ANTARCTIC BLOG: Busy month for leopard seal sightings!

27 October, 2015

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Leopard seal peak

The penultimate month of the lep round has been by far the most exciting. September has been the busiest month yet for leopard seal sightings. It has been such a joy to see these magnificent predators every day.  A young lep, named Melvin, has been a regular visitor to the beach in front of research station this month. When the sheathbills aren’t pecking at him, he sleeps all day. One snowy morning he flopped onto the beach carrying a whole, but dead, penguin, and proceeded to guard it from the sheathbills and then take a nap next to it. I wondered if this was the leopard seal equivalent of a cat bringing home a dead bird as a present to its owners… Melvin has of course been feasting on many penguins, which are found in the scats he deposits on the beach, but it’s a mystery why he did not eat this particular one.

Leopard seal on Bird Island takes a nap next to the penguin he has caught
Leopard seal on Bird Island takes a nap next to the penguin he has caught (Sian Tarrant)

There have been other young leps around this month. They tend to make the most interesting sightings, perhaps they are more curious, but their older counterparts seem mainly lie motionless in the water, making it a challenge to get those all important ID photos!

Measuring an elephant seal on Bird Island (Sian Tarrant)
Measuring a Leopard seal on Bird Island (Sian Tarrant)

There have been a number of big elephant seal males turning up on the beaches, which has been awesome to see. I love their big fat wrinkly noses. They let out huge loud bellows, which can be heard from quite a distance away! We have our fingers crossed that we’ll get some females and pups next month.

Male Elephant seal bellowing on Bird Island
Male Elephant seal bellowing on Bird Island (Sian Tarrant)

Geep eggs

Alastair started his ‘geep’ (giant petrels) rounds this month, checking their nests for eggs each day, and recording the ring number of both partners. The first egg was laid on the 14th, and Al has been kept busy with another 94 eggs since then, which is roughly a third of the total eggs that will be laid this season.

Giant Petrels on Bird Island
Giant Petrels on Bird Island (Sian Tarrant)

The gentoo penguins are starting to accumulate in good numbers on the beaches again. I often see them on the lep round, swimming in big groups coming into roost, leaping through the water, approaching the beaches, poking their heads up, and then taking a last minute steer in a different direction. They can be very indecisive!

Mollies return

Lucy has been back visiting the mollymawk albatross colonies on a daily basis since the 1st, awaiting their return to the island from their winter at sea. The first bird returned on the 6th, and Lucy has been busy recording the ring numbers of each individual. As the numbers build up, the birds have been busy doing up their nests, and flirting with potential partners.  It’s been nice hearing them back at the colonies above me as I walk past on the lep round.

Grey head returns to its nest, awaiting a partner (Sian Tarrant)
Grey headed albatross returns to its nest, awaiting a partner (Sian Tarrant)

One bird that has returned this year is a 53 year old grey-head. He was born in 1962. Grey-heads on Bird Island have been known to reach the age of 60, so he still has many years left in him! Another bird that has returned this year has been with the same partner for 25 years.

Lucy and Alastair have been hard at work with the wandering albatross chick ringing, with 600 chicks ringed across the island so far.

Albatross chicks growing up fast (Siân Tarrant)
Albatross chicks growing up fast (Siân Tarrant)

Fire alarm system installed

This month Robbie completed his white whale of the winter, the new fire alarm system. Now that’s out of the way and the weather takes a turn for the warmer side of things, he’s spending more time doing jobs outside, and hoping to get enough done to have time to enjoy the island before he leaves in November.

A snowy September day on Bird Island (Siân Tarrant)
A snowy September day on Bird Island (Siân Tarrant)

Robbie learnt the perils of eating crunchy cereal when a bit of his filling fell out! Lucy donned her medical overalls and I assisted as her very glamorous assistant. The real difficulty was getting Robbie to not talk long enough to get his mouth dry and the filling in place!

Social

Quote from Alice in Wonderland
Quote from Alice in Wonderland

At the beginning of the month I organised an Alice in Wonderland themed tea party. We dressed in character, guests had to crawl through the rabbit hole for an evening of nonsense, and after dinner clues led them around base on a treasure hunt. Quotes from the book hung from the ceiling, some were very Bird Island appropriate!

Next up was Robbie’s “Night of the Living dead” themed Saturday, which felt awfully familiar to Hallowe’en! Frankenstein’s monster, a zombie, pirate skeleton, and Dracula made an appearance.  Thankfully, no eyeballs or witch’s broth were on the menu!

At the end of the month, there were 4 wintering girls on Bird Island. Al and Robbie donned dresses and makeup for Lucy’s girls night, and they made worryingly convincing looking girls! Chick flicks, nail painting and gossip magazines were the order of the evening.

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