Bird Island Diary – June 2006

30 June, 2006

It’s been all go on all fronts down here at Bird Island over the last month, this is going to be bit of an epic so would advise getting a cup of cocoa, taking the phone off the hook and make sure you don’t have to be anywhere in a hurry. The month begun with us all checking to make sure all our wandering albatross chicks where around in our respective areas, luckily very few had been lost. They are now huge balls of fluff some bigger than their parents, and are being left alone for weeks at a time until one of the parents arrive with much needed supplies. After a quick pit stop to regurgitate some tasty squid and fish to the kids, they are off round the world again for the most impressive delivery service in the world!!

During the first week of the month we had a refresher course of the search and rescue kit along with some basic first aid, again testing some of the kit we had on base. This involved getting out all the stretchers (s)trapping Robbo in it, and sticking bits of each other’s limbs into vacuum splints. The next day we carried out a search and rescue drill, involving Helen going and getting herself lost (felt as the only female on base she’d be best suited to this!!) and seeing if the rest of us could find her. Thought we’d best get this out the way before the world cup kicked off otherwise searching time would have been limited to the few hours between games!! After we shut down the generators, this is the only time due to fire regulations that all of us are able to be off base at the same time, we three intrepid searchers set off. After trying various types of searching techniques and much blowing on whistles we soon found her nestled up in some tussock enjoying a read of her book!! With a nice view back to base and being the only time we would all be able to be out at the same time definitely deserved a photo opportunity!!

It was Matt’s birthday at the start off this month, wont say how old he was but to his mum and Karen he has promised to make sure he will be back in the UK for the big one next year!! The evening before was yet another beautiful calm still night so the barbeque was fired up for dinner, and with Matt and Robbo having bit of jam round the barbeque, soon midnight was upon us. We celebrated the passing of another year for Matt with two of his favourite things, G&T and a bit Neil Young on the stereo, sure anyone who has been south with him will agree he is quite fond of both!!

Of course we had our mid-winter’s day on the 21st of the month and the associated celebrations that go along with it. The week’s festivities started on the Friday before hand with a Bird Island Pub crawl!! First call was to Robbo’s snow Bar and a wee sample of his ‘Head-Quacker’ home brew, very tasty stuff too!! Next it was on to Matt’s bar ‘The Hinge & Hammer’ located in the chippy shed for a few Bombay Sapphire G&T pure class, then we all rocked into Helens bedroom which she had done out in amazing style with lots tinsel very glitzy!! The evening finished up in the BI bar/club for the evening ‘The Lab’ with a few cocktails and us busting some quality moves on the dance-floor, ladies you will be glad to hear Robbo and I have still got the groove!!

As we neared the special day the mid-winter greetings flooded in, many thanks to all the electronic messages we got from our friends and family, other British and international bases, all the staff back at HQ, former BI winterers and of course BI’s number one fan Vreni Hearnshaw, cheers Vreni. Mid-winter day itself was a blinding success, even if we had lost nearly all our snow with a big thaw a few days before hand. With enough food prepared to probably feed all the bases down south, the four of us stuffed ourselves and enjoyed a few glasses of wine!! Of course the mid-winter presents that we had been beavering away constructing for each other where presented, these included an amazing dartboard clock, BI top-trumps cards, penguin mobile, amazing boxes, brilliant pictures in quality frames, and one or two IOUs!! The quality of the craftsmanship shown really was amazing, and the vast majority of this is due to Matt being ultra patient and helpful as the rest of us bombarded him with questions and help, thanks Jobbo!! There were of course the BI mid-winter Olympics and a championship decider game of web darts against Rothera that also took part this week, but reports on them are in the sport section.

