Bird Island Diary — May 2008

31 May, 2008

May at Bird Island, first month of the winter…

After a busy and long summer, May has been the first month without any ship calls with just the four winterers on base plus two special guests: Rex, the skua with a broken wing, who’s starting his second winter (like me, hope not the last one for him) and Geisha, a Japanese doll generously given to us by KEP.

The month started with the all island Wandering Albatross census on the first day of May. We went all over island to count 689 chicks waiting on their nests for a squidy meal from their parents… And it doesn’t happen every day, when you know that a foraging trip could be a journey of few thousands kilometres.

The same day I went to see if the crossbill Black-browed Albatross chick, found at the beginning of March, was still alive… Yes, he was on his nest ready to fledge. Despite his bill malformation he had survived the easiest part of his life when he just had to wait for the food. But now he has fledged it might be more difficult to catch a fish or a squid…

Before the end of the month all the other Black-browed chicks had left the colonies for a long journey over the Southern ocean before they come back, a few years older, for the first time at Bird Island. Before leaving the island one chick missed its flight and landed at the back of the base… It was maybe to early for him to fledge!! Derren took it back to the nearest colony.

Meanwhile the Grey-headed Albatross chicks were still enjoying the last free meals when they weren’t sleeping or getting some exercise. Even if they are the same size, it takes longer to raise a Grey-headed chick than the Black-browed, that’s why they fledge later in the season and maybe why this species breeds every two years.

In May it’s also time for Derren to ring chicks of the other species of albatross we’ve got on Bird Island: the Light-mantled Sooty Albatross. There aren’t many of them around the island and most of the nests are on inaccessible cliffs. So it wasn’t a difficult job for him but we had a good walk along the coast though the weather was cold and windy.

This month we’ve seen the first Leopard Seals hauled up onto the beach at the front of the base and not the last. One of them had a Geolocator attached to his flipper tag. This tiny device (only a few grams) had been recording light levels since the last time the seal was seen and tagged on Bird Island in September 2007. With these data we will be able to map its summer journey… probably down south near the Antarctic continent. Ewan was all excited with that discovery, more than the first Leps (Leopard Seal) he saw on the beach the previous week. But he had to try three times and wait that the seal was snoring before he could recover the device. Since then Ewan has been scouring beaches everyday to record all leps’ sightings.

As I said above May is the first month left on our own on the island and the first month of the winter… We decided to celebrate that and reopen the “Hot Tub Club” the first week-end. It opened at 11pm at a temperature of 38° – 39° C; the DJ was already playing some music when we arrived at the entrance dressing in swimsuit. We all jumped inside and closed the ceiling. When it was pouring with rain outside we were in the steam chatting about our winter projects and how we could organize the winter. We have stayed there all the night changing the world, unfortunately when the temperature drop below 36°C the “Hot Tub Club” closed. We came back inside and played darts… Practicing our darts skill in anticipation of the game against our neighbour.

So two weeks later we played King Edward Point at darts via the web cam. The first inter-base game of the winter had been played between the most feminine of BAS base versus the most masculine one… Try to guess which one is what?

We started to play for the best of 3 games of 501… But with the time difference of 2 hours with KEP, even if it’s just 100km south from here, we were both desperately trying to get the double 1 to finish the second game at 3am BI time. The first one had been won by KEP. By common consent we decided to draw the game and postpone the decider until later this winter.

That evening we wished Felice Happy non-official birthday with a cake and candles. What is that a non-official birthday?? Because none of us has his birthday during the winter we thought that it could be great to have a non-official one the same date but a different month. Like that we can have a birthday cake every month. 😉

The same night we had our first big dump of snow of the winter. When we woke up the morning (it was almost lunch time) there was 50 cm of fresh powdery snow on the ground and more where the snow had been blown out. We’d got very excited and less than one hour later skis, snowboard and sledge were ready. The afternoon we went out and enjoyed the BI winter sport… like all the following week.

I’m not sure if all the Wandering Albatross chicks was so excited with the deep snow… even if it’s a good windbreak.

Now most of the fur seals are gone or at least are not sleeping anymore against the main building we spent few hours at the beginning of the month washing the outside wall with brush, broom and bucket full of hot water… We’ve got a pressurized water gun on Base but the pipe exploded under the pressure after only few minutes.

I could have talk about the Friday bridge nights, the “Mouton” game or the Shanghai… but I don’t have any good pictures (don’t ask me why?). I can just tell you that for each game we count points and when the first one reaches five thousands points or more the person with the lowest score have to make a cake…

On that “sweet” end I wish you all the best…

Et profitez bien de l’ete a venir… pour le prochain je serai de retour pour vous cassez les pieds avec mes histoires d’albatros, d’otaries et de manchots.