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Bird Island Diary — January 2007

 Figure 1  South Georgia Pipit in full flight. (Photo Tony Martin)

January – gone already – I cant believe it.   This month is dedicated to the South Georgia Pipit – the most remarkable bird in the southern ocean in my opinion.  Most on the island are now onto their third brood of up to four chicks and they don’t look like stopping there!  After spending so many months at KEP where rats prevail it is nice to be somewhere rat-free where these birds can nest in the tussock with relative freedom.  They still have to watch for Skuas and Giant Petrels of course but they seem to hold their own against them. 

Figure 2 Helen, Kiersten and Kevin leaving the jetty.  (Photo Fabrice)

We waved good bye to Kiersten, Kevin and Helen on the 28th of December when the JCR called then wandered aimlessly around the base not bumping into anyone for several days!  The table was shortened, dinners became more intimate and casual, and cooking didn't seem such a hassle any more.   I do miss the girls though and am glad they have been keeping me up to date with what is going on in their lives.  Helen seems to be having a ball at KEP – I knew she would!  On the plus side I must say I enjoy having two whole shelves in the bathroom now. 

It was Macs and more Macs for Fabrice and myself – we went over to Big Mac on the 31st to redo the transects completed earlier in the season – this gives an indication of how many nests have failed.  Each penguin sitting on an egg or chick is counted within a marked transect area – at two localities.  Typically the weather was diabolical and the birds were grumpy as a result.  The chicks I must say are very cute though and don’t resemble their manic wild parents in the least although I personally think any small bird surviving in the southern ocean needs to be slightly nuts!

Figure 3 Macaroni adult and chick in better weather.  (Photo Don)

Despite only five on base we celebrated New Year with a bang – perfectly safely of course - indoor sparklers are great.  New Years Eve itself was very entertaining – we had a fantastic meal and then proceeded to do what everyone should – enjoy.  It was a Tequilla sunrise that led to my not being around for the sunrise I think.  Most made it to morning and still did a days work!!

          Figure 4 New Years Celebrations on Bird Island.  (Compilation Fabrice)

I accompanied Donald to SSB on New Years Day – a little later than usual but there none the less.  We found two lovely little pups waiting for us – so sweet when they are just born – so nasty 20 minutes later.  Donald appeared to be coping well with the morning after but on return to base he seemed rather worse for wear….

Figure 5  New Years Day - Donald on the back porch catching a few zzzzzzs with the pups. (Photo Ali)

The 2nd of January saw the last pup born on SSB (the Special Seal Beach) bringing the total for this season to over 700.  One of the best breeding seasons on record.

The 3rd of January saw the first of this months seal entanglements – called in by Robbo and Fabrice – a female on Gony Beach – she was successfully freed by Jaume.

On the 4th of January the yacht Golden Fleece deftly skippered by Dion Poncet returned briefly to Jordon Cove delivering Tony Martin to base.  He had been accompanying the ACAP (Association for Conservation of Albatross and Petrels) team led by Sally Poncet on this years survey around the island - what a job.

Christmas decorations finally came down on the 5th which always makes me feel rather sad – the holidays are over and its back to business – hang about - did we stop for holidays??

I had Robbo cut my hair on the 7th –  He did Helens and I thought that looked ok - it was what you might call a blunt cut and rather short but felt good and I am sure it will grow back before I leave the island – or at least I hope so.

Figure 6  Four well-fed South Georgia pipits nearly fledged.  (Photo Fabrice)

Don, Fabrice, Robbo, Jaume and Tony left me home alone on the 8th when they left to carry out the first pup weighing on Main Beach for this season.  This involves catching and weighing 100 pups – 50 from the beach and 50 from the tussock – all the while watching their backs for testy adults.  On their way to Main Beach they noted a visitor to the island – a Sub-Antarctic Fur Seal – distinctly different from our Antarctic Fur Seals as you can see.

Figure 7  Sub-Antarctic Fur Seal. (Photo Jaume)

By January 10th the Wandering Albatross had finished laying.  We spent the rest of the month helping Robbo mark every nest on the island.   Nests totalled 802 – the very number I picked in our census competition!  Luckily that means I get something yummy cooked by the looser – Fabrice.  While this sounds like a large number it is a lot less than in previous years, sadly the Wandering Albatross are in danger of extinction unless fishing practises change worldwide.


Figure 8  Robbo records information on a Wanderer and nest.  (Photo Ali) 

Black-browed and Greyheaded Albatross chicks are getting larger by the day – many are now being left on their own while parents are away feeding.  We have an interloper in one of the Black-brow colonies – a Shy Albatross trying to win the attention of a Black-brow mate.  He is hard to spot initially but once you have your eye in you cant miss him.

