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Home* Antarctic News → Orni­tho­lo­gi­cal pecu­lia­ri­ty of the Ant­ar­c­tic

Orni­tho­lo­gi­cal pecu­lia­ri­ty of the Ant­ar­c­tic

North-West of the Ant­ar­c­tic Pen­in­su­la the South Shet­land Islands are situa­ted. Here rese­arch sta­ti­ons of many count­ries are gathe­ring, becau­se some of the islands are easy to reach by ship and the­re are rela­tively lar­ge ice free are­as. During the last deca­des the cli­ma­te has beco­me noti­ceable war­mer inWest-Ant­ar­c­ti­ca, par­ti­cu­lar­ly at the Pen­in­su­la. Some peo­p­le are com­pa­ring the sum­mer wea­ther of the South Shet­land Islands alre­a­dy with the sum­mer wea­ther at the Falk­land Islands.

The lar­gest island of the South Shet­lands is King Geor­ge Island. It is appro­xi­m­ate­ly situa­ted 1000 km South of Cape Horn. One-tenth of the island is free of ice and offers suf­fi­ci­ent space for 24 rese­arch sta­ti­ons and refu­ges of 12 nati­ons. 8 sta­ti­ons are ope­ra­ted all year long. Ger­man rese­ar­chers are regu­lar­ly in the area during sum­mer time. On King Geor­ge Island, many bio­lo­gists tend to work. They obser­ve the scar­ce plant life. Others ana­ly­se ter­restri­al-mari­ti­me food chain con­nec­tions or stu­dy mari­ne habi­tats. Orni­tho­lo­gists usual­ly work with pen­gu­ins or sku­as. But all sci­en­tists usual­ly also have an eye for unu­su­al occur­ren­ces.

Polish rese­ar­chers have been stu­dy­ing bird­life at the South Shet­land Islands for almost 40 years, sin­ce their sta­ti­on ope­ned for the first time in 1977. In 1981, White-rum­ped sand­pi­pers (Calid­ris fusci­col­lis) were obser­ved for the first time on Ard­ley Island, a small tidal island in Max­well Bay. Howe­ver, this does not mean that this spe­ci­es has not visi­ted the area befo­re. The obser­va­ti­on pro­gram only got star­ted in 1977. Sin­ce then small groups or sin­gle birds have appeared in the regi­on. Over an peri­od of 30 years, the­se small waders were obser­ved during twel­ve years. In eight of the­se cases spring was war­mer than usu­al.

White-rum­ped sand­pi­pers are migra­to­ry birds of super­la­ti­ves, like the Arc­tic tern. They breed in the Arc­tic tun­dra of North Ame­ri­ca. Within a month, the birds migra­te in big flocks to the South, almost wit­hout rest. Rea­ching the coast of Suri­na­me, they then turn in to the con­ti­nen­tal rou­te and cross the Bra­zi­li­an Ama­zon regi­on. In Octo­ber they arri­ve in their win­tering are­as in Argen­ti­na and Chi­le. The most rest­less indi­vi­du­als con­ti­nue fur­ther and spend the win­ter in Tier­ra del Fue­go or the Falk­land Islands. Why some indi­vi­du­als would head for islands in the cold Ant­ar­c­tic waters, such as South Geor­gia, South Ork­ney, or South Shet­lands, the rese­ar­chers begin to under­stand slow­ly.

In con­trast to other regi­ons of the Ant­ar­c­tic con­ti­nent, the Ant­ar­c­tic Pen­in­su­la expe­ri­en­ces a rapid, dra­ma­tic warm­ing. Mea­su­re­ments of avera­ge sum­mer tem­pe­ra­tures resul­ted in an increase of 2 degrees, the avera­ge tem­pe­ra­tures for the win­ter are yet 5-6 degrees hig­her than 50 years ago. Lower win­ter tem­pe­ra­tures and the exis­ting hole in the ozone lay­er are respon­si­ble for less fre­quent but stron­ger peri­odi­cal wes­ter­ly­cy­clo­ne sys­tems. They trans­fer warm, moist, mari­ti­me air to the coast of the Pen­in­su­la inclu­ding a num­ber of fea­the­red vagrants.

In addi­ti­on, the sea­son with sea-ice cover is about 90 dayss­horter than 4 deca­des ago. At the Ant­ar­c­tic Pen­in­su­la, the sea ice arri­ves later and dis­ap­pears ear­lier. All this are pre­con­di­ti­ons for fau­nal and flo­ral chan­ge over the coming deca­des. This is espe­ci­al­ly the case for the most nor­t­her­ly spur of the Ant­ar­c­tic: the South Shet­land Islands.

So it is no big sur­pri­se that even during in Janu­ary this year, atten­ti­ve gui­des and tou­rists at King Geor­ge Island have been spot­ting a small flock of White-rum­ped sand­pi­per. They report them “fora­ging on mud in the out­flow stream from a melt­wa­ter pond. The amount of time they spent res­t­ing calm­ly and pree­ning sug­gested that they were not despe­ra­te for food.” (Ste­phen F. Bai­ley auf M/V Aka­de­mik Ser­gey Vavil­ov, in: IAATO-News­let­ter)

White-rum­ped sand­pi­per (Calid­ris fusci­col­lis). Pho­to © Wiki­me­dia Com­mons.

White-rumped sandpiper

last modification: 2022-08-07 · copyright: Rolf Stange