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Bird Island in Antarctic Waters

Bird Island in Antarctic Waters

David F. Parmelee
Copyright Date: 1980
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 168
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  • Book Info
    Bird Island in Antarctic Waters
    Book Description:

    Few maps show the location of Bird Island -- a lonely outcrop in the South Georgia group where Antarctic waters push against the Atlantic east of Cape Horn. Its forbidding flanks invite few human visitors. But for those who reach its shores there are rich rewards. Ornithologist David Parmelee was one of the fortunate. Nowhere in the bird world has he seen anything to match the incredible numbers and unusual gathering of birds on this teeming speck of land. A quarter million penguins on Macaroni Point, the enormous wandering albatross, petrels, skuas, pintails, pipits, and shags, as well as nearly 80,000 ferocious fur seals, all inhabit Bird Island. Professor Parmelee, a skilled artist as well as a scientist-explorer, spent six weeks on the island as the guest of a British scientific survey team. His story combines careful field observation with the excitement of exploration. Bird Island in Antarctic Waters is illustrated with the author’s drawings, paintings, and photographs, which, in color and black and white, capture the wildlife and scenery of a fascinating part of the world.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-6392-7
    Subjects: Zoology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
    (pp. v-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-1)
    (pp. 3-5)

    I suspect that Bird Island is a name given many places. There is, for example, a Bird Island, Minnesota, neither an island nor famous for birds, but rather a small prairie town where once was a marsh with an island inhabited by American Indians and birds. The Bird Island of this book lies south of the 50th parallel in a remote and windy region of the South Atlantic where the ocean waters are so cold that they are classified as Antarctic. It is indeed an island, and its bird life is prodigious. Fewer than 30 species of birds breed there...

  6. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
    (pp. 7-15)

    As long ago as 1775, while exploring and searching for the mysterious and elusive southern continent thought in his day to be a rich and hospitable land, Captain James Cook looked upon Bird Island and named it “Bird Isle . . . on account of the vast number (of birds) that were upon it.” The little isle less than six kilometers long did not take much of his time, for he surmised that the larger land close by was the long sought-after Terra Australis Incognita.

    But the larger land proved to be only 170 kilometers long and for the most...

    (pp. 17-23)

    As Robert Burns knew, “The best laid schemes of mice and men gang ift a-gley.” All the precautions I took to ensure my being put on the first British ship to Bird Island in October 1976 were in vain. I added an additional week to cover the usual delays inevitable in travelling south. Not good enough! My reserved seat on the once-a-week flight from Comodoro Rividavia, Argentina, to Stanley in the Falkland Islands was commandeered along with several others, by a group of Argentine VIPs. To add to my difficulties,John Biscoe’sarrival and departure appointments had been stepped up...

    (pp. 25-35)

    I don’t recall the time of day we woke after that wild night with the petrels. It must have been late morning Bird Island time, but my biological clock was so hopelessly awry that time had no meaning. I do remember being the first up, and that being the case, should have stoked the fire and heated the water for tea. These were small Lönnberg House duties that I became aware of through observation and the timely advice of Peter Prince.

    I also remember stumbling through the hut and out the door to find myself among many, many seals. A...

    (pp. 37-43)

    The blue petrel was the bird I most wanted to see on its breeding ground. I had observed it often enough at sea flying erratically above the turbulent waters of the Drake Passage south of Cape Horn, but I had never seen a living one close up. I had no special purpose in singling it out, but for some reason the bird holds a fascination for me. Certain birds are like that, though I do not know why.

    Peter Prince is the world’s authority on blue petrels. He told me that they breed early on Bird Island and that probably...

    (pp. None)

    Peter Prince glanced pensively toward Wanderer Ridge, turned to me, and said that Bird Island still belongs to the wandering albatrosses—even though the fur seals have taken all of the beaches and most of the tussock. From where we stood by the windows of Lönnberg House, the huge birds appeared to be a scattering of white dots on a background of green and yellow hills. As the weeks passed, I learned to appreciate more each day Peter’s odd pronouncement.

