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Bird Island Diary — June 2010

30 June, 2010 Bird Island

by Claudia Mischler, Albatross Field Assistant

June here on the little island was a fantastic month. We finally got a nice thick snow layer shortly before mid-winter. The white stuff made the island feel like a whole new place — the wanderer chicks went from being white blobs scattered randomly across the brown landscape like sheep in the countryside to completely disappearing behind their now camouflaged fluff. Squeaky begs for food can be heard in the distance on calm days, and they point you in the right direction of where the chicks continue to sit and wait patiently on their nest. I have lost all sense of time since my arrival here last November, and the only way to keep track of how quickly the months pass is by watching the chicks grow bigger. Feathers are starting to surface on the majority of the wanderer chicks, most notably on the wings. It’s hard to believe that these little boys and girls have been sitting on their nest since March, and will continue to sit there until at least November, enduring all sorts of weather conditions and watching the sun rise and fall, day in and day out. They seem to occupy their time with constant nest maintenance, picking away at the mud and adding every little piece of grass they can get their bill on. Eriksson, the BBC wanderer chick, is unfortunately having a hard time keeping up with the speedy growth of the other chicks. Erika, the female, has not been seen since the loss of her PTT signal so it’s sadly not looking good for that family.

The smaller albatrosses and skuas have left the island for the winter. I was lucky enough to spot a grey-head adult that was looking for a fledged chick in one of the colonies at the beginning of the month, but I likely will not see any more until their return in September. The last grey-head chick fledged at the end of the month, leaving behind nothing except silent colonies filled with empty snow-capped nests.

The giant petrels seem to spend their days with some serious nest building. Unfortunately for them, the snow covered most of their newly built bowls thereby forcing them to start again only for the next big snowfall to hide all their efforts once more. This seems to be a re-occurring problem for them! A healthy-looking giant petrel chick was spotted in the middle of the month — I guess it must not have felt the fledging urge yet. The gentoo penguins spend much time on land clinging on to and protecting a tiny little area on which to build their nest next summer, making sure that no other gentoo steals this precious little space! The ice on the beaches is pink from the penguins’ krilly waste, and walking along the water’s edge has become a tricky act. Even the athletic abilities of the sheathbills seem to have changed from graceful strides to the wobbly insecurities of a skater standing on ice for the first time.

Fur seal numbers fluctuate greatly with a few large males lazily holding territory filled with a harem of young males instead of ladies. Overall, the seals seem to be enjoying themselves, slipping and sliding down the hills on the snow and ice like children on a waterslide. Small elephant seals are regular visitors and spend their days snoozing like they don’t have a care in the world. The snow brought other visitors as well — the leopard seals finally decided to show their gorgeous, but definitely intimidating, faces. For those of us who have never seen leps before, the visit from these amazing creatures got the adrenalin pumping! Temperatures have unfortunately warmed up and the snow is rapidly disappearing, taking the leps with it. But we are hopeful for more winter-like weather as the skis, snowboards, and snow-shoes are looking awfully dusty and are in need of use!

The dining room was decorated with some Christmas cheer on mid-winter’s day, followed by a massive meal. With four of us cooking, the kitchen was crowded, but it gave us the chance to make whatever we desired — everything from turkey and gammon to roast potatoes, vegetables, and bread sauce. The BBC provides a broadcast where family members can leave a short message for every winterer on each of the BAS bases, and hearing family voices and their funny messages was a welcome treat. Some serious wood-working talents were exposed during the exchange of our presents. Everyone put in a lot of time and effort, and the results were fantastic! Joe made a cribbage set for Mick, Mick made a music stand in the shape of a gentoo for Stacey, Stacey made a Japanese puzzle box for me, and I made a mini-model of the base for Joe. The week was a welcome break from cooking as there were plenty of left-overs to be eaten, and our annual mid-winter games included crossbow shooting, tossing the caber, and throwing wellies. Joe took first place, followed closely by Mick, me, and Stacey.

With mid-winter having come and gone, it is crazy to think that we are already on our way back to the hustle and bustle of summer. I’m sure the first ship will be here before we even know where the winter has gone. Special greetings to my parents and sister, and of course to all my friends.