This week we find out what a Ranger In Charge gets up to in the field, we welcome back the big boys and have a close Orca encounter on a boating trip

A Day in the Life of a Macca Ranger

So…. what does a Ranger do on Macquarie Island? 

Most people are not aware that this remote windswept, sculptured piece of tussock covered wilderness half way to Antarctica is in fact the responsibility of the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service. Australian Antarctic Program provides very valuable logistics support that enables Rangers to go about the task of managing this amazing wilderness location. 

A posting to Macca is one of diversity to say the least — no two days are the same. Tasks are many and varied from interpreter to volunteer coordinator, track worker to researcher, stakeholder liaison through to tour guide, and even station slushy when it’s your turn on the roster. The seasons very much determine the cycles of ‘work’, and an appreciation of the weather sets the difference between a ‘good day’ or a ‘great day’. The shorter days of winter and reduced wildlife numbers allow for a ‘quieter time’ — mind you there is still plenty to be done. This is the lull before the storm — come summertime with long days, wildlife are a plenty, tourist ships are coming and going and life tends to get fairly hectic.

Some have referred to us as the ‘Sheriffs South of the 54th Parallel’ and whilst that brings to mind law and order, thankfully, that’s a very small part of the job. In a previous life, I worked in a small team environment and part of our motto included the phrase ‘regardless of season weather or terrain’ and in some ways that describes a typical day in the life of a Ranger on Macca. I’ve just got back from a patrol around the island …..

Day 1.  Depart station and head west along the along the Featherbed to do a marine debris and heritage site survey. Plan to stay at Bauer Bay hut overnight. Angus, Chris and Vicki joined me for that day. Good to have a bit of company — most of the time I work solo. Good news on this occasion; not too much rubbish but certainly enough to warrant some retrieval work later. 

Day 2.  Cross country from Bauer Bay south and overland to Green Gorge Hut. Vegetation surveying for Huperzia australiana along the way. (More of that story later!)

Day 3.  Depart Green Gorge hut –cross country heading south towards Waterfall Bay hut for the night. Another day of cross country vegetation surveying, looking for new Huperzia sites and keeping an eye out for new plant species that may have emerged since the rabbit eradication. Mindful of any interesting bird observations for Jez along the way. Meet with Field Training Officer Rich at Waterfall Bay hut. 

Day 4.  A day of risk assessment tasks on a number of access points up on to the Plateau. Just making sure that the routes on the maps are still safe to traverse, particularly on those days of poorer weather. Vegetation surveys en-route! Travel from Waterfall Bay cross country over to Davis Point hut for the night.

Day 5.  Head off down to Hurd Point hut for the night– transit day along well marked walking tracks today. As with most days in the field on Macca — straight up the hill from the hut! 

Day 6.  Over into the Amphitheatre to day to check on remote cameras watching over this seasons wandering albatross chicks (another story another day!). Weather starts out an absolute cracker — good to be alive enjoy the sunshine whilst it lasts. Checked up on the status of the new Poa astonni grass population - another success story in the post rabbit era! Back home to Hurd Point hut.

Day 7. Hurd Point hut heading north Davis Point Hut again. Got some track marker work to do on the way, and should be able to squeeze in some more vegetation surveys along the way. Home tonight will be Davis Point hut. 

Day 8. Davis Point hut cross country transit to Green Gorge hut for tonight. Risk assessment of one of the steeper west coast jump ups and Huperzia surveys along the way. Covered some interesting fjaeldmark today so keep an eye open for a very rare plant that has also bounced back a bit since the demise of the rabbits, Galium antarcticum. Good to get to Green Gorge Hut for the night. Great hut, with good views. Mind you when the weather is doing ‘its thing — they are all good huts!

Day 9. Interesting start to the day this morning. I could have sworn that I saw my thermals and socks doing yoga on their own — I decided it was time to go home. Amazing sunrise, more Huperzia along the way – I think I’ve managed to crack the 400 site mark by now – stay tuned for that story. Not bad for a plant that a few years ago was only known to exist in a handful of places. Heading home and the weather clags in - good to know there is a hot shower, great tucker, good friends and clean sheets waiting!

……. 9 days in the field, traversed the length and breadth of the island, recorded heaps of data, clocked up just under 120kms. Break for a day or so — and then comes the ever important task of data management and report writing. Ciao.

Chris Howard, Ranger In Charge. 

The Boys Are Back In Town

Ever since I first stepped foot on Macquarie Island I have been stunned by the prevalence and size of the local elephant seals. On and off throughout the six months we have been here we have seen all sorts lazing on the beaches — ranging from wee pups to enormous lumps of flesh that seem to have no place on the land at all. And I would see these seals, and be impressed, and say to our Ranger in Charge — “Chris! You should have seen the size of this seal today!”

And Chris would say “You just wait”.

Well, I have waited. 

And finally the big fellas have started coming home.

These bulls will weigh up to 4000kg and be around 5m long. At the moment they’re just starting to show up and hang out on beaches, scouting out territories and the competition, but in a few more weeks the ladies will start showing up and the biggest and boldest of the bulls will hold brutal contests for the right to breed. The arrival of the big bulls is an indicator for us that winter is ending and that we have a lot to look forward to over the next months — the island is poised to explode into life. 

Angus Cummings BOM Tech. 

Orca Encounter

On Tuesday the seas calmed and the wind abated — in other words it was perfect boating weather. We decided to take the opportunity to get the IRBs in the water and deliver batteries and other hut supplies to Brothers Point hut.

The trip down to Brothers Point was uneventful. We were met on the beach by Greg who was staying in the hut. The supplies were unloaded and gradually carried up to the hut. We departed quickly, leaving Peter behind to carry out repairs to the remote power supply units.

On the way back to station we spotted several Orca fins heading north at the Nuggets and watched as a large family group (pod) with one large male passed us without so much as a sideways look, focused totally on their own agenda.