This week at Macquarie Island: 19 July 2019

Rangers take on the elements out in the field

Ranger vs Wind

A Macca ranger’s job in winter is much different to that in summer. Colder weather, shorter days and unpredictable weather means we have to be flexible and adaptable to whatever the day brings. A lot of the wildlife leaves the island over the colder months and tourists will not be back until summer. Winter is a time to monitor species that don’t migrate, as well as check on things like the historical sites, do some track maintenance and prepare for a busy summer season.

I am one of two rangers on Macca over winter – Andrea and I work together planning fieldwork down island. Breeding king penguins, grey petrels and wandering albatross are the main focus for wildlife monitoring over the colder months. Other jobs include track maintenance, organising hut supplies, marine debris clean up and coastal checks. The coastal areas close to station are ideal spots for documenting bits of shipwreck or a vagrant leopard seal and we often find interesting dead things like fulmars, penguins and fish and freeze them as specimens for museum collections.

June was a windy month on this tiny slither of mountainous beauty, with 23 of the 30 days blowing persistent strong winds and frequent gales. A good indication is that when the buildings shake, you know its gusting 50 knots or more (last week we had 72 knots!). My longer monthly field trip to the southern end of the island to check monitoring cameras on the wandering albatross chicks was postponed several times due to sustained high winds. Luckily the five great days we did have were perfectly timed during midwinter – ideal for sub-Antarctic swimming conditions!

Just before midwinter we were able to make a dash for the north-west Featherbed Track for a bit of track maintenance and marine debris clean up. The infamous Macca featherbed is a flat section of the west coast which looks deceivingly easy to walk along. The short lime green patches of ground amongst the tussock look like ideal spots to step but the grass is just floating on top of an underground water-logged bog and is easy to fall straight through into the cold mud below (from experience!).

Those wild and windy winter days, when the wind whips the tea right out of your mug, are the days when being indoors are not really that bad. With wildlife monitoring there comes data sorting so I’m always able to occupy myself on station with inside jobs.

Being a tiny speck in the wild environment of sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island is a grounding feeling and makes me feel so lucky to be living on such a special, remote island.

Stella (Ranger Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service)

A woman in camouflage jacket is standing in front of a wandering albatross
Stella doing her monthly camera checks for the Wandering albatross chicks at…
(Photo: Billy Wallace)
two women carrying bakpacks stand in front of a cove and mountain ridge above them. One points a walking stick into the distance.
Resident rangers Andrea and Stella discussing jump up routes at Caroline Cove
(Photo: Billy Wallace)
A woman wearing a cap sits in tussock grass with coloured wooden markers in front of her
Stella sorting track markers on the Secluded Bay track on North Head
(Photo: Andrea Turbett)
A woman in a yellow jacket crouches next to a bird burrow in the tussock grass
Stella changing batteries on a camera which monitors a grey petrel burrow…
(Photo: Pete Layt)
a woman carrying a backpack and track markers holds a walking stick up in the air as she looks onto a grassy plateau
Andrea almost home after a day of track maintenance on the featherbed…
(Photo: Stella Thomas)