petrel

July part 1 - Petrel, SAR and boating by Jerry Gillham

Despite it feeling like a quiet month in the aftermath of midwinter and still in the midst of the cold, short days it turns out quite a bit happened in July, or at least I’ve got plenty of photos from what did happen. So I’ll split the months blog into two.

The month started with a fun ascent of Petrel Peak, Fraser, Paddy, Vicki and I fought our way through the snow and occasional ice patches to reach the summit.

Kicking steps up the snow slope, it never looks as steep as it feels when your legs doing all the work.

After the climb out the valley you hit a fairly flat bowl. Petrel has two peaks, the most interesting and photogenic is the pointy one directly ahead of us in the middle of the photo.

Fraser contemplating the route to the summit. Petrel looks impossible from virtually every angle. From here we headed up to the ridge on the left, along and up that, then below the peak itself and back at it from the far (easier) side.

Up on the ridge, Petrel looks closer and marginally more accessible, but that ridge to get there gave us some problems and needed quiet a lot of route-finding and doubling back. Paddy's photo. Note July has been a month for experimenting with facial hair - this look is certainly better than one that will feature in July part 2.

Vicki and Paddy looking at something in the distance. In the background is the higher of the two Petrel Peaks (by a couple of meters); covered in loose rock and ice and not much of a fun climb even in good conditions, we decided this day it wasn't worth it.

Paddy, Vicki and I ascending the pyramid summit. In the summer we were amazed at how simple this route turned out to be. With snow and ice it was a little tricker. Summit height is about 600m. Fraser's photo.

We didn't hang around at the top as we could see the clouds closing in. It didn't start to snow until we were down in the bowl and approaching familiar ground. Still, the hard snow on these steep little slopes were good for a) sliding down, practicing ice-axe arrests and b) getting some good practice walking in crampons, as here. Fraser's photo.

Search and rescue practice is an ongoing training exercise. We’ve done a few tabletop scenarios and doc schools but this was the first time we put them all together and went out in the field. To complicate matters the casualty in this session was the doctor and I was pretending to be a visitor meaning Vicki, as deputy station leader, was responsible for co-ordinating the incident while Kieran was the lead first aider. They, and everyone involved, did extremely well and Fraser was safely recovered all the way back to the surgery. Even though you know these are only practice sessions they are still always stressful as there is a lot to remember. However well it goes there are always things you learn and little improvements you find you can make. There are so many different factors that could occur there is no one fix-all response so you have to do a lot of dynamic planning and responding and best reason for doing these practice sessions is to give you that confidence and ability to keep a calm head in a real emergency.

Fraser had 'broken his leg while playing on the old whaling station'. I was sent out as the quick response, taking the bike and pedalling round to meet him with a big orange blanket and some warm clothing. Shortly afterwards the main team arrived and splinted his leg up.

As we could have an incident anywhere off station we practiced bringing him back on the boat. Loading him from the jetty was relatively simple - next time it might be a RHIB pick up and mid-water transfer.

With several people managing holidays on separate peninsulas and the krill trawlers (which need inspecting by the government officers) there has been quite a bit of boating this month.

This was a weird day to be out - the snow fell so heavily it was sitting in a layer on the surface of the sea. Clearing it off the boats took a while but driving through it was simple enough...

... until it got sucked up into the cooling system and the engine overheated. Kieran watching on as Matthew fixed it.

One last thing Matthew wanted to do before departing was test whether he could take the jet boat into Moraine Fjord. This channel, although it is over 100m deep in the middle, can be just 4 or 5m and forested with kelp at the mouth. Normally we only take the RHIBs in there but with one due to go out for servicing we need to have a plan to use the jet as a back-up boat in case of any problems. So, with permission from Cambridge, we set out one sunny day on a test run.

Cutting through the line of kelp, hoping not too much gets sucked up into the jet units.

In front of the Hamberg Glacier. We kept our distance in case of calving events but didn't catch any. Shortly afterwards we did get a leopard seal swim past, checking us out.

