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Bird Island Diary — September 2009

September is a busy time on Bird Island, a time of transition from the quiet times of winter, both for work and wildlife, to the start of the summer breeding season for many species.

The month started with the final wandering albatross chick census for this years chicks. A snowy start meant the four of us tramping around the island in snow shoes to do it which, although it slowed us all down a bit, made it feel like a true winter experience. Ringing of the chicks also started and was almost complete by the end of the month, with 683 chicks getting metal rings around one leg to help us identify them on their return and track their movements. Much flapping of developing wings has been going on and they are slowly turning from big balls of down into the magnificent birds they will become.

Wanderer chick at sunset (Photo: Derren Fox)
Wanderer chick at sunset (Photo: Derren Fox)

The first of our summer visiting breeders was spotted on 7th. A grey-headed albatross was seen dropping into a colony on the north side of Goldcrest Point. This was soon followed by birds appearing around the island in many of the colonies and by the end of the month their nests were being rebuilt or fought over and pair bonds being reaffirmed with partners from last season. The black-brows appeared a little behind the grey-heads, as is usual and numbers are still building up as I write this, with only a handful of birds in any of the colonies so far.

Grey-head close-up (Photo: Derren Fox)
Grey-head close-up (Photo: Derren Fox)

The Northern giant petrels started egg laying early in the month, with the first egg noted on the 9th and keeping Stacey busy in her study area, with her daily rounds to check on egg laying dates and identify the birds. The southern giant petrels will be a few weeks yet before they start to lay eggs.

Southern Giant Petrel (Photo: Derren Fox)
Southern Giant Petrel (Photo: Derren Fox)

We’ve been treated to some great views of large bull elephant seals this month, many of the beaches have had one or two on during the month, but we have yet to see much fighting amongst them. They seem fairly peaceful here, perhaps because they are not competing for females on these beaches, as we only get one or two females pupping here ach season. Their peace is only disturbed by the ever present menace of the snowy sheathbills, pecking at any little cuts, or pecking around for any fresh faeces! Occasionally causing these 3–4 tonne behemoths to be driven back to the water by a mere 500g sheathbill!

3 seal species together (Photo: Derren Fox)
3 seal species together (Photo: Derren Fox)

The white-chinned petrels began to arrive towards the end of the month, with only a few about at the moment, it won’t be long until the whole island reverberates at night with their calls from underground burrows.

Ewan was glad to see more leopard seals around the island too this month, with a few of the animals hauled out and asleep long enough for him to be able to put some flipper tags on them and a GLS or two to track the seasonal movements of these little studied, but magnificent creatures.

Winter was still in the air though this month despite the spring time activities about this place and, with a few calm and cold days, slush ice started to form in the bays. Sadly this was short lived as the wind picked up and the weather warmed enough to allow the Bird Islands famous mank to return once more. The last few days have showed a few tantalising icebergs on the horizon, so fingers crossed for an ice strewn beach yet this winter.

Derren Fox, Albatross Field Assistant