Dan, Dan and Jen head out to Hop Island this week for a scientific equipment maintenance trip.

Hop Island crew install new sea bird monitoring cameras

Last weekend, myself (Dan D) and colleagues Jen S. and Dan B. were fortunate enough to visit beautiful Hop Island for two nights to do some fieldwork in support of the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) seabird research program. Located at the tip of the Rauer Island group on the far side of the Sørsdal Glacier from Davis station, Hop Island is home to a huge variety of bird life.

After arriving at the hut and unpacking our gear, we went for a walk up the nearby hill. As we reached the top, we were treated to a panoramic view of the different seabird colonies: Adélie penguins, Cape petrels, Antarctic petrels and southern fulmars. Skuas were perched on strategically located rocks, with the occasional Wilson’s storm petrel flitting around. The calls of the circling seabirds mixed together with the drone from the penguin colony and echoed off the rocks and ice floes, giving the scene a strangely prehistoric feel.

Our first task was to visit each of the three automatic nest cameras on the Island to carry out some repairs and collect the images to send back to the AAD seabird researchers in Hobart. Each is deliberately placed in a spot with an excellent view of the subject species, to allow researchers to see arrival and departure times for the birds during the year, and to provide other contextual information (which would be difficult to collect during the rare opportunities for visits).

The first camera we visited is located partway down the side of a gully overlooking a group of quiet and unassuming Antarctic petrels, who patiently put up with their noisy fulmar neighbours on the opposite slope.

Next, the Adélie camera is located on some rocks at the top of a hill with a view of part of the huge Adélie penguin colony. Naturally, we took some time to sit and quietly watch the activities of the penguins. They were occupied with feeding their chicks, stealing rocks from their neighbours, fighting off neighbours trying to steal their rocks, keeping an eye on the ever-present skuas, and being chased around by their hungry chicks who constantly demand more food. It wasn’t hard to see why the adults were taking a bit of time off by having a nap on a nearby ice floe or snow drift.

While I’d assumed that nest-building is an activity the penguins are mainly concerned with only at the start of the breeding season, it quickly became obvious that nest upkeep is a full-time job, with the general objective being to find or steal new rocks at roughly the same rate as the ones they have are stolen by their neighbours.

The last camera we visited was the fulmar camera, which required a bit of a detour to avoid several particularly zealous skuas. Being swooped by a magpie in Australia can be intimidating enough, so given that skuas are about four times the weight, it didn’t take long for us to get the hint and stay well clear.

Our final tasks were to do some hut maintenance and establish a new nest camera site overlooking the Cape petrel nesting area, which will hopefully afford a good view of their comings and goings throughout the year. It was hard not to feel a little self-conscious about our earlier bemusement at the penguins rock-gathering antics, because we soon found ourselves emulating them by amassing our own pile of rocks to hold the newly assembled nest camera in position. One can only imagine the penguin’s envy at our much more impressive pile.

Dan Dyer (Electronics Engineer)