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Bird Island Diary — September 2010

A year on Bird Island can be compared to that of the school year back in the UK. The academic year starts off in September, and continues all the way through to the end of May, when the schools take the summer off. On Bird Island, the work really starts in September, and continues all the way to May as well, with a couple of quiet winter months in the middle. Just as the kids and teenagers return to school, so the birds return back to Bird Island, and the cycle of life begins all over again.

As with every other month throughout the winter, we started off with the Wandering Albatross census, but this was a census with a bit of a twist. Unfortunately Mick had to nip back to Stanley for a few days, so that left 3 of us to check the nests over the whole island, and Claudia also needed to start ringing the chicks which left for a busy day for the 3 of us.

Wandering Albatross chick with its feathers coming through (Photo: Joe Corner)
Wandering Albatross chick with its feathers coming through (Photo: Joe Corner)

All of Bird Island’s bird species have been keeping Claudia and Stacey busy this month. The return of the Grey Headed Albatross brought a smile to Claudia’s face, as well as a lot more work! The Blackbrowed Albatross are returning, as well as the Skuas.

A Blackbrowed Albatross sitting on its nest (Photo: Joe Corner)
A Blackbrowed Albatross sitting on its nest (Photo: Joe Corner)

The Giant Petrels have started to pair up and nest. Stacey’s daily round takes her all over the meadows, seeing who has laid eggs. The Gentoo Penguins are also beginning to repair nests and lay eggs down at Johnson Cove.

A Giant Petrel laying an egg (Photo: Stacey Adlard)
A Giant Petrel laying an egg (Photo: Stacey Adlard)

Mick returned at the start of the month from his trip to Stanley and was greeted with a Leopard Seal out on the beach in front of base. His daily Leopard Seal round allows him to keep an eye on anything interesting on the beaches. The big Elephant Seals are starting to turn up at various places around the Island. I took a walk over to Natural Arch on the other side of the Island and was greeted by a mammoth of a seal.

A huge elephant Seal relaxing on the beach (Photo: Joe Corner)
A huge elephant Seal relaxing on the beach (Photo: Joe Corner)

We were all sitting in the office one morning when Mick noticed a bit of chaos in the bay. A Leopard Seal had caught a Fur Seal and was in the process of having a spot of breakfast. Lucky for us to see, but very unlucky for the Fur Seal. Leopard seal’s thrash their prey around to rip chunks of meat off, and this makes for a spectacular sight. The Lep’s main prey are fur seals, Penguins, fish and krill.

A Leopard seal thrashing a Fur Seal around (Photo: Joe Corner)
A Leopard seal thrashing a Fur Seal around (Photo: Joe Corner)

Unfortunately this month, we had a couple of Fur Seal entanglements. Fur Seals are very inquisitive and playful animals, and when they see a piece of netting or rope in the sea they tend to play with it, sometimes even stick their heads through a loop. This can get stuck round their neck and slowly suffocate them over a period of time. If we see an entanglement Mick is usually quick off the mark, and cuts the ‘noose’ off the Seal, which saves the animal's life.

A Fur Seal entangled in a piece of fishing net (Photo: Joe Corner)
A Fur Seal entangled in a piece of fishing net (Photo: Joe Corner)

As for me, well I have begun to get things ready for the very busy summer ahead. We have some visiting scientists coming in, that require some technical jobs carried out in preparation for their projects. I needed to install a power supply at the top of the tower, so Stacey and I strapped in to harnesses, scaled the tower and set up a rope so that we could work safely within the structure. This was a welcome break from the routine for both of us, and required some thinking trying to remember how to set everything up, since Stacey did the BAS field course 2 years ago, and I did it 3 years ago!!

Me installing the power cable for a socket (Photo: Stacey Adlard)
Me installing the power cable for a socket (Photo: Stacey Adlard)
Stacey enjoying a spot of Jumaring (Photo: Joe Corner)
Stacey enjoying a spot of Jumaring (Photo: Joe Corner)

I also repaid the favour to Stacey and helped her install the Penguin gateway. This is a piece of kit down at the Macaroni Penguin study colony, Little Mac, that weighs the Penguins and identifies the individual birds via a PIT tag, similar to the micro chips that vets use in your pet dog or cat, as they walk in and out of the colony. It’s basically a walkway with some fancy pieces of electronics attached!!

2 Macaroni Penguins rejoining the colony with Stacey working in the background. This is a picture taken in the summer. We are still waiting for the arrival of the Macs around mid October. (Photo: Stacey Adlard)
2 Macaroni Penguins rejoining the colony with Stacey working in the background. This is a picture taken in the summer. We are still waiting for the arrival of the Macs around mid October. (Photo: Stacey Adlard)

The 24th of the month officially ended our winter with the arrival of Andy Wood, who is here from the office in Cambridge to complete some Albatross based work. This also marks the build up to first call, which has been delayed due to some issues with the ship, but hopefully for not too long.

We have a busy month ahead of us, waste needs to be organised, drums moved, work spaces cleaned and tidied up, as well as all of our daily work, although we are looking forward to a successful summer. As for me, I am due to travel down to Signy for the summer season, which I am starting to get excited about. I wish the guys staying on Bird Island, a nice productive summer, and hopefully a stress free one at that!

The Bird Island Wintering team 2010, L-R -  Stacey Adlard, Claudia  Mischler, Joe Corner, Mick Mackey. (Photo: Mick Mackey)
The Bird Island Wintering team 2010, L-R - Stacey Adlard, Claudia Mischler, Joe Corner, Mick Mackey. (Photo: Mick Mackey)

Cheers,

Joe Corner
Technical Services.