Its not all been fun and games though, no sir not at BI where the science & tech-service never sleeps, the BI beakers have been hard at it, and Matt has been doing an amazing juggling act of base commander and chippy at the same time!! I have been carrying out the daily leopard seal round for the last few months, but they had been to no avail until the 15th when the first big mama hauled out on Freshwater Bay, what an amazing looking beast over three metres long and so sleek. This lady signalled the start of the use of LSD, that’s short for Leopard Seal Database in case anyone is bit worried, we just love our acronyms here at BAS!! This is a new unique database designed by Dr Jaume Forcada, one of the senior scientist back in Cambridge; it relies on the distinctive markings each individual has to recognise seals that have appeared at BI previously and any other sightings that are gathered allowing us to get an idea of the movements of these amazing but little understood creatures. It therefore requires me to be the ‘seal paparazzi’ trying to get specific shots from different angles of each one encountered, just imaging every one to be a supermodel on the catwalk – work it, work it baby!!

She has been the solitary sighting so far this season but there’ll surely be more soon enough. Been seeing a lot of others things on my rounds, unfortunately still been encountering fur seals that have become entangled in fishing gear or waste material illegally discarded from fishing ships working in the local area, with another six spotted and cut free this month. On a more positive note, been seeing a lot more of the territorial male fur seals returning to the beaches, they are a lot more chilled out than they were when I first arrived now that they not pumped full of testosterone and chasing ladies or fighting each other!! Of course they bring with them their very distinctive smell, if I can figure out a way to bottle this scent going make my millions marketing it as the newest aftershave ‘Gazella – The Scent of a Real Man!’ Will have the ladies swooning, or possibly passing out, but hey definitely be nicer smelling than Old Spice and there is a market for that!! It’s a case of little and large with the furries at the moment, as still a fair few of the pups born in the previous summer snoozing next to the 200kg males, they are all so happy to see you and always greet you with a friendly growl, snort, or a ‘woof-choof’!!

Also encountering a fair few penguins on the round; the resident gentoos but also seen a few chinstrap penguins pop up now and again looking bit confused wondering where they have taken a wrong turning and lost their mates. Also found a tiny wee penguin, which after radioing Hels over, our resident penguin expert, we found out it was a Rockhopper Penguin, a very rare visitor to BI, but not the most healthy looking chap, probably bit exhausted as had most likely come from the Falkland Islands.

Also found an interesting looking beastie, after a few pics where sent to our neighbours down on the SG mainland we found out it was the giant Antarctic isopod Glyptonotus antarcticus, a good example of the Antarctic gigantisism, a phenomenon which we think may also explain what has happened to Robbo’s hair since he came south, see what you think for yourself:

The last of the mollymawk albatross (black-brow and greyhead) fledglings have finally left their colonies so its completely empty up there now. They have either flown straight up into the big albatross heaven in the sky where squid is plentiful and no longline fishing takes place, or they went out to seek their fame and fortune in the harsh real world!! From satellite transmitters Robbo attached onto some fledglings we have found that some have flown as far as to the coast of Africa, so maybe they are not such daft birds after all!! Robbo misses his daily jaunts up to colonies ‘J’ and ‘E’ to check and weigh the little darlings!! However, this has allowed him more time to concentrate on his real passion/obsession – the unassuming South Georgia Pintail duck!! We did become concerned about his behaviour for a bit there, as it became all consuming, he was spending many hours at the end of the jetty mumbling to himself – ‘my precious’ and ‘the rings’ was all we could decipher from his ramblings, as he carried on his constant searching for the ducks!! Luckily he has now come to terms with his problem, and is attending regular meetings of the DA (Duckers Anonymous), and with the counselling we feel he will be a stronger person for his experience. However, it shows we all need to be on guard against these innocent looking little ducks taking over our lives as it can happen to anyone, no matter how strong we think our will-power is. Helen has shown some similar symptoms and has been observed searching for the rings at the end of the jetty on numerous occasions, and must admit have found myself staring intently at these little chaps getting frustrated and angry as I can’t tell if it is red 33 or red 88 round its leg!! Do feel some of the blame for this problem does lie with a certain Dr Tony Martin, who introduced young Robbo to the pleasure and thrill of the South Georgia Pintail as just a bit of harmless innocent fun, without warning him that they have the power to take over your life to the point that it can be all one thinks about!! Anyone who is coming to South Georgia you have been warned beware of the carnivorous South Georgia Pintail Duck they have strange powers!!

