Bird Island Diary — May 2001

31 May, 2001 Bird Island

Seals amid the winter’s snow

May saw the onset of true blue winter weather, and the much awaited arrival of the leopard seals (leps), two of these toothy beasts hauled out on our beach and promptly fell asleep for three days. Leps are Mark’s big fascination here, so much so that all have been given girls’ names and are doted upon faithfully. ‘Suzy’ seems to be the favourite, and is almost docile when approached by an Australian with the tape measure.

One however was a little too timid for such handling, and as it was untagged, had to be marked with a dab from a long pole paint brush. The plumber was actually enticed away from his workshop to look at one, but firmly stated that ‘cuddles’ were out of the question.

Our Great and Furious Base Commander was lamenting the loss of all the snow later on in the month. We are back to summer weather with rain and mud – so no skiing yet. Daf can be seen after a hard day’s thrutch, charging up and down outside the front of the base with his rugby ball ( he’s Welsh ) calling instructions out to imaginary team mates, and scoring quite a few tries. Actually, an improbable number of tries. He also has a prodigious appetite for anything sweet, so much so, that any cake or fudge seems to last not more than a day it is made, and is quite often consumed for breakfast while no-one is watching.

We have had a few whale sightings this month. Whales were plentiful off Cordell Stacks earlier on, one even circling in the bay off north cliffs, fluking for the cameras. Daf, our expert whale spotter has seen a good ten or so this month, though nothing compared to Rothera at the moment apparently.

One of the summer projects here has been a study into the diet of fur seals about this region, achieved by glueing a pressure operated digital camera onto a seal’s back and photographing anything the seal sees when it is diving and hunting. The whole gadget is the size of a couple of cigarette packets and is retrieved when the seal returns to the beach. Some of the photos are outstanding, outstanding if you have an interest in krill that is, – the seal diet hereabouts it seems.

Mark, our Aussie scientist, had the happy task of surveying every photo and identifying the krill, and in true innovative style set the computer to show him a picture every few seconds while he used a handheld counter. Once set up, he retired to a sheet tent arranged about his screen and began clicking away. Two hours later the base was alerted by a fearful din in the computer room, several thousand images later he had discovered the counter only goes up to eighty! The fair Jane had decided to keep the dud counter on prominent display for some reason, and Mark was its ready victim. The vigorous and wholly willful destruction of BAS property therein ensued, as the incensed Mark vented his spleen on said object with a big hammer. Bits of it are still embedded in the carpet.

Most off-base construction has now been completed, leaving the extra winterer – a pretend Chippie, on the loose about base. Evidence of this is plentiful. Mysterious banging at all hours, noxious paint fumes wafting about, and footprints of sawdust every where.

The fresh food here is finally starting to peter out, and the rush is on to consume the remaining foodstuffs before the mould takes over and becomes a sentient entity. One item we still have lots of is egg. In true FID enthusiasm, Jane has entered into a pickled egg-making frenzy, and now we have a small barrel of them in the pantry just waiting for lunch time. No one here could call themselves ‘Cool Hand Luke’ but we are getting through quite a lot of them.

Thanks is due to Jane’s Dad for the recipe, and careful indoctrination during her youth.

It turns out that while Daf is anyones for a lump of fudge, Jane likes anything and everything with vinegar in it, so much so that we are starting to run short! Malt vinegar on toast, is one example. Fortunately she does not inflict upon us this predilection that often, in fact whenever she is in the kitchen one or two ‘helpers’ are always at hand, eager for the mixing spoon.

We have finally had a tee shirt decided upon, and Dave Glynn from Halley has sent on a stamp design for Bird Island that was drawn there by a FID of yesteryear. Unfortunately much of what was sent was unprintable, and the censor’s knife was quite dull after finishing with it. Still, good for a laugh, and the BAS tourists can at last go away with proof of having been here. This whole project has had Mark labouring all month with the Photoshop package with excellent results.

One labour undertaken recently was not so successful, the retrieval of a ship’s fender that was found many years ago a few bays south of the Bird Island station. This weighty object was rolled with herculean effort over a hill, Square Pond ( Not A Nice Place ) and swum across two small coves to our jetty. The big beast was then tied up, and after much celebration, all hands retired to base for hot soup and a thaw.

The Gods must have been miffed. That night it blew, the seas raged, and the fender broke its moorings. Three fingers quivering with indignation were pointed at Jane the next day, as it was she who had perpetrated the most unbelievably complex granny knot in securing it – But no ! The rope was still all there, knot and all, it was just that nothing else was. Later that afternoon Mark trudged off on the Lep rounds, and radioed back soon after, saying that he had sighted the fender, washed high on the rocks, a couple of bays south of Bird Island station!.

The last gasp of the month saw Bird Island triumphant over King Edward Point at darts once again, another case of sudds to us! King Edward Point put up a fine effort, as their dart board is at the other end of the buildings from the radio shack. It took us a while to realise why the operator sounded out of breath!

The guys over there seem to be having a great time of it, as are we.

Well that’s about it for this month. I have no doubt that other incidents and events worthy of mention were happening about the place, as well as all the BIG Science which I must confess I am not qualified to comment on. If I have missed them I must apologise, as it was I who was busy padding sawdust footprints about while no one was looking.

Love to all the families.Paul Cuz.