During the winter months Macquarie goes into torpor. Azorella cushionplants have turned brown, the silvery beds of Plurophyllum die back, and elephant seal numbers fall; just a few now laze on the beaches through the short days. Most noticeable the skies and shores are eerily quiet. Albatrosses have left to circle the Southern Ocean, and with them went the Royal and Rockhopper penguins and their constant clamouring. But a few hardy birds stay put, and it’s a great time to see them, while the island sleeps before the frenzy of the summer to come.
Down the east coast King penguin chicks grow through the winter thanks to regular meals from their parents. The colony on the beach at Green Gorge has grown from a single pair attempting to breed in the early 1990s to around 1000 pairs now! They battle daily to survive as giant petrels, growing ever hungrier with no seal carcasses to scavenge, harry the tight crèches.
Most of the birds that stay are those able to eke a living close to home, and I feel an affinity with them, sharing the same space. As we make do, so do they, and I’m glad they’ve stayed to keep us company. Macquarie shags and Gentoo penguins fish locally each day, returning in the evenings to fill rock stacks, or the beaches at Bauer Bay and around the northern Featherbed. Antarctic terns commute from West Beach to Garden Cove, right over the station and Market Square. They hover in the surf, dipping between waves to take morsels brought up to the surface. It’s an amazing dichotomy that while they’re resident year-round here, and around Antarctica, they’ll be joined over the summer by their northern counterpart, the Arctic Tern which undertakes the greatest migration of any animal to escape the Arctic winter and live in perpetual daylight. Why does one stay, and the other go?
Jez Bird, Seabird Researcher