All change at Bird Island
I arrived back on 14th March. Later than planned due to bad weather, but that meant I had a chance to see KEP again, this time in the snow, a lot of which had fallen while I was out feeling rough at sea. There was a decent amount of snow remaining when I got back to Bird Island and I had time to race up the valleys to play in it and appreciate being back while it was sunny and the ship's crew were deciding on a plan of action for last call.
|The snowy La Roche and South Georgia from the top of Gazella.|
Ruth, Jen, Jon, Tamsin and Iain (who I'd only briefly crossed over with) headed off later that afternoon. A strange and emotional departure; we weren't sure if they'd return the next day or if that was it. To go from living and working so closely with people and then having half of them suddenly leave is a bit daunting, particularly when they know so much about the place and the work.
|Our last view of the others as they are shipped off to the RSS Ernest Shackleton and return to the UK (via a trip down to the peninsula).|
They didn't return, just a few of the crew came back in the RIBs to pick up outgoing cargo and waste as well as dropping off a few bits of cargo, fresh veg and what post they had for us.
It's taken a bit of getting used to running the base with just four people – cooking comes around twice as often, there are more cleaning jobs each, the place can easily feel a lot quieter if a few are out working. We've not been able to properly settle into the more relaxed winter regime yet as there's still a lot of work going on:
Penguins / Geeps
The Northern Giant Petrels are fledging, while the Southerns are not too far behind. I'm carrying out weekly rounds to check on them and will soon be out ringing the Southerns and sending a few on their way with tiny GLSs so we can find out where they travel to and feed in those important few juvenile years.
|Large Southern Geep chick in the snow.|
There's not too much penguin work at the moment as all their chicks have fledged. Gentoos are finishing their annual moult spread sparsely around the beaches, while the Macaroni colonies are full as the adults moult before heading out to sea for the winter. We managed to take advantage of a clear evening to head down to the bottom of Big Mac to watch them arriving and departing, riding in on the breaking waves and struggling through the kelp.
|Macaroni penguins emerging through the breaking waves onto the rocks.|
|Following the confident one on their way back up through the colony.|
|Big Mac at sunset.|
Black-browed and Grey-headed Albatross chicks are getting pretty big now, not far off fledging. I've been out helping Steph weigh and ring them. By weighing on specific days after hatching we can study how they progress and how healthy the population as a whole is. It is also very useful data for predicting how future changes to food supply will affect these species.
|Black-browed Albatross chick looking angry, as they all do.|
The Wandering Albatross eggs have hatched and the first chicks are starting to be left unattended, their parents heading off to sea and only returning to feed them. It was the monthly census on 1st April and I headed over to Farewell Point on the east end of the island, checking nests on the way. It was a cold but clear day and I took advantage of this and the early start to head back via the ridge at the top of north cliffs. This tiring and walk and occasional scramble was well worth it, offering some magnificent views across Bird Island and South Georgia. I finished up with my first ascent of La Roche, at 356m the highest point on the island by some distance.
|Wandering Albatross without parental support.|
|Views along the ridge - steep and spectacular.|
The seal work continues to fill days, with the team of three dropping to one with the rest of us drafted in to try and fill their place. The beach is a lot quieter as adults and puppies alike spend more time out at sea and Hannah spends all day walking up and down the valleys looking for specific puppies to weigh.
Back on base
It's starting to feel like winter as the nights draw in – it doesn't get light until about 9 and is dark by the same time in the evening. As we've all still got loads of work to do we only manage the odd evening off. The best one so far was Craig's birthday. He decided on a Hawaiian theme, complete with barbeque and hot tub: a great way to kick off our winter celebrations.
|Not BAS-issue winter clothing.|
|"If I keep telling myself it's tropical it will be."|
|An unexpected and lost visitor - Cattle Egrets aren't unknown here, in fact one a year is about average, but they still look very out of place amongst the penguins and seals.|
|A rare clear sky offering amazing views of the Milky Way.|
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