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Bird Island Diary - February 2012

After a busy start last month, the intensity of science activities has increased significantly as the fur seal pups, mollymawk, gentoo and macaroni penguin chicks have matured and there have been censuses to count, weigh, record biometric data and PIT-tag them before they leave Bird Island. In addition, we have also been monitoring all the Wandering Albatross nests on the island to observe their nesting success. The first Wandering Albatross chick to be born on Bird Island has just been recorded and the remainder will follow very soon. Although, albatross non-breeders have not been involved in these censuses specifically, their dramatic and noisy courtship rituals have continued to inspire us as we go about our daily work on the island. The intensity of the science was interrupted by the arrival of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall of River Cottage fame and a film crew making a second series of Fish Fight 2 during which he visited Antarctica and South Georgia investigating krill fishing. He was accompanied by Dr Martin Collins, the Chief Executive of GSGSSI. Early next month, we say farewell to Mick Mackey, a former WBC and Seal Assistant, who leaves after over two and a half years. He has made a huge contribution, both professionally and socially, to Bird Island and has been a regular contributor to the South Georgia Newsletter. His photographs have captured the essence of Bird Island and inspired others to visit. He will be leaving with Catharine Horswill and Hannah Froy. We wish them all a safe trip home, for Catharine and Hannah, success in their PhD studies, and for Mick every best wish for whatever the future may bring.

Gentoo chicks beg from their parent
Gentoo chicks beg from their parent
Sleepy gentoo chicks
Sleepy gentoo chicks
Not the prettiest inhabitant of the island - a snowy sheathbill chick
Not the prettiest inhabitant of the island - a snowy sheathbill chick

For Jenn, the busy period has continued with continual nest rounds of all the various species of albatrosses, which is all occurring simultaneously. She organised the third all island Wandering Albatross egg census, which like the last one, involved everybody on base checking every nest on the island. When not monitoring albatrosses and mollymawks, she has also found time to participate in the weighing of fur seal pups, counting gentoo penguins, and weighing gentoo and macaroni penguins. Also, Jenn has continued to assist Hannah Froy from Edinburgh University in her study of Wandering Albatrosses. The arrival of the Wandering Albatross chicks this week will increase her workload even more during the hatching period.

Grey-headed albatross feeding its chick
Grey-headed albatross feeding its chick
A wanderer swoops down to investigate some dancers
A wanderer swoops down to investigate some dancers

Ruth has continued with her monitoring of Giant Petrels and Macaroni penguins. She has also been involved in retrieving logging devices from Antarctic prions, South Georgia diving petrels and skuas. She organised the all island gento chick survey, the weighing of gentoo chicks and the weighing and PIT-tagging of macaroni penguins. She has continued her involvement in supporting the work of Catharine Horswill of St Andrew’s University by collecting samples and deploying and retrieving GPS and logging devices. In addition, she has collected soil, diet, faecal, feather, fungi samples for a variety of BAS scientists and other international organisations. All of these activities, involved daily deployments to Fairy Point Hut, late evening or early morning work and return to base the next day. She also found time to participate with the seal pup-weighing and PIT-tagging.

Brown skua chick
Brown skua chick
In February all the gentoo chicks on the island are counted
In February all the gentoo chicks on the island are counted
Muddy mac chick
Muddy mac chick
By the end of February mac chicks have moulted and are ready to fledge
By the end of February mac chicks have moulted and are ready to fledge
Macs porpoising
Macs porpoising

Mick and Jon were very much involved in the flipper and PIT tagging and the collecting of samples from the fur seal pups born at the Seal Study Beach (SSB) and the deploying and retrieving GPS and logging devices from fur seal females. They also organised the second fur seal pup weighing. With the gradual winding down of the seal work, Jon showed his flexibility and versatility by crossing the species divide and has made a valuable contribution assisting Catharine, Hannah, Ruth and Jenn in their avian work. Like Ruth, this has frequently involved late evening or early morning or overnight stays at the Fairey Point Hut. Mick has been handing over various aspects of his portfolio to Jon and has been making preparations to leave after a prolonged period here.

Fur seal puppy
Fur seal puppy
Blond fur seal puppy
Blond fur seal puppy

Robert, the Base Technician, has been keeping all the base utilities well-maintained and operating at peak efficiency. He continues to respond with relative ease to any of the technical challenges which occur, either planned or unplanned. Latterly, he has resolved the problems we had with one of our generators, fixed a number of faults on the Bobcat (excavator). He and Jon have been dismantled the famous Bird Island Jetty Bog, which they intend to renovate and save for posterity and have moved a large amount of scaffolding from Landing Bay to the SSB in preparation for the arrival of five Technicians, who are going to renovate the SSB and the jetty, and the installation of the pipe-work for the Bulk Fuel facility. Rob will no doubt be looking forward to the arrival of his colleagues and an opportunity to talk about technical rather than scientific matters. Like KEP, we hosted Hugh and Keo films for a day. They arrived on the Hans Hansen, and unusually, the weather was good. Filming took place in the vicinity of the penguin weigh-bridge at Fairey Point, on the ridge above it and at the Big Mac colony. Ruth and Catharine were interviewed about penguins and Jenn and Hannah about albatrosses and their dependence on krill and fish in South Georgia and the South Atlantic. In the glare of the TV camera, all acquitted themselves well. Although, we were rather looking forward to a four course meal cooked by Hugh, at least he managed to produce an excellent cake, which was enjoyed by all.

The jetty is a favourite spot for fur seal puppies
The jetty is a favourite spot for fur seal puppies

Once again, the frequency of late night and or early, morning activities, have constrained social gatherings. That said, we managed to celebrate Hannah’s birthday in some considerable style. The early arrival of Hans Hansen posed a bit of a problem for some of the “early shift”, who had to leave base earlier than they had planned. Latterly, we celebrated Mick’s, Hannah’s and Catherine’s farewell. Robert provided a great spread of finger food, Allan provided the Margaritas, Mick demonstrated the Charleston and there was dancing and fun into the early hours.