Saturday 23 May 2015

Not seabirds!

I was wondering what to do for my next blog post and thought why not have some photos about the non-seabirds of Bird Island. It’s a pretty short list, South Georgia Pintail, South Georgia Pipit, and Snowy Sheathbill. If you count vagrants, then this year we have also had 2 Barn Swallows and a Cattle Egret.

South Georgia Pintail

South Georgia pintail (Anas georgica). Population 6,000 pairs. Often treated as a subspecies of the Yellow-billed Pintail (Anas g. georgica), however differences in plumage, measurements, the number of tail feathers and geographical isolation are taken by many to suggest it is a separate species.

Feeding in the shallow pools behind base

Pintail feed mostly in the intertidal zone, in streams, puddles, and damp areas between tussac bogs. Some people claim this is the only carnivorous duck, about as menacing as they get is when three of them follow you along the coast, I haven’t yet seen one hunt down anything bigger than a bug, so maybe carnivorous is pushing it a bit, they are however known to eat the occasional bit of carrion. The chicks are only occasionally seen, little balls of fluff, speeding away through the tussac, while the female runs away flapping as a distraction.


The South Georgia Pipit (Anthus antarcticus), the most Southerly passerine/songbird. Population 3,000 pairs. Like most pipits they sing in flight, and is the only true birdsong we get here. They nest in amongst the tussac grass and lay up to 5 speckled eggs. In the summer they feed amongst the tussac, but in winter when there is ice and snow around they move down to the shoreline.


Surfing on kelp to catch insects

Pipits have been very much restricted in distribution to a few offshore islands due to predation by rats. However, now that the SGHT habitat restoration project has completed its rat eradication they should be able to recolonize other areas and become more widespread.



Snowy Sheathbill (Chionis albus). SG population of 2,000 pairs. An old nickname ‘mutt’ comes from the noise of the calls they make. They are often seen running around, rather than flying. When standing still they will often be on one leg, and happily hop around to move short distances. Sheathbills often get a lot of abuse for their habit of scavenging in penguin colonies and on beaches where they eat food scraps and poo. On the Antarctic peninsula this is the only species of bird without webbed feet!

Running away from a breaking wave

Sheathbills nest in a crevice or space underneath a big rock. The nest is pretty basic, some stems of tussac to form a slight bowl and occasionally your glove if you don’t keep an eye on it!

Sheathbill eggs are very pretty

Friday 15 May 2015

Macaroni Penguins

When I started this blog it was Lucy’s turn to cook, macaroni cheese, a good reminder that I hadn’t done a blog post on Macaroni Penguins still! It smelt delicious Smile. I’ve only just finished the post though, several weeks later as It’s been a busy time on base. We have counted everything, cleaning products, kitchenware, toilet roll, sausages… all so that we can get next years order right, fingers crossed! Well, it’s done now so here you are:

20141204-DSC_2239 Panorama
Big Mac, home to tens of thousands of Macaroni Penguins

On Bird Island there are three Macaroni colonies, Big Mac, Middle Mac, and Little Mac! Within sight of Big Mac is Mega Mac on Willis Island, as you can guess this is an even bigger colony, the biggest Macaroni colony in South Georgia. Males return in mid October, and females at the end of October. In the third week of November the first egg is laid, this seldom survives beyond early incubation, and a second egg is laid in the 4th week of November.

Little Mac, one of the study colonies

20141231-DSC_3383This egg is pipping

The first incubation shift is carried out as a pair, followed by a female only shift, then a male only shift after which the chick hatches and the female returns. Males then carry out a hatching and brood guard until the chicks are big enough to form a crèche.

A small Macaroni chick

An adult shelters its chick from the driving snow

Macaroni adult with an unusually speckled belly

Once the chicks are big enough to form a crèche both adults can take part in foraging trips to feed their chick. It takes 60 days for the chicks to fledge, at which point they will have lost their brown fluffy down, and will look similar to the adults, but without the impressive gold crest.

Once the chicks have fledged towards the end of February the adults head out to sea to feed before returning in early March to moult.


20141231-DSC_3351-Edit Panorama
An impressive sun halo

Fighting through the kelp and surf to get ashore

The long cue to get to the colony from the landing strip

Sunset at Little Mac and Willis Islands


Willis Islands (home to Mega Mac) behind Big Mac

The colony is full of moulting adults in mid March. They make a lot of noise about it too, and will spend around a month looking very scruffy, moulting their old feathers and growing a fresh new set to protect them through the winter.

20150411-DSC_6422Moulting mac

Fresh plumage post moult