Bird Island Diary – May 2006

31 May, 2006 Bird Island

Finally a month alone, and what a great month it has been! The base is now well and truly complete – the beginning of the month saw Matt (with help from his apprentices) complete the walkway that links the jetty to the back door. It’s a fantastic structure, engineered to withstand the weight of an elephant seal and is bound to be a big hit with the fur seal puppies next summer as prime sunbathing territory.

All it needed now was a ‘topping out’ party that was arranged for a Saturday night, beginning with a BBQ (cheers Jumbo!) and then a web cam based darts match (to stamp out the historical rumours that BI always cheated!) versus Halley. For the sporting commentary, I’ll hand over to Don. (see below)

But of course, we won and the celebrations were many – a disco courtesy of last year’s winter BC (cheers Tommo!) and then champagne and cigars in the hot tub!

The bank holiday weekend began with South Georgia darts match against the King Edward Point gang and Friday night saw a great fun match with everyone getting into the spirit of things (including the inflatable penguin and Bat Man!?!). Don, our resident sports commentator will elaborate on the details, but, yet again, victory belonged to BI and the celebrations continued well into the night! With a Midwinter’s week match planned against Rothera, we have our eyes on the winter darts championship 2006!

The weather for the entire weekend was glorious (I heard it rained lots back in the UK!) and Saturday hosted and all-day BBQ on the end of the jetty. Ah – this is the life :o)

May has also seen the first winter storms and some snowfall, though not enough to warrant skis and snowboards yet. We have plenty of icebergs around the island so the scenery changes everyday as the waves pound away, re-shaping and then completely obliterating these massive chunks of ice.

The storms have also brought with them some amazingly rough seas and the fur seals, seeming to be enjoying a very comfortable start to the winter (i.e. they are all nice and fat!), have been taking advantage of the weather. Seal surfing is the most popular leisure activity amongst them all – diving into the wave, surfing into the shore and then heads bob out of the water in readiness to ride the next big wave.

Whilst enjoying this local spectacle, we have sadly encountered 8 seals entangled in discarded fishing gear, which is already a much higher figure than last year. The seals often become entangled whilst playing with the rope loops and once around the neck region, it is almost impossible for them to dislodge it themselves. The non-degradable material becomes embedded in the seal’s flesh, culminating in a protracted and miserable demise. Fortunately for any seals spotted on BI, Don ‘Hero’ Seal Assistant comes to their rescue, restraining the animal for a few seconds whilst the tourniquet can be carefully snipped off and thus saving a life! All on BI are on constant lookout for these entangled seals that serve to highlight the dangers of man-made debris in this otherwise pristine environment.

Robbo is busy monitoring the mollymawk fledging, with the Black-browed Albatrosses begging their last meal before departure and the Grey-headed albatross warming up the wings before the first and very long flights they are about to embark upon. We are currently tracking some of these fledglings up the Atlantic Ocean using small satellite transmitters to learn more about where they go before returning land to breed.

The wanderer chicks in the study area are checked weekly and the first chick to hatch back in February, affectionately named Howard when his hatching coincided with the Governor of South Georgia’s visit, is growing at a phenomenal rate! Although stretching their wings, the wanderer chicks have a long way to go before they can think about getting off the ground.

The whole island’s wanderers are receiving their usual monitoring checks, which is a good excuse for everyone on base to get out to places that are seldom visited. This month I chose Fairwell Point, the most easterly place on the island accessible on foot, and enjoyed sitting on the edge of my small BI world in the sunshine watching the Sooty Albatross flying in formation over mainland South Georgia.

With the Macaroni Penguins having left the island last month, the main colony ‘Big Mac’ is quiet once again and the rain is slowly washing away a season’s worth of guano in readiness for next year’s penguin madness. I have been closely watching the Southern Giant Petrel chicks in my study area start to fledge, and it always brings a smile to see the birds I have monitored since eggs finally get airborne and embark on journeys that may well take them to Australia or New Zealand. Birds previously rung on BI have been reported in many far-flung destinations.

