Skuas are back as food opportunities increase, more improvements around station and 20 years this week since Sandy Bay hut was decommissioned.

Skuas are back in full force!

It wasn’t long after this year’s ANARE arrived at Macquarie Island that the skuas dwindled in number and then disappeared. There were a couple of rare sightings over winter — maybe those birds never left — but it wasn’t until late August and early September that skuas were regularly sighted again. Now they're are back in full force! As other animals, such as elephant seals, return to the island to breed, the skuas take advantage of the abundant food source.

The sub-Antarctic (or brown) skua (Catharacta skua lonnbergi) is a common summer breeding species on Macquarie Island and many other sub-Antarctic islands. They are opportunistic predators and scavengers, and will steal food from other animals when possible. Skuas have a large variety of food sources, which on Macquarie Island have included penguin eggs and chicks, rabbits, all types of carrion and small burrow–nesting seabirds.

Most skuas disperse northwards after the summer breeding season in early May and return to the island in late July. It’s unknown where they go during this time. One bird was re-sighted on Macquarie Island after being banded in Wollongong, New South Wales!

Skuas are excellent parents. Pairs are generally formed in September and the first eggs are laid in mid–October. Once chicks are born, in mid–November, the parents guard the chicks from predators with great vigour, swooping and calling with their wings outstretched.

Each year since the Macquarie Island Pest Eradication Project (MIPEP) a census of breeding skuas has been conducted. Last year showed that numbers continue to increase post MIPEP. Chicks fledge from mid–January to the end of February and we are looking forward to seeing these brown fluff balls hiding in the tussock along the tracks in just a few months time.

Marcus Salton & Kim Kliska

Macca Makeovers — signage

As the seasons change and the arrival of new expeditioners and tourists gets closer, there’s some sprucing up of the old place going on.

Chris has been busy giving the TasPWS sign a facelift and Ben started work on the fuel farm sign. More to come on that one…

Weekly photo monitoring points

Spot the differences in the Macca photo points. Apart from some superficial differences in frame alignment, not a lot appears to have changed at the two photographic points from one week to the next. A more typical Macca day with low cloud covering the plateau this time. Time of day for sequential photographs has so far has been about the same, just after lunch about 2:00pm.

Photo point 1 — the position of the elephant seals has obviously changed, but the number has increased. There are more adult breeding males ashore now, a few more breeding females; can you make out the new born pup in the middle of the frame (the little dark bundle)?

Photo point 2 — take close look at some of the Pleurophyllum hookeri. New leaves have continued to emerge but otherwise, for the moment, not much else to note.

Wide angle Isthmus photo point. Look close to the west of the chopper pads and note the number of elephant seals present. It may be harder to see but the harem way out along the beach has increased in size quite a lot. This harem, known for our census as Razorback West (RW) was the location for the first observed ele seal pup of the season; the count undertaken on Sunday 18th September noted 71 breeding female seals.

…and slowly, but gently the biological clock of Macquarie island keeps ticking…

Chris Howard


There are currently five field huts available for recreation on the island: Bauer Bay, Brothers Point, Green Gorge, Waterfall Bay and Hurd Point. A sixth, Davis Point hut, is for science/ranger work only as it’s in an Specially Managed Area.

This means there’s a refuge every three hours or so walk, and great opportunities for a comfortable few days away from station.

Back in the early days the huts were built around the island by sealers. In fact the sealers hut that was left at Sandy Bay was used by Mawson’s expedition in 1912 (see photo). It burnt down sometime in the intervening years (allegedly due to those pesky rats) and the hut we know as Sandy Bay hut was constructed in 1949 from an original Walrus aircraft engine packing crate not far from the old sealers’ hut site. A cold porch was added to the crate and it was kitted out to sleep two people. It was in a perfect location for observing both the King and Royal penguin colonies in the neighbourhood, and an easy walk from station either over the top or along the coast.

Sandy Bay hut was officially decommissioned 20 years ago this month so we thought that was worth a rake through the archives. However most feedback we could find in the old logs was negative, either due to the space itself, fellow expeditioners or rats… we guess the comforts of an engine packing crate are limited!

Station log 29/6/53

The present hut at Sandy Bay be retained but only as a bad weather depot. It was decided to present the above as a recommendation to HQ at the next Schedule with Melb Tech.

Station log 10/01/54

Five members of party walked to Sandy Bay. Hut in filthy condition — last party to visit hut did not clean utensils or cutlery after use. All tins badly rusted. Supplies sent down during changeover consisted of rusty tins of the more unpalatable items from main food stocks.

Station log 17/9/54

All huts clean and in good condition. Very pleased to see that Keith and Tom made such a good job of Sandy — now almost liveable.

Station Log 28/4/58

The hut at Sandy Bay is in a very bad state. Very little can be done to improve it, except set fire to it. The roof leaks badly; the equipment is badly rusted; the bunks and blankets are damp; and the place is overrun with rats. Having had the misfortune to sleep there on two occasions, the only thing I can find in its favour is that the walls act as a wind-break.

