Bird Island Diary – July 2014

8 July, 2014

The winter months have picked up pace now and July flew by on Bird Island. We’ve been blessed with temperatures that have hovered at or below freezing, transforming the island into a winter wonderland. We made the most of the snow early in the month when we dragged the sledge up the hill. Bird Island isn’t known for its ski slopes, but if you know where to look you can enjoy a few seconds of high speed sledging.

One evening we decided to revisit the past and had a FIDs night on base, where we each dressed up as explorers from days past when South Georgia was home to the Falkland Island Dependencies Survey, prior to BAS. Jerry went all out, erecting a make-shift tent in the lounge and creating a three course meal from dehydrated field rations.

In keeping with the outdoorsman theme, Jess and Jerry left base another evening to spend a night in the Fairy Point Hut, on the western side of the island. Unfortunately for them, the heating stove in the hut had gone on strike due to previous overnight temperatures of -7°C. This meant an entertaining but chilly night for playing cards and bananagrams while wearing their sleeping bags, while Rob and I had a toasty evening watching Dead Poets Society on the big screen back at base.

The wildlife on Bird Island has mostly been keeping out of sight this month, with a notable exception. July is typically the busiest winter month for the seal assistant as leopard seal activity peaks, and true to tradition, leps have been popping up everywhere. It’s not unusual these days to have one of the regular leps such as Maurice or Keeley floating around in front of base all day. We’ve seen some old faces return, such as Max, as well as some new faces, including this handsome chap who I’ve taken to calling Gil, after a favourite Simpsons character of mine.

The beaches have become a bit busier this month with male fur seals spreading themselves out on the shores. It’s far too early for them to be claiming territories for the breeding season (November-January) but it hasn’t stopped the younger males getting some practise in. This mostly involves rounding up some of the smaller seals and chasing me whenever I come within 20 feet of them. I now have to tactically dash across some of the beaches on my daily rounds.

Undoubtedly the most spectacular wildlife display we had this month, and perhaps all year, was the show a group of Southern Right Whales put on for us a few weeks ago. I was out on my lep round photographing a couple sleeping leps when I saw these enormous flippers waving a bit further out to sea. They appeared to be jostling with each other as they seemed to be swimming atop one another, regularly raising their flippers, emitting loud blows, and sometimes swimming upside down. They swam close to the island and eventually disappeared down Bird Sound, but not before coming within 30 metres from shore. Jerry managed to dash out to the edge of the rocks in time and got some cracking close up photos. It may well have been a once in a lifetime experience. One of many I’ve had on this island.

But time is moving on now. We’re halfway through winter and have been introduced to our replacements who’ll be taking over from us next year. We’re all looking forward to meeting the new crew in summer, but we’ll be sure to make the most of our winter wonderland in the mean time.

Cian Luck

Zoological Field Assistant (Seals)