This month has been another good month for unusual sightings. The South Georgia pintail ducks were observed swimming along with a visiting Yellow-Billed pintail – likely from the Falkland Islands or South America – enjoying their company. Robbo, with Don and myself as catchers, is celebrating a record 34 ducks rung over a 3-day period!

An isabelline Gentoo penguin swam ashore at Everman Cove – these are rare colour variants seen in most of the penguin species. In addition, ‘Angel’ the albino grey-headed albatross chick has defied all of the odds and survived to fledging age, and the once ugly duckling has become quite the beautiful swan!

Back on base and now that Matt is free from outside jobs, he is busy in joinery mode fitting the base with new furniture and fittings to make life that much easier and the place more homely. All this in addition to being our mentor for mid-winter present production, which is a momentous undertaking filling almost all of his spare time. Fortunately, the guitars come out regularly and jamming sessions are much enjoyed by all.

We try to recycle as much waste as possible on base and the cardboard, paper, glass, tins and plastic are stored in containers under a tarpaulin until the ship collects it at the beginning of the season. This has become a much loved and well-guarded sleeping spot for the few seals that are still around – no doubt it’s much warmer than the frozen ground.

Following an excellent rearing season (over 5,000 chicks fledged from the island), the Gentoo penguins are in relaxation mode and rest on the beach in front of the base in their hundreds; there is also plenty of time to admire themselves!

So, I guess that’s it from us for May. Congratulations Simon and Jenny, blue skies Nethers for the start of the season and big love to everyone back home


Sport news!!

Well what a month it has been on the sporting front!! You had the crazy Swede put 40 years of English world cup hope and expectations at the feet of an untried kid no pressure wee man!! The mighty Scottish Brave hearts won the Kirin Cup out in Japan, who needs the world cup really!! The Catalan giants of Barcelona pipped Arsenal to the Champions league title thanks to a bit of green and white magic from an ex-Celtic legend, and we have had two of the most nail biting and memorable cup finals both north and south of the border back in the UK. However none of these occasions have come close to reproducing the excitement and drama which has unfolded down here as the inaugural BAS inter-base winter 2006 web darts championship has kicked off!!

The first clash kicked off on the evening off Saturday the thirteenth, cup final day back home. And like the Liverpool versus West Ham and Hearts via Gretna cup finals back home this was another David and Goliath mismatch, wee Bird Island with it tiny pool of players to pick from up against the might of Halley outnumbering us four to

one!! The odds where stacked against plucky Bird Island, as already mentioned Halley had much more playing resources at their disposal including some heavy weights of the Antarctic darts world!! And quite frankly what else do they have to do to while away the time in the dark flat freezing desert that is Halley apart from practice!! (only kidding Halley)

But the first game kicked off with BI determined to enjoy the occasion. And they equipped themselves more than adequately in the first game, a nip and tuck game all the way was eventually claimed by BI as the youngest member of their team, Robbo ‘Da Fro’ Snape, stepped up to the ochy and sent his dart sailing into the double four to make it one nil to BI, a taster of the excitement to follow. The second game begin with BI storming into a lead of a hundred points, no one expected such a collapse from the much vaunted team down at Halley and they rallied to close the gap as BI struggled to find the double three that would give them victory on the night, eventually Halley whittled down BI lead and managed to steal the game from under BI noses to square up the match at one all.

So the match went into the final deciding game and there wasn’t anything to split these two teams as they went head to head. There was some questionable gamesmanship exhibited by Halley as their ‘Met-babes’ where paraded across the web-cam, a move which some commentators believed was aimed at disrupting the focus and concentration of the BI team, but admirably they kept their minds on the job in hand. After a phenomenal display of skill from both sides it came to both requiring the double five to claim the final match and a glorious victory. Both teams had close things that on another day may have just sneaked in. However with the tension at a peak and an atmosphere that really was electric cometh the moment cometh the man, young Robbo ‘Da Fro’ Snape again stepped up to the ochy and with nerves of steel and a steady hand sent the wining dart sinking into the double five to spark an eruption of chants off ‘only one BI, one BI, there’s only one BI’ and ‘Robbo, Robbo’ from the gentoo penguins that had amassed outside the window trying to get a glimpse of the action unfolding inside!!

