The huge Wanderers did most of their laying while I was away. Jess and Steph, with help from the others, covered the whole island mapping nests and trying to get ring numbers of the adults. This is a huge job that we are only just finishing off now as we go around checking on how many of the nests contain chicks. The eggs are roughly hand-sized and when checking them you occasionally hear a few peeps or get lucky enough to see a small hole with a beak poking through as they try and break for freedom. At only a few days old the chicks sit under the adults, white, fluffy, kitten-sized with an overly-long beak.
While half the breeding birds are sat with their eggs or chicks the other half are out at sea, travelling hundreds of miles in search of squid, crustaceans, krill and fish to sustain thmselves and feed their youngster. Meanwhile the non-breeding birds, maybe young ones who have travelled round the globe for five to eight years or maybe birds whose partners haven't returned, are performing some spectacular dances on the ridges and meadows in the hope of attracting new partners and claiming nest sites.
They face off against each other, spread their wings to their full 3m+ span and throw back their head, calling to the sky and anyone close enough. Sometimes males will chase other males away, sometimes the females just aren't interested but often a pair will walk round and round each other, hopefully seeing something in the other they like.
Black-browed and Grey-headed Albatrosses
The mollymawks, the smaller albatrosses (how to tell you've been here too long part 1; you start thinking of these birds as small – with their only 2m wingspan), are also nesting, although their chicks develop far quicker than the Wanderers. They are just getting past the completely fluffy, skittle-shaped phase and are developing proper adult feathers on their wings and chests. Soon they'll be jumping up and down and flapping like crazy.
Jess's work with them has mainly been checking on the success of several colonies round the island, but she will soon start weighing the chicks at dedicated ages. As with the penguins, weighing is a simple way to assess the health of the species and if it is done a specific number of days after hatching it can easily be compared with previous years.