Stepping out the boatshed door on 19th July it took me a moment to work out what was different, then I sussed it - the sun was shining on my face while I was on station. Although we don't get anything like the full days of darkness that's expected further south we are in the shade of Mount Duse, so it can be two months without the sun on base. Feeling it's warmth again is something special.

Tied up alongside here is the Fisheries Patrol Vessel, coming in to pick up pax and post in between searching for illegal fishing.

Back working with the Giant Petrels by Jerry Gillham

Working with the giant petrels was my favourite part of the job on Bird Island. Now I'm management and there's not so many of them nesting in the vicinity of King Edward Point it's rare I get to enjoy their aggressive / serene / maniacal / ridiculous behaviour. So when it got to the time of year for Kieran, the higher predator scientist, to go through their nesting grounds weighing and measuring the chicks I of course volunteered to help.

As well as getting up close with the birds it's a good excuse to get across to a a few less-well-travelled parts of the island.

Kieran approaching a giant petrel chick. Hopefully by this size and age they're past the point of vomiting to defend themselves, instead relying on their massive beak with which to bite you, but that's by no means a rule true to every bird. The trick is to approach and grab it quickly, minimising stress and ensuring minimal handling time.

Me in front of the Lyell glacier. These photos were taken at Harpon, a bay and hut over the other side of the peninsula from King Edward Point. It's about a two hour walk and the first time I'd been over that direction. It was also one of the first really snowy days we had though for most of it I wasn't as cold as I was here. Once down at sea level however we had the cold winds coming in off the ocean mixing with other cold winds coming down off the glacier.

With the boats in the water I was able to swap Kieran for Vicki (fisheries biologist) for the walk back. Away from the coast it warmed up again and as the sun dropped we got some great views down on the Lyell glacier. Normally this is all covered in debris, a dirty brown colour, but with a fresh fall of snow it looked dramatically white.

A sunnier day on the Greene Peninsula and I got hands-on with the birds again. I'm not putting any weight on the bird, merely using my legs to keep it still so I can measure the beak and then weigh it. These chicks aren't far off fledging and getting the weight of chicks at the same stage each year is a good indicator of the general health of the population, obviously in a summer of abundant food they'll be heavier and more likely to survive that first winter.

As with much of the work I used to do the predators at the top of the food chain are studied because it is a simple way of getting an idea of the health of the whole food web, but these measurements will only form a data point on a long term (decades-long) study into trends.

Bill measurements are used to determine sex with males having longer ones, in some cases over 100mm. 

Another day, a cold one again, heading out to the Greene Peninsula. It's only a short journey across by boat and up a fjord with a very shallow moraine entrance, so only suitable for the RHIB. The first job of the day was to get ashore and retrieve a VHF that one of the team had left on the beach the previous week.

Down the end of the fjord we took the opportunity to have a closer look at the Hamberg Glacier, unlike the Lyell which is large, dirty and sprawling through a valley this one is jagged, white, bleak and squeezed between a couple of rocky peaks.

 

Jerry

It's been a while... by Jerry Gillham

It's been a busy few months, and for a long part of it we were without any comms as the phones and internet went down for about six weeks. But I've now got a bit of time in the evenings to try and catch up with my blog.

It's the start of winter now; there's a bit of ice in the bay, the fishing ships are around and there's currently only nine of us on station. We're having to draw the blinds around 5:00 in the afternoon and people are starting to get on with making midwinter gifts.

Here's a few photos from earlier in the year, I'll try and put up some more soon.

Erny (mechanic / temporary boating officer) and Kieran (higher predator scientist) checking out an impressive iceberg. Taking the boats past the ice and down towards the glaciers is fantastic, especially when you get these big ones with their crazy shapes. On a calm day you can hear the fizzing and cracking of the tiny air bubbles in the ice all around you.

