Bird Island Diary – December 2005
31 December, 2005 Bird Island
What a month!
December, usually a month of joyous celebration has lived up to this reputation admirably on Bird Island.
The RRS James Clark Ross now long gone, it was down to business as usual for Bird Island following the mass exodus by the Morrisons boys to KEP to continue their mission of peace and goodwill (with the aid of Darren’s hot rum).
On the bird front, Helen has been busy looking after her ‘Geeps’ (Giant Petrels to you and me) while the babies hatch. She has also been keeping an eye on the islands huge population of Macaroni and Gentoo Penguins.
Richard arrived on the 11th to take over the Giant Petrel work, leaving Helen free to concentrate on the penguins and their projectile weaponry. Isaac (Master Zac) and his new, young jedi apprentice, ‘Wonderful Brave Sir Robin’, have been putting in the mileage on the Albatross colonies. Going out with them is an exhausting experience as the pace is a step up from greased lightning. The Wanderers have started laying eggs and the fledglings have started, well, fledging.
Xander (Alexander) has been spending an awful lot of time wandering around the Black Brow Albatrosses in colony ‘J’. We’re not sure what he’s doing out there, but he’s started to look like one of them.
The fur seal population has been growing steadily throughout November and December, with a proportional increase in the air and noise pollution levels (non-greenhouse gas producing, naturally). SSB (Sarah’s Special Beach) has been steadily filling up, and the dominant males are now looking quite pleased with themselves. All that ooffing and chooffing to keep their territory is now paying off. Hopefully, it was worth the effort guys. The pups are now in full flow production, with one being born on freshwater beach every few minutes, normally in the opposite direction to where the camera is pointing.
Sarah and Donald (her promising new apprentice) have attended SSB religiously, twice a day to count and record new seal pups, no small feat at the moment with around 35 to 40 being born each day. In between this, they are fitting in a myriad of other tasks. Science never sleeps in sealsville.
Jaume also visits SSB every day, but a mounting workload of more pressing tasks prevents him from staying and enjoying the full range of work at SSB. He is on a mission to photograph every seal site on Bird Island in a week. Sounds like a good excuse for nice walk to us!
On the techie scene, Tommo has been positively electric with routine and not-so-routine maintenance. He departed for Halley on the RRS Ernest Shackleton on the 11th, and is sorely missed. His repertoire of TV and film comedy was extremely entertaining and second to none. His parting shot of ‘Do you mind if I look round?’ was met with a chorus of ‘well you look round to me, fatty!’
The Comms team of Chris Hill (BAS) and Kenny Monk (Invsat) were in the thick of the action on the odd occasion, but first and foremost the VSAT installation and commissioning took precedence.
In particular the construction of the radome prior to the removal of Morrisons tele-handler became the top priority. This was made possible through the help of the Morrisons crew, stand forward Nigel and Co, and the nimble skills of Layla, Graeme and Steve to help us assemble the radome and antenna in less than 24 hours in mud, sleet and snow. Some kind of record we imagine?
Following a hectic start, the pace levelled out, and all the other installation work went well, and all installation work was complete within 2 weeks, to allow us to proceed with commissioning back to Aberdeen and Cambridge.
Following the commissioning, a host of other comms jobs were undertaken, including 6 trips up ‘Tonk’ to attempt repairs to the VHF radio repeater – finally with some success.
The Sedna IV Canadian film crew arrived on the 4th to find all the Bird Island team in great spirits, but all were also inquisitive to find out what the crew were up to. Performances were required in front of camera, and the team didn’t disappoint. Young Donald put in a good ‘Sickboy from Trainspotting’ performance whilst explaining the reasons for ‘blonding’ all the BI team, in this years case from the low extreme (Jauma’s Guinness moustache) to the full-on blonde treatment, as modelled by Donald, Chris, Robin and Zac.
The Sedna crew invited some BI members to the yacht for an evening meal, and the base reciprocated by inviting members of the Sedna IV ashore for civilised drinks and nibbles. The evening did a lot for international relationships.
The Shack arrived for relief on the 10th but didn’t get going till the 11th due to some pretty lumpy seas, however, relief was quick and efficient with the ship leaving that evening. Many thanks to everyone for a super slick supply chain.
On the entertainment front things were brewing along nicely. There were several music nights, where the dream team of Chris and Robin strummed away on their guitars while everyone else sang (and hummed where lyrics were forgotten, 80% of the time in this case).
