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ANTARCTIC BLOG: Wild Life!

1 May, 2015

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Birds

Lucy has been busy at the colonies checking black brow albatross and grey headed albatross nests for failures and fledglings. The black browed albatross chicks have all gone now, and the grey headed albatross chicks are beginning to look very elegant in their feathers, although some still have tufts of fluff poking out here and there.

Albatross chick on Bird Island, South Georgia
Albatross chick on Bird Island, South Georgia

The 1st of the month saw the wandering albatross census. For me, the census is great excuse to get off the beaches. We had a beautiful day for it; the sun was shining, giving a beautiful view from the top of Molly Hill, which made the steep ascent from Molly Meadows well worth the climb. The chicks are looking very plump now, and it’s a lovely sight to see the odd parent sitting next to its chick. Our efforts to census the whole island in a day were rewarded with Al’s famous fish n chips on the end of the jetty, wrapped up in newspaper, and a well-deserved G&T.

Fish and chips on the jetty, enjoying the sunset, Bird Island
Fish and chips on the jetty, enjoying the sunset, Bird Island

Along with the wandering albatross census, Lucy and Al carried out the light-mantled sooty albatross chick census. They followed a section of the coastline, checking the sooty nests perched on the cliffs.

This month Al has been soldiering on with lab work and visiting the giant petrel nests to collect fledging dates. The northern giant petrels have all gone now, and just 2 southerns remain. May also saw the start of the fortnightly sheathbill and pintail counts. It’s the same route as the leopard seal round, so I am able to join in with it, as it requires 2 independent counters, and at the same time, watching out for leopard seals along the route.

We’ve been treated to hoards of gentoo penguins coming ashore onto fresh water beach, right in front of base. They are incredibly inquisitive creatures, and even braved coming close to one of their predators, Max the leopard seal, for a closer look while he was sleeping on the beach. I also came across a chinstrap on Main Bay last week, who looked quite lost, wandering the beach on his own.

Chinstrap penguin in Main Bay, Bird Island
Chinstrap penguin in Main Bay, Bird Island

Seals

The leopard seals continue to arrive and I’ve been lucky enough to see a few kills. Lucy was on her way back from the ridge one evening and spotted Max in the bay chewing on a furry. After throwing on some warm clothes, I ran out to join her. He was really close to shore, and put on a great show for us, thrashing it from side to side, the cape petrels swooping in to grab whatever morsels they could. Stephanie put on less of a spectacle, but a more impressive kill last week, when I spotted her eating a small elephant seal. It was shame to see one getting eaten; they’re such placid beasts when they’re hauled out on the beaches here, It was especially sad as there was a similar sized elephant seal sitting on the rocks, watching Stephanie eat its conspecific.

Leopard seal eating a fur seal
Leopard seal eating a fur seal

There have been a few good sized fur seal males turning up; it feels like seeing a familiar face again after their absence from the beaches. There’s also been a portly looking female sleeping by the back door; it’s nice seeing her looking in such great shape, after seeing the females become so skinny during the breeding season.

Other work

May has been the month for indenting; the tedious task of counting things on base. However, it was over fairly quickly, with all four of us chipping in. And it was a great opportunity to reorganise things, especially the freezers, which led to the discovery that we do in fact have garden peas, 2 whole bags, a real treat!

Robbie has been kept busy this month with tech indents, but one highlight of the month was replacing the spiral air vents in the roof, which get hammered by the wind, and we have had a lot of that this month, with it reaching 51 knots on the 17th. Not a day we wanted to be out in the field!

Weather

The temperature continues to drop; the streams have been frozen, meaning we’ve had to don the crampons to make it up the hill or across the beaches. We also had a fair dump of snow, which made it decidedly more difficult to find the holes between the tussock, but an excellent opportunity for perfecting my snow angels and making a small snowman to keep me company on the leopard seal round.  This week we’ve had the arrival of a small iceberg in the bay outside base, and a fair amount of ice scattered along the beaches.

View of Bird Island Research Station, South Georgia
View of Bird Island Research Station, South Georgia

We haven’t had many clear skies this month, with low lying cloud and “mank” being the prevailing weather condition. But we did have the rare appearance of a rainbow one sunny and wet afternoon. Such an unusual sight on Bird Island, it felt very special to see one of nature’s most magical phenomena in such an incredible setting.

Rainbow over Main Bay on Bird Island with South Georgia in the background
Rainbow over Main Bay on Bird Island with South Georgia in the background

Mid winter is now fast approaching, and so we have set to work on our mid winter presents. Hours will be spent in the workshop over the next few weeks, creating a masterpiece to give to one of our fellow winterers.

Social

On the Bird Island social scene, it has been a great month for fancy dress. The first Saturday of the month was “Ethiopian night” put on by Lucy; she cooked up at fantastic array of Ethiopian dishes, eaten with the traditional flatbread, Injera. Next up was Star Wars day, May the Fourth, for which we dressed up as some well known, and some not so well known, Star Wars characters. We watched episode V, while tucking into Han Solo burgers, C3P-O-tato salad and wookie cookies.

Lucy conducted a medical session for us on sleep, aches and breaks, as some of us have been suffering with sore shoulders and backs this season. Afterwards we got to have fun with plaster casting each other.

The last weekend of the month was an epic one. During the week we had watched the Hobbit trilogy. On Saturday night we were invited to go on an unexpected journey, meeting at the Prancing Pony at 8pm, where we feasted on Middle Earth inspired delicacies which included Saurons eye devilled eggs and filo pastry Shelob spiders. After dinner we were sent on a quest, to retrieve The Ring, following clues which sent us all over base, fighting off Gollum, and treating Robbie after he was bitten by Shelob. On the Sunday, we had the gruelling 11 hour film marathon of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, breaking only for fieldwork and food, which some of us managed to stay awake for, and others did not….

Ready to tackle the Hobbit trilogy
Ready to tackle the Hobbit trilogy

 

 

 

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