Fraser (doctor) on the top of Petrel peak. We pretty much came straight up this one, walking up the snow rather than scrambling up the scree. Petrel has two peaks, the other, slightly higher one is a not-so-nice balancing act up some crumbly rocks but this one, the more spectacular looking, is actually really solid and pretty simple.

With Bob (mechanic), Thies (yachtsman / builder) and Fraser up one of the many no-named peaks within our travel area. To the right of the picture, covered in debris is the Lyell Glacier and before that the deep green Lyell Lakes. The central peak behind us is False Minden, a peak just over 1,000m that is right on the edge of our travel area. Thies had done it before but no one else had and it was very tempting.

Matthew (boating officer), Dave (electrician) and Kieran up the top of Anderson Peak on a cloudy day. It cleared up enough to give us some nice views down towards Maiviken.

Matthew investigating an ice cave that has reduced in size dramatically since he first came down in 2013. Then you could stand up in the entrance, today you can just about crawl through a tunnel if you don't mind getting your knees a bit muddy and your back a bit wet.

This was shortly after the day on the no-named peak when we decided we'd head out early and attempt False Minden.

Fraser and Thies high up False Minden. Although Thies had climbed this peak before he kept changing his mind about the route, often saying we should have done it slightly differently. Still, without his guidance we'd probably have turned back.

Nearing the summit and feeling the height as we looked down on the top of the glaciers. It was such a warm, sunny day we'd had to repeatedly fill up our water bottles in streams.

Looking down on Hamberg Lakes and Hestersletten. The colour of these glacial lakes amazing, as is the way it changes as the water filters from one to another.

Fraser moving along the top ridge, with Mount Sugartop looking close enough to reach (though actually another 1000+m of Himalayan-style ascent).

Stopping for a quick lunch break on the top, looking down on Lyell Lakes. This turned into a pretty epic 10 hour day but was worth the tired legs, sunburn, cut hands and knees (some of that scree is sharp stuff) for the views.

Spring into Summer by Jerry

Here's a few photos to bring you up to date with what's been happening apart form the seal work (see last post).


First call brought the summer team, and one lonely King Penguin. 

Left to right: Cian (old seal assistant), Al (new penguin & petrel assistant), Robbie (new tech), Sian (new seal assistant), Lucy (new albatross assistant), Jaume (senior seal scientist), Richard (senior seabird scientist), Jess (old albatross assistant), Adam (base commander) and me (old penguin and petrel assistant).

Over the summer we'll be passing on all our knowledge and experience of the long term monitoring duties.



The Gentoo Penguin chicks are almost all hatched now and some are almost large enough to be left alone while the parents head off to sea to feed.



The first Northern Giant Petrel chicks are being left alone, at just two weeks old and not much bigger than a handful, as both parents forage for food. Our daily rounds, checking on breeding adults has finished now and we're just doing weekly checks looking for failures.

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 The Brown / Subantarctic Skuas are mostly sitting on eggs, though a few now have very cute chicks. We've been checking on ringed birds in the study area, making a map of their nests and recording which adults are present.


Blue-eyed Shags are another bird that are hatching chicks, these ones sadly not so cute as they're born bald and blind. We've been counting colonies on the outskirts of the island - a great excuse to get out to some of the less-well-visited spots on good weather days.


White-chinned Petrels are occupying their burrows. Later in the season we'll be attaching tiny tracking devices to a few, so have been going round checking for occupied burrows - lying in the tussac and reaching down into these dark holes, expecting a sharp bite for our intrusions.


The Wandering Albatross are starting to lay eggs. From Christmas Eve we'll spend a week intensively covering every patch of the island, recording the location and identity of each breeding pair.


Many that aren't yet breeding are loudly displaying, impressing each other with their calls and their amazing 3m wingspan.

Jerry.

I come from the land of ice and snow. by Jerry


 The last week has brought us the coldest weather I've so far experienced down south with it touching -10C. Add to that the 30 knot winds and it's been pretty chilly. Normally I head out just wearing a t-shirt under my paramo jacket but yesterday I had a thermal, thin jumper and fleece under there. I was plenty warm enough, except on the fingers when photographing the ice and snow.