Once the formalities off thanking Halley for a great match, who where gallant losers and on another day could well have been victorious, were completed, it was time to celebrate in style in the hot tub expertly prepared by Hels Bels to loosen tired muscles, what end to an exciting day!! Who said you can never win anything with kids!!

Next game took place on Friday the 26th and pitted the victorious BI against our South Georgia neighbours down at King Edward Point. And this match had all the friendly passion and pride as seen when a cross border match takes place back in the UK. Even after their initial success against Halley few felt BI would be able to reproduce such a gutsy performance against their greater populated southern neighbours. As well as the greater numbers, many felt the strange kick-off time would work against BI, we operate at two hours ahead off our nearest neighbours so where further along the Friday 90 minute club than our opponents!! Also the element of surprise that BI had against Halley was now lost, after that great victory KEP had been warned at underestimating little BI at their peril!!

After some initial problems setting up the web-link, which led to a slightly delayed kick off, the first game begun just after 9 o’clock. Both teams looked fairly well matched, and was fairly close affair but as in the Halley game ‘Da Fro’ sunk the winning double to take the first game to BI. Old head on young shoulders that boy, really has been a sensation so far in this tournament. So the second game began with some members of the BI team showing some signs off struggling, some staggering was noted but they gallantly fought on. KEP tried every trick in the book to distract the BI players, attractive women where displayed on the web-cam, worryingly attractive men dressed as women where used as well, as was a very attractive inflatable penguin!! BI countered with their own rather fetching nun and the ever-dependable fifth member of the BI wintering team, Graham our inflatable frog.

However the fact that BI had been on the go for 2 extra hours was starting to show, Don ‘The Bone’ Malone was signalling to the bench that he required attention from the lovely female physio!! The captain of the BI team Matt ‘Jobbo’ Jobson obviously sensed his players where struggling and realised that his team would be unlikely to carry on competing if the match went to the final game, he realised that they had to win the match with this game. So with an amazing show of leadership he stepped up to the ochy and sent the winning dart flying into the double five, making it two nil to BI and puncturing KEP hopes off getting back into the match. The now familiar celebrations started in earnest with a bottle of bubbly soon popped to toast the victors!!

Credit has to go to KEP for making a good fist of it and making it another memorable game, but in the end they just couldn’t compete with the greatness and amazing team spirit shown by these truly remarkable BI team. So now only Rothera stand in the way of this fairy tale story of what was once an unimaginable grand slam for this BI team.

This story is the equivalent of Trinidad and Tobago going all the way in the world cup; sure no Scots will be supporting them though!! Whatever happens in that match this BI team will be remembered as one of the greats!!

Well onto other sporting news quickly, the Monday night bridge league has been hat about wraps it up on the sporting front for this month, tune in next month when continuing with the young raw newcomers starting to show real promise under the expert guidance of the Antarctic bridge veteran that is Jobbo. Grannies better watch out once we get back to the real world, as we will take them to the cleaners!! The Gentoo penguin football team is training hard and exhibiting some silky touches out on the frost covered freshwater beach pitch!! Although the fur seal season is almost over they still showing flashes of genius in the water!! And the albatross are all showing amazing endurance in their energy-sapping marathon.

That about wraps it up on the sporting front for this month, tune in next month when we will have a report of the eagerly anticipated match between BI and Rothera, also have a summary of the BI mid winter games to bring you, so going be another action packed month on the sporting front, do believe there might even be the small event of the world cup kicking off!! So its good night and goodbye from the sports desk until next time.