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Bird Island Diary — October 2007

Well, it falls to me to write the newsletter this month as I’m the newbie on the island.

Bringing the boys winter to an abrupt end; Andy, Chris, Jaume and I descended on the island earlier than usual at the end of September to aid in ringing birds in some new long term monitoring colonies and for Chris to fix the VHF repeater on Tonk.

Arrival at Bird Island
Arrival at Bird Island

After getting zodiaced ashore and meeting the folk we were to spend the summer with, the zodiac had to do two more runs for our one months food supplies (until the main supply ship arrived).

Since being on the island we’ve been thrown into the thick of things. The Grey-headed and black-browed albatrosses are rapidly returning to the breeding colonies and Robbo and I have been doing daily counts here and ringing a lot of birds in a new study colony too with the help of Andy and Don.

Grey-headed albatross
Grey-headed albatross

Black-browed albatross
Black-browed albatross

There are also lots of young wandering albatrosses about, still with a month or so to go before they can fledge so I’ve been out and about ringing them too, after some expert tuition from Robbo. They may look pretty, but I am now covered in bites and scratches from these magnificent but sometimes temperamental birds!

Wandering Albatross Chick
Wandering Albatross Chick

The beaches are still relatively quiet as the fur seals have yet to return in big numbers. There are a few young males around, but it has given the new boy a little time to get used to these wee beasties being around. The beaches aren’t completely devoid of life though. Don is mentally preparing himself for the start of the seal season, the intense period of the seal assistants work starts on the 1st November at SSB.

Don and Jaume are carrying out daily rounds of the nearby beaches looking for leopard seals. This information is added to the growing database of known individuals and gives us more information on their movements throughout the winter. They are only a winter visitor to us here, normally spending their time further south in the pack ice. They’ve been seen several times thrashing around in the bay with a tasty penguin snack in their mouths, not a good place to be if you are a penguin.

Leopard Seal
Leopard Seal

Speaking of which, we have increasing numbers of gentoo penguins around the island, slowly returning to their breeding colonies, although the more numerous and amusing looking penguins, the macaronis, only started returning to the colonies towards the end of the month, the numbers are building up fast. There have also been a few kings penguins wandering around the base, although they only breed on the main island of South Georgia.

Male elephant seal
Male elephant seal

Young male fur seal
Young male fur seal

The beaches around the island have also been reverberating to the calls of bull elephant seals, these huge beasts can be heard from long distances away and have been seen fighting on Freshwater Beach, right in front of the base on several occasions.

Fabrice has been busy finding and marking the nests of the giant petrels in his study area on the meadows and checking the gentoo colonies for signs of the first breeders returning there.

Chris has done a sterling job and got the repeater going in record time. We can now have VHF coverage across the whole island making working easier and safer. Chris was also busy installing the penguin gateway at Little Mac, enabling the movements in and out of the colony of tracked birds to be monitored. Chris was seen working furtively in the workshop on many occasions this month, turning out a drum, numerous bottle openers and even a couple of lightsabres!

This month has seen the usual hectic social events that the island is renowned for! My birthday was on the Fifth with a fine meal cooked by Fabrice and a cake produced by Robbo. Fabrices birthday at the end of the month saw the Seal Racing game brought out of storage. This was a game that Chris made last time he was here in 2005. As race master on the night, he kept us one our toes, betting (with Bird Island Pesos, of course!) on which seal would be first round the track in various events. The lucky winner got a box full of goodies to celebrate the victory.

The seal racing starting line!
The seal racing starting line!

The fine winter weather saw us out barbecuing in October too. Albeit in padded boiler suits, hats and gloves. Halloween saw us all surprised by a note from Fabrice on the Kitchen door, warning us that no one would eat that night unless they were in suitable fancy dress. With only a few hours notice there were some impressive creations appearing at the dinner table, with a Jedi and Daft Vader (both complete with working lightsabres), Hannibal Lector and an assortment of skeletons, ghosts and zombies too!

Well that’s all from me for now folks, wishing all my family and friends back home love and best wishes.

Derren Fox