The seabird research group have been busy attaching trackers to a range of species to identify their foraging locations and to understand how they utilise the winds and water currents to travel. Previously we have done this for Adélie penguins in the Rauer Islands, but not for any of the flying seabirds.
Our field site at Hop Island is a stunning location with chunks of ice now snuggling in the bays. It is an incredibly special place because it provides habitat for a range of seabirds to breed including Adélie penguins, snow petrels, Antarctic petrels, cape petrels, southern fulmars, skuas and Wilson’s storm petrels. We have chosen the first five of these species to simultaneously study their foraging activities, location and diet. For the flying seabirds we are using small GPS units which include a solar panel for recharging and are able to download the data to a base station when the bird comes back to its nesting site. For the Adélie penguins, we are using GPS units which we need to retrieve to download the data and which are black making it incredibly difficult to find the black devices taped on with black tape onto the black back of the birds which stand amongst a sea of other black-backed birds!
We have also conducted broad scale surveys of snow petrels and Adélie penguins involving aerial photography from helicopters as well as ground surveys across a rather remarkable landscape. For the snow petrels this involves what is similar to a rogaining course where we set out with GPS units to find particular locations, search under every rock in the 50x50 m plot that a snow petrel could possibly nest under, and then continue to our next destination to repeat the process. Some of the plots have been on gentle undulating terrain, while others have required scrambling up scree slopes or large bouldered slopes. We are treading very carefully.
Amidst all of these more time consuming activities we have also mapped Adélie penguin and flying seabird colonies, and skua nests on Hop Island to understand the association between the predatory skua and its food source. We have searched for birds which were banded in the early 1980s, and have collected seabird faecal samples to determine diet and pollution content. Soon we will be joined by a visitor from Zhongshan station (China) to dig guano cores with us to identify longer term occupation of Adélie penguins and dietary shifts over thousands of years through isotope and DNA techniques.
It has been a busy period in the field which was interrupted by a welcome break back on station for Christmas and New Years (Station leader’s orders, thank you station leader!).
Louise, Nina, James and Helen