Thursday, 19 April 2012

Bird Island and scenic science

Called in to Bird Island on Sunday to deliver supplies for the winterers. Four people stay on the island over winter (from now until first call in October or November). They study the seals, penguins, albatross and other birds. A slightly confusing thing about visiting is that they live on GMT whereas we live on GMT-3 (and the proper time zone should be GMT-2). There's a certain sense of freedom that comes from realising you can pick your own timezone but it confused them why we were so keen for breakfast at what was 11am to them.

Supplies were stashed and waste taken out but unfortunately we didn't get a chance for a walk. The next group from the ship did, though I've been up the Wandering Albatross colony before, which tempered my envy!


Bird Island base. In another life where I chose biology over maths at school I may have ended up here as one of the winterers. Slightly odd seeing people living the life I chose not to.


Waste for collection on the jetty. Earlier in the season this beach is full of Fur Seals which make life difficult with their cantankerous nature. Much as Fur Seals are disliked locally they represent a huge conservation success story as not long ago there were only a few thousand in the world after unregulated hunting, now they are probably more than two million on South Georgia.

 Pale-faced Sheathbill, chicken-like things that scavenge anything they consider edible, and they're not fussy.

South Georgia Pipit, the most southerly breeding songbird. They are restricted to rat-free areas of South Georgia so should benefit very significantly if the current rat eradication plans are carried out successfully.

The way in to Royal Bay where we took some sediment cores to study past changes in the glacier extent. I got my telescope out which gave reasonable views of a large (several thousand) King Penguin colony.

More scenic science: the glacier feeding into Cumberland Bay East. We did a quick set of CTD casts to study the ocean heat reaching the glacier and the meltwater that comes out. The meltwater layer was very thin, about 5-8m, and we had to be careful not to stir it up too much with the ship's thrusters and propellor as we stopped to sample it.

 The weather on the north side of South Georgia is often good as it is in the rain and cloud shadow of the mountains and south-western side. Bird Island is at the exposed western end so is normally wet.

Right Whale Rocks at the mouth of Cumberland Bay. There is a story of a ship based at Grytviken whaling base that never left Cumberland Bay for a season as it just caught the local Right Whales. Fortunately Southern Right Whales are recovering well (northern hemisphere ones are down to a few hundred and struggling, but with recent good news) and there was indeed one in the bay. The first, of hopefully many, that I've seen close to South Georgia.

 Male Wandering Albatross, F39 (white), Shag Rocks area. This bird was ringed in 1983 as a breeding bird on Bird Island, South Georgia and as Wanderers are normally ten years old when they first breed it is at least 39, possible much older (thanks Jen for the history). It currently has a chick on the island. The oldest known albatross is a Laysan Albatross at Midway which is still breeding at 61,but Bird Island studies only started in 1958 so it's probably too early to say with certainty how old Wanderers can get. This bird was only about 100miles from its nest, but they can range huge distances while foraging, reaching well into the Pacific or up to Brazil. During their non-breeding phase they are free to roam and can loop round Antarctica. One young Grey-headed Albatross was recorded doing a complete lap in 46 days.

1 comment:

charlottecowell said...

Thank you for your interesting blog. Totally tangential, last night I dreamed of being marooned in an icey region and having to be rescued by a helicopter pilot from 'Bird Island'!! There were really big waves in the sea and I had to climb onto an iceberg to flag down help. My two friends (we'd held hands on top of a 30ft wave) had been swept about half a km away....strange adventure dreams, but you are really living there :-)