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Bird Island Diary — January 2012

After a truly memorable New Year, it was back to work for all of us on Bird Island. Gradually, the landscape around base began to change as the territorial male fur seals, their harems and their pups started to move from Freshwater Bay to the tussock in the surrounding area. Just getting in and out of the buildings and moving around the walkways became much easier. Throughout the colonies of Gentoo and Macaroni penguins, chicks began to hatch. Up in the Meadows, Giant Petrel, Skua and Mollymawk chicks began to hatch as well and Wandering Albatross partners started to return and begin their dramatic courtship rituals.

The dramatic courtship of wandering albatrosses. (Photo: Mick Mackey)
The dramatic courtship of wandering albatrosses. (Photo: Mick Mackey)

For Jenn, it was a particularly busy period to try and monitor all the activity across all the various species of albatrosses, which was occurring simultaneously. By far the most challenging was the staking of the all the wandering albatross nests on the island and the acquisition of all the associated data. Everybody pitched in, and for about a week, small groups would be out and about throughout the island doing their bit. She also organised the chick census of the Light Mantled Sooty Albatross and the second all island wandering albatross census. Also, Jenn assisted Hannah Froy from Edinburgh University in her study of Wandering Albatrosses.

Although Ruth continued with her monitoring of Giant Petrels and Macaroni penguins, she became more and more involved in facilitating the work of Catherine Horswill from St Andrew’s University and Richard Phillips from BAS in the deploying and retrieving tracking equipment on Macaroni Penguins, Antarctic Prions and South Georgia Diving Petrels. This involved the mist-netting for nocturnal petrels. All of these activities, involved daily deployments to Fairy Point Hut, late evening or early morning work and return to base the next day. Richard was also heavily involved in his own study into Skuas.

Who's studying who? (Photo: Mick Mackey)
Who's studying who? (Photo: Mick Mackey)

For Mick and Jon, the work at the Seal Study Beach (SSB) began to wind down as the last seal pup was born there on 4 January and their priorities changed to deploying and retrieving tracking equipment on female fur seals. The first fur seal pup weighing took place on 8 January on Main Bay, during which 100 pups were weighed. Once again, everyone participated — no doubt inspired by the thought of a full fry-up prepared by Mick and Jon. Latterly, Mick and Jon have been tagging the fur seal pups born on the SSB. Where possible others have assisted, when their individual programmes have allowed. Although generally quite cute, fur seal pups are deceptively strong and have sharp teeth as some of the base members found out during the tagging.

A rare blonde fur seal pup. (Photo: Mick Mackey)
A rare blonde fur seal pup. (Photo: Mick Mackey)

Robert, the Base Technician, has been keeping all the base utilities well-maintained and operating at peak efficiency. He also repairs those things than everyone breaks. He has been fully occupied keeping the water and the power systems going as well as dealing with the odd emergency, when the generators powered down! When not keeping the base maintained, he is out an about helping the scientists in the field.

Given the frequency of late night and or early, morning activities, things have been quieter socially. That said, we celebrated Robert’s birthday with an appropriate cake and inscription, Richard’s departure during JCR Third Call and Burns Night with an appropriate menu and an address to the Haggis. Aspirations to reprise New Year and improve our standard of Scottish Country dancing were not realised, probably due to the weight of the Burns meal and final addition of Ruth’s deep fried Mars Bar!