    At certain times of the year, nearly eighty thousand fur seals populate the little island. Not many of them reside...

  12. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
    (pp. 59-67)

    Peter Prince said with authority that during the week things get pretty messy at Lonnberg House and, with that, he stooped to pick up the loose gear scattered about the hut. Looking up from an odd assortment of boxes and crates, he continued: Everything would be out of control if not for the Saturday cleanup! So, after the usual breakfast of canned tomatoes that smothered the sausage and our dwindling supply of hen’s eggs, we rolled up our sleeves. This once-a-week necessity was anything but drudgery; we considered it a pleasant occasion topped by an evening of fun.

    The first...

    (pp. 69-81)

    Among the many unusual Bird Island species is a small teal-sized duck that looks like a duck but does not behave much like one. Its feeding habits are peculiar. So far as I could determine, these Bird Island ducks feed extensively on animal remains, and this could be an important adaptation, considering the extensive winter snow cover. During winter the nonmigratory ducks are thought to forage along the edge of Bird Island’s open sea which rarely freezes over.

    Although sometimes referred to as teal, these strange ducks are best called pintails, the currently accepted name being name being yellow-billed pintail...

    (pp. None)

    The giant petrel is the sea bird that comes to mind whenever my thoughts wander to the Southern Ocean. Southern ships and giant petrels are natural partners, and I never fail to think of one without the other. For days on end in the windy latitudes, these are the birds a person will see circling or doggedly trailing behind a moving ship far at sea, and the ones that will be swimming in the still waters beside the ship at harbor town waterfronts.

    I suppose that the giant petrel’s passion for food is the main reason it clings to ships,...

  16. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
    (pp. 93-103)

    Shags, also called cormorants, are strange looking creatures that are classified with pelicans and a few other families having similar characteristics. An important anatomical one shared by all members of this class is a peculiarity of the foot. All four toes of each foot are connected by webs—a unique condition in birds, referred to as totipalmate and made possible through a forward and inward rotation of the hind toe, which in most birds points backwards, in the opposite direction of the three front toes.

    Shags have special characteristics that when taken together set them apart from other totipalmates. These...

    (pp. 105-115)

    According to Peter Prince, the western half of Bird Island had the most birds He was referring to such places as Macaroni Point, Johnson’s cove, Molly Hill, and Pearson’s Point. My companions nearly always traveled westward from Lönnberg House, venturing east only when they banded young wanderers and counted seal pups.

    I, too, was caught up in the habit of going to the birdy spots in the west. When finally I broke tradition and headed east, I was immediately confronted by Teal Pond and Cobbler’s Mound. Always I had a deuce of a time pulling away from those enchanted places....

  19. SKUAS
    (pp. 117-129)

    Skuas are fierce predatory and piratical sea birds belonging to the small bipolar family Stercorariidae that is related to gulls and terns. Three widely dispersed Arctic skuas are known to Americans as jaegers. Although they have confusing light, intermediate, and dark color phases, the adults of each of the three species can be readily identified in the field by their respective elongated central tail feathers, or rectrices. A fourth species, known widely as the great skua, is classified either with the jaegers in the genusStercorariusor in the separate genusCatharacta, but is recognized by all as the species...

    (pp. 131-134)

    December 21, my last day on Bird Island, was cold and dominated by snow showers, interspersed with brief moments of intense sunshine. In early morning I started out for Molly Ridge in search of the season’s first molly chicks, thinking all the while that I had at least a day to complete unfinished business before the arrival ofEndurance’shelicopter. The truth was that I had less than eight hours remaining, for the helicopter arrived sooner than scheduled.

    With the finding of a gray-headed chick, I closed the chapter on albatrosses. Since I had several important skua nests to check...

  21. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
    (pp. 135-135)
  23. INDEX
    (pp. 136-140)