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Bird Island Diary — February 2010

February began with the whole island Wandering albatross census. This year we only have 697 active nests, which is sadly the lowest number on record. Very strong winds during January caused large numbers of nests to fail early in the breeding season, which appeared to be one of the main causes of this. On a nicer note, the first wanderer chicks started to hatch towards the end of the month. This can take 3–5 days from the first signs of hatching to the chick emerging fully into the outside world, and although none quite made it in time for the end of the month, some were well on their way…

The first Wandering albatross chick of the season (Photo: Claudia Mischler)
The first Wandering albatross chick of the season (Photo: Claudia Mischler)

We had a lot of grey weather this month, but still continued to get out and about as usual, and even managed a BBQ on one of the nicer evenings. February is the beginning of the end of summer for some of the wildlife and staff on Bird Island. Towards the middle of the month we waved goodbye to Sam, our Summer Base Commander, and Helen, who has been here fixing all of our databases. It always takes a few days to get used to the base when people leave, and it seemed very quiet with only 6 of us left. We celebrated a couple of birthdays (Claudia’s and Joe’s) and soon settled back in to life with only 6 on base.

Helen and Sam leave Bird Island (Photo: Derren Fox)
Helen and Sam leave Bird Island (Photo: Derren Fox)

The wildlife has also been leaving the island. By the end of the month, all of the Macaroni penguin chicks had finished moulting their fluffy grey down, replacing it with smart new feathers, and headed for the sea to brave the Southern Oceans for their first swim. The adult macaronis left too, heading out to feed for several days, before they return to the colonies to moult. We were lucky enough to find a rock hopper penguin moulting at Big Mac, but typically, none of us had cameras with us, and when we returned the next day it had disappeared. Still, it made a nice change as none of us have seen one on Bird Island before.

Macaroni chicks (and adults), ready to head for the sea (Photo: Ewan Edwards)
Macaroni chicks (and adults), ready to head for the sea (Photo: Ewan Edwards)

The Gentoo chicks are also nearly ready to fledge, and are big and noisy. It is great to see them all looking so healthy after such a bad season last year. Fur seal pup weighing occurred on 11th Feb, and like the Gentoo chicks, are doing very well. The seal boys, Ewan and Mick spent a lot of the month hunting around the island for the pups born on the special study beach earlier in the season to give them flipper tags. This means they can be individually identified when they return to the island in future years. It is surprising how far up the valleys the fat little puppies can travel from their birthplace. The seal pups have now almost completely moulted their black fur, for lovely soft grey swimming fur, and spend hours playing in the sea, twisting and turning amongst the kelp and ice, playing in the tussock grass, and play-fighting with each other.

Healthy fur seal pup climbing in the tussock (Photo: Stacey Adlard)
Healthy fur seal pup climbing in the tussock (Photo: Stacey Adlard)

I think that’s all to report from Bird Island this month. It’s now only 6 weeks until our last ship call of the season and we start to think about settling in for the winter.

Stacey Adlard, Zoological Field Assistant.