The sunsets are rapidly getting earlier here at Macquarie Island as winter approaches. The new expeditioners are settled into their jobs and island life, darts games are frequent, we have had our first significant storm, and some of the wildlife and plants are preparing for the sub-Antarctic winter – here are a few of them:
The annual royal penguin (Eudyptes schlegeli) exodus for the winter began in mid-April after the majority of them had finished moulting. Royal penguins are endemic to Macquarie Island – this is the only place in the world that they breed. They will forage at sea until they return to the island in late September to get ready for another breeding season. It has been estimated that approximately 750,000 pairs breed in over 60 colonies scattered around the island.
Azorella macquariensis is a critically endangered cushion plant that is also an endemic Macquarie Island species. The majority of Azorella grow up on the exposed plateau where the seasonal leaf browning (winter senescence) is starting – they will become green again in spring. Unfortunately, a lot of the Azorella is suffering from widespread dieback caused by climate change impacts.
Most light-mantled albatross (Phoebetria palpebrata) chicks are still at their nests on Macquarie Island’s steep tussock-covered slopes, although several have been spotted out flying already. They are transitioning from their fluffy down to their sleek adult plumage – they will all depart soon.
A small number of wandering albatross (Diomedea exulans) chicks have hatched fairly recently. Their nests are in very remote and spectacular locations. Each chick will live at their nest until it is time to fledge at the end of the year. Wandering albatross have the longest wingspan of any bird. Throughout winter the chicks will be left alone for long periods while the parents forage at sea.
There are thousands of fluffy brown chicks in the king penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus) colonies along the east coast. They are the largest species of the four penguin species that breed here at Macquarie Island – chicks live in the colonies throughout the winter due to the long king penguin breeding cycle. The adults will spend a lot of time at sea feeding and will return briefly to feed their chicks.