Using the bridge on one of the few times it's fine not to.
Looking across the bay to base, with ice forming everywhere.

It tends to move through in blizzards, some lasting all day, some just a few minutes, punctuated by moments of sunshine. I chose one of these bright moments to carry a load of path-marking stakes up the hill (though it's clearly too frozen to drive them in so they're in a pile waiting for it to thaw), by the time I'd reached the top it was clear and the sun was bouncing off the snow, but within a few minutes I was in the middle of a snowstorm. By the time I'd made my way down it was again clear, though the clouds over South Georgia indicated this wouldn't be for long.

Sun on base but some ominous clouds approaching. 
Wonderful clear views across Bird Island and South Georgia.

As the temperature really began to drop we got ice forming in the bay. Just mush at first and a bit of pancake ice, but the really impressive bits are the rocks and seaweed that get covered with hard ice where the sea's been washing over them.

The incoming tide rising over ice-covered rocks.

Pancake ice forming around the jetty.

A highlight of the winter was the appearance in the bay of three snow petrels. These breed high up on the South Georgia mainland and are infrequently seen here on Bird Island, usually fleeting glimpses of them high over the peaks. But there they were, along with dozens of terns, picking morsels out of the ocean – crustaceans or possibly carrion from a leopard seal dinner.

Terns coping with the polar ground.

Antarctic Tern fishing in the forming ice.

Beautiful Snow Petrel.


When the weather allows we've been out ringing wandering albatross chicks. This a major part of the long term monitoring of this vulnerable species. They travel so far they can pitch up anywhere across the southern ocean, though many of them will (hopefully) return to breed on Bird Island in around eight years time.

Wandering Albatross chicks.

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.

Puppies and eggs – a sunny day in October. by Jerry

Craig had set off early to carry out some repair work on the little hut at the Seal Study Beach. Just as I was about to head out he called us on the radio with news that there was an Elephant Seal pup born on Landing Beach, so we all excitedly headed over there.



Huge numbers of Elephant Seals give birth and breed all over the beaches of South Georgia, but up on Bird Island we generally only get smaller, younger ones hauling out and only a few occasionally pupping. There's been a couple of big females on the beaches the last week or so though and we had our fingers crossed for a pup.



It was looking pretty healthy and calling to the mother, who was responding which is always a good sign, although it took it a long time to suckle.


The skuas have been looking pretty desperate for food recently, picking up scraps of old bone and feather and taking risks they wouldn't normally. There was a pair hanging round the pup, taking their chances to grab a bit of afterbirth or try and rip off a bit of umbilical cord. Understandably this was causing a little upset, and the mother was furiously shouting at the pesky birds.



Further up the beach the Gentoo Penguins are well underway with their nest building. Some have huge piles of stones with a nice little well in the centre to form a big bowl shape, some just have piles of stones, some have piles of bones and some just have a shallow scrape in the ground.





I headed off up the hill to check on the Giant Petrels. The Northerns have mostly all laid now but there was a few more nests to mark and a quick check on those already sat there. The Southerns haven't started laying yet but are on with mating, nest building and a bit of fighting.


Pair of Southern Geeps scrapping over nesting space...
... before splitting up and declaring themselves masters of their own space. They then moved a short distance apart and settled back down on their own nests.


The sun burnt off a lot of the mist by early afternoon so I sat and had a bite of lunch while watching the returned Grey-headed Albatrosses. Steph has been checking on the colonies daily and found the first egg a few days ago.





The Black-browed Albatrosses are back as well now, as are the Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses who are circling in pairs as part of their courtship.

Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses almost colliding.

A gloriously sunny day, looking over towards the South Georgia mainland and down to Jordan Cove with the base tucked in below La Roche.
With it now warm and sunny I dropped down to check on another penguin colony but despite some more impressive nests and a bit of copulation there were no eggs.




