This week at Macquarie Island: 22 July 2016

Great news on grey petrels, some walks for both pleasure and operations, and a whale spotting!

Grey petrel quest

The hunt for grey petrels has continued since May. It has been a team effort searching areas used by grey petrels. The aim is to estimate the number of grey petrel breeding pairs on Macquarie Island. To do this we have been carefully scouring patches of thick tussock looking and sniffing for signs of grey petrels. When we find something promising we take a closer look, either sticking our head right into the burrow or using a go-pro on a selfie-stick that is linked to a screen/tablet.

To date the team has recorded 94 breeding pairs: not quite a record, but we are getting close. So far our number of breeding pairs is greater than all the totals recorded prior to the Macquarie Island Pest Eradication Project (MIPEP). This suggests the breeding population has increased since MIPEP – great news! Now that there are no more rabbits on the island the vegetation is growing and providing much more stable habitat for grey petrels and other burrowing seabirds. There are still more than 10 out of 35 areas to search for grey petrels. Fingers crossed we are able to find more breeding pairs than were recorded in 2011 (112 breeding pairs), because this would mean the population is continuing to grow.

Marcus Salton

A man on the slope looking for burrows
Marcus at Green Gorge searching for grey petrel activity
(Photo: Kim Kliska)
A man is crawling into a burrow under tussocks whilst another person sits beside him
Marcus (orange) and Kim (blue) interrogate an active grey petrel burrow
(Photo: George Brettingham-Moore)
A man barely visible deep in the tussocks
Marcus buried in the tussock just found a grey petrel chick!
(Photo: Kim Kliska)
An adult and chick on the nest in the burrow
Grey petrel adult with its chick
(Photo: Marcus Salton)
Grey petrel chick on nest
Grey petrel chick on nest
(Photo: Marcus Salton)

Southern right whale spotting

We'd been filming some interviews with our Ranger team for inclusion in a forthcoming exhibition on Macquarie Island, and whilst filming with Kim up at the Ham shack, heard a noise in Garden Cove behind us, and saw our first southern right whale visitor! Very exciting. Unfortunately pics don't quite do it justice but at least George was on the spot with a camera so we have proof!

A man being interviewed in front of a penguin creche
Wildlife Ranger Marcus being interviewed by the Gadgets king penguin colony
(Photo: George Brettingham-Moore)
A man being interviewed on the beach with elephant seal in background
RIC Chris being interviewed on West Beach
(Photo: George Brettingham-Moore)
A woman is being interviewed on a balcony above the sea
Alby project research field assistant Kim being interviewed on the Ham Shock…
(Photo: George Brettingham-Moore)
A southern right whale swimming around in the bay
A southern right whale swimming around in the bay
(Photo: George Brettingham-Moore)
The body of the whale is visible momentarily
A bit of splashing action
(Photo: George Brettingham-Moore)
The whale was identifiable due to the size and lack of dorsal fin
The whale was identifiable due to the size and lack of dorsal…
(Photo: George Brettingham-Moore)

Sandell Bay marine debris survey

Macquarie Island has several Special Management Areas (or SMAs) around its coastline that regulate access to areas used by the many different species that breed on the island. Over winter many of the summer breeding species leave the island and at this time some of the SMAs are open for operational activity. Sandell Bay is in one such SMA. Marcus (wildlife ranger) and Marty (BOM observer) recently visited Sandell Bay and undertook some much needed clean up of marine debris.

Sandell Bay is a two-day hike down the island and visitors are rewarded with a spectacular view from the edge of the escarpment. Marcus and Marty spent a day walking the beaches along the bay and produced a sizeable addition to the cache of marine debris at Davis Point hut. The cache of debris will be collected by helicopter on the next island resupply and returned to Australia for processing.

It is rewarding see the Sandell Bay shoreline a little cleaner. Soon the Sandell Bay SMA will close and it will become an important breeding site for southern giant petrels. These giant petrels sure have picked a great place to raise their chicks!

