On this project, the organization provided the scientist and corporate-sponsored volunteers from Alcoa, Deago Corporation, and HSBC Bank. In summing up, Earthwatch and its partners not only raise awareness about the important challenges that are facing the environment and this planet, they are also actively doing what they can.

Wednesday, June 1, 2005 We arrived at A Rocha, and the people have welcomed us with a beautiful lunch. We are into the necessary briefings on the project, the all-important safety tips, and so on.
 
In addition to Dr. Thomas and Marcelo Felgueiras, the team members are:
  • Will Simons, A Rocha 
  • Peter Hall, Earthwatch, United Kingdom
  • Marcus from Brazil, HSBC Bank
  • Wilson from Singapore, HSBC Bank
  • Said from Egypt, HSBC Bank
  • Jorge from Mexico, Diado Co.
  • Manuela from Italy, Diado Co.
  • Karl from the United States, Alcoa
  • Terry (that’s me) from Australia, Alcoa
 
You can see that we come from many cultures.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005 Lagos is a nice little city close to our Earthwatch rendezvous point at A Rocha bird observatory, which Karl says is near the Mexilhoeira Grande rail station a few stops up the line.
 
The place is full of tourists, and we spent some time exploring. I’ve had to resort to wearing boots as I now have blisters on my soles from walking too far in shoes. The breakfast waiter could not hide his expression of disproval, with his eyes staying glued to my feet. My good morning greeting went unanswered.

Monday, May 30, 2005 It’s some time in the morning in Lisbon (I’m confused time wise). From the outside, the hotel where I’m staying is like most of Lisbon’s buildings—it looks as if it’s about to fall down. It is very old, but old in this case has its advantage. As soon as you enter the place you find hospitable staff all trying to carry your bags. The inside looks like a palace, with old-world architecture that includes gilt trimmings.
 
Naturally, I’m too excited to sleep, so it’s off to explore this city that I find is steeped in ancient history. The whole town has been through a lot of wars. It is eerie. 
 
Before I ramble much further, I must say that after arriving at the airport, I had to cash a traveler’s check in order to pay for the taxi fare. After doing so, I went out the door to the taxi stand.  A young man came running up to me, presenting me with my passport, wallet, and all my money because I had left these in a shop. Not a bad start. Already I like Portugal.
 
It is evening, and I have managed to catch a tour bus and now have my bearings on Lisbon. The shock to my system is the beggars that the locals just walk past and not see. Because I come from a country where there are no people who are so down-and-out (at least not in Wagerup), I find it disturbing. There is one man here without legs just sitting on the footpath with his stumps exposed. There’s another without an arm and an African women who got me twice—the second time she said that it was not enough.
 
Tomorrow I will meet the other Alcoa representative (Karl Eliason from Indiana, USA), and we’ll catch the Lisbon to Fargo train, changing somewhere to get to Lagos. It’s a three-hour journey.

Sunday, May 29, 2005 Well, it’s up, up, and away. I’m bound for Bangkok, where I get a flight to Frankfurt and then onward to Lisbon—25 hours westward.
 
Poor Rosemary and Samantha (my daughter) are in a state with this husband and father heading west.  I must admit I was feeling as if I were heading off to boarding school again. You know that feeling you get when you have to leave someone or something behind.
 
The sun setting on our port wing is sending skyward rays of yellow light that are emitting from a burnt orange horizon interrupted by mountains of jagged clouds. It’s spectacular as we cruise along at 40,000 feet and 540 miles per hour. It’s just us separated from below, powerless; there’s nothing we can do but hope this thing stays airborne.
 
After all the organizing and rush these past few weeks, I would like to express my thanks to those at Earthwatch and Dr. Rob Thomas of Cardiff University and Marcelo Felgueiras of Portugal’s A Rocha bird observatory for inviting my participation.  It can only be hoped that I will be of some assistance with their work while they seek answers to the effects of global warming through studying of the lives of the European storm petrels.
 
Then there are all those at Alcoa and particularly the Wagerup refinery, some of whom have gone out of their way to ensure I was allowed to attend this project. These people have made sacrifices by arranging cover for me at short notice. In a workplace that is already light, they have made extra commitments to see that the storm petrels of Portugal get to share me. Their only reward is the weeks ahead without me. 
 
The sun has gone, and we fly along with Mercury, Venus, and, on the horizon, the constellation of Orion (with Orion’s belt within the big dipper). There is also the False Cross and its pointers that have wrecked many a ship.
 
