Bird Island Diary — November 2012
The inhabitants of Bird Island have been having quite an eventful time since Jon wrote our last diary entry. One of the most significant events has been the arrival of RSS James Clark Ross for the delivery of technical, domestic and scientific supplies and of course the new Base Staff. Fist Call also saw the departure of the wintering Base Tech — Rob Lord. I know that Rob will be missed by all the wintering staff. His hard work over the past 12 months has been greatly appreciated and he leaves a legacy that includes a strange devotion to extreme fitness regimes and of course a very fine barbecue.
The incoming bas staff comprise of the new Tech, Craig Brown, who has exchanged the frozen landscapes of Halley for the warmer climes of Bird Island. He is joined by the wintering science team: Jerry Gillham (Penguins and Petrels), Stephanie Winnard (Albatross) and Hannah Wood (Seals) and also by myself, the new Base Commander.
Having been given a very warm welcome by the wintering team (for whom, after months of relative peace, the arrival of 5 thoroughly over-excited newcomers must have been something of a shock) we got stuck into the work of relief. With the help of the crew and other members of the ship’s company we managed to complete this in 2 days, including the offloading of 3 large fuel tanks that will eventually replace the current system of using drummed fuel.
First Call also saw a delivery of fresh produce from the Falkland Islands, a welcome site indeed for the winterers. These supplies came in very handy when shortly after our arrival we took the opportunity to celebrate Steph’s birthday. Jaume cooked up an excellent Mexican dinner which was greatly appreciated by all.
The base staff are not the only new arrivals at Bird Island. There has been an explosion of the Fur Seal population around the Island, including here in Jordan Cove. The males are the first to arrive and establish their territories on the beach, which they defend energetically and aggressively. They are soon joined by the females and pups are born shortly afterwards. This has meant a huge increase in the workload of the Seal Team (Jaume, Jon and Hannah.) Who are kept busy on the Seal Study Beach (SSB.) Jaume is our regular visiting seal biologist and this will be his 10th season on Bird Island. That’s a lot of hours on the SSB! For other members of the base the seal population is a constant source of entertainment. It is difficult not to be distracted by the soap opera being played out on the beach in front of the base (‘Seal TV’ as Jon describes it.) Males defend their territory and their harems as pups explore the beach and Petrels and Skuas circle, constantly on the lookout for an easy meal. Amongst the chaos the occasional visiting Elephant Seal lies seemingly unperturbed by the noise and violence around them.
Elsewhere on the island other dramas are unfolding. The Albatross Team (Jen and Steph) are kept busy patrolling the hills and monitoring the progress of the Wandering Albatross fledglings. Many have already taken to the skies, hopefully to return in 5 years or so and eventually raise families of their own. The later chicks look on as they lose the last of their ‘fluff’ and exercise impressive wings ready for their own departure. The Black-browed Albatross population have just about finished their laying season and now wait patiently for their own chicks to hatch. A census of these birds was recently carried out by all members of the base team and we are keeping our fingers crossed for a successful season for them.
Ruth and Jerry have also been kept busy around the island monitoring both the Giant Petrel and Penguin populations. Over the past few weeks the Macaroni Penguins have returned to their breeding site on the north of the island, first the males who are then joined by their mates. The biggest colony here goes by the popular name of ‘Big Mac.’ Here thousands of penguins can be seen (and heard and smelt) as they squabble and jostle for position. The colony extends high up the hillside which is now thick with breeding pairs, making it seemingly impossible to travel amongst them. Ruth and Jerry now have the unenviable task of assessing and monitoring this seething mass of birds.
Back on base we are all settling into our new roles. In addition to cooking spectacular pizzas and helping with the Albatross census, Craig has been kept busy providing technical support to the base. He is already on quite familiar terms with a number of Fur Seals who have chosen to establish their territory around his workshops and generator shed! And me? Well I am having a wonderful time finding my way around the island and ‘helping’ with some of the science work. I have much to do as I get to grips with my new role, but if you’ll excuse me I think it’s time for another exciting instalment of ‘Seal TV’…