Sarah’s birthday was the highlight of the month in terms of ‘A night to remember’. The theme was ‘A Day At The Races’ with everyone turning up in fancy dress. The evening started off with a wonderful evening meal prepared by Helen and Zac, quickly followed by a night of racing. To enable this, some local handicraft by Chris and Kenny (now the base moral officers) was needed, and the racetrack was formed to provide the evenings entertainment of fur seal racing. ‘Donald’s First Go’ (long story) was the early runner as he took command in 2 out of the first 3 races, with ‘La Roche or Bust’ picking up the remaining one. This tip was quickly grasped and backed by our trio of seal experts, Donald, Jaume and Sarah, which put them at an unfair advantage it would seem. ‘Donald’s First Go’ went on to win the ‘Grand National’, where the bookies Chris and Kenny were made to pay back on some of their earlier gains.
All in all a hectic month but well coordinated thanks to Vicky our Base Commander without whom global science and world class partying would not be possible.
Lots of love to our wives and kids. By the time you read this, we’ll have been back for weeks!
Chris and Kenney (Comms Extraordinaire)
Well what a last few months where to start been full on hectic time hardly been time to catch your breath but that isn’t always a bad thing on this slightly smelly island, what an assault it is on all the senses so much to see, constant chitter chatter from all the local residents to go along with their distinctive smell!! Been a breath taking experience since we flew out from Heathrow around end October, one very drunken evening in Santiago then on to the Falklands where we had few days soaking up local culture a lot of it centred round the Victory bar in Stanley what place tins of Tennents and Irn bru behind the bar felt like hadn’t left Scotland!! Then set sail on James Clark Ross at start of November had a spectacular four-week cruise aboard, many thanks to all the crew for such great trip in. Got chance to visit Signy base in the South Orkneys and King Edward base on South Georgia Mainland, both of which were amazing and have to admit had bit fear that Bird island might be bit let down after seeing them.
However need not have worried realised was getting into somewhere very special when got taken in on the rib for the first time and had hundreds of fur seals porpoising so elegantly round the boat, have to admit thought some were going join us, and huge birds swooping in sky around us under shadow of looming peak was later to find out was called La Roche. Got off on the jetty with some trepidation, testosterone pumped male fur seals growling at you takes bit getting used to but Zac, Sarah, Helen and Vicky were there to meet me armed with bodgers and followed them very closely up to the new very plush base which builders were just finishing off, cheers lads place is fit for king definitely no slumming it for this Antarctic explorer!!
Was then whisked off to the new office, also known as the special study beach (SSB), by Sarah and Jaume, only five minute walk from base but takes while to get used to walking over slippery tussock grass trying to avoid putting your foot in a bog or going face first into mud or a not so friendly fur seal!! So took me wee bit longer, definitely still not perfected it. After scramble down rocks found myself on scaffolding gantry with many fur seals just below me, who apart from the odd growl carried on with their normal routine oblivious to our presence, this involves fighting between each other for males while chasing around poor females who normally far too crafty and agile for them, just like Saturday night back home lads!! As December went along a steady stream of pups soon joined them and these are definite the coolest most amusing critters you can imagine. We have been visiting it twice a day throughout December monitoring the activity of individuals there, which males are holding territory, arrival of females and birth of pups. While also deploying transmitters to female seals to monitor their foraging trips, Sarah and Jaume have been brilliant at showing this new monkey the ropes. Its over so quickly the Fur Seal breeding season, just when I felt like was getting into the swing its almost done and dusted, nearly all the females have pupped now and pups getting to be some size, seeing them all going for their first swimming trips and bunching up in wee gangs while mum is away to sea still providing endless amusement!!
Away from the seals, though why would you want to know about anything else I can’t imagine, we have had hectic social calendar as expected round this type of year!! Firstly we lost the legend that was Thommo who went out on the Ernest Shackleton, I only had few weeks here with him but what top bloke had us in constant stitches, Halley is lucky to be getting the Antarctic Hero!! Saving a bottle of JD for when you pop back in on way out of there dude look forward to hearing about you saving the baby penguins and seals from the jaws of killer whales keep up the good work mate!! Next comms team extraordinaire, aka Chris and Kenny, left us taking away on the Endurance, many thanks for the many good times lads, and of course the music, and the big shiney white dome you gave us that is linking us with the outside world and allowing me to follow the mighty hoops!! Should also say thanks to Simon the doc on the Endurance and crew for giving me wee cruise round bit more South Georgia, need to get timing right getting bitten by male fur seal to get jolly out of it!!