Not-so-happy neighbours.
Nest-building.


An hour or so later though Hannah walked past the same area on the Leopard Seal round and radioed back to let me know that there was a penguin that had done an egg, our first one for the year.

So a good day with loads happening.

Jerry.


Penguins and petrels by Jerry

I meant to write this blog over a week ago, so it's already out of date. I'll summarise my main photos and get on with writing a new one.

Gentoo Penguins

The Gentoo chicks are rapidly approaching fledging time, with very few left sporting many fluffy, downy feathers. They're fatter than the trimmed-down adults yet still chasing them up and down the beaches in their relentless quest for food. 



I've had some fun evenings watching them investigating the surf over on Landing Beach. They're quite nervous entering the water and when they do decide to swim they usually find their excess fat means diving below the surface is impossible.
The chicks are also quite fearless and curious - as I lay still one came over to investigate and found the elasticated toggle of my jacket very interesting.


Petrels

We had a second night camping on Molly Meadows, looking for Blue Petrels on which to deploy tiny GPSs that will tell us where they are feeding. It was another fun night, sitting round drinking tea, eating crisps and getting up every 15 minutes to check on our study burrows.


We've done similar work with the White-chinned Petrels, which are significantly bigger and angrier. The first stage is to identify and mark occupied burrows - those with both adults and chicks. The latter are at the incredibly fluffy stage, where they appear to be all downy feathers with a beak and feet but no eyes.


Albatrons

The end of each month sees everyone on base take part in the Wandering Albatross survey. At this stage we're looking for new nests, failed nests and the ring numbers of some birds. We split the island up and I volunteered for the big walk off to Farewell Point. There's only one nest there and we need the ring number of one of the birds, though of course it was the partner sitting there that day. 
I sat having a drink and watching a group of petrels and prions feeding in Bird Sound when a whale appeared in the middle of them - a single Southern Right Whale to be precise, moving slowly against the tide and occasionally diving, lifting its tail high as it did so.


Back on base

Any excuse for a celebratory dinner really, and with two genuine Scottishers here we weren't going to let Burns Night pass without a haggis, neeps, tatties, deep-fried Mars bar and whisky. To complete the scene we arrived for dinner in the traditional Jimmy Hat and two plaid shirts tied around the waist as a makeshift kilt.




Jerry.

Counting and camping by Jerry

Penguins

It's been a busy week for us penguinologists. We've been out several days this week carrying out counts of Gentoo chicks in every colony on the island. It is 100 days after 75% of marked nests had eggs laid in them and some of the chicks are large and fully moulted, although not yet independent. It seems to have been a good year, with over 4,500 – just over one chick per nest.

Everyone on base got involved with different bits of the work; the more eyes counting groups of between 12 and 250 penguin chicks the better. We aim to get within 5% of each other, which can be difficult when there's lots of chicks moving round, never mind the different eyesight and vantage points of the observers, but with several people counting we can pretty sure our average counts are accurate. It is important counting techniques are repeated each year to ensure the data is comparable.

Two days after counting all the chicks on Johnson Beach we were back there catching and weighing 100 of them. This was a messy job for the whole team. The average chick weight is just over 5kgs, although a couple of particularly large individuals were over 7kgs. Comparing fledging weights between years allows us to compare how good the feeding is and assess the likely survival chances of a particular generation.

Away from the penguins other work continues, with the albatrologists still marking new Wanderer nests and regularly checking on the Black-browed, Grey-headed and Sooty-mantled Albatrosses. The seal team have completed their work on the Special Study Beach (and enjoyed a lie-in after being up early every morning since early November) and are now tracking the movement of puppies around base and further up the streams.

A bright, sunny day. Ideal for counting penguins at Natural Arch. Looking east through Bird Sound with South Georgia on the right and icebergs in the distance.

 Hannah, armed only with clicker, counting Gentoo chicks.