Marcus Salton

2 men on the trail to Sandell Bay
Marcus and Marty hike to Sandell Bay to collect marine debris
(Photo: Marcus Salton)
View of Sandell Bay from the edge of the escarpment (Davis Point hut is on the point at the right-hand-side of the picture)
View of Sandell Bay from the edge of the escarpment (Davis Point…
(Photo: Marcus Salton)
A man stands in front of a view of the bay
Marty half way along Sandell Bay, on the way to Davis Point…
(Photo: Marcus Salton)
2 men in front of pile of debris they have collected on the beach which includes fishing buoys and lots of plastic
Marcus (left) and Marty (right) with the debris collected from Sandell Bay
(Photo: Marcus Salton)
A man by Davis Point hut - which is a converted water tank.
The cosy water-tank that is Davis Point hut
(Photo: Marcus Salton)

What's worse than carrying a pack up Doctors?

Having to carry a pack and an antenna!

We've been having various issues over the last few months with comms here on the island, and a helicopter-less resupply meant that numerous things that needed to be moved about on the island didn't get anywhere. Our Senior Communications Technical Officer Rob is a determined man and managed to convince our Station Supply Officer Dom that a lovely day trip would be for the two of them to carry the new antenna up the hill to Mt Elder (approx four kilometres from station) and position it. So off they set, with the antenna slung between them, and their packs on. Hopefully all those gym hours would pay off!

After a massive effort they had to turn around about 800 metres shy of their final destination as they were losing light, and a few days later Rob and Marcus (Wildlife Ranger) went back up the hill and hauled the antenna to its final position.

Communication with the field is much clearer now – big thanks from all of us.

2 men dressed ready to go hiking
Dom (left) and Rob (right) getting ready to load up at the…
(Photo: E. Rodewald)
A man dressed ready to hike with antenna in foreground
SCTO Rob with pack and cable - antenna to come!
(Photo: E. Rodewald)
2 men in hiking gear with the antenna slung between them
Rob (left) and Dom (right) all strapped in and ready to go...…
(Photo: E. Rodewald)
The two men set off with the aerial up the stairs
And off they go up the stairs.
(Photo: E. Rodewald)
The men continue up the stairs
The slog upwards
(Photo: E. Rodewald)
The men heading out of sight up the stairs
And head out of sight
(Photo: E. Rodewald)
A man on the ground next to the antenna
Rob having a well earned rest
(Photo: Dom Eyre-Walker)
A man looks at camera with snowy landscape behind him
Dom up on the snowy plateau
(Photo: Rob Bennett)

Flashback

As seen with the antenna, manual handling is the way we have to get everything up on to the plateau in the absence of helicopters, but it wasn't always so. A surf through the archives threw up some pictures of the days when there was agricultural livestock on the island for the farm, as well as horses. I can't imagine the station with pigs and cows, but I'd love a mule to carry my pack up the hill for me…

Horse handler saddling up packhorse in 1970
Horse handler saddling up packhorse in 1970
(Photo: Brenton Watkins)
Horse handler making final adjustments with two pack horses prior departing on field trip
Horse handler making final adjustments with two pack horses prior departing on…
(Photo: Brenton Watkins)
Horse and horse stables at Macquarie Island station
Horse and horse stables at Macquarie Island station, 1970.
(Photo: D. McArthur)
Horse in horsebox on DUKW amphibious vehicle about to be craned out whilst other horsebox sits on the ground nearby
Unloading horses from DUKW amphibious vehicle on arrival at Macquarie Island, 1969.
(Photo: Raymond Langtip)
Cow being lifted by gantry crane from amphibious vehicle attending by group of seven men
Unloading cow from DUKW amphibious vehicle by use of a chain block…
(Photo: AAD)
Black and white image of white cow eating the tussock grass
Jersey cow eating the tussock grass on the Isthmus, 1956.
(Photo: Robert Wilkinson)
Black and white image of four men with three pigs next to large mound of tussock grass
Expeditioners with pigs, 1948.
(Photo: AAD)
Black and white image of goat on the snow with wall of station building behind
Domestic goat on station grounds, 1954.
(Photo: Colin Robertson)