Not all been about folk leaving though many visitors as well, firstly the Sedna crew arrived to carry out some filming of us doing our stuff and have to admit we weren’t all quite sure what to expect, none of us really been stars of the silver screen before, but what ace bunch folk we had ball with them, both when the camera was and wasn’t running, and there filming looks tres magnifce can all have butchers at www.sedna.tv. We also gained Doc Philips from the Shackleton who is down doing tracking work on his prehistoric looking Giant Petrels, and ace addition to pretty good crew he has been I would say. Then the Golden Fleece yacht arrived on Christmas Eve with 3 members of the Poncet family, a duck mad Tony Martin and few other folk including and certain ickle miss Dame Ellen Macarthur, who was doing some filming for documentary on albatrosses going need to employ an agent at this rate darling!! We had us all packed round our table for the traditional Christmas meal, 22 of us in all what feast it was, many thanks to all from the Fleece for helping make it a sweet day more than welcome to all come round here again for Christmas 06!! Two more birthdays before Hogmanay for Zac and slightly older Richard, both celebrated in appropriate style and then we drew the curtain on 05 with few Scottish reels and spun our way into 06 with sure going be an amazing year on this very special wee rock!!
Many thanks to everyone here for making it so easy to settle in, been great first month. Loads love to my family and friends back home miss you all loads and c’mon the hoops!!
After almost a month of travelling including three weeks of loafing on the James Clark Ross, where for a transient BAS employee the daily routine consists of sleeping, eating and drinking, with some awesome jollies in between, Don and I finally arrived and began to settle in amongst the hectic comings and goings of the last month.
My introduction to life on Bird Island and my role there upon was fairly exhausting. I found myself struggling to keep up with the thighs like tree trunks, cocktail mixing machine that is Isaac Forster as he leapt across the island with me at his heels. There seemed so much to learn as day by day we visited different bird species at various locations, all with different procedures and requirements. I wondered if I would ever be able to take it all in and began to dread the day when Zac would spread his wings and leave me to it. The bloke is a hard act to follow and he’s been a great coach, being really helpful, letting me learn from my own mistakes and putting up with them without complaining.
The wildlife and scenery is thoroughly impressive and as Don said, you can’t get away from the noise and the smell. I’m chuffed with my role as albatross assistant, not only because the birds are great and it allows me to get to all reaches of the island every day in all weather, but as it involves the least amount of sick and poo, not to that I mind getting my hands dirty, I’d just rather Don did it, so long as he washes his hands before he enters the kitchen. The place has a bad reputation for having some of the most miserable weather on the planet, but from the last month I think this is a little unjust. We’ve had some great days of glorious sunshine with blue skies, when the contrast of the lush green tussock crawling with seals and incubating albatross makes a gorgeous contrast against the deep blue iceberg speckled sea. When the mist and rain comes in as in fairness it often does, it makes those good days all the better. I’m looking forward to winter, when for a few months the island ices up completely and skiing will be on the cards.
Food is a major part of life on Bird Island as it’s easy to work up a hunger and you can eat a lot more than you would at home without putting on too much weight, as it’s quickly burned off by the stretches of seal infested, energy sapping tussock grass that lie between base and just about everywhere else. I’ve had some of the best meals I’ve ever eaten over the last month (obviously not comparable to yours mother). The fridges are always stocked with goodies and there’s usually something a bit special sitting on a cooling wire waiting to be devoured, often by Don and I who have been nicknamed the skuas after the local scavenging birds, who sit in anticipation waiting for other animals to bite the dust. All of the team are exceptionally good cooks, particularly the previous winterers Helen, Sarah and Zac who have had a great deal of practice and I’m hoping that Helen will carry on the tradition this coming winter.
Although there’s a great deal to keep Bird Islanders occupied and particularly over the last month with all the partying and the influx of people, there’s always time to reflect and think about people who we’ve left behind and what they might have be doing over the festive period. Missing three Christmas Eve ‘all dayers’ in a row is out of order so sorry to all the Kinver crew for that. A big how do to the Swansea gang and the Cyprus turtle project team and lots of love and a happy new year to all the family back home.