Chinstrap Penguin. An occasional visitor, breeding further south. This one, the first I've seen, was hanging around on Johnson Beach while we were counting Gentoo chicks.


Bird Island by Night

As well as the penguins, Ruth and I also work a bit with the petrels, not just the Giant ones but some of the estimated 700,000 burrowing pairs. Recently we've been collecting feather samples from some of these and deploying tiny GPS devices onto others. These will track where the birds are feeding – an important step in understanding their lifestyle and hopefully contributory step in helping protect them when away from their breeding grounds.

Although most of our petrel work can be done during the day some does have to be done at night, so last week Jon and Jen joined us to go camping on Molly Meadows. We were looking for specific Blue Petrels returning to their burrows and, although we didn't get as many as we'd hoped, we had a great night, working from about midnight until 5am with enough time in between checking burrows to sit round a small stove and have cups of coffee and a good laugh.

Then later in the week we went out after dinner up Gazella, the hill behind base, to catch a few South Georgian Diving Petrels. These are tiny and squat, a little like Little Auks, with beautiful blue legs and are very rarely seen during the day. It was another good night, although very cold up there and we were glad to be back by 3am.

 South-Georgian Diving Petrel.

Ruth and Jen working by torchlight.


Domestic

When not out working I've still been busy. Possibly the most stressful part of the week was my first Saturday cook, for Saturday means a full three course meal (spicy pumpkin soup, risotto and chocolate bread & butter pudding for those interested), but I took my time about it and was still able to have a little time outside appreciating the wildlife.


 Pleased looking puppy taking a break from testing the water. It's great seeing them splashing around in the shallows, properly beginning to use their flippers.

 Wilson's Storm Petrel. Plenty breeding further up the slopes but they're not often seen during the day. Apart from the occasional day when there's a small group feeding near the jetty.

 Giant Petrels disposing of a dead seal puppy.

 Antarctic Tern, a regular visitor.

The first seal to climb on to our close iceberg was reluctant to give up it's spot, growling aggressively at the second one.


Jerry.


Giant Petrels by Jerry

I finished my last blog with us just arriving. So much has happened since then it would take me a few days to write it all up, but in summary:

We spent two long, hard days unloading all our supplies from the JCR. This ranged from food (all fresh veg to be checked for damage and invasive insects) to fuel (180 drums) to more general science kit, clothing, household objects (24 wine glasses). The biggest and most challenging bit was a load of big wooden timbers and three huge bulk fuel tanks that had to be landed directly onto the beach. It was a testing time but so many people put in hard shifts that it passed without too much incident. Since then we've been straight into work; trailing the winterers around, hoping some of their vast knowledge will rub off on us.

Most of my work thus far has been with the Giant Petrels, known here as Geeps. It's getting toward the end of their egg-laying period but we still need to do daily rounds to check for any new nests, any failures and trying to get the ring number of every breeding adult in the study area. Like most of the work here, this is a long-term monitoring project that has been going on for decades, looking at changing population dynamics.


 Northern Giant Petrel with chick.


The Geeps are really charismatic birds. Generally very calm when you're near them, they're the vultures of the area and can be quite brutal when you witness them ripping apart a dead seal or penguin.


 Giant Petrel in the snow, looking through rare clear skies to Willis Island


Going out doing the Geep round has allowed me to see a good chunk of the island in a whole variety of weather conditions, often within a few hours. It also leads me past several pairs of Wandering Albatross that are starting their amazing courtship dance and juveniles that are not far off fledging so are jumping and desperately flapping their huge wings.


 A rare view across to South Georgia, with one of the Fur Seals that has climbed really far up the slope in search of a bit of breeding space.


Other jobs have included preparing a set of geolocators for further science work, testing the penguin weighbridge and helping with a Black-browed Albatross census, but all that will have to wait for a different blog.


Wandering Albatross spreading it's wings in hope of getting a bit of air.


Jerry.