chick

Help save albatross (quickly and easily) by Jerry Gillham

I'm backing and promoting this appeal from my friend who is working hard to save albatrosses  through cheap, innovative technology that is simple to use and will benefit everyone involved.

https://experiment.com/projects/can-hookpods-and-reusable-led-lights-reduce-albatross-deaths-and-marine-pollution

Wandering albatross

Wandering albatross

In her words:

"I've recently started working for the Albatross Task Force, which is part of the RPSB and acts to stop albatrosses and other seabirds being killed in fisheries around the world. There are approximately 300,000 seabirds killed every year by fisheries! It’s a MASSIVE problem, and many species are becoming endangered, especially albatross. It would be so sad if these amazing birds went extinct because of this. After spending 2 years with them on South Georgia they became so close to my heart. I think they are incredible creatures. They have the biggest wing span in the world, they circumnavigate the globe, they can stay at sea for years on end, and can live for over 60 years. Most of them mate for life and it is heartbreaking to see them waiting for a mate that doesn’t come back because it’s probably been killed in a fishery. I’ve seen birds waiting for months, just hoping for their partner to return. Some birds won’t breed for years with another partner in the hope their mate will return. It would be an absolute tragedy if we lost them, especially for a reason we can do something about!

Black=browed albatross.

The Albatross Task Force has been working for 10 years to stop albatross dying and have had some huge success, but we still have a lot to do. We want to test out some new technology called a Hookpod, which basically encloses the hook as it goes into the water, stopping the birds grabbing it and then being pulled under the water, and drowned. It’s a really cool piece of technology and if we can prove it cuts down on bird deaths, and it’s a benefit to fishermen, then we hope to see the fleets adopt it. It would make such a difference to these birds.
The other part of the project is testing reusable LED lights to replace disposable light sticks. Fishermen use these to attract fish to the hooks, and we estimate that 6 MILLION are thrown into the ocean every year just in Brazil!!!!! It makes me feel ill to think of that amount of plastic and batteries ending up in the ocean. It would be amazing if we could prove to the fishermen that reusable LED lights are just as effective at attracting fish, better for the environment and in the long run cheaper.

Grey-headed albatross chick.

Grey-headed albatross chick.

To start this project we need funds to buy the Hookpods and lights and ship them to Brazil. We already have £15,000 but we need another £5000. We have launched a crowdfunding appeal to raise this money. If we don’t hit the target then we receive nothing and the backers don’t get charged anything. We are determined to get this project going, as it could save so many albatrosses lives. I would be so grateful if you could donate anything towards this project, and share the word about it. We only have three weeks to do it in. As a backer you will get updates of how the project is going and lots of pictures of lovely albatross.
https://experiment.com/projects/cuyijvmxwanchuskvtgh
Thanks for reading this (I know it’s a bit long) and I hope you’ll be able to help either through donating or by spreading the word. See the link for the project and a video I made to explain it all a bit better.


I hope you can help me save albatrosses from extinction!"

Courting wandering albatross.

Courting wandering albatross.

Albatrosses, rain and birthdays by Jerry

A few photos of the work we've been up to in the last couple of weeks before the ship call, particularly those days in between when we were expecting them and when they actually arrived (the weather was too rough to call so, with all the cargo being ready, I had a few relaxing days before starting all my post-call work).

Checking wandering albatross on the ridge. This pair were the last to lay and so the last ones to be checked for signs of hatching.

Making friends with the locals. This albatross is sat in particularly scenic spot and I already have plenty of photos of it, though not too many with me in too.

Black-browed albatross chicks, as mean-looking as their parents.

Grey=headed albatross chicks, slightly less angry-looking.

When the chicks yawn they open their mouths so wide you can almost see the squid in their bellies.

It's time of year to get ringing the chicks, unfortunately the first day we were defeated by wind and rain. It's not safe for us in the colonies and not good for the chicks who aren't as waterproof as the adults so really shouldn't be disturbed in the wet.

Poa annua is an invasive grass species that crops up on several sub-Antarctic islands. We're largely free of it, though Al found this patch this season. Removal is best done by spade, though I did pick the first day the ground froze to try it.

Young elephants seal apparently attacked by a sea monster,

Lucy, on her birthday, adopting a heroic pose under our first good icicles of the season.

The icicles didn't last too long, not least because they got broke off to make a birthday G&T extra special.

