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Bird Island Diary — December 2011

As always with Bird Island, nature changes constantly between the various species, and, the weather tends to stay the same! It can go from snow to sun through hail and rain in the space of half an hour.

Over the last couple of months, Jenny James, under the expert guidance of Andy Wood, has been building her knowledge of the wandering, grey-headed and black-browed albatrosses, and the routines and procedures which are associated with the long-term monitoring and survey of these species. One of the high points was the colony counts for the black-browed albatross, which involved everyone on base. Andy Wood left on the JCR during Second Call, just before Christmas, and so Jenny picked up the full responsibility for the albatrosses. Soon we will conduct the all-island census of the wandering albatrosses, which once again, will involve everyone on base.

Grey-headed albatross and chick. (Photo: Mick Mackey)
Grey-headed albatross and chick. (Photo: Mick Mackey)

Mick Mackey, Jon Ashburner and Jaume Forcada have been kept busy fur seals at the Special Study Beach (SSB) monitoring the arrival of the territorial males,the pregnant females and the birth of nearly 550 new black (and two blond) puppies. It is the first time in 10 years that a blonde pup has been born on SSB, so this was a cause for celebration for the “Seal Boys”.

A cute blonde. (Photo: Mick Mackey)
A cute blonde. (Photo: Mick Mackey)

This year, due to the storm, which destroyed a substantial part of the seal gantry, they have had to work with a foreshortened platform, which made their routine tasks even more difficult, and necessitated them having to find new ways of working. Through their hard work and dedication, they managed to overcame the limitations of the gantry and maintain the integrity of this unique, long-term dataset. The peak of the fur seal season has now passed and the territorial males are returning to sea after their arduous mating period, and although some have been replaced by younger males, the beaches are now mostly populated with mothers and their pups, most of whom, have moved inland to the tussock. Jaume Forcada left on the JCR during Second call with Andy Wood. Jon and Mick are completing their last few days on the SSB, before switching their activities to Freshwater Bay.  As a newcomer to Bird Island, the fur seal season was a high point. I was unprepared for the volume of seals which surrounded the base itself. Two out of three exits to the base were blocked by males and their harems, and getting in and out of the generator shed and the vegetable store was also sometimes a little interesting! Just getting down to the jetty for JCR Second Call required a major operation in itself! Thankfully, getting around the base is much easier, although we still have to negotiate the “moving black carpet” of pups, who have taken up residence on all the walkways and bark and growl at us before hurrying away, and tripping over their flippers.

There are lots of fur seal pups. (Photo: Mick Mackey)
There are lots of fur seal pups. (Photo: Mick Mackey)

Ruth Brown has continued her work on the long term monitoring and survey of Marconi penguins and Giant Petrels. She has also been heavily involved in the Penguin Weighbridge at “Little Mac” and helping Cat Horswill from Saint Andrews’s University track Marconi penguins using miniature GPS devices for her PhD.  In addition, she has been involved in retrieving logging devices from blue petrels, common diving petrels and Antarctic prions.

Robert Lord, our technician, has continued give sterling service maintaining vital services around the base itself. That can vary from normal maintenance to repairs when we break things. He tends to spend a lot of time working to assure our water supply, cleaning the water filters and dealing with a few emergencies, for which luckily there are no call-out charges!

As mentioned previously, the JCR returned for a Second Call on 21st December. We said farewell to Andy Wood and Jaume Forcada, who returned to UK and Spain to spend time with their families.   We welcome Richard Phillips from BAS and Hannah Froy from Edinburgh University. We also received an eagerly awaited consignment of Christmas mail from our families and friends, and rather furry “fresh vegetables” for our Christmas Dinner. As the birds and mammals here do not stop for the Christmas period, neither did our activities except for festivities on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. We had a sumptuous feast on Christmas Day and an excellent Ceilidh for Hogmany, and “saw the bells in on the jetty”. We also celebrated Ruth’s and Richard’s birthdays in style.

Happy New Year from all of us here and all the best for 2012.