Bird Island Diary — July 2001

31 July, 2001 Bird Island

Hot Chillies, Fine Wines and Frozen Toilets!

“Go on,I dare you to eat a whole chilli.”

And so the month started with the utterance of these fateful words. Sure, the front of the jar said very hot, but Daf learned a valuable lesson in reading the small print,”Scotch Bonnet are probably the hottest that exist”. Scoffing at the warnings, Daf went on to prove how tough the Welsh really are and quietly ate an entire one of the innocent looking little lava capsules. How tough did he look with tears streaming down his face, gasping for breath and shovelling spoon after spoon of cooling yoghurt down his throat until he felt sick? Not very, I can assure you. Now it seems poor Daf has become quite sensitive to hot foods.He will be able to join our intrepid base commander Maggie next season, dipping into the kiddies curries while the rest of us enjoy blazing hot dishes.

Otherwise, things have been pretty quiet on Bird Island this month. While the residents have been relaxing and enjoying the winter quietude, the weather has occasionally put on a spectacular display of fierceness. What better time to curl up indoors and read The Perfect Storm? All three of us have now polished off the book, which was followed by watching the movie in a nice warm base (with obligatory film goodies and cup of hot chocolate to hand) while the wind howled and shrieked outside. Unfortunately for the wildlife, they have no such luxuries, and the occasional wandering albatross chick still shows signs of being snowed in, with it’s head poking up out of a sizeable snowdrift. The fur seals seem to take it all in their stride, curling up to sleep through most of the bad weather and then taking advantage of all the new snow to roll around in and create toboggan runs down the steeper hills. Daf, Jane and I continued our group winter expeditions by strolling down along the coast to our favourite wave-watching spot to see some of the larger waves crashing in to shore, at the same time feeling very sorry for all the poor fisheries observers in the area rolling about on the large seas.

On the wildlife front, there seems little to be excited about, no Chiloe wigeons, no cattle egrets or other bird rarities blown off-course. We do however have regular visits from one of the most magnificent animals (with a bit of an unjustified bad reputation) over the winter months. Leopard seals may have a reputation for being aggressive (Rothera people have been known to run away if they get within 3 metres of them), but hauled out on the beaches here, leps are the most timid of creatures, more likely to bolt straight for the sea at the sight of an approaching human than try to rip their leg off. This month has been particularly good with two sightings of them swimming around less than a metre from the end of the new jetty, checking us out as it were. I’m not sure just who was the most curious, the three of us with our cameras, watching them for ages, or the leps themselves, who would follow our movements from one end of the jetty to the other, swim underneath where we were standing and with heads sticking out of the water, stare at us with their big, round eyes. Lovely creatures, no matter what others may say.

The dentally oriented emergencies continue this month. Jane has decided to try Daf’s trick of needing dental attention, so that perhaps she can go on a little holiday to the Falklands for treatment. She has discovered a small infection beneath one of her teeth (which she denies may be the result of numerous daily cans of Coke and Fanta) and promptly put herself on a course of antibiotics, which unfortunately for her means no alcohol intake. After trying to get both Daf and myself up to an acceptable level of drinking all winter, the almost teetotal duo have suddenly discovered a penchant for fine wine, and as Jane looks forlornly at the bottle over the dinner table, we have taken to swilling some of the nicer vintages. I’m sure Jane appreciates the irony.

July also happens to be “Antarctic Heroes Month”, with activities centred around keeping the whole base from becoming one large ice-cube. The other bases may ridicule our comparatively high banana belt latitude, but it seems we still experience some of the conditions enjoyed by our counterparts further south. After the toilet pipes froze last month, we have kept the adjoining door to the bathroom open so that the heat from its radiator could make it into the toilet and stop it from happening again. Besides just making the bathroom a rather chilly place to shower in, it had little effect. Again, the whole thing froze. Mopping the floor resulted in our own indoor ice arena, as the water from the mop froze as it was pushed across the floor. So, it looks like we will have to continue with the trips to the little house on the jetty for the rest of the winter. Our problems didn’t stop there though; after a particularly cold night, we had no running water in the bathroom at all, as the pipes in the roof took to freezing. Well, things could be worse than dressing up in coats, hats and gloves to visit the loo and enduring sponge baths!

But, with the cold weather comes the good snow, a trade-off all three of us are not going to complain about. Skiing is proving to be a popular pastime as we put our downhill and cross-country skills to the test. No Eddy the Eagles here, despite watching “Extreme Skiing” on video to inspire us to great acts of courage and daring (or stupidity, whichever the case may be). Dodging the moving hazards (fur seals) seems to be enough of a skill though. The calm, cloudless nights towards the end of the month provided the perfect opportunity to go for midnight strolls about the hills by bright moonlight, being very careful not to give the wildlife a rude awakening by stepping on anybody. Otherwise, our snowy activities have involved experimenting with digging snow caves, although to date nobody has been willing to give up their comfortable bed to spend a night sleeping in one of them. Perhaps we are not as Antarctically heroic as we would like to believe we are.

Well, the sun is shining, the weather calm, and the three of us are ready to go out for more adventures on our little island paradise. ‘Til next time…


Thanks to all those who sent us goodies in the post. Next ship is due in September (hint, hint!)