Bird Island Diary — July 2009
July started in a rather lazy way, as we all recovered from the hectic midwinter celebrations of the week before. On the 1st, we were lucky enough to find an infrequent visitor to the island in the form of a young Weddell seal. This was the first to be seen on Bird Island for several years and was spotted by Ewan on his leopard seal round. Sadly it was found late in the evening, and was gone by the next day so there was little time for many photographs, but we all got the chance to see it and enjoy its cuddly appearance and smiley, happy looking face.
Throughout the month, large numbers of terns and pintails have been feeding in the bays. In one instance, large amounts of what appeared to be bits of dead jellyfish washed into the bay, attracting many cape petrels, and 15 snow petrels. We rarely get such good close up views of these lovely little white birds, and spent quite a while watching and photographing them dancing on the water, feeding only metres from us.
Conditions this month have continued to be slightly disappointing with lots of mild days of grey mank and most of our snow blowing away as fast as it has been landing. At the start of the month however, we had a cold enough spell for the sea to start freezing over, which was enough to keep those of us happy who did not have last winter to compare it to! Unfortunately this did not last, and was gone by the following day.
In the deepest of winter, the sun does not get high enough to shine on the base, which lies in the shadow of the surrounding higher ground. This month, for the first time, the sun appeared just over the hilltop and shone directly onto the base. Towards the end of the month, Derren, Ewan and myself installed a new sunshine recorder onto the communication tower in front of the base. The following day we recorded 46 minutes of sunshine. Since then, we have had none! It will be interesting to see just how much direct sunshine we really do get on base!
It is getting noticeably lighter in the evenings now we are well passed mid winter — we can usually stay out until 7pm before it gets too dark to see anything. On one of the nicer days this month, we were even treated to a beautiful rainbow.
Despite the winter months being our less hectic time for fieldwork, we have all managed to keep busy. The month started with the usual wanderer census — checking all of the nests on the island for chick failure. There were very few losses again this month, so it is still looking promising for the wanderers this year.
With the departure of Dave (our technician) at the end of June, myself, Derren and Ewan have been busy with jobs around the base that would normally have been the job of the technician. We now all muck in together to do tasks such as fire alarm testing, servicing the generators, cleaning the drinking water system and fixing anything that goes wrong (the stream-water pump, the dish washer, the roof, and the fire pump, to name a few this month!). It is an ideal opportunity to learn new skills, and makes a nice change to don boiler suits and do something practical.
José has been busy with his winter science work, spending a lot of time in the lab measuring counting and identifying squid, crustaceans and fish otoliths from his diet and scat samples. In between, he did his usual monthly deployments of GPS’s and stomach temperature probes on wandering albatrosses with Derren. This not only involves deploying the devices on the adult birds, but also daily trips up to the meadows each day after deployment, to check whether any of the birds have returned. He has to do this every day until all birds are back and devices retrieved. He was also busy collecting diet samples from the gentoo penguins with me, which gave him yet more crustaceans to identify in the lab!
Ewan has been out daily to check for leopard seals along the beaches, but there have still been very low numbers seen this winter.
Winter is the time for sorting out and summarising the biological data collected during the summer. This month we have all started writing up our parts of the bird and mammal report, which we submit annually back to Cambridge. Working on this is a good excuse to stay inside and have lots of tea and cake on days when it’s blowing a gale outside!
Friday night has become Bridge night on Bird Island. We play for cake points, where the person who builds up the largest score over a number of weeks is made a cake by the person with the least points. If some of us are playing particularly well, (or particularly badly!) and the game finishes early, we follow it with other games such as darts, and war of the sheep! It is a nice way to wind down into the weekend.
There has been little opportunity for learning to ski or snowboard yet this winter as most of the snow has vanished quite rapidly after falling. The more skilled among us however did manage to enjoy a couple of quick afternoon trips up to the ski slopes.
At the beginning of the month, José and Ewan spent a night on the meadows in bivvi bags, under the stars. Chilly temperatures and the occasional snow shower meant they woke to find themselves lightly dusted with snow, but they claimed to have been toasty warm and returned to base in high spirits the next morning for bacon sandwiches and coffee.
I think that’s about all to report for this month. The winter seems to be passing at an alarming rate — only another couple of months before we get our first ship visits and the hectic summer season begins all over again.
Best wishes to everyone at home.