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
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.
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.