Bird Island Diary — December 2012

31 December, 2012 Bird Island

The unseasonably warm and dry December has allowed plenty of long, enjoyable days outside for the new field assistants to try and learn all they can from the 2012 wintering team. The mountains of South Georgia have been visible more days than not and some days we’ve been sat in the sun looking at distant icebergs in the long, light evenings.

The breeding season is well under way here, with almost all the birds either on eggs or feeding hungry chicks. Wandering Albatrosses have been dancing round, wings outstretched and heads raised, in courtship rituals while the Gentoo Penguin chicks are now large, fluffy and chasing their parents around, harassing them for still more food. The Fur Seal puppies are gathering together at the edges of the beach, playing and fighting amongst themselves while waiting for their mothers to return from sea and feed them.

Jon, Hannah and Jaume have been crazy busy with the seals; keeping track of all the males, females and puppies twice a day at the Special Study Beach (SSB) and recording the movements of the increasingly mobile young ones on Freshwater Beach.

Jen and Steph have been visiting the albatross colonies daily, counting birds and recording the dates of the first eggs and chicks. The whole island has been covered twice in the last month — once in search of nesting Brown Skuas and in the last week noting the location of every Wandering Albatross as they start to lay their eggs. Everyone’s been involved with these tasks. For some it’s been an excuse to explore or get to know new parts of the island, for the seal team it’s been a chance to grab a few hours away from SSB.

Ruth and Jerry have been out checking on the penguins, recording the nesting progress of the Giant Petrels, counting the Blue-eyed Shag colonies (another good excuse to explore the coast) and crawling around in the tussock grass in search of burrowing petrels and prions.

Tamsin has been back and forth all over the island in search of skuas, albatrosses, rat boxes and somehow fitting in time for all the base commander paperwork, while Craig has been getting to grips with the running of the buildings and worrying more than the rest of us about the lack of rain as he maintains the water tanks.

Of course all this work wasn’t going to stop us from celebrating Christmas, and with a shift system in the kitchen we made it a memorable one. Taking advantage of the great weather we headed over to meet the seal team on SSB with mince pies and mulled wine late on 24th. Then on Christmas Day we had a huge evening meal, five cake species, a raucous board game and an uninhibited dancing session.

Jerry Gillham