Bird Island Diary – February 2003

28 February, 2003

WANTED – seals, penguins and albatrosses


Have you seen this pup, penguin, whale, moth or worm?

No sorry we haven’t but we’ll ask our mates! Come on chaps I’m starving! It’s taken a while to get these new feathers and I want to test them out!

  • WANTED – seal pups by Nico and Keith
  • WANTED – penguins by Jane, Chris and Jonny
  • WANTED – albatrosses by Ben, Richard and Paulo
  • WANTED – Keith and Richard by the James Clark Ross

Reward – nothing other than contributing to a good scientific cause!

As usual at this time of year the hunt for tagged and marked animals continues. After the first time of being caught by Nick and Keith, pups are a little wiser and make rapid exits from their line of sight. Comparisons for changes in weight, month by month as they grow, are being recorded to see how good their mums are at feeding them. Some of the “pups” are big porkers too!

Jane, Chris and Jonny have been after penguins scattered over the island, which usually arrive and depart at the most unsociable hours. Macaronis have been tagged at all three colonies to see where they all go to feed. One of the colonies is about 2 weeks in development behind the other two and comparisons are being made that haven’t been undertaken before. Other macaronis are having their heart and respirometry rates monitored. Gentoos, whose heart rates are being monitored, are being sought from a nearby very smelly, muddy location called (unsuspectingly) Square Pond (although Smelly, Mud Puddle would be more appropriate!!). When not grovelling in mud, Jonny can be found racing over to the colony and back in record time – (47 mins is his best so far!).

Ben is waiting for rude noises to emerge from the comms room (honest!) This means that a light-mantled sooty has returned to it’s nest but it could also be confused with a salt water activated instrument on a seal – which incited a discussion last night as rude noises emitted loudly, at an unsociable hour for a bird, on Ben’s birthday of all times! Richard and Paulo are looking at the survival rate of grey-headed albatross chicks and putting instruments on adults to monitor dietary habits. Paulo has probably had a good rest from walking to his colonies several times a day. Now he is going for a change in pace – walking over there and staying put….waiting and waiting and probably waiting a bit more for the brief time that the birds return to their nests to catch them before they depart again.

Excitement was generated by a couple of unexpected sightings of Bird Island wildlife of a moth and worms!

The best sightings of all though have been the luxury of looking at a small amount of southern ocean from the office and seeing Southern Right Whales. This has usually resulted in a short walk by many viewers to the nearby height of land to view with binoculars blows and tail fluking in abundance.

Dare I say we have had a number of days with long sunny intervals this month! In fact nearly all day for some intervals!! Paulo has been heard to comment on BI weather – not because it is really bad but because there is never a really good day. Well he won’t be able to say that anymore! The same goes for the wind. When birds need weighing the wind is a pain – it blows the weighing bags around making accurate readings very difficult. Now there has been little wind they are not being weighed of course and the team want to catch birds and for that of course they need wind….for the birds to fly and return to the colonies. The joy of opportunistic science on BI!

For those disbelievers of BI sunshine here is proof of BI sun sun, and more sun!! See those really are black shadows!

As well as sun this month we have seen ships and even had MOD guests ashore. We get nothing for quite a while and then they turn up in threes. First was Golden Fleece for a brief pause on route to King Edward Point (KEP) (to see if we were all awake early one morning) but BI being on GMT means a couple of hours ahead of local time everyone was awake enough (although some not very wide awake) to flock down and say hello. Unfortunately the water wasn’t deep enough alongside the jetty but the yacht was able to get close enough for us to touch the bow and have a normal conversation and not use VHF radio.

Later that evening HMS Leeds Castle appeared with CBFFI (the Commander of the British Forces in the Falkand Islands). He was keen to have a look around the station and find out what science is undertaken. He and 5 other ships personnel were taken on a whistle stop tour including a trip to the nearest wandering albatross nests. They were really appreciative and apologised for not bringing any mail – they assured us they’d asked.

The third ship was James Clark Ross mid-month to pick up Richard and Keith, fix our fridge, remove a small amount of waste, bring Dr Alex ashore and even get the chief officer and a few ships personnel away from the shoreline. It wasn’t the usual small boat that appeared but a launch, called affectionately “the launch”. It really did look like a “trips around the bay” scene as it popped into the cove with its array of passengers sporting brightly coloured clothing. The opportunistic wildlife encounter for the ships personnel was a very rare treat – so armed with cameras they trooped up the nearby ridge to see some wanderers, and while they undertook a more sedate journey, a few others bolted over to Fairy Point Hut and back due to a scientific need to view the new penguin pit tag gateway at Little Mac. JCR Captain Chris had given permission for 90 mins in which to complete the task. And right on cue at this point the calm sunny weather broke rapidly and 35 knots was reported from the ship so an immediate exit ensued in “the launch” and the JCR was off.

What else have the BI inhabitants been up to? Having Saturday evening meal BBQ and fondue, playing football, rugby, la petanque (a french game a bit like bowls) – and at this time of year all these involve fending the skuas off what really is food or what they think is food!

This is what too much good fondue food does to you!

Well I guess that’s it for this month. The station is preparing for winter with indents almost completed, cargo preparations for last call in full swing, and Nick ready to take over the Winter Base commander role when I depart in a few days time.

See you all soon,


Base Commander