Featuring ACAP-listed species and their photographers: the Northern Giant Petrel by Janine Schoombie

A Northern Giant Petrel broods its downy chick on Marion Island

NOTE:  This post continues an occasional series that features photographs of the 31 ACAP-listed species, along with information from and about their photographers.  Here, Janine Schoombie features the Northern Giant Petrel Macronectes halli, (globally Least Concern but considered regionally Near Threatened) which she has studied on Marion Island.

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Armed with nest stakes and under research permit, Janine Schoombie approaches a curious Northern Giant Petrel on its rock-protected nest

When I started studying aeronautical engineering, I never imagined that I would find myself on Marion Island, working with seabirds. After completing an MSc, I was very fortunate to join the M72 Overwintering Team to Marion Island in 2015.  Working for the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town as a research assistant I was tasked with monitoring the breeding success of four albatross and several petrel species, among them the Northern Giant Petrel.  I definitely did not consider myself a photographer (and still do not), but if you are on Marion Island and you have a camera you are bound to become obsessed with capturing all the spectacular sites and bird activity.

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Giving the photographer the eye.  Iris colour in giant petrels can vary from near white to dark brown

From day one on the island I was fascinated by the Northern Giant Petrel.  Even outside their breeding season, there are always a couple flying around the research base.  When they glide past they often throw their heads back and call, which makes them look like winged horses, and their call is quite eerie and prehistoric.  They also have incredible eyes that look like cracks in the surface of some icy planet, which I could never capture properly with my camera.  I love their displays when they feed or defend their territories even though they can make quite a mess when they feed, which is probably not everyone’s favourite sight.

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An incubating Northern Giant Petrel in a Marion monitoring colony reveals its J10 colour band that allows identification without further handling

You’re not super fit yet by the time the Northern Giant Petrels come back to the island to breed in August, and this is when the real snow starts on Marion as well.  So it was very hard work for me to set up the monitoring colonies, but they are such lovely birds to work with and it was quite exciting to go exploring for their nests in the snow.  There are three monitoring colonies near the research base and towards the end of laying, we do a round-island count which is basically a four-day Easter egg hunt. And that’s how you get island-fit!  Of all the island experiences I had, working on the Northern Giant Petrel monitoring are still some of my fondest memories of working on Marion and these huge petrels will always have a very special place in my heart.

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Messy habits?  A bloody-faced Northern Giant Petrel on a Marion Island rocky beach
Photographs by Janine Schoombie

Since being a member of the M72 Overwintering Team I have made it my mission to insert myself into the polar science community and I was again fortunate to join the M76 Overwintering Team of 2019/20.  This time I started working on a South African National Antarctic (SANAP) project entitled “Modelling wind patterns and their ecological impacts on sub-Antarctic Marion Island”, towards my PhD at the University of Pretoria.  The project looks at the effects of wind on terrestrial ecology, combining my love for engineering and Marion Island.  Even though my focus is currently on how albatrosses interact with wind, I hope to extend my work to Northern Giant Petrels and to other seabirds in the future.

Janine Schoombie carefully approaches a Northern Giant Petrel to place a plastic ‘alphanumeric’ colour band on its leg for identification purposes

Selected Publications:

Dilley, B.J., Davies, D., Stevens, K., Schoombie, S., Schoombie, J. & Ryan, P.G. 2019.  Burrow wars and sinister behaviour among burrow-nesting petrels at sub-Antarctic Marion Island.  Ardea 107: 97-102.  [click here].

Dilley, B.J., Schoombie, S., Schoombie, J. & Ryan, P.G. 2016.  ‘Scalping’ of albatross fledglings by introduced mice spreads rapidly at Marion Island.  Antarctic Science 28: 73-80.  [click here].

Dilley, B.J., Schoombie, S., Stevens, K., Davies, D., Perold, V., Osborne, A., Schoombie, J., Brink, C.W., Carpenter-Kling, T. & Ryan, P.G. 2018.  Mouse predation affects breeding success of burrow-nesting petrels at sub-Antarctic Marion Island.  Antarctic Science 30: 93-104.  [click here].

Schoombie, S. & Schoombie, J. 2017.  Pseudo-egg “fabrication” by Grey-headed Albatrosses Thalassarche chrysostoma on Marion Island.  Seabird 30: 71-74.  [click here].

Schoombie, S., Schoombie, J., Brink, C.W., Stevens, K.L., Jones, C.W., Risi, M.M. & Ryan, P.G. 2019.  Automated extraction of bank angles from bird-borne video footage using open-source software. Journal of Field Ornithology 90: 361-372.  [click here].

Schoombie, S., Schoombie, J., Oosthuizen, A., Suleman, E., Jones, M.G.W., Pretorius, L., Dilley, B.J. & Ryan, P.G. 2017.  Avian pox in seabirds on Marion Island, southern Indian Ocean.  Antarctic Science 30: 3-12.  [click here].

Janine Schoombie, Department of Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering, University of Pretoria, 23 September 2021

The Agreement on the
Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels

ACAP is a multilateral agreement which seeks to conserve listed albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters by coordinating international activity to mitigate known threats to their populations.

About ACAP

ACAP Secretariat

119 Macquarie St
Hobart TAS 7000

Tel: +61 3 6165 6674