Jerry

Wildlife update 3: Petrels and prions by Jerry

When penguin work wasn't pressing I've been concentrating on many of the Island's other birds, mainly the smaller flying ones.

Giant Petrels

The Northern Giant Petrel chicks had started to hatch just before I departed and were looking pretty big upon my return. They were all sat alone on their nests, spending their time snapping and threatening to vomit on anyone who walked past (most of the birds use this effective defence mechanism) and waiting for their parents to return with food. As they lose their downy grey feathers their adult ones start to show through, at this young age they're all sleek and shiny grey-black. It's about this time they start exploring – walking away from their nest to fight with bits of tussock.

At about a month old the chicks start getting left on their own.
I'd been doing weekly checks of the study area, checking on their progress, as several volunteers had been doing while I was away. Then in early March I spent a few days going round weighing, measuring and ringing all the chicks. As with the other species, weighing gives a simple impression of general health, how successful a season it's been and how it compares to previous years as well as being a useful marker when it comes to looking at survival rates and long-term changes. There were a few monsters among the chicks, ones over 7kg with beaks over 10cm long.

At about two months old they're still downy but much bigger and with adult feathers on the way.

Now they're starting to fledge. I'm still doing weekly checks but more often I'll come across an empty nest and then have to search around to see if the chick has genuinely flown off or just gone on an extended exploration.
Three months old; patches of down revealing dark juvenile feathers. At this stage they are regularly visited by parents returning with food.
The Southern Giant Petrels breed and nest about a month later than the Northerns so there's still some big fluffy ones about, though I'll be weighing and ringing them soon.

About four months old and they're ready to fledge. This was the very first egg to be laid in my study area this season, back in mid-September.


White-chin Petrels, Blue Petrels and Antarctic Prions

There's not too much long-term monitoring of these species, but there are a small number of burrows that needed to be checked for chicks. Although it can be a cold, wet and muddy job it is one I enjoy as I feel really privileged to be seeing these young birds looking so fat and fluffy. However of all the wildlife I work with it is probably the White-chins that inflict the most injuries. Not because they're particularly aggressive (although there's always the odd one that wants to kill you) but because they've got incredibly sharp claws. They'd usually use them for climbing tussock and digging burrows but if you can remember Sam Neill talking about velociraptors at the start of Jurassic Park, that's what they can do.

Young White-chinned Petrel starting to develop adult feathers around the face.
The adults are rarely seen on land as they usually come in at night to avoid predatory skuas and head straight to their burrows, this is particularly true of the Blue Petrels and Antarctic Prions that are about the size of a large thrush while the White-chins are like small gulls. They're often seen at sea, where they congregate behind the ship, and at night, particularly stormy, overcast nights where their calls echo through the dark.

Big, fluffy Antarctic Prion chick - really just a ball of fluff with a beak.


Skuas


I missed seeing the skua chicks when they were tiny and cute, but instead had the responsibility of measuring, weighing and ringing them once they were old enough to fight back. Thankfully our adult birds aren't as aggressive as other skuas, I'm thinking about the Bonxies in Shetland here, so the adults usually complain but standing loudly beside you and shrieking. Most of the juveniles are flying now and are congregating on the beaches to fight over scraps before they'll head to the mainland or out to sea for the winter.

Adult Brown Skua issuing a warning.

Last days of solitude. by Jerry

With about a week to go until the new staff arrive on Bird Island I thought I'd try and squeeze in a quick blog while our internet isn't too busy. With first call imminent we've been rushing round cleaning and tidying, making space for deliveries and packing up waste and recycling to go off. Rooms and kit have been prepared so the incoming guys can get straight up to speed and we're enjoying the last few days of just the four of us. Craig will have a two-day changeover with the new technician and then head off down to Rothera, so this really is time to enjoy on the island.

Typically this business coincides with my busiest few weeks of the whole year, although I have now managed to get a bit of breathing space. In the last week I have finished off the nesting count of Gentoo penguins – two or more of us have been out to all the different colonies and counted the number of active nests, that is those containing penguins sitting on eggs. There's some small sections which are quite simple, and some areas of several hundred where we've had to agree on imaginary bisecting lines to split them into more manageable chunks. Then repeatedly count the nests within until we agree on a figure.

Wading through mud and crap to count Gentoos at Square Pond.