The mollymawks aren’t the only birds that have left us over the last month, the last of the hardy skuas have finally gone as they realised they wouldn’t be able to scavenge enough food on the beaches of BI, so they have headed back to South America and we wont see them again till September time. Not all the birds are leaving we have started seeing a lot more terns over the last month. Right noisy they are as well, more chitter-chatter than a bunch of gossiping grannies at a coffee morning I can tell you!! The birds and seals that have remained here have been able to stuff themselves as a result of a strange occurrence we have observed during June. Been waves of stuff getting washed in, turned the water red and reminded us off the scene in Ghostbusters where the red goo comes up from the sewers. After a closer inspection we found out it was small krill, so no need to call Dr. Venkman and the boys just yet!! Turns the snow by the shoreline red and the giant petrels, kelp-gulls, ducks, pipits, terns and sheathbills (also called mutts!) have been gorging on it in their thousands!!

June has of course seen the world cup taking place back in Germany and being a bit of a footie fan I have been able to listen to all the games live thanks to our ace internet connection, yup even tuned into Iran versus Angola!! While I have been zoning out to all the football, Helen has been able to do what women would much rather do than waste time on 22 guys kicking a ball about, of course she has been shopping also using our ace web connection!! She has been spotted looking at shoes and boots trying to decide what will be in next season, and also how will it look splattered in penguin gunk, the challenges a lady faces to keep up with the fashion down here!!

We have also seen our first decent dump off snow this month, although it didn’t hang around for long!! But really changed the appearance of the island, looks really amazing, Robbo and Helen did manage to get out and have bit of go on the skis, Hels being bit of a pro and Robbo more in the novice bracket, but he was soon getting the hang off it and hurling himself around with scant regard for his well-being!! Although it is ace to get the snow and we are all hoping for more, it does make some things more difficult, for example collecting my fortnightly seal scats becomes a bit of a mission, chipping away at the brown and red bits of ice and snow. I will never look at chocolate chip and raspberry ice cream in quite the same light again. Well will leave it at that for this month, apart from the sports page of course, hope you all enjoying your ice-creams to keep you cool in the heat back home!!

Antarctic champions!!

Well here is the breaking sporting news I know you have all been on the edge of your seats waiting for, no its not if anyone can stop the Germans on their march to glory on their own soil in the world cup or how far Andy Murray can go in Wimbledon, it is of course whether the fairy tale story of ickle Bird Island were able to complete the grand slam of victories against the larger British bases down south in the inaugural web darts championship. And they answered with an emphatic and resounding YES!! After the May victories against Halley and our neighbours down on the South Georgia mainland, it was just the biggest of the British bases, Rothera on the Antarctic Peninsula that stood in the way of this unbelievable clean sweep. The opposing teams lined up against each other on the evening of Friday the 23rd of June, both teams showing some signs of tiredness after the busy mid-winter period. Many observers felt the three-hour time difference may work against BI, but after previous exploits it was obvious that you wrote them off at your peril.

After a bit of friendly banter was exchanged over the phone and the web link that we were able to run concurrently during the match, allowing tours to be given of their new bar and our lounge, the match kicked off in earnest. Jobbo weighed in with 125 early on, showing BI meant business, he was well supported by Helen who was repeatedly hitting the big numbers, Don and Robbo were taking a bit longer to find their form, possibly due too one to many pre-match drinks to calm the nerves. Robbo managed a big fat zero with three darts at one point not the sharpest shooting we have seen!! However, he was soon playing like the boy wonder that we have got used to seeing throughout the championship, firing the winning double needed to take the first game to BI, as we have seen him do so often in this tournament. So the second game commenced with Hels again shooting some high scoring darts, the whole BI team were playing some scintillating stuff while resisting the challenge from the large team from Rothera. In the end it was up to the inspirational leader, Matt ‘Jobbo’ Jobson, of the BI dream team to shoot the winning darts, and with all his experience he didn’t let the importance of this throw affect him at all, with a steady hand he sunk the winning double to take game, set, match and championship to BI!! Rothera tried to argue it should be best of five but once it was explained that this wasn’t Nam and that there were rules, they where gracious losers, even if they did moan a bit that they where better at pool, but afraid we cant whoop them at that as well as we don’t have a table here!!