At close to midnight in Bangkok, I board the next plane that is packed to the hilt with Germans for another long flight. I hope this thing can fly—it looks old and well worn. There’s no room to move as I’m crammed against the window (ten hours now) next to a couple who promptly fall asleep. Now I know how people get deep vein thromboses and extended bladders.
 
The Indian lights below are endless, town after town. The Turkish coast is unusually white. Then it’s wide open spaces until Austria and Europe proper. This flight was only just beaten to Frankfurt by the star constellation of Scorpio, even though we traveled at 640 miles per hour.
 
In Frankfurt, I make my final flight change and, at last, plenty of leg room. The estimated time of arrival in Portugal is around 7:45 a.m., but I’m confused time wise. Anyhow, it will have been 25 hours (I think) since I left Australia. The Bangkok airport police radio the hostess the message that my bags have missed their flights and are still in Bangkok.
 
Frankfurt looks from the air to be a nice city. There are lots of forests dividing the suburbs, and the road and rail arteries disappear beneath these forest canopies only to emerge at one suburb or another. In the middle of these forests are little secret clearings where I imagine I would live if I were to live in Frankfurt.

Sunday, May 22, 2005 It has now been a week since I was invited to join the Storm Petrels over Portugal research program.
 
Arrangements have moved at remarkable speed. There is only seven days to go before my departure at 11:45 a.m. on Sunday, May 29. I will arrive in Lisbon on May 31 at 9 a.m.
  
I have the outward itinerary, air tickets, and accommodations
thanks to Kenny Wang’s and Karl Eliason’s previous plans. I’m booked in Lagos on May 31, the day prior to the team’s rendezvous.
 
As for the return arrangements, well, not to worry. If I get stuck in Portugal (Europe), then I guess I will have to stay…. 
 
Emails have been sent each way, and information has poured in in such quantity that it makes the brain ache. Try as I might, I cannot find Ponta da Almadema near Burgau, Algarve on the map (Algarve is there). Thank goodness that Karl Eliason (the other Alcoa person) is familiar as to where we are supposed to be, and I am confident that we will be in the right place at the right time.
 
The news around the Wagerup plant has certainly created plenty of interest. There have been lots of questions about the research, its purpose, and Alcoa's involvement in it. Many have asked for various items (or souvenirs). For instance, my boss growled "you better bring me back a stubby holder" when hearing my news. The plant nurse wishes for a refrigerator magnet, as the medical center has a collection of them from all over the world. 
 
Also, the medical center has furbished Andrew Paton (the Bohemian expedition volunteer who is also known as The General) and me with first aid kits, thus ensuring that we will be injury free and not be requiring first aid or medical treatment.

Sunday, May 15, 2005 It was the normal big struggle to get into the right mindset for the start of my night shifts. The first one is always the worst. I’m always moaning to poor Rosemary—my wife—that nights are killers and I wonder how many more years I can keep going.

I made it onto plant property, went through the lab to grab the sample jars, and headed across the flat and up the stairs. I got totally soaked due to this being a typical winter’s nightshift. One can always guarantee that it will rain when you’re in a hurry to get in and relieve your dayshift workmates.

I finally got to the workstation and started to read the emails. There it was—an email from the Alcoa bloke in charge of the Earthwatch program. I had missed out on being part of the program some months before, only just making the reserve list. 

I knew even before opening the email that this was it. This email was going to say, “Terry, we wish to notify you that some person has withdrawn from our expedition. We will understand if you should not be able to make it at such short notice, but if you could come join us after checking your calendar, we would be pleased to have you.” While those weren’t the exact words of the actual email, they were close.

For the next few hours, I just couldn’t sit still. Here I was at the beginning of a long Wagerup night, and all the time I wanted to get started on my trip to Ponta da Almadena, near Burgau, Algarve, Portugal.

Can you imagine that for years now I’ve wanted to go to Portugal, especially a place called Fatima, and here it was handed to me compliments of Earthwatch and Alcoa.

Firstly, though, I had to tell Rosemary. I was on the phone to her and then to Andrew Paton, the other successful Alcoa Wagerup applicant who is on his way to the water research project in Bohemia (which, might I add, suits him as I’ve always thought of Andrew as a bit of a Bohemian). He just loves water, especially swimming in it. Back 20 years, our Andrew was a swimmer in shift three’s Alcoa Blackwood marathon team. It wasn’t long before Andrew mailed me all the stuff about this place called Ponta da Almadena.

I can’t wait till I hear back from the Alcoa coordinator and Earthwatch. I hope my boss can arrange for me to have the time off.

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Storm Petrels over Portugal


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