Macquarie Island is home to four albatross species and many petrel species that are of national and international conservation significance. The Macquarie Island Albatross and Giant Petrel Program is a long–term seabird conservation program that has been running for over twenty years to determine the population status and trends of these seabirds. A team of two field biologists are deployed to Macquarie Island each year.
Over the last month the new field team (Emily and myself), along with recent seabird biologist now turned wildlife ranger extraordinaire Penny and our ranger in charge Andrea, have been out and about in the field completing the final nest checks and chick banding of the light–mantled sooty albatross (Phoebetria palpebrata) that nest all over the island. As their distribution is so widespread, with an estimated population in 2013 of 1550–2700 pairs breeding over the entire island, we monitor seven long term study sites scattered around the island that are representative of the overall population.
During April we went on four field trips (including a couple of day trips from station) where we visited our study sites at Gadgets Gully, Bauer Bay, Sandy Bay, Sawyer Creek, Hurd Point, Lusitania Bay and North Head.
Our work involves firstly locating the nest via GPS (this is when it became really handy to have Penny working with us, who had already visited these nests for previous nest checks), identifying whether there is a chick present and the developmental stage of the chick (plumage score), and then we pop a stainless steel band and a plastic darvic band on their legs. The reason why we band them is to be able to re-sight these birds later on and collect population demographics information such as juvenile survival, age of first breeding and determine site fidelity or movements within breeding sites.
The work is physically challenging — the birds often nest on top of slopes that we must bash through human-sized tussock to climb to. Sometimes when navigating to a nest we may come to the realisation that the nest is actually on the next ridge line over and so often we may need to descend all the way back down and go back up again.
The work is also very smelly — working in close proximity to wild birds means that we are often subject to projectile poo and regurgitate. Personally, I love the smell our clothes and gear is covered in by the end of the day and I have wonderful memories associated with the odour of the various seabird excrement, of doing what I love most, living and working with these gorgeous sentient beings that rule both the sea and sky.
Collectively, we counted a total of 144 chicks and banded 108 individuals during April, a great and very rewarding effort. Work on the light-mantled sooty albatross will begin again in October when we search the slopes for nesting birds to monitor over the next summer breeding season.
Macquarie Island Albatross & Giant Petrel Research Program 2017/18