Always outnumbered never outgunned!!

So wee Bird Island have completed an unpredictable but undoubtly deserved clean sweep at this inaugural web-darts championship of 2006!! An unbelievable story, and what’s more they have done it with only losing one game during the whole championship amazing really!! If any other base down south, or for that matter any teams round the world fancy a shot at the title let us know, kind of hoping the Brazilian women’s beach volleyball team might be up for it, how about it girls??

This hasn’t been the only major sporting event to take place during June of course, on mid winter day (21st) the annual Bird Island mid-winter Olympics took place. Half the competitors where veterans, with Matt having competed back in 2002 and of course Helen having take part last year, while the other half of the field Donaldo and Robbo were getting their first taste of this unique competition. All of us were of course turned out kitted out in regulation attire, kilts and see-you jimmy hats!! First event was the ‘Wellie Wanging’, involving having the regulation wellington between the teeth and seeing how far you are able to toss it, a lot harder that it sounds!! The young whipper-snapper Robbo Snape managed to get the furthest after we had all had three attempts, was this going to be the year youth triphumed over experience!!

Next round was the archery, with the target board made up by Hels, very Picasso like I would say!! Some of the targets definitely took more punishment than other’s, the wanderer chick, the fur seal and gentoo penguin were favourites. Of course Robbo had to make sure he got a duck and he was a whisker off hitting the high scoring pipit which would have won him the event, however as it was it was Hels that came out on top in this round with an amazing total of 110 points!!

On to the snowball throwing next, with the little bit of snow we could found scraped together and transported to the arena in a wheelbarrow!! After a quick flip round off the board to reveal a ringed target board we each had our four shots, have to admit an alarmingly high number of snowballs sailed over the top!! However in the end to my complete surprise I had managed to get the most snowballs closet to the bull’s-eye!!

Next up was the caber tossing with a seal pole, and have to say felt fairly confident going into this round being one of my native sports. However, I hadn’t bargained for such an amazing competitor as Jobbo, obviously in his time spent living on the west coast of Scotland when back in the UK he has competed in a few highland games!! What an exciting event it was, after everyone had had three shots Don and Jobbo’s best throws couldn’t be separated had the exact same distance, so felt both should have one last throw to decide and unbelievably as it may sound we both managed to throw exactly the same distance again!! So again both tried and finally Matt managed to sneak it by the tightest of margins!!

So we entered the final event all square after each winning one of the previous rounds, closer and more nail-biting than England versus Portugal match this, but of course none of the questionable gamesmanship on show!! The final event was a ‘Hamish The Haggis Hurl’, so again being the solitary Scot on base (apart from Hamish of course) felt the force and omens where strong!! Mind Hamish doesn’t really live on base spends the rest of year burrowed in the tussock or running round in circles round the BI hills due to fact all haggis have one set legs shorter than the other as everyone well knows!! But he had come down to the beach as he does every year hoping to find a bonnie wee she-haggis for a partner, but alas he is the only haggis left on the rock so he takes part in the annual games instead. Hamish and I worked together like pair of brave hearts, and he flew far on my first throw, such a distance that wasn’t bettered by anyone during their throws. So Scotland managed to top the medal tables, which is definitely a first, have to get caber tossing and haggis throwing accepted as Olympic sports!! But what a games, was so close anyone could have won it and feel all competitors should be proud of their achievements and the great spirit in which all competed has to be applauded.

Well that about wraps it up the sporting front, and all the other news from a crazy mad busy but highly enjoyable month down here at Bird Island. Hope everyone reading this keeping well, congratulations on getting to the end!! Much love to all my family (know you will still be reading mum!!) and friends, hope you all having an ace summer miss you all heaps. Take it easy troops.

Love Donald