A windy cold snap, harvesting hydroponics and a new flue installed on our incinerator are all news this week on Macca.

Station update

This week on Macca has been a busy one with everyone taking full advantage of a break in the weather now, after high winds and cold temperatures earlier in the week. A pleasant dusting of snow adorned the plateau over the weekend, and temperatures stayed mostly below zero. This first real cold snap since our arrival in April had us scrambling for extra layers of clothes. Granny rugs and doonas are now a permanent accessory in the cinema. Some of our water pipes are starting to freeze up, but never for too long, so far.

On Saturday night we celebrated the first harvest from hydroponics, with a salad bowl of delicious lettuce, and some of our fresh basil adorning Marion’s barley salad. Louise and Jacque are now bringing more tanks online to handle our burgeoning crop of tomato plants. 

Our waste incinerator ‘Warren’ finally has its new flue installed. The old one has been scheduled for replacement since arrival here in April, but the weather has hampered the installation thus far. Thankfully the old flue literally hung in there through the recent high winds. On Monday morning the old flue was removed and the new one installed. Nick, Mark and Ben were happy to have a favourable weather window for getting the job done.

Works on the Wireless Hill walking track continue, with an upgraded handrail being installed, and guide markers from the top of the track to the tsunami cache pegged in. This track leaves station just behind Cumpstons Cottage by Garden Cove, past the seismic hut, and then up to the top of Wireless Hill, and provides access to the VHF repeater. The rangers also use this track to access the special management areas on North Head.

Our rangers have just returned from a two week trip down to the southern part of the island undertaking monitoring of seabird nesting sites. They faced all that Macca could threw at them this week, with snow, hail, gale force winds, and frozen water pipes all making field work and down island hut life interesting.

This week, the station remembered the loss of expeditioners Dick Hoseason and Alastair Forbes in 1952 on Heard Island. The flag flew at half mast on the isthmus.

National Reconciliation Week is being commemorated on station all week, and the Australian and Aboriginal Flags are flying proudly in the roaring fifties breeze. 

Hydroponics harvest

It only seems a few weeks ago that we were writing of the newly planted hydroponics set up for 2015. This week we harvested the first of the lettuce plants and enjoyed a delicious salad with Saturday night dinner.

Our little flowering plant seedlings have developed quickly, and have transplanted into opts of clay ball or vermiculite. Thus far tomatoes, cucumbers, basil and chilies have been planted out.

Daily tasks in hydroponics fall to the slushy who, after carefully cleaning their shoes and hands to prevent any cross contamination, checks over the system. The water and air temperature are recorded and the pH and nutrient levels of all tanks are also checked. One of the joys of helping out in hydroponics is that it is lovely and warm inside, and it smells fresh, especially with all of the tomato and basil plants in there.

The cucumbers are forging a path up the walls along their trellises, and whilst they were the initial star performers, they are being hotly pursued by the tomatoes.

Still no signs of flower buds on our flowering plants just yet, but we are watching them closely and getting ready with our pollinating brushes.

Tradies tales

After a few weeks of preparation and planning, and seemingly endless weather interruptions, the trades team kicked some goals this week, completing two of the projects that we have been trying to achieve since resupply.

The refurbishment of the walking track to Wireless Hill, which connects station to the tsunami refuge, the VHF repeater hut, and travels through to the North Head special management areas was completed. This exposed section of hill bears the brunt of the westerly winds, as do expeditioners walking up there. The poles can work lose easily in the rocky ground conditions, and some had snapped off or become severely bent. After several days of carrying the gear up to the top of the rack, installation began. A few volunteers from station assisted in the post-smoko* gear haul over a few days. Entertainment was provided to the working party by Mark whose backpack became a portable organ, with the wind blowing past the ends of the pipe sections creating quite a tune to behold.

The easing of the winds this week also presented an opportunity for the flue replacement on the incinerator. With the new flue in place, our next task is to run a test burn to fully cure the flue in place.

*Smoko is a special hot breakfast.

May bird monitoring trip

This week, our rangers Andrea and Anna returned from their first winter field trip, a two week outing to check on the winter breeding birds on the island. One of the purposes of the trip was to search for breeding grey petrels, which are the only bird species on the island to be sitting on eggs at this time of year. They nest in burrows and are expected to be one of the beneficiaries of the Macquarie Island Pest Eradication Program as their preferred nesting slopes regenerate with rabbits no longer undermining vegetation and removing cover.

We scoured the slopes of known breeding sites, looking out for telltale signs of activity (like faeces and fresh diggings) and sniffing likely looking burrows — petrels have a distinctive smell which is evident in active or recently used burrows. Finally we used the burrowscope (a flexible tube with in-built camera) to look inside the burrow and see if there was a bird present and hopefully determine if it was sitting on an egg. As well as finding numerous birds on eggs, we were lucky enough to peek into one burrow and spot a chick — our first for the season!

There are four wandering albatross chicks on the island at the moment. They hatched in March and April and will spend the winter sitting on their nests in the southwest of the island, waiting for occasional feeding visits from their parents until they fledge late in the year. We are lucky enough to get to visit them each month to check on their progress, which we do from a distance so as to minimise any disturbance to the birds. They are still very downy, but looking alert, and two had adults in attendance. Their down keeps them warm and dry in all kinds of weather, which was lucky as a cold front was just about to arrive.

This saw our rangers plowing through snow, donning extra pairs of socks and putting their snow goggles to good use. It made for a very picturesque island though!

The last word…