Our site is using cookies to record anonymous visitor statistics and enhance your user experience. OK |  Find out more

Skip navigation

Dec 01 - Bird Island

Monday 1st December 2008
Position report at 15:00 GMT
Latitude: 53 26.2 S
Longitude: 45 47.9 W
Bearing: 103 °T, 443 Nm from Cape Pembroke, Falklands
Cruise Number: JR 187
Distance Travelled: 264
Total Distance Travelled: 310.5
Steam Time: 22.2
Total Steam Time: 25.95
Average Speed: 11.9
Total Average Speed: 12.0
Wind: Direction W, Force 5
Sea State: Moderate
Air Temp: 5.1 °C Sea Temp: 3.6 °C
Pressure: 1010.5 Tendency: Falling

Distance from Tenby: 6,680 miles

This week has been a real treat; we visited Bird Island — just off the western tip of South Georgia. The two days at Bird Island (delivering and collecting cargo and scientists) were interspersed with a few days at sea (recovering and deploying moorings — for the collection of scientific data) and we are now on our return journey to the Falkland Islands.

On our first visit to shore, we were very busy moving cargo and carrying out other work on the base, so there was little opportunity to explore. We were greeted at the jetty by particularly unfriendly fur seals whose scent was somewhat pungent to say the least, and the sight of prehistoric-looking Giant Petrels tearing off the flesh of a decomposing carcass was not quite the sort of welcome to which we have become accustomed. The air was damp and cold with a thick mist, and the island had a rather hostile atmosphere. I must confess my relief at being able to leave the island and certainly did not envy those scientists we were leaving behind who are due to spend over two years there.

Fur seals lining the beaches at Bird Island
Fur seals lining the beaches at Bird Island
A Southern Giant Petrel with head covered in blood
A Southern Giant Petrel with head covered in blood

However, first impressions are not always best, and this was one such occasion. On our return to Bird Island, the place seemed very different and its appeal became obvious. The morning was spent working;

Drums containing fuel were first collected from the ship's hold - photo by Richard Turner
Drums containing fuel were first collected from the ship's hold - photo by Richard Turner
Then loaded onto the cargo tender for transfer to the base - photo by Richard Turner
Then loaded onto the cargo tender for transfer to the base - photo by Richard Turner
Tim, Graeme and Penny heading off for the Island - photo by Richard Turner
Tim, Graeme and Penny heading off for the Island - photo by Richard Turner

Once ashore, the barrels had to be rolled up the jetty to be delivered around the base. Ordinarily, this would have been hard work… with the addition of belligerent fur seals who refused to get out of the way once they had found their niche on the jetty, and who would pounce on anything or anyone within a 2 meter range, the work became a real challenge! It was managed however, and I am delighted to report that amongst the human population on Bird Island that day, I had no fur-seal bites with which to deal — there were few fur seals however without chunks of flesh hanging off and nasty open wounds from encounters with their neighbours. So, in leaving us unscathed, perhaps these creatures are not so bad after all, and just a little misunderstood?!

The work done, many of us were given the real treat of an escorted (by BAS scientists who have been living at the base) hike over the hills to be shown the beauty of Bird Island. Once we had made our way past the fur seals who, to my amazement, could be found on very high ground inland, we could relax and enjoy the company of Wandering Albatrosses.

A Wandering Albatross chick and its parent - JCR in the background
A Wandering Albatross chick and its parent - JCR in the background

Our walk continued over the high-ground, past lakes and nesting birds and through tussock grass and boggy ground (in which I was not alone in temporarily losing my foot-wear). With the sun shining on our faces, a fresh sea-air breeze and the sounds of birds and seals going about their daily routines, the island felt positively alive. Then came the highlight of my trip so far: the Macaroni penguin colony came into view.

Big Mac - Macaroni penguin colony
Big Mac - Macaroni penguin colony

One of my main hopes as I set off from the UK was that I would meet a Macaroni penguin — I was not disappointed, we met thousands! These little fellows with their mischievous appearance, Salvador-Dali style flamboyant eyebrows and general air of superiority are most endearing.

A Macaroni Penguin
A Macaroni Penguin

Fortunately, though we cannot get too close lest we should cause distress, the Macaronis seemed interested in our presence as much as we in theirs; by lying still nearby they would come up close to investigate us. One disadvantage of this proximity was an olfactory assault — I mentioned earlier that the fur seals give off rather a foul smell... well penguins really stink! Though I'm afraid that of the varieties I have met so far, in my opinion, it is the Gentoo penguins who exude the most offensive ammoniacal smell. I state this with regret because having won acclaim for my “uncanny ability” to imitate the call of a Gentoo penguin, I do feel a particularly close affinity to these dear birds. We all love the penguins despite their smell.

A Macaroni at the edge of the colony
A Macaroni at the edge of the colony

Next we walked on to see the grey-headed Albatross. As a result of our having accidentally missed lunch (due to our eagerness to go and explore the island), the digestive biscuits which we were offered at the hut went down very well:

Graeme, Gavin and Ewan polishing off the remains of the biscuits
Graeme, Gavin and Ewan polishing off the remains of the biscuits

A great thrill was watching the Grey-Heads as they flew in over the hut to land at their nests. After a considerable length of time trying, and many attempts I managed to take the photo I wanted — isn't digital photography and the ability to discard hopeless photos a great advancement in modern technology?!

A grey-headed Albatross about to land on my head
A grey-headed Albatross about to land on my head

Having spent a fantastic day at Bird Island, it was with sadness that we waved our goodbyes to those lucky enough to remain on the island. Thankfully we shall return later in the season so my fingers are crossed that I may again have the opportunity to set foot on this magical island which is without doubt, one of my favourite places on earth.