Figure 9  Shy Albatross.  (Photo Robbo)

We talked via VHF radio to the cruise ship 'The World' on the 11th of January - they carried my good friends Tim and Pauline Carr, former curators of the South Georgia Museum.  As the giant ship, more resembling a floating apartment building, sailed by I thought it rather strange and yet comforting that 'The World' was out there......  HMS Edinburgh arrived hot on the heels of the cruise ship that afternoon – a party of five officers delivered welcome gifts of food and were given a brief tour of the base and surroundings before being uplifted.

The Light Mantled Sooty Albatross were counted again by Robbo on the 15th  - while many nests had failed the numbers were high compared to previous years which is good news.

Figure 10 Light-Mantled Sooty Albatross and chick.  (Photo Robbo)

On the 16th Tony and Robbo spend the night at Fairy Point Hut enjoying the company of 1000s of petrels and prions while ringing as many South Georgia Pintails as possible during the evening.

The 17th was lab clean up day in preparation for Dirks expected arrival on the 18th.  It was one of those gorgeous BI days which ended with a Robbo barbie in the sun accompanied by a few relaxing beers in the great outdoors.

FPV Pharos duly arrived on the 18th bringing Dirk to BI for the remainder of the summer season.

On the 21st of January the Ernest Shackleton arrives and joy of joys everyone gets to see their favourite person – the dentist.  Actually Bujar was a great guy and we were glad he and other ES passengers could come ashore to visit our place.  Poor Fabrice had to have one of his front teeth removed  -  better that than pain all winter though.

Figure 11  Fabrice pre the dentist.  (Photo Ali)

On the 22nd we tried out one of Robbos Christmas presents – I couldnt keep it in the air.

Figure 12  Kite Flying. (Photo Ali)

Female fur seals are returning regularly to Freshwater Beach to feed their pups who are growing fat and starting to moult out their black baby coats for the sleek dense silvery fur they require for life at sea.  My favourite pup is a little tabby female – she waits for her mum out by the fuel farm and luckily her mum turns up regular as clockwork every four or so days full of food and plenty of milk.  There has only been one other tabby pup on this beach in recorded history as far as I am aware.  Tabby pups mum has been such a regular visitor Don eventually fitted her with a PTT and GLS on the 22nd to find out where she goes at sea.

Figure 13 Tabby pup waiting for her mum.  (Photo Robbo)

The very first pup born at SSB – No.1 – was caught and tagged on the 26th.  Puppy tagging starts as the pups start to moult.  The marked pups receive flipper tags and a microchip that records the pups identity, place and date of birth. 

Figure 14  Don and pup No. 1.  (Photo Robbo)

While tagging pups Jaume and Don noticed another entangled seal – poor thing.  These seals will surely die if the net/rope etc is not removed.  The lucky ones end up at BI where something can be done.  The seal scientists know exactly how to free these poor creatures quickly and without too much stress.  The seals are often left with a wound that will heal and leave a deep scar but they do survive.

Figure 15  Entangled seal – Jaume and Don freeing the seal.  (Photos Robbo)

In the early hours of the 27th we were all out the front of the base to witness the spectacular comet McNaught – what an awesome sight.  Fabrice managed to capture the moment. 

Figure 16 Comet McNaught.  (Photo Fabrice)

In the early hours of the 28th the 400th South Georgia Pintail was ringed by Tony and Robbo.  It is a common sight to see ringed ducks around the place - there always seem to be more to do though.

Figure 17  Tagged South Georgia Pintails.  (Photo Robbo)

January also means plenty of the edible herbaceous plant Acaena magellanica  – unlike elsewhere on South Georgia here it doesn’t seem to have a problem due to the lack of reindeer.  We have enjoyed several burnet salads which provide a vitamin rich addition to the usual fare.

Figure 18  FPV Pharos collecting Jaume and Tony.  (Photos Robbo & Ali)

The last day of the month and a busy one.  FPV Pharos arrived to collect Jaume and Tony.

The Skuas have done very well this season.  Everywhere you walk there are a pair squawking to announce your proximity to their chicks.  The chicks hide in the tussock and often not very effectively.

Figure 19  Skua chick hiding in the tussock.  (Photo Ali)

And finally - for my family - Happy Birthday Mum for next month.

Also Happy Birthday in advance to my sisters, Brenda and Lorraine, for the 6th and 10th of March.  I will be home in April so we will celebrate then - see you soon!!!!

Ali  x

Figure 20  Wandering Albatross and South Georgia pipit egg.  (Photo Fabrice)