Bird Island Diary – November 2014

12 November, 2014 Bird Island

November’s been a busy month on Bird Island as there’s no longer any denying that summer has arrived. On the first of November I started my daily visits to the Special Study Beach (SSB) to check on my fur seals, and since the first pup was born I’ve been going back twice daily to check on them morning and evening. As more and more fur seals return to the shores and more and more pups are born, the beaches are getting more and more crowded; turning my casual stroll to work into a strategic dash through fighting males and brooding females. It’s a joy to have the irresponsibly cute fur seal pups back on the island and we’re all looking forward to them becoming a bit more adventurous and wandering around outside base, looking for mischief.

The Wandering Albatross are undergoing a changing of the guard as the chicks are finally old enough to fledge and leave Bird Island, just as the next batch of adults are returning to breed and start the cycle all over again. Jess has been tasked with weighing the chicks once they reach 260 days of age, although finding them hasn’t always been easy as they’ve all become keen walkers and have explored far from their nest sites by now. The other albatross species have also had work for Jess. With the odd bit of help from Jerry and me, Jess has counted over 4,000 Grey-headed and Black-browed albatross in over 19 colonies as part of the annual censuses, as well as traversing the cliffs in search of Light-mantle Sooty albatross nests. Jess’ birthday fell on the 26th so we were able to tear her away from data entry for an evening off with a BBQ and a “hot-tub” (outdoor water tank) party.

Jerry’s birds too have been returning to Bird Island en masse. The burrowing petrels and prions have returned and we can hear them calling behind base at night, the Giant Petrels are now all on eggs, and the Gentoo Penguin chicks have started to hatch. But no return has been quite as spectacular as the Macaroni Penguins returning to Big Mac. There are now 80,000 penguins making noise in the world’s second largest Macaroni colony. We made two trips to the bottom of Big Mac, first to catch and weigh 50 males as they returned from a winter at sea, and then a fortnight later to do the same with the females. We all bore a few bruises after that as though the macs might be little they pack a hefty slap.

Back on base Rob’s been preparing for his handover with the incoming tech as Rob will be departing BI at first call. It will be a bittersweet farewell but Rob’s thoroughly enjoyed his summer and winter on Bird Island.

In the run up to first call we’ve all had to chip in and help each other out with our increasing workloads, until reinforcements arrive off the ship. To that end everyone’s been generously helping me with the seals at SSB, helping Jess weigh her wanderers, and helping Jerry count the penguins; all the while trying to prepare base for the incoming summer crew of 10. We’re all keen to meet the summer team and get the season going with the full team on board.

Cian Luck

Zoological Field Assistant