Bird Island Diary — August 2001

31 August, 2001 Bird Island

Preparing for Summer, Sledging and a Birthday

Hello again from the Bird Island Trio! Here we are in the middle of winter with deep snow and freezing weather. Oh no, hold on! No, that’s what it’s supposed to be, but in fact we have had torrential rain for two days and the snow is melting! It’s more like a monsoon at the moment with raging torrents gushing down the streams and over rocky outcrops and the water level round our little summer house, the Hilton, rising rapidly. We have had some gorgeous days recently though, with bright blue skies and blazing sunshine, so we can’t complain really. As soon as we have days like this we all wander off taking photos so there will be plenty of further proof for the rest of the world that we live here in perpetual sunshine!

So, what else has happened in our fifth winter month? It has been a peaceful time for all of us. We’re gradually becoming aware that we are only two months from the frantic pace of summer so we’ve been preparing odds and ends for the work. Mark has been busy in the chippy shop sawing, sanding and drilling to produce two brand new finely crafted seal restraint boards ready for the new season. How lovely they look now, all varnished and clean and how foul they will look within two days of use in the mud and muck of summer! Daf has been getting ready for the return of the Mollymawks, the black-browed and grey-headed albatrosses, in a few weeks time by preparing nest markers. His methods are unorthodox – one night after his shower Mark and I noticed that Daf had not been seen for over an hour and wasn’t in his room. I went out to look for him with visions of “Welsh rugby fan slips on ice in head on collision with leopard seal!” and found him sitting in the chippy shop, head torch on, preparing nest markers by the hundred! After being drawn into discussions of which colour nest tag is in fashion this season, Mark came out in his dressing gown (thoughts of “Alien body snatchers steal two from remote island!”) to find his two vanished friends preparing nest markers at midnight!

Daf turned a quarter of a century on the August 7 – the young whippersnapper of the base! We think he felt forgotten and made himself welsh speckled bread for a birthday cake and was very surprised when we produced ‘one that we had made earlier’ – a Christmas fruit cake (his favourite), topped with 25 candles! Needless to say the entire thing was gone within 12 hours and the dentists are again on full alert.

Earlier in the month there was plenty of snow around and even a ‘cornice’ or two on the cliffs. I skied my entire wandering albatross chick count round whilst Mark dived unwillingly into every snowdrift he could find and appears to have spent most of his time on his knees!

Some lovely steep snowy banks right near base inspired us to run outside with plastic bags and hurtle down the slopes. Most of the seals sensibly realised that it was a good idea to move away from the “landing zone” where we arrived as screaming, spinning snowballs, but there is always that one obstinate individual! The fast moving industry of sledge making at Bird Island began with simple plastic bags, but the addition of cardboard inners and rope handles provided us with more steering. We would confidently announce “I’ll turn that bend and go to one side of that rock” knowing full well that we would not and in fact we would just career down the slope in a straight line and have a big bruise on our bums after meeting the rock head on – or bum on! Eventually our sledges became refined pieces of thin wood, footrests and rope handles and we could actually turn ourselves. The discovery of a ramp put paid to our sledging after we all flew down it at top speed, across the streambed and up the other side flying in to the air and then landing in the tussac and snapping the boards into three pieces! Our little audience of seals watched the whole thing unsure whether to join us, run away or cheer!

Half way through August the second ship of winter arrived, RFA Black Rover, with a friendly Captain and crew who were all set to come ashore and say hello to a wanderer. Bird Island weather intervened and whipped up the sea so instead we had a chat with the crew sat at the end of the jetty! We got plenty of fresh veggies and fruit, post and sweets….Myriam in Stanley knows our favourites and sent us all some surprise sweet-filled bags. By the end of the day of gorging on sweets we all felt a bit sick, self-restraint not being the strong point of any BI winterer! We could once again taunt Daf with chewed paper lolly sticks!

We have been waiting for full moon for some midnight moonlit skiing because last month the snow was right, but the moon was clouded over. This month the weather and the moon were perfect but the snow was no good! Instead we have all been trying to perfect the art of night photography from various spots about the island. Daf decided that the top of Tonk would make for a good night shot of base and La Roche so a trip up was planned, but as the night was clear and moonlit I decided to bivvy on top of Tonk. Daf and I took photos of the sun setting behind the Willis Islands and the moon rising behind La Roche and then I spent a very warm night in my sleeping bag and bivvy bag in a nice sheltered dip right at the top of Tonk. I laid in my bed and watched the stars and moon overhead and in the morning dusted off a thick layer of frost and watched the sun rise behind La Roche. Magical!

Well that brings us to the end of another Bird Island winter month. Our next month is promising with talk of a yacht, a ship and the mollymawks returning. Until then lots of love from all of us here to all the families, friends and loved ones there!