Green Gorge hut log 22/5/58 — Bill Prenter

Called in at Sandy Bay hut expecting to make a cup of tea but we decided against it after seeing condition of articles and interior. This hut is in a shocking state.

Sandy Bay hut log 24/11/75 — Peter Ormay

The old Sandy Bay hut is in pretty good shape still. There has been an amazing build-up of King Penguins here since 1967. Saw over 500 today.

In 1978, the hut was caught in an easterly storm and repositioned by nature.

Bauer Bay hut log 9/7/78 — Enid

My intentions were to stay at Sandy Bay and after fighting my way through kelp, elephant seals, and finally tussock, to reach the beach near the mouth of Finch Creek I was ready for a spell — the easterlies of the past few days had other ideas. SB hut had been for a swim — water tank washed away, aerial down, fuel drums gone and the hut having been moved.

Sandy Bay hut log — 10/7/78 — Tony Everett, John Adams, Brendan Chappell, Bob Clough, Philip Pritchard

Heavy easterly winds and seas have wrought havoc, Hut has turned clockwise 45 degrees, has moved 10 feet in a NE direction. Aerials down, water tank has disappeared. Tripod that was near door now 300 metres south on the beach. Hut has a tilt of 10–15 degrees in a NE direction. All fuel gone. Inside is a total disaster.

Sandy Bay hut log — 11/7/78

Brendan and Tony stayed overnight to do a bit of cleaning and tidying. We erected a temporary pole for radio aerial but wires need some repairs… we spent an hour shovelling sand from inside the hut. Heaters were burned for most of the night and this dried out the inside of the hut considerably. A shovel was found on the beach near Finch Creek which we will use to dig away from dirt from under the hut in an attempt to level it. We also found 2 fuel drums amongst huge piles of kelp and elephant seals near Finch Creek. One was empty the other three parts full and also had tap which we removed and brought back to install in drum of heating fuel which we have set up behind hut. Seven large King chicks still on beach accompanied by two adults. Andre Vallis arrived 1130 with JACK from VJM with which we managed to get the hut on to a more even keel.

Sandy Bay hut log — 2/9/78 — Enid

Tradesmen you sure did a great job on restoration of the hut. Boy did I hotfoot it out of here on 9/7 when I discovered what those wretched easterlies had done. Thank you, this is a gorgeous little hut.

The rats were soon back…

Sandy Bay hut log 23/2/80 — Pat Selkirk

Rats all night again. Still no luck with these traps but some of the interior skirting near the door has been eaten and half the soap. Strange bloody diet these field rats have. Have left two traps set.

Sandy Bay hut log 23/9/82 — Michael

Found that the hut had been given a once-over by rats. Much food had to be thrown out as the plastic and/or paper containers had been eaten through or urinated on. One sleeping bag has at least three holes… I slept very little last night… the pitter patter of rat’s hooves in the ceiling and walls 10 minutes after I’d gone to bed was just too much. I did however manage to get a few hours’ sleep stretched out on the chairs. It was most uncomfortable I can tell you.

Sandy Bay hut log 4/1/89

Tony arrived to do some work on the rock platform. Found a nest of nine baby rats in the blankets at the end of bottom bunk. Removed them. The mother is a bit elusive so I’ve put several bait stations around the place and cleaned up the mess on the top bunk… Top mattress is badly chewed and stained — I’ll leave that bed unmade.

Sandy Bay hut log — 4/3/96

Judith arrived at 1015 from VJM. Lovely surprise opportunity to stay here overnight on the way south. Have heard lots of stories about Sandy Bay hut and the treats it offers visitors. Nice to be here.

Sandy Bay hut log 14/9/96

Rick Ray Jeremy Jeff Marcel Ailsa Sophia Paul Hab (? not sure of name — hard to read) Doc Paul Scotty Rupert start the clear of hut with gear to BP & rubbish to VJM @ 2.00.

Sandy Bay hut log — 17/9/96 — Jeremy Smith

Hut clean out completed by boat parties comprising Rick Besso, Paul Klemes, Margo Morrice, Sophie Brasseur, Darron Lehman, Ailsa Hall, Marcel Brown, Rupert Davies, Joel Seymour, Paul Scott and Pirie Comboy. The end of an era! This hut has been doing good service for about 46 years but it’s time has come. Hopefully it can be repatriated to Australia and put into a museum, otherwise it will just rot!

Sandy Bay hut was replaced by the Brothers Point googie as a field hut in 1996, although the original hut still remains on the beach where it has been for the last 67 years.

NB: Former SL Jeremy Smith did a lot of research through hut and station logs for his book “A Fragmentary History” and this is our very helpful starting point for all our chasing through the old logs.

(Due to the number of years covered here, we'll only add winterers photos we haven’t featured before)