Thursday, 31 March 2011

Now we are four

On Sunday 27th March the RRS Ernest Shackleton parked itself in front of Bird Island to undertake 'last call', the last ship visit we will have before the onset of winter. As well as taking away all the people who are not wintering, the Shack was also dropping off some supplies and removing all our rubbish and unnecessary equipment. The ship's crew had predicted that the whole operation would take around two hours, and so eleven hours later when we were still loading cargo, we reflected on how unpredictable boating operations can be.

Last call draws a line between the summer and winter seasons on Bird Island. Of course there have already been signs that winter is approaching - the nights are getting longer, the weather is getting colder, the animals are starting to leave - but after last call we are reduced to a winter crew of just four people, and there will be no more ship visits until September; it really feels like there has been a big change. We are also waving goodbye to some good friends. I will particularly miss Ags, our stalwart Base Commander and my roommate since November, and Stacey, the outgoing penguin assistant who has been training me all summer. Stacey has been here for two and a half years, and takes with her a vast amount of knowledge about Bird Island. Those are some mighty big penguin assistant shoes I now have to fill.

It's hard to believe that summer is over already, and the carnival of reproduction on the island is coming to an end. There are still lots of animals around but more and more leave every day. The gentoo and macaroni penguin chicks are all gone, the giant petrels are fledging and the fur seal pups are disappearing. We will not be completely alone in the winter though; for the last month or so wandering albatross chicks have been popping out of eggs all over the island, and they will be with us through the long, dark, snowy months, sitting resolutely on their nests. It's a crazy breeding strategy if you ask me, but I guess they know what they are doing.

But for now we are trying to get used to an eerily quiet base, and having to cook every four days, and not having Stacey or Ags around whenever we have a dumb question about anything. There is an overwhelming sense that all the grown-ups have gone out and left us kids home alone. Can we cope, or will it all go a bit 'Lord of the Flies'? Tune in in six months time to find out.

Team Bird Island as it was : (back row from left) Stacey, Andy, Jen, Paul, Chris, Ags, (front row) Mick and myself.

Final goodbye. Stacey (purple hat) has not left the island for two and a half years and understandably looks a little shell-shocked.

The Ernest Shackleton steams away.

Team Bird Island as it is now: Mick (Winter Base Commander / seal assistant), Paul (technical services), Jen (albatross assistant),  me (penguin assistant).

No comments:

Post a Comment