Bird Island Diary – February 2004

28 February, 2004

Picnics and chicks

When you are stuck on an island, size 5km by 1km in the South Atlantic most requirements have a habit of being postponed all too frequently. Necessities such as banking, shopping and driving are obviously lacking so why fret over small inconveniences such as diary entries? At least that must have been the philosophy of the ‘official’ authors for the February and March diary entries since they never appeared. Well in the true British fashion of keeping up appearances…ahem, heaven forbid I almost forgot that I am an Australian there for a moment, here is the rather unofficial Bird Island instalment for February.

After a steady month of seemingly endless rain that blessed us in January, February dawned bright and clear, with dare I say it some mild, even balmy days to be enjoyed on the little island. Taking advantage of true summer conditions the pasty white base members ventured onto the beach with the locals for a glorious summer picnic and a spot of sunbathing. I can’t swear absolute accuracy of temperatures here but the general consensus was that it might’ve even reached the lofty heights of 9°C. As is shown in the picture our friends on the beach certainly enjoyed the company provided.

The brief snatch of sun was quickly replaced with a sudden snow flurry, reasserting the Antarctic appearance of the area. This provided yet more opportunities for obscene numbers of digital photos to be taken. Rumour has it that our computer network was originally set up to utilised for science and operational needs, but in reality in now resembles an oversized family snapshot album. Sorry, I’m rather digressing from the point, so here we all are, minus poor Sarah who is behind the camera, enjoying yet another smashing day.

In the midst of unrestricted recreational activities, our local MP decided to drop by to have a chat about electoral issues. We all though it quite impressive that he decided to conduct his visit by helicopter, instead of the usual door knocking routine and were also equally impressed with the thoughtfulness of his entourage for bringing fresh fruit and magazines. Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you Governor of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Island, Mr Howard Pierce.

The flurry of tea drinking and Aga baked cookie eating that always heralds a Bird Island visit quickly faded into the background as we settled back into the normal routine of studying our wildlife. As the month wore on strange muffled popping noises were beginning to be heard echoing off the hills and cliffs of the island baffling even experienced islanders with their frequency and ferocity. It wasn’t until the day of Ben’s birthday that we realised the cause. The inestimable patience of the big Wandering Albatross during their marathon 70 day incubation was finally being rewarded with the first chicks appearing for 2004.

Some of the most privileged of the Wandering Albatross’ on the island have been lucky enough this year to be entrusted with the responsibility of carrying around a Global Positioning Tag. This nifty piece of expensive Japanese hardware has given us some fantastic maps of where our beautiful birds go during foraging trips. In fact we really should’ve notified our colleagues on Signy Island to keep an eye out just in case they dropped past.

The map that you see above is one trip taken by a male Wandering Albatross during incubation. This trip lasted almost 12 days, and the distance covered during this period was roughly 8000km. To give you a rough idea of the length of this trip you’d have to hop on a plane at Heathrow, and alight somewhere around Delhi in India. A long way to fly for a square meal I’m sure you’ll agree!

Contained within the month of February is the special date know as Valentines Day, and whilst one might imagine that obtaining a dinner date on Bird Island is an unlikely scenario, all base members were determined to look their best in case of unexpected arrivals. The outstanding theme for this year was the moustache, a good ‘tash is rarity is today’s modern age after all. As you can see the results were somewhat variable, but without doubt amusing.

As part of the evening’s festivities, odes to valentine partners were delivered, partner profiles being issued a week earlier to allow suitable composition time. Here is a short extract from one such valentine stallion.

Male: Enrique Jesús Cristobal Enrique is a man who once set heart afire from the Patagonian coasts to the jungles of the Amazon. Now approaching the slightly apprehensive milestone of 40, Enrique has an unfulfilled desire to curb his wandering ways and bestow his strong manly passions on a woman worthy of his devotion. Truly my friends, the passion and conviction exhibited to win hearts will provide much glee for years to come.

As mentioned earlier in the newsletter, Ben’s birthday rounded out the month of February. In reference to Alice in Wonderland a Mad Hatters tea party theme was concocted, testing the creative limits of the Bird Island team with materials being in short supply toward the end of the season. The birthday boy was declared a unanimous winner for his construction of an extravagant top hat.

It is now mid-May as I sit and write this newsletter so my memory has ceased to recall any more of February’s key events. Oh well, perhaps I should try and recall some of the March happenings next….

Love to everyone at home