Macca expeditioners are busy with work and a skua census. Ranger Andrea has left the island, but her excellent photos are honoured.

Station update

The counting never seems to stop here on Macca, be it seals, petrels, or skuas! We are closely monitoring the station population for cases of clicker counters becoming fused onto the fingers of both rangers and expeditioner volunteers, and remain vigilant for index finger fatigue injuries. Our most recent counting task was the skua census. The census team returned home to station on Friday after successfully completing their work throughout the previous week. They covered a lot of ground and had some challenging weather to deal with as well. Check out Ranger Anna’s full report.

Over the weekend, we celebrated Saturday evening with a delicious dinner, and the chance to ‘frock up’ or ‘don a collar’ if we so chose. Duck, steaks, and sweet potato pie were appreciated by all, and after enjoying dessert many sat late into the evening, revelling in the opportunity to relax in the mess and chat.

On Sunday morning Ranger Andrea led a trip into Aerial Cove on the west coast of North Head to take advantage of the last day of the specially managed area (SMA) being open to collect marine debris. Strangely no debris had accumulated on the beaches, and the larger items that had been sighted from the plateau prior to the big storm were now absent. Whilst being disappointed on the treasure hunting front, the wildlife provided us a treat. A few fur seals had small pups, and sprightly rockhopper penguins were gathered on the rock stacks around Catch Me Point.

Alex and Psycho returned mid week after being in the field for the last couple of weeks. Alex is only here on Macca for one month and has had an enormous project work plan to achieve. He has covered over 400 km on foot, including 19 km of vertical ascent, in this most recent trip traversing the island to undertake survey work at every centroid of the Macca 1:50,000 map grid. Field training officer, Psycho, has been working in the southern part of the island on the steep slopes with our albatross project team.

On Sunday we attempted a boating trip to Hurd Point, the most southern hut on the island. We had cargo to deliver for the albatross team, which was too heavy to take in on foot. A day of light winds presented itself on Saturday so we made a trip plan, assembled crew and headed off with three IRBs forming our flotilla. We had an uneventful journey down south, however upon arriving at Hurd Point itself, aborted the landing on account of some confused sea conditions resulting from swells and currents. We dropped the cargo off at Waterfall Bay instead, along with Dan and Marion who opportunistically caught a ride, as they were about to head off to Hurd Point on foot on Saturday morning anyway. The trip gave us a picturesque view of the growing penguin colonies at Lusitania Bay, and indeed along the entire east coast.

Back on station, we participated in an all-station fire exercise, the first of the season for many of our newer expeditioners. Our BA team performed brilliantly, and all those who presented at muster in an organised fashion were soon delegated small jobs to assist in the response.

Terry E celebrated his birthday on Tuesday, with a roast chicken dinner and, a delicious apricot and almond meringue replica of the Snowy Mountains and a back country ski hut, prepared by Jimmy. Happy Birthday Terry!

Excitement is building on station for the arrival of our first tourist ship. Ranger Paul held the volunteer inductions during the week, along with a slideshow to give us all an idea of how tourist operations will unfold. Armed with new name badges we are now ready to embrace our guiding duties. Talk of tourist ships however is also bitter sweet, with our wintering Ranger in Charge, the lovely Andrea Turbett, climbing aboard to head home. She will be kept company by Psycho and Alex as the island slips from view. (Although we are also pretty sure that she will be adequately comforted by the spectacle of other subantarctic islands on the trip to New Zealand, before flying back to Hobart, Tasmania.)

The joys of the skua census

Last week we made the most of a brief window with four rangers on the island — we will sadly bid Andrea farewell this weekend — and undertook the skua census. As well as the ranger quartet, Kris and Kim (albatross researchers) and our dedicated volunteers Rich, Duncan and Louise criss-crossed the plateau and featherbed in search of nesting skua.

Skua are probably the smartest birds on the island. They are supreme opportunists, always present at elephant seal births to peck at placenta, waiting by suckling pups to clean up spilt milk, sitting patiently by injured animals until they are weak enough to be eaten, perched by penguin colonies ready to snatch an egg or chick from under a distracted parent. They are also curious birds — expeditioners walking on the plateau often become aware of a presence which turns out to be a skua hovering a couple of metres above them. So it was quite a privilege to get out searching for these character-filled birds.

On the plateau, the team roamed the wide expanses of grass speckled with pleurophyllum, enjoying the open space and some sunshine (and some snow!). Blown off the plateau by high winds one day, they instead searched the nooks and crannies closer to the east coast in relative protection from the scouring winds.

It was also a wonderful time to be out on the featherbed. This special management area is closed to expeditioners at this time of year due to the presence of breeding giant petrels, but special dispensation is given for access to allow wildlife monitoring such as the skua census to occur. Scanning the landscape for skua tucked in the grass, our eyes were also caught by the grey fluffiness of northern giant petrel chicks, the white of leucistic southern giant petrels scattered amongst the greys and browns of their colonies, and the black and white of gentoo penguins marching across the featherbed en route to their chicks in colonies hundreds of metres inland. We also got to enjoy the squabble of rockhopper and royal penguins, who are currently setting up in tightly-packed colonies and incubating eggs. Plenty of reward to balance out the weary legs and waterlogged boots!

Anna Lashko, Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Ranger

Photo Gallery

Ranger in Charge, Andrea, has been a keen photographer all season and a frequent contributor to the station news throughout the winter.

What her trusty Olympus OMD has been through, we will never know. We certainly don’t know how that thing is still working!

Enjoy these pics from Andrea from her last trip out on the island before bidding us farewell.

The last word