Bird Island Diary — August 2007

31 August, 2007

By Rob Dunn

Wintering Technician

Welcome to the August diary from Bird Island. We have been enjoying the snow-covered hills that have now been around for a while. I remember when I arrived that it was pointed out that it was possible to ski from the bottom slopes of la Roche right into base! This was difficult to imagine back in April looking at the clumps of tussock grass everywhere, but they have become snow covered and ski-able especially through the stream paths. You may be able to pick out these paths on the photo; this particular stream is also a water source for us when we can’t harvest water from the roof, as it runs consistently through the varying weather cycles here. With a bit of digging through the ice and snow, it can still be found running!

Photo by Robin (you can just make out the base in the bay with some nice ice snapped off the Antarctic shelf floating by).The beginning of the month was as usual marked by the wandering albatross census, and Fabrice and I took of for the Far East side with full crampons and ice axes as the pathway winding through the mountainsides were quite slippery and there was a strong breeze on the day. The chicks are getting easier to locate once you have been around a few times, but the difference this month was that some had started to waddle around a little, and were not always on there nests although always close by, I presume this is why they are called Wandering Albatross and not because of the ten’s of thousands of miles they clock up while riding the winds.

Fabrice taking photo from mountain cwm, which over looks a penguin colony and South Georgia main land in the distance.The other big differences with the Wandering chicks this month is that they are starting to sprout their adult feathers and malt a little, sometimes you can observe that they have furry beaks which is caused by them getting some malt stuck and drying after feeding from oily fish. This I imagine is quite a sensitive time for these birds and I sadly mention that some had lost there fight against the elements in a brief storm that passed over the Island which must have swept several of them from their nest’s as they were all found the next day. It’s such a shame for this to happen so near to reaching freedom in the skies.

August’s chick beginning to plume.Don has promised me some large elephant seals in the coming months, which I must admit are some of my favourite creatures out here, (although its better not to show favouritism, it’s difficult not to like the Wanderer’s more than the Giant southern petrels or the Elephant seals over the Fur Seals and so on as you end up missing the bigger picture). But you do get a distinctive difference in reaction with the fur seal’s to that of the Elephant’s more calming nature.

I look forward to the arrival of a few large specimens; although they aren’t driven to this small Island on great numbers we should only have a few odd strays.

Overall I think the key thing to learn on this Island is how to deal with the Fur Seals as they really rule the roost. Sometimes they will show some aggression, and although they aren’t in great numbers at all this month there are a few large males around which has been the case for a while now. We still get one or too around the base which can surprise on a dark evening, but these seem to be more friendly fur seals and some of them even let you walk past without trying to bite your leg off! (Why can’t they all be like this, after all manners aren’t that expensive are they? well probably as they were close to extinction at one point due to the fur trade).

It is rewarding when we find one snared up in fishing line and cut them free but this is quite difficult some times when the line is cutting deep into the skin and Don has to carefully cut it out while the other tries to restrain them. Talking of fishing debris Don happened across a large pink surface marker buoy whilst out on his rounds and felt duty bound to bring it back home to base and show it off.

The next week he found another of equal size and whilst he had carried it all the way back from the eastern side of the Isle, discontented with just this he decided to impress us further by giving it a kick when he got back base, shouting something about celtic scoring, this though turned to be a misadventure, as it “hissed” passed us and the make believe goal, we all noted his crampon with the two big spikes sticking out the front, Don remarked later with colourful language that it was a nightmare dragging that thing back over the other side of the hills.

It’s amazing what you can pick up along the shores.We had refreshed our emergency search and rescue procedures in August with a mock up casualty, which helped test our response. We then used a stretcher to bring the casualty back to base this was a difficult process along the jagged shore. I would imagine this would be a difficult process for real when the fur seals are back! Requiring a lot of teamwork, as we found getting the stretcher up/ down and around the rocks hard enough without the added wild life hazard that we don’t have at present.

Picture show’s Fabrice adjusting his, emergency mouse ear’s ‘just in case’. Don our victim (I mean casualty), was starting to complain that he needed to use the loo!We also had two birthdays in the house in the same week so celebrations were in order and here is a picture of Don on a poker night just gone 12 pm and official start of celebrations, I rushed to the fridge between bluff’s (I mean good hands!), and found a stale bit of cake hidden in the back of the fridge, so conjuring up a couple of candles and quick round of Happy birthday was just what we needed, Don remarked that “I really shouldn’t have bothered”, but his birthday wish for bigger cake less stale and slightly less ‘already eaten’ came to fruition the next day.

Don before and after wishing for a better cake.Robin not a man to be left out also decided to have his own birthday this week as well. Although you’re probably fed up of seeing the same colour birthday cake (yes we have run out of different colour icing), I feel obliged to add Robin’s cake photo to boot.

Robbo’s look of amazement at the cake as he spotted me fighting with it earlier on in the kitchen when it was looking a bit sorry for itself.

We were challenged to a darts match by Rothera station and rose to the challenge after trying to glue together our aging darts. Had we had top of the range darts from Argos we doubt our skill in this game would have been much better and we lost the first round. Round two we won with Robin’s double and we began to see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. After a mid match break and a soothing spot of tea for our nerves, we managed with true grit and determination to win the decider, again with a lucky shot from Robin, all that was left was to celebrate to the back ground music from Top Gun (..sorry about that Rothera, terribly cheesy but thanks for the game)…

The victorious Bird Island darts team!Well I think I will finish with this photo looking back at the base and our gorgeous snow covered mount La Roche standing 1199 ft.

We should see our snow receding again soon and the summer begin to take effect with different animals migrating back completing cycles in there lives, and as for me almost the same with just a few more months to go.


Rob Dunn