New plant pics, Antarctic tern chicks and a visit from a chinstrap penguin.

An unexpected visitor

On a beautiful sunny Friday, the word went out that there was a chinstrap penguin hanging around the front gate. These little guys are rare visitors to the island and this one seemed to like all the construction work currently going on as we lay some pipeline across the isthmus. The visit attracted every camera on station and presented some multi–species photo ops that will impress the folks back home.

According to Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service (who keep records of all animal sightings) we have had 43 recorded sightings of chinstrap penguins on the island, of which only six were in the last 20 years. So that means this little guy’s visit is pretty special!

Huperzia update

Stop press…

At least in the eyes of those with a botanical interest in Macquarie Island.

Earlier this season, 2nd September, a story went to press describing the observations of Huperzia australiana, a small almost nondescript plant growing on the elevated feldmark here on the island. Our breaking story at that stage was able to report a significant increase in site records. 30 sites had been recorded by the end of MIPEP in April 2014; come forward in time to September 2016 — site records were almost 70.

Most recently however, site records have broken the 200 (currently 212 individual sites). Certainly a life without rabbits appears to be very much favouring the growth and expansion of this very small plant. 

As to why so many plants now — the jury is still out! Current abundance would suggest the plants were being grazed heavily by rabbits; its ultimate survival restricted to grazing enclosures and scattered locations.

From a human perspective this small epiphyte hardly rates a second glance. To a rabbit perhaps, it may have been a tasty morsel, or an accidental casualty as the rabbits greedily ate their way across the landscape. An alternate idea is that the species has an amazing regenerative capacity, this small epiphytic plant reproduces by spore, tiny propagules that are easily spread by the wind and that the re–colonisation of the species is occurring from a few scatter survivors.

Is Huperzia australiana a very important biological indicator of ecosystem health and the presence of the species now indicates a return towards ecological equilibrium? So much we don’t know about life after rabbits on the island. Watch this space — mind you in the context of the rapid changes in vegetation occurring on the island, this space will also be eagerly sought after as each species and vegetation community here on the island has its own story to tell. It’s all good news!

Chris Howard

Antarctic terns

Whilst walking along the beach on the west coast, we were alerted to the presence of an Antarctic tern nest by the irate squawking and flying about of a parent bird as we got close. As the nest was incredibly well camouflaged on the beach with only a piece of seaweed to protect it, it would have been hard to spot without the parental warning.

Terns lay their eggs between September and January so there are birds in different stages of the cycle all around the island. George managed to get some chick shots before Christmas from a tern family on the rock stacks near station.


As a rule, great petrels are quite skittish around people (as compared to the skua who don’t seem to care about you if you're not food), however it wasn’t always thus.

Back in times when domesticated animals were a part of station life, including the domestication of local wildlife, the 1975 team had a pet giant petrel called ‘Horace'.

Station log 9/5/75

Horie the giganteus petrel is fast becoming firm pet as it feeds well and follows us about, has no fear of any one of us and is contented to stay in the precinct of the living quarters.

Station log 13/5/75

Horace the giganteus petrel is still with us — Jovan feeds and looks after him. But boy doesn’t he smell.

Station log 30/5/75

Our giant petrel Horace is still with us and comes at a call at meal times like a pet dog; will follow a few of us no trouble at all, was down at the isthmus this morning practising to fly but gave it away and walked back into camp at a call for breakfast. We have had him over three weeks and he is perfectly at home with both the cat and the crew.

Station log 4/6/75

Horace has apparently taken to the air as he has been missing for 24 hours.

Station log 9/6/75

Horace returned.

Station log 18/6/75

Horace is back after two days — found him on the isthmus and he walked all the way back to the kitchen with me.

Sadly, that was the last mention of Horace I found. Hopefully he went off to do whatever giant petrels like to do best.