The other penguins, the Macaronis, are back in full force and can be heard all over that side of the island, arguing away over nesting territories. We've been weighing individuals as they come ashore, a simple test of how well they've been feeding over the winter.

Sleek-looking Macaroni Penguin, fresh from the sea.

Observations being made by both parties.

Standard Bird Island weather - a million shades of grey with penguins as far as you can see.

My work with the Giant Petrels continues. The Northerns have all laid and the Southerns, who operate about a month behind them, are in the middle of doing so. I've met a few calm old birds who were ringed as chicks before I was born, which is always a little humbling.

There's two of these rare white-morph Southern Giant Petrels in my study area of around 140 pairs.

A more normal plumaged pair of Southern Giant Petrels with the female sitting proudly in her mossy nest.

Many of the smaller petrels have also started returning and I've started checking their burrows, looking for individuals who have been carrying tiny geolocator devices over the winter. These have been tracking the birds movements and will help identify key feeding areas, hopefully leading to greater protection for them.

While most White-chinned Petrels land and head straight for a burrow, this one sat up on the tussoc, calling away.

Retrieving a GLS from a returning White-chinned Petrel while trying to avoid it's ripping beak and tearing claws (Craig's photo).

Blue-eyed Shags are starting to build their nests so I've started keeping an eye on the small colony near base.

Very smart looking Blue-eyed Shag. Like shags in the UK that crest is only prominent at the beginning of the breeding season.

We've all been out helping Steph with some albatross surveys. First up was the ten-year census of the Grey-heads, which took us all over the island counting some huge and some tiny colonies of these beautiful birds. Soon we'll have to repeat our rounds of the areas counting the far more numerous Black-brows and the much rarer Light-mantled Sooties.

Black-browed Albatross colony on one of the more remote 

The Wandering Albatross chicks are close to fledging, with the best developed individuals now carrying very few downy chick feathers. I gave Steph a hand finishing off the ringing of them, barring a few left for the new albatross assistant.

Will this be the last time this Wandering Albatross family all see each other together?

The beaches are quickly becoming dangerous places to go as the male fur seals haul their way up and pick a spot where they will try and get a harem of females together. It's still early so there's been no fighting yet, just a few growls. The majority of the big guys are just sleeping, well aware that there are hard times coming up with a few scraps and little time for napping or feeding. Over on Landing Beach the two elephant seal pups are enjoying each others company as their mums head out to sea.

The younger Elephant Seal pup enthusiastically shouting in his neighbours ear.


Jerry.






Begin the spring by Jerry

As autumn draws on back home the days are getting longer on Bird Island. The last week has seen snow, rain, mist and blue skies, though with tremendous wind speeds we pass through each of them several times a day.

Brown Skua taking advantage of a warmer spell when the stream melted to have a good wash. The skuas have returned in their dozens in the last fortnight.

As the island wakes up from winter my main field-work begins again.  

With the ground still too frozen to build nests the Gentoos spend their time preening, resting and quarrelling. 
In my last blog I talked about the returning penguins. Large numbers of Gentoos are now regularly on the nesting beaches, but there has been relatively little nest-building activity. With temperatures still regularly below 0C they can't pick up pebbles, sticks or bones from the frozen mud so they've had to be satisfied with longer courtship rituals (mainly bowing to each other) and wandering around getting distracted by snow and each others tail feathers.

Northern Giant Petrel. The proud owner of a new egg.
The bulk of my work now is with the Giant Petrels, the Geeps. There's a study area over the Meadows and each day I have to wander around looking for new nests and checking for any failures. I mark each nest with a stake and give it a number and record the location on GPS so I can create a map later.  

Southern Giant Petrels trying to create their own egg.
I try and get ring numbers for the birds and ring any unringed individuals, depending on how calm they are – with a beak superbly well adapted for ripping up dead seals and cetaceans they can and have inflicted some serious cuts and bruises to my hands and arms. The best protection during this sort of encounter is the leg of a welly (with the boot cut off) slid over the arm to act as a makeshift gauntlet. The ringed birds give us all sorts of long-term data including population changes, survival rates, chick-rearing success and long-term fidelity. One of the new nesters today was ringed as a chick in 1979, making her older than me. The old birds are generally more calm and relaxed and it's a privilege to sit near them eating lunch and counting how much we have in common (not that much was my conclusion).

