Bird Island Diary — January 2013

31 January, 2013 Bird Island

We saw in the New Year Bird Island style with an excellent meal followed by a fancy dress evening in Doctor Strange’s laboratory. Since then the team has been busy monitoring the wildlife of the island during the peak of the breeding season. We definitely used up our good weather allowance in December; January has been the more typical Bird Island weather of rain and fog. We’re hoping to get a glimpse of the sun next month!

Jen and Steph have been visiting the albatross colonies and have finished recording the hatching dates of the Grey head and Black-browed albatross chicks. They have also been busy retrieving GLS tags from Black-browed albatross, and testing out new types of acoustic tags. The whole island census of the Wandering albatrosses was completed on 31 January, with the help of the whole team. Every nest was checked and counted to give a total of 709 nests. This was a disappointing figure, as it is significantly lower than in previous years. The final Wanderer chick from the ridge fledged on 14 January. Hopefully we will see some of them return in about five years to being breeding themselves.

Ruth and Jerry have been continuing to monitor the breeding of the Giant Petrels; some of the chicks have started to grow proper feathers and are starting to look more like their parents. It has been a busy month for penguin work, and the whole team have helped to count all of the Gentoo penguin chicks on the island. After a few days of travelling to all of the colonies and going cross-eyed from counting so many chicks, we calculated that there was a grand total of 4661 chicks, which works out as a breeding success of approximately 1.3 chicks per nest. It is a good year for the Gentoos’ we haven’t seen the number of chicks that high for years. Following on from the chick count was the chick weighing. It was a morning out for everyone (except Jaume who had to man the base). For the first time we were able to walk from base along the beaches to Johnson, it really shows how few seals are left! We were armed with nets, and bags to weigh the chicks in. We split into teams — penguin catchers, penguin weighers and data recorder. Catching penguins is a messy job. By the time we had caught and weighed 100, we were all absolutely filthy! It was great fun though and everyone had an enjoyable morning.

Another task that has been completed is deploying GLS’s onto Blue Petrels and White Chinned Petrels. In order to catch the Blue Petrels there were two camping trips to Molly Meadows, where burrows were checked every 15 minutes for adults returning to feed their chicks. A White Chinned Petrel was recaptured that had a GLS on that had been gathering data for over 1000 days. It will be interesting to see where it has been over the last three years!

Jon, Jaume and Hannah had another busy month visiting SSB (Seal Study Beach) daily until a week after the last seal pup was born on 11 January. In total they counted 584 seal pups born on the beach this season (that’s a lot of pups to mark and monitor!). Unfortunately there is no rest for the wicked, and since finishing work at SSB the seal team have been busy monitoring tagged female and pup pairs that are being studied this season. They can be often seen out after dinner searching for pups that need weighing that are hiding up in the tussac.

The whole team has been helping out with some of the seal work this month; towards the start of the month everyone helped with the weighing of 100 pups, and were treated to an excellent fry up courtesy of the seal team. More recently we have all been “puppy wrangling” — recapturing the pups born on SSB so they can be issued with their very own set of flipper tags, with unique numbers on, so that they can be identified if they return next year. We managed to find 377 of the pups born on SSB and are still finding the odd ones that have migrated up into the hills.

Tamsin has been busy helping out with the science work as well as patrolling the whole island to monitor the rat boxes. She has also been making sure that everything is ready for winter, and very importantly ordering in the fresh produce (which we are all very much looking forward to having!).

Craig has been ensuring that the base is running smoothly and has had a few things to fix this month, and not all because the scientists have broken things. He’s also been getting away from the base as much as he can to help out with the science work.

After the Christmas period we haven’t been doing too much on the social side but we did have an excellent Burns night dressed in our best Scottish outfits, with poetry from Tamsin and Craig, haggis (courtesy of Jen), and a ceilidh.

Stephanie Winnard

Albatross field assistant