Bird Island Diary – March 2006

31 March, 2006

And the end of another summer on Bird Island has arrived. The penguins have fledged, the albatross chicks are growing up fast with their adult feathers showing through under the baby fluff, the giant petrel chicks are taking to the skies, and the fur seal pups have moulted into their sleek adult coats and are busily swimming laps out in the bay. It also means that the end is nigh for many of the people on the island, the last ship shows up in a week to leave the wintering four to their fun. For myself this is the grand finale after two and a half years of playing with the birds and beasts, a time for plenty of sightseeing and a chance to take all of those photos that I promised I would but have never got around to. And, fortunately, the weather seems to have been rather obliging this month making the task a lot easier.

Time for some worthy March mentionings then. It’s prime Wandering Albatross chick hatching time, and this is a great excuse to burn up some megapixels and/or celluloid depending on your preference. You can never fail to get enough pictures of the happy parents with their offspring. Sarah, who has also spent the past 2.5 years down here, would undoubtedly argue this case with the fur-seals.

The Ernest Shackelton paid her last call to the island for this summer, heading back to the Falklands after completing the Halley relief. On board for the run home were the ex-Halley winterers, most of them having spent 14 months on the ice-shelf, but in the crowd were a few who had their beginnings with BAS at the same time as myself. Their two and a half year experience was a sharp contrast to my own, little wildlife, 24 hour darkness and sunlight, auroras and extreme cold, so it was great fun to exchange stories and memories with them. Having come from the white flatlands of the ice-shelf the hills and terrain of Bird Island must seem pretty alien by comparison.

The Shackleton picked up our summer Base Commander, Vicky, and dropped off the final member of the wintering team, Mr Matt Jobson, himself no stranger to Bird Island having wintered here in 2002. He also bought along a sidekick for a month, Jumbo (the nickname is so good that I’ll refrain from telling you his real name), to give him a hand with the new steel walkway around the base. We do it pretty tough down here so it’s nice of the bosses in Cambridge to stop us getting our feet dirty, and the fur-seals reckon it makes a nice spot to suckle.

Jumbo is the bloke with pink hair. The other sinister looking guy (?) has the joys of taking over the shambles of the albatross programme after I leave. He’s not a bad type if you can get him to dress appropriately, and he sometimes has a disconcerting habit of sleeping in odd locations. After dark definitely seems to be his forte, and a passion for trapping and ringing the lovely little South Georgia pintails that frequent the island. Note the appropriate warpaint and willing accomplice, how could the little beauties have any chance?

Plenty of mutterings over the latest and greatest technology have been heard from the seal team side of the office, the new fast uplink GPS tags that have promised fabulous results in the tracking department have had their share of teething problems. Donald spent a fair portion of March hunched over the computer screen scowling at the readout, but as you can see it fortunately doesn’t seem to have caused him any permanent damage.

That about closes out the March news, and with a week before the big red taxi shows up I think this is where I am supposed to provide some fabulous piece of reminiscence about the Bird Island experience. Truth be told I feel the reflections and considerations will come a few months down the line looking at the photos and videos with the family and friends. I have had a fabulous time on a very special island viewing many once-in-a-lifetime moments, therefore it seems only fair that I make way for someone else to enjoy all the place has to offer. Over to a couple more departees for their final goodbyes.