Wandering Albatross chick sporting that 'mutton chop' look.
 Meanwhile, over with the albatrosses...

With their adult feathers showing through the down the Wandering Albatross chicks are keen to feel the wind blowing through their wings, even though it'll be a bit of time before they can fly.
As Steph's work ringing all the Wanderer chicks nears completion the first of the mollymawks, the smaller albatrosses, have returned and daily counts of them, along with more ring checking, have begun. The Grey-heads were first, followed by the Black-brows and the Light-mantled Sooties won't be too far off.

One of the first Grey-headed Albatrosses back at the colony.

And the seals?

The smelliest bean-bag you've ever seen.
As the craziness of the Fur Seal pupping season approaches Hannah is still recording Leopard Seal activity and desperately hoping for an Elephant Seal pup on Bird Island. There's a handful of enormous males on the beaches and a couple of females. We've got our fingers crossed.

Count the chins.
The Elephant Seals are amazing. They look like the sort of thing that used to exist a hundred years ago, before the Victorians wiped them out so we could just look at poorly-drawn sketches and think 'nah... as if'. As they don't really breed here we're not going to get to see any of those spectacular fights between males but seeing the sheer size of them, and of their mouths when they're bellowing across the bay, gives the place a sense of pre-human wilderness.

Deserving the name elephant.
In the midst of the Leopard / Elephant / Fur Seal watching there was even more exciting seal action with a second Weddell of the season. And this one was hauled out on Main Bay, far from home but enjoying the bitter weather.

Lovely small-faced Weddell Seal
Longer days mean heading out earlier is possible, and getting work done quickly meant we could be done in time to create cakes and costumes for Hannah's birthday.

New superheroes and villains: Lord Caveman, Jesus riding an Orca, Dr Hogface and Super Binman.


Jerry.


Wanderer chick ringing by Jerry

The Wandering Albatross chicks that hatched around the start of March have been sitting tight all winter, protected from the blizzards by huge amounts of fluffy down. Showing through that down now are good numbers of adult feathers, particularly on the wings, head and chest. Although they're still a few months off fledging many of them are able to stand up properly and will soon start walking, exploring the area around their nests.  

Wandering Albatross chick overlooking Bird Sound.
So this is the time for ringing them all. I've been out helping Steph as she covers the whole island, seeing to every one of the 500 chicks. The information we get back from these rings will provide information on survival rates, distribution, migration and breeding success of these huge, magnificent but endangered birds.

A sign of things to come...

I'd been out doing this and checking on the chick at the far end of the island on August 31st. I'd been told not to be back too late and when I returned I was allowed a quick cup of tea and shower before Hannah suggested we go for a walk up the hill. We headed up and over to the hut at Fairy Point from where I do the majority of my Macaroni Penguin work. There, Craig and Steph had decorated and warmed up some food and carried over a few beers – it was my surprise birthday meal! We had a good laugh and fought off the cold with tilley lamps and numerous cups of tea.  

Crammed together around the table awaiting dinner.
Over night it snowed heavily, so once we'd wiped the condensation from the window we could see white all around us. The skies had cleared for the journey back so we got some great views of the snow-covered island.

Cabin in the snow. Behind the 'Love Shack' is Big Mac, where about 40,000 pairs of Macaroni Penguins will soon return to breed. In front of it is Little Mac, where about 500 will.
Chating to the Geeps on the way back.
I returned for some beautifully made presents (framed picture, photo-book, knitted penguin) before we had a hot-tub and huge pizza. Brilliant.

Here's a few more photos of what's happening:

Antarctic Tern fishing in the bay. There's been quite a lot of terns about recently and with some low tides they're regularly seen fishing just off the beach, going for the tiny crustaceans and fish.

Average day of a Gentoo penguin; jump up on a rock, eat some snow, get confused how to get down from the rock.

Chinstrap penguin; an occasional visitor from a bit further south.

Pair of adult Wandering Albatrosses taking advantage of the rare opportunity when they both return to feed their chick at the same time to indulge in a bit of mutual preening and pair-bonding.

Leopard Seal hauled out on the brash ice for a rest.

Taking advantage of the super-low tide to do a bit of rockpooling.
Amongst the seaweed, sponges and anemones are lots of tiny crustaceans, hanging on among the swirling waves.
Always a pleasure to see - a nudibranch!
Jerry.

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