Bird Island Diary – April 2014

1 April, 2014

April on Bird Island feels like a real transition from summer to winter. The changes in the weather and the wildlife are gradual, but looking back to the start of the month the differences are noticeable.


With an absence of any trees and falling leaves we get our autumnal colours from the earlier sunsets and, as it gets colder, the clearer night skies.

We haven’t yet had a decent fall of snow, but the streams and ponds have iced over a few times and the boggy ground has subsequently got firmer and easier to walk on. It’s given us a chance to put spikes on our boots, wrap up warm and practice a bit of winter walking.

Up on the meadows the albatross chicks are growing up fast, with the first Black-brows and Grey-heads either fledging or on the verge of fledging. Very few of the Wandering Albatross chicks have attendant adults, with most of them off at sea, returning roughly once a week with food. The tubby little chicks have an amazingly dense layer of downy feathers that keeps them warm through the lowest temperatures and biting winds.

Jess has been keeping an eye on all of the chicks, looking at how many fledge successfully and taking chick weights on specific dates as well as ringing large numbers and deploying tiny GPSs on a select few. All this data will help assess the overall health of the bird populations and that of the wider Antarctic food web, along with learning more about their distribution and survival rates.

The Northern Giant Petrel chicks have all departed and the Southerns will be following them soon. Jerry weighed, measured and ringed all of them in the study area, which included a beautiful white morph individual. These only occur in the Southerns and of our adult population were are only two in the 250+ that nested in the study area this year.

Nearer the sea the penguins are heading off to spend the winter at sea. The Macaronis have finished their moult and won’t be seen on land again until they return in October. The Gentoos hang around Bird Island during this time, occasionally coming ashore in big numbers.

The beaches themselves are extremely quiet as the Fur Seal pups have departed. Cian’s been keeping track of them while awaiting the first Leopard Seal, but so far he’s just enjoying healthy looking females hauled out, looking well fed again after a tough season of puppy rearing.

Rob’s been keeping the base in good working order, spending his emotional reserves following Liverpool’s title push via incredibly slow internet text updates.

Easter passed without too much fuss, although egg decorating and Jess’s marzipan albatross chicks in chocolate nests were a highlight.

Jerry Gillham

Penguin and Petrel Zoological Field Assistant and Winter Base Commander