1 June, 2014 Bird Island
The first day of December was a memorable one for me: after nearly 3 long weeks of sailing the Southern Ocean on the James Clark Ross, I finally made it back to Bird Island to do a second summer stretch as the Station Leader. That morning I woke early and headed for the ship’s bridge-deck, eyes peeled for my first glimpse of the island. As it emerged from its habitual shroud of mist, it gradually revealed all of those familiar crags and slopes, until at last the base came into view, complete with one tiny orange-clad figure standing on the end of jetty waving at us across the sea.
The rest of the day passed in a whirlwind of activity. The team of us going in for the summer first clad ourselves in boat-suits and were whisked ashore by two of the JCR’s RIBs, to be welcomed ashore by the hardy winter team of four. They seemed convincingly pleased to see some new faces at last, though slightly overwhelmed by their sudden loss of solitude. We were also greeted by the wall of smell created by a beach full of fur-seals who were simultaneously arriving in vast numbers to give birth to their pups and breed for the following year. Dinner that evening was accompanied by the spectacular view out over the beach and the hills, and the noise of a thousand seals squabbling for territories.
December is the busiest month for the seal team (Cian, Jaume and Sian). Every morning and evening they head to the seal study beach where they work on the programme of continuous monitoring of the seal numbers, using hair-dye to mark and track new arrivals. It is also traditional at this time of year for the humans to dye their hair blonde in an act of solidarity with the seals, a tradition which not even the Station Leader can avoid.
The albatross team (Jess, Richard and Lucy) were also put to work immediately, keeping a regular eye on the island’s populations of wandering, black-browed, grey-headed and light-mantled sooty albatrosses. Already by the end of the month the first grey-headed chicks are appearing and the wanderers are doing their spectacular courtship displays on the meadows around the island. The more decisive amongst them also laid their huge eggs and are beginning the lonely vigils on the nest, waiting for their youngsters to emerge.
The penguins are already well underway with raising new families, closely watched by Jerry and Al. Some of the gentoo chicks are nearly as large as the adults, though still distinctively fluffy, and are still determined to try and hide under their bewildered parents. The macaroni chicks are also starting to appear in numbers. Big Mac, our largest macaroni penguin colony, is now jam-packed with adult birds and can be heard from across the island and smelt from even further away.
As Christmas approached the plastic tree emerged and the lounge came to look a bit like an explosion in a Christmas decorations factory. A giant Christmas cake was cooked and decorated with models of some of the island’s animals, and has kept us well supplied ever since. Despite working hard on Christmas day, the team mustered plenty of festive spirit for a huge evening meal and party games late into the night. When the games finished the dancing started and Robbie, the base technician, revealed some spectacular moves, the like of which have not been seen on Bird Island before.
For new year we assembled at the end of the jetty to welcome in 2015, surrounded by the night-time noises of the island. For those of us who were also there to see in 2014, we could scarcely believe that a whole year had passed. Time flies on Bird Island!
Bird Island Station Leader