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Bird Island Diary — March 2011

March is a month of change on Bird Island. It is the transition month between summer and winter. This is my last month on Bird Island, after 2.5 years here, so I thought I should write this month’s diary. My final month started with a nice sunrise over the mountains of South Georgia, on a clear autumn morning, which harboured the first frost of the season.

Sunrise over South Georgia (Photo: Stacey Adlard)
Sunrise over South Georgia (Photo: Stacey Adlard)

At the start of the month, the Pharos visited and brought us 2 new staff: Jenn who is forming part of the winter team as the albatross assistant, and Chris, who came to do some work on the Bird Island communications system. The new members of the team quickly settled into life on base and amongst other activities, one night we all enjoyed a black and white themed fancy dress evening.

Work-wise, everyone has been very busy. March is the month when the wandering albatross chicks hatch, which kept myself and Jenn busy, checking eggs daily to obtain hatch dates.

Wandering albatross and its young chick (Photo: Stacey Adlard)
Wandering albatross and its young chick (Photo: Stacey Adlard)

The smaller albatross chicks (the black-brows, grey-heads and light-mantled sooties) are getting much bigger and we have all been busy ringing the chicks so we can identify who they are when they return to the colonies to breed in a few years’ time. It will be a while yet before they are big enough to fledge.

Light-mantled sooty albatross chick (Photo: Stacey Adlard)
Light-mantled sooty albatross chick (Photo: Stacey Adlard)

March is when the giant petrel chicks start to fledge, and Ruth has been out and about ringing her chicks and checking nests to obtain fledging dates. She is also in charge of the penguin work, and has been busy deploying GLS trackers on the macaroni penguins, to give us more of an insight into where they go to during the winter. The penguins are all in their colonies at present after a successful breeding season, moulting their old feathers and replacing them with new ones to keep them in good shape to survive the winter.

Mick, the seal assistant has been busy too. The fur seal pups have nearly all finished moulting out of their black puppy fur into their smooth silver swimming fur. At the start of the month we did the usual puppy weighing session, and it was pleasing to see how fat some of them were. It will not be long before they take to the sea and leave the island. Mick has been attaching GLS trackers to their flipper tags, which can be retrieved when they return in future years, to help us understand where they go in their early years.

Fat and healthy fur seal pup with its mum (Photo: Stacey Adlard)
Fat and healthy fur seal pup with its mum (Photo: Stacey Adlard)

Paul and Andy, our tech services men, have had a busy month, and have replaced several of the base doors, as well as rebuilding a large piece of the special study beach scaffolding, which forms a walkway for the seal assistants to use when monitoring the fur seals during the breeding season.

Our Base Commander Ags, has been doing some science this month, in the form of some air sampling, for staff who were unable to visit Bird Island themselves. This involved lots of walking up and down the hills with a big box and a long pole, taking CO2 and moisture readings at various intervals. She also organised an Oil Spill exercise and a Search and Rescue exercise, as training for the winterers, so they know what to do in the event of an emergency.

Ags and Stacey air sampling (Photo: Mick Mackey)
Ags and Stacey air sampling (Photo: Mick Mackey)

Towards the end of the month, we started preparing the base for the last ship call of the season. This involved sorting out all of the kit, waste and possessions that need to be sent out when the ship arrives, and organising all the paperwork that accompanies it. This included me having to pack up all my worldly possessions into boxes, ready to go home, which was rather sad.

Despite all these preparations, we all managed to find the time on the last day for a final grand trip out, when all on base climbed La Roche, our highest peak. It made a lovely end to a lovely summer, and for me, a fitting finale to a great 2.5 years on this special little island.

A final day out for all on base (Photo: Stacey Adlard)
A final day out for all on base (Photo: Stacey Adlard)

The ship arrived on 27th March. The winterers went on the ship to visit the dentist, and cargo was removed successfully. At the end of the day, it took away me, and the summer staff, leaving the 4 winterers to enjoy the peace and quiet that is a Bird Island winter.

Bird Island has been my home for so long, and I will miss it dearly. I feel privileged to have spent so much time in such as special place and to have experienced its ever changing seasons. I will sign off here, with one of my favourite images.

Wandering albatrosses displaying in the evening sunset (Photo: Stacey Adlard)
Wandering albatrosses displaying in the evening sunset (Photo: Stacey Adlard)

Stacey Adlard.
Penguin Zoological Field Assistant, Nov 2008- Mar 2011.