Bird Island Diary — March 2007

31 March, 2007

Bird Island, March Dairy

On 7th of March 17h00, I just came back from Big Mac (macaroni penguin colony) when Ali our Base Commander was calling the Base on the VHF”… Base, Base…Ali, Ali” – Robin and Donald literally jumped out their chair in the office and run to the radio. “Yes, Ali go ahead”.

No, No, No, it wasn’t really like that they didn’t jump out their chair or run in the corridor, too dangerous. We never know when an accident can happen. But they came to answer to Ali : “Yes, Ali – you can’t find this albatross nest ?”

Ali : “No, I had an accident, I took a short cut across this rocky steep slope and…”

Robin and Donald : “Oh no! did you hurt yourself ?”

Ali : “Yes, I think I twisted my ankle on a rock just before I fall to the bottom of the slope…”

Donald : “Ok Ali, we are organizing a rescue team between us…”

Ali : “Ok Don”

Don : “But we need to know what location you are. And where did you hurt yourself exactly to carry the good first aid kit ?”

After few radio exchange with Ali we knew that she was laying near the wandering nest 186 in Wandering Valley with apparently only a twisted ankle. Ten to fifteen minutes after the first call, me, Robin, and Dirk left the Base with 2 backpacks full of warm clothes, splints, bandages, painkillers, chocolate, hot tea and lot of useful bits. Donald was staying (or stayed) at the radio to talk to Ali. When she saw us, she whistled and we found her quite easily laying on rocks in the shadow of the mountain. As we learnt at Girton College we did the ABC (Airway-Breathing-Circulation) check to see that except her twisted ankle she was fine. A cup of tea with a piece of chocolate during the time we were putting a splint on her ankle and we were already on the way to Base helping Ali to walk and fighting with seals hiding in the tussock grass to keep away from casualty!

OK…OK…we did this during 5 minutes and let Ali going back to Base by herself !!

Oh, maybe I forgot to say to you that it was just a SAR or Search and Rescue exercise.

On the first, like every month now, we were counting all the wandering albatross nests. After 78 days of incubation hiding in the egg, it was time now for the chick to break the egg shell and get out to see how it looks outside, but this month they will stay under the supervision of dad and mum who provide board and warm lodging.

We had also a seal morning at Main Bay, the last one for this summer. We were weighing the 3 months old pups : 5 kg for the lightest and 20 kg for the heaviest but they were more around 12 kg one month before the weaning. Main Bay is also the beach where Wendy, the friendly seal, took up residence this year. And each time we were passing Main Bay, it was the opportunity to say Hello

What about the Science ?

In March I was ringing the Northern Giant Petrel chicks before they fledge to the unknown except for 27 of them who flew off with a GLS attached on a ring. This little device will download their location using the time of the sunrise and sunset. But we have to wait until they will come back to breed before recovering data, so see you in few years! Have a good time at sea, around Antarctica maybe ??

Donald was deploying and recovering last GPS on female fur seal and with the help of Ali he tagged one more pup the 324th from SSB who was having a sunbathe on the walkway at the back of the Base, the remaining of orange paint on its back which betrayed itself.

Robin was visiting Wandering Ridge every day to know the date of birth of wandering chicks. He was weighing the black-browed chicks which are trading down for feathers which will be much more useful in one month for the big plunge to the austral ocean. Their cousins the Grey-head are doing the same.

Others news of the other Bird Island inhabitants:

The last Macaroni chick was seen on 13th of March at Big Mac, along with thousands of adults and immatures which are moulting. A few chinstrap penguins were also seen moulting at Big Mac. With those fresh feathers they will be ready for the cold sea this winter.

The sub Antarctic Skua chicks are ready to fledge, some of them can already fly but stay around the nest area until parents stop to feeding them.

Even if we were only 5 on Base for this end of summer we had few lively evening night – I will just allude to one of them – the hot tub night which took place at mid-month, it was the last Saturday night on Bird island for Ali and Dirk. During the time we were eating our evening meal a small hose was filling the tub with hot water. Meal finished and dishes cleaned and dried the level was still very low in the tub. But after few pots of hot water it was time to dress in our swimsuits. It was already Sunday when we went in and it was raining outside but with the lid we stayed “dry” What a relaxing and revitalizing bath after a day of work !!!

The second half of the month we had the visit of the HMS Endurance ship and its 2 helicopters which made trips between the ship and the Base to drop Robert the fourth winterer and bring all our frozen food for the next year. They also loaded some cargo and took on board Dirk who’s going back to Cambridge after 3 month here and me !!!

Yes, in spite of myself I won two weeks of holiday out of Bird Island to see the dentist at Stanley for a sensitive tooth, a different one (cf January dairy). So Dirk and me flew to the Endurance with the helicopter on 21st and left behind us Ali, Donald, Robin, Robert and Ricky (facilities engineer) who just arrived for 2 days visit. After only two and half day sailing, we arrived in Falkland Islands but this is an other story – back to Bird Island!

Ali our summer Base Commander this year had 2 more days to enjoy Bird Island life and its wildlife. She left on 23rd with Ricky on the Pharos, and there were 3 to finish this month, three musketeers – Don, Robbo and Rob.

Oh before I close this March dairy I forget to say we had our first real snow for 2007, it was on the 15th, only one or two centimetres which is enough to transform the landscape on the island.

Et bonjour a tous en Bretagne et ailleurs, promis je vais me brosser les dents matin et soir.

A bientot pour plus de nouvelles.


Penguin field assistant at BI

NB : Maybe you’ve been remarked that my English is not Shakespeare English – maybe after two years, and hopefully you don’t heard my French accent when I am speaking.