wandering

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.

More ice than we could ever have gin for. by Jerry

Since the ship called a few weeks ago we've seen winter close its icy grip on the island. Normally a Bird Island autumn is damp (like the rest of the year) with slowly dropping temperatures, but this year as the nights close in the island has frozen and become covered in snow already.

We awoke one day last week to find our bay filled with ice. With not so much on the hills and little in some of the other bays it became apparent that these were all chunks of a smashed up 'berg, destroyed by the rough weather and funnelled straight at us.

Looking back from the end of the now surrounded jetty.

The amount of ice on top of, as well as surrounding, the jetty was impressive. It's very rare the waves even crash over the top of it so to dump all this there it must have been pretty severe.

It was more obvious to identify the edge of the jetty than it seems from this photo.

As may be expected, van-sized chunks of ice being repeatedly battered against the jetty didn't do it much good. It took a few days to clear enough to be able to carry out a proper investigation. Aside from a bit of buckling of the scaffold planks and the odd pole less straight than before it's stood up pretty well. The biggest relief was the lack of real damage to the grey water pipe.

Over the next few days the snow fell a bit more and we had some excellent opportunities to get out and enjoy it.

Walking in these conditions is so much different from summer. The streams are frozen so you need chains or spikes to safely get up them, the meadows and bogs are frozen too so you can walk straight across them without sinking in. However some of the muddiest bogs amongst the tussack grass don't freeze over properly, just hide themselves beneath a tempting layer of flat snow.

Watching the wildlife cope with the new conditions is always interesting. The fur seals generally love the snow, pushing themselves along, rolling over and rubbing it into their fur. But the route to and from the sea has become difficult for some.

The skuas were largely relying on carrion on the beaches for their meals. With that all buried they face a tough time.

The wandering albatross chicks are fully prepared for winter, their thick down layer will protect them through anything.

The penguins love it of course, although this gentoo looks confused about the high tide.

It's rare you can get photos of penguins stood on clean, white snow. It doesn't take long for them to mess it up. So I've enjoyed watching the evening arrival of the gentoos heading up the beach to their nesting grounds.

Although far outside of the breeding season the gentoos still gather at their nesting sites in the evenings, although attendance varies hugely depending on things like weather and food availability. They can still be very territorial, building up their nests and fighting with others who get too close.

Having a bit of fun with the larger bits of ice.

Jerry.

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.

Winter arrives. by Jerry


In the last week we've had an early taste of what winter promises. An icy wind has blown up from the continent, covering the island in a layer of snow, making skating rinks of the ponds and making the streams a lot more interesting to climb.
We have managed a few clear days through which to appreciate this weather so here are a few photos:

The view from Gazella, looking down to the base and the cove. Tonk and Molly Hill make up the ridge on this side of the island.
Another blizzard approaching across the sea. It's nice to see them coming so you can check you've got hat, goggles, shelter etc.
Fur Seals love the snow, sliding around and rolling over and over in it.
The view from Tonk, looking down toward base and across to the South Georgia mainland.
More seals enjoying the snow. These were pretty far up the slopes, I suspect planning on sliding all the way down to the sea on their bellies.
Macaroni Penguins, not particularly bothered by the snow. In fact they were raising their beaks skyward to catch flakes, then scooping mouthfuls off their backs when it built up.
Wandering Albatross with small chick, enjoying a respite from the constant wind.
The dangerous and reckless sport of danger walking. Not quite so reckless when you know the pond in question is only 6 inches deep. 
Cold days can mean clear nights, though with a bright moon about we're still waiting for the best star-spotting nights. 


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.

Please support our work by visiting Hannah and Steph's blogs too.









The onset of winter. by Jerry


Though the work-load has now decreased a bit the last few weeks still seem to have flown past; we've been on our own 6 weeks now and it feels more like two or three.

Winter is kicking in as the streams are now frequently frozen and the dusting if snow on the tops looks like it might stay.

Steph checking on a Wandering Albatross chick.

Frozen Flagstone Pond and a dusting of snow on the mountains.
We've had our first real storm, the most impressive result of which was the sheer volume of kelp and other seaweed thrown up onto the beach. It's out past the length of the jetty, looking like a weird, moving snake-covered jungle floor or something.

The view down to base from near the top of Tonk. 
With it came a good amount of se life, most of which we'd never otherwise see: starfish, bivalves and large crustaceans amongst other unidentified bits. We've given it all the generic name 'aliens'. Part of my winter task involves recording marine litter so I've a good excuse for beachcombing.

A variety of starfish washed up during the storm.

Penguins and Seals

The number of penguins at Big Mac has dropped quickly from 80,000 to about 10 as they all head off to sea, having spent the last few weeks moulting into their winter plumage. Gentoos are still present in small numbers.
The seals are leaving us too, with only a few puppies found around the beaches and fewer and fewer adults up in the tussoc grass. It can be a strange time of year as the joy of seeing independent puppies swimming off on their own is tempered by those who remain, too weak and skinny to head off. It's always the way with nature.


Giant Petrels

My main work season begins and ends with the Geeps. When I arrived in November I was doing a daily round of the study area, looking for newly nesting Southern Giant Petrels. In the last few weeks I've been around all their chicks, ringing them and attaching tiny geolocators to a select number. They will soon fledge (as the Northern Geeps have already done) and head off for several years to explore and mature. Little is known about where they travel in this time but many return to their place of birth to mate and nest. Hopefully whoever is here then can retrieve a few of these devices and shed some light on the mystery. As always this data will help us understand their lifestyle and hopefully enable us to better protect them.

Southern Geep chick ready to fledge having lost all its downy feathers.

Albatrosses

The albatross chicks are all getting bigger and the Black-brows have started to fledge. Not many mind, and the colonies are still full of mature-looking birds jumping up and down and madly flapping their wings, getting the feel of the wind blowing through them before they take that first plunge. I've been helping Steph with some of the chick-weighing so know from first hand experience how much bigger and more aggressive they're getting.

Black-browed Albatross chick exercising those wings.
The Wanderer chicks are looking fat and fluffy, with almost all of them left on their own now.

Wandering Albatross chick getting used to the view.

Around base

With a little more free time, and some horrible weather, thoughts turned to our midwinter presents. This is a south tradition, like a secret santa, when each person randomly picks someone else on base to make a gift for. A tremendous amount of effort and care has gone into gifts in previous years and I'm keen to get working on something.
Craig showed us round a few of the tools in his workshop in a basic woodworking class, should we wish to use any of them. As part of his demonstrations we tried making a load of equal-sized and smooth blocks which just happened to turn out ideal for giant jenga.

Safety first with giant jenga.


Jerry