Bird Island Diary — August 2011

31 August, 2011

The weather has had the biggest impact on life at Bird Island this month. Southerly winds kept the temperature well below freezing causing the streams around base freeze into beautiful glassy shapes, while pancake ice formed in the sheltered areas of the bay attracting snow petrels in to feed.

The snow petrels stayed for a few days feeding around the grease and pancake ice close to shore. This sparked a frenzy of photographic activity and the quest for ‘the perfect snow petrel shot’. It’s not often you get an opportunity to see these beautiful birds at such close quarters.

The wildlife action seemed to come to us this month as we had another dramatic display when a Leopard seal caught its Fur seal prey not far off the end of the jetty. It then proceeded to thrash it from side to side in order to flay off the skin and separate it into bite size chunks.

We were confined to base on the 21st when we had sustained winds of 45-50kts and heavy snow fall resulting in large snow drifts around the buildings. The heavy seas and big waves breaking at the entrance of the bay caused further damage to the scaffolding structure at the seal study beach and lifted a number of boards and matting from the jetty. Sadly there were also wildlife casualties. Two of the Wandering Albatross chicks died having been blown off their nests during the storm.

Webcam viewers will already have spotted our Snow penguin which appeared one weekend. His sturdy construction ensured he survived the storm that arrived the next day; unfortunately he has not fared so well during the recent thaw.

Paul (our wintering technician) has had a difficult month, contending with frozen pipes and frequently having to hack through a foot of ice in order to pump water to the base. Even this method sometimes failed when either the pump or the hose pipe would freeze. Then we would have to ration our water (i.e. no showers until your properly stinky!) for a few days until the temperature came up again. Normally we would collect rainwater but everything has been frozen this month.

And… last but not least, congratulations to all at KEP on their triumph in the Antarctic film festival! Naturally we were surprised not to take the honours ourselves, but we’re happy that they came to South Georgia anyway.