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Bird Island Diary — December 2010

For 13 months, I have been living and working at Bird Island, and now yet another Christmas is quickly dawning on us. For me this will be my fourth Antarctic Christmas in a row, and each one has been a different surprise.

December came and went in what seems like a flash. As usual our work load is still high, with Mick, Jaume and Agnieszka walking over to SSB (Special Study Beach) twice a day, to count, weigh, tag and sex fur seal pups. This year has seen a big increase in pups born from last year, but still a low average number in Bird Island terms, with 568 pups born, compared to 271 last year. We have had a lot of returning females, and the first girl to pup was also the mother of last year’s favourite pup, who was named Leroy. Hopefully the pups will all grow up to be big and strong, and return in future years to breed and rear pups of their own.

A fur seal pup posing for a picture (Photo: Joe Corner)
A fur seal pup posing for a picture (Photo: Joe Corner)

Stacey has taken on the albatross assistant work for the remainder of her time here and is adjusting to the change in workload. The wandering albatross study area is quickly moving into full swing with daily egg checks carried out on in the study area. This is to get lay dates, and egg weights. Non-breeding birds are also checked, to help us get an idea of what age young birds return to Bird Island.

The black-brow, and grey-headed albatross are also beginning to lay, and hopefully there will be an increase this year instead of the steady decline in numbers over the last few years.

A grey-headed albatross with chick (Photo: Joe Corner)
A grey-headed albatross with chick (Photo: Joe Corner)
A grey-headed albatross trying to escape from the egg (Photo: Joe Corner)
A grey-headed albatross trying to escape from the egg (Photo: Joe Corner)

Ruth is adjusting to life on Bird Island with ease. Regular trips to the gentoo penguins have resulted in some long nights spent sitting around waiting for partners to return, and a daily giant petrel round has kept her busy. Over at Big Mac, Stacey and Ruth spent an afternoon counting all active nests in specific areas (transect). This is then compared to past years, and a rough count of the amount of birds in the colony. It was also Ruth’s birthday (I won’t say how old though!!), and in true Bird Island tradition Stacey made a nice cake in the shape of a penguin.

Big Mac in full swing. This colony alone has roughly 80,000 birds (Photo: Joe Corner)
Big Mac in full swing. This colony alone has roughly 80,000 birds (Photo: Joe Corner)

Julia and Sim have been very busy with their continuing projects, and both seem to be coping well with the fur seals that have North Valley and the station as their home.

As for me and Paul, we have had a very busy month. One generator set has been replaced with a new set. After nursing the old set for a year, I was sad to see the old girl go out, but at the same time, see the new shiny one go in. Some doors have been replaced around base, and various odd jobs have been squared away. So far we have had a very productive technical services season and hopefully will continue to be productive.

Joe and Paul doing the Genset change (Photo: Paul Craske)
Joe and Paul doing the Genset change (Photo: Paul Craske)
Joe and Paul doing the Genset change (Photo: Paul Craske)
Joe and Paul doing the Genset change (Photo: Paul Craske)

The wildlife around station has increased massively. We have had three blonde fur seal pups born on Fresh Water beach (1 in 1,000 pups are blonde) and a big increase in seals around station from last year. Towards the end of the month the pups have made their way round the back and have now set up camp right outside the lab doors. We have also had a few big and small elephant seals turn up on the beach, again with none at the same time last year.

Fur seal pups on the back walkway (Photo: Ruth Brown)
Fur seal pups on the back walkway (Photo: Ruth Brown)

On Christmas Eve we went over to SSB for some mulled wine in what has become another Bird Island tradition. For Christmas we all sat down and had a huge turkey. Everyone helped with the cooking, and we certainly had plenty of leftovers as well.

As the year draws to an end, sadly, so does my time at Bird Island. On the 1st of January I will be leaving to head off to Signy for the rest of the summer and leave everybody else behind to continue the hard work.

So, Happy New Year to you all both at home and on station.

Christmas cheer (Photo: Ruth Brown)
Christmas cheer (Photo: Ruth Brown)

Cheers,

Joe Corner
Bird Island Technician