Bird Island Diary – March 2012

31 March, 2012

With the arrival of the Technical Team on the FPV Pharos early this month, work started in earnest on the all the various building projects: the repair of the gantry on the Special Study Beach (SSB), the rebuild of the jetty and the preparations for the installation of a Bulk Fuel System. This will mean that with the installation of three large fuel tanks, arriving during First Call in October, diesel will be pumped ashore from the ships rather than offloading up to 200 barrels of diesel fuel. As a consequence the extended base (now devoid of fur seals) looks like a building site and the sound of the Bobcat (excavator) has supplemented the familiar cries of the seals, skuas and giant petrels. Science continues as before with the added impetus to collect a large number of biological samples for scientists that visited recently and scientists in Cambridge that can be sent out on Final Call.

For Jen, having watched the courtship rituals of the established pairs of wandering albatrosses and their nesting, watching the hatching of their chicks has been a joyous experience. As each chick takes up to three days to hatch, she has been returning to the Wanderer Ridge Study Area (WRSA) each evening to check on them and confirm their safe arrival. As she will monitor the chicks in the WRSA right through until fledging, when they set off on their oceanic travels as adults, she identifies with them and shares their disappointment, when either an egg or a chick does not survive. In addition to monitoring the chicks of the wandering albatross, she has also been monitoring the breeding success of the grey-headed and the black browed albatross chicks in their study colonies. This has included weighing them at various stages of their development and monitoring their diet. Latterly she organised the all island wanderer chick census, which was conducted by all in appalling weather. When not doing all of these activities, she has been recovering logging devices and taking biological samples on behalf of other visiting scientists.

With the arrival of Gaz and James, our scaffolders, Jon was fully involved with the rebuild the gantry on the Special Study Beach (SSB). Having used it throughout most of the season he provided the technical advice to supplement the various technical drawings, and considerable hands-on assistance. As a result, it was completed in record time and to a far higher standard than before. Jon also organised the monthly fur seal pup- weighing. With scientists thin on the ground it was an opportunity for the newly arrived technicians to step up to the mark and gain an insight into science work that it conducted here. As some of the fur seal pups were fairly heavy, it was a definite advantage having them to assist. It was an enjoyable day for everyone, and was followed with the traditional English breakfast cooked by Jon. When not involved in the SSB, Jon has been recovering logging devices, taking biological samples, doing the science indent and preparing all the paperwork for the export of the biological samples during Final Call.

In addition to Ruth’s normal work monitoring the macaroni penguins and the giant petrels, the burden for the majority of the outstanding biological samples fell to her. For a while it seemed that she was the preferred go-to scientist for all types of samples from fungi to feathers, from a whole host of national and international organisations and scientists. Fortunately, Jon and Jen could lend a hand, and latterly, Gaz, James (our scaffolders) and Nick (our plumber) ably assisted her in collecting the ultimate samples, which fulfilled the remit.

For all the scientists, it was a particularly busy conclusion to a long and demanding summer season. In addition to their normal work, they supported a number of visiting scientists and a host of requests for additional data and samples on time and with significant success.

For Rob, the arrival of more technicians was both a blessing and a burden. For the former, he had some people to talk about technical matters, who really understood what he meant! For the latter, he had to find all sorts of technical equipment and sundries, conduct tours of the various plant and utilities around base and to try and prevent his treasured tools going walkabout! That said, the technical team have been super and have done a sterling job. Much has been achieved in a relatively short time. The boilers have been serviced. The electrical circuits have been checked. Rob and Nick have laid much of the pipe-work for the Bulk Fuel Installation. This was a particularly difficult technical task, which has tested their patience, resolve and technical skills.

Graham, our facilities engineer, and Bobcat “master”, was busy completing some of the outstanding works that will complement the Bulk Fuel Installation. This has included rebuilding the rock jetty to enable the offload of the three large fuel tanks next season, the clearing of our existing main fuel dump, so that the foundations can be built for the fuel tanks and the electrical works to supplement the pipe-work. Thus far, under his direction, many of the projects have been completed and the remainder are very much on track for a successful completion by Final Call.

On the social side, we have had a couple of memorable BBQs, organised by Jon and Graham. During the former, the Bird Island weather did its worse and it snowed. During the latter, it was much kinder and the clear and starry night encouraged some to sit and talk into the early hours. As the summer season draws to an end, Ruth was appointed as the Winter Base Commander. It was a popular selection and it was celebrated appropriately. Once all the works have been completed, and all the outgoing cargo has been loaded onto the JCR, it will be farewell to Allan, Graham, Nick, Gaz and James, and she, Jon, Jen and Rob will begin their winter sojourn on Bird Island. She will write the next diary.