Since 2011, I have been spending November to April each year working for the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) on Signy Island in the South Orkney Islands, Antarctica. I work as a Zoological Field Assistant on the penguin and seal long-term monitoring programme. Before this, I spent 2.5 years on the sub-Antarctic island of Bird Island, South Georgia, in the South Atlantic.

This blog gives readers an insight into my day-to-day life in the Antarctic, from my first trip south in 2008 to the present day.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Two Weeks Left

We have had a fairly mild summer at Signy this year, which has meant quite a lot of grey foggy days and rain instead of snow.  While this doesn't look as pretty, it actually makes working much easier, as it is easier to walk around the island and doesn't feel as cold.  However, winter decided to return to us this week.  We had almost a week of blizzards and gales.  Below you can see the change from summer to winter at Gourlay.

Now the storm had passed we are all able to get out doors again and finish of the last bits and pieces of fieldwork before the end of the season.  We have only a couple of weeks now before the ship comes.  For me this involed a final trip over the icecap to count the giant petrel chicks.

An enormous flat iceberg has been hanging around just off the North coast of Signy for most of the season.  In the wild weather, this finally seems to have collapsed into three smaller, but still fairly substantial bergs.  Whilst out, we took some time to walk to the Northernmost point of the island to look down on it from above.

From down at sea level it was truly enormous- Note the small person for scale!

The chinstrap penguin chicks have now also fledged, so the colonies are very quiet.  The colonies are not completely empty as the adult chinstraps and gentoos have returned to moult and grow new feathers, ready for next year.

With the last of the chicks gone, it is time to turn my attention to the end of season duties, such as counting everything on station so we know what to order for next year, packing up cargo, waste and biological samples to be sent out on the ship and starting to close down the station for the winter.

The Shackleton, the ship which is coming to pick us up, is currently at Bird Island, South Georgia.  You can follow its progress to Signy by looking at the ships webcam at:

https://www.bas.ac.uk/data/our-data/images/webcams/rrs-ernest-shackleton-webcam/ 

or by following the ship tracker at:

http://www.sailwx.info/shiptrack/shipposition.phtml?call=ZDLS1

It is currently due to arrive at Signy around 20th March, but this is subject to change. 

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Fledglings and greenery.

The weeks continue to fly by, spoiling my best intentions to update my blog on a weekly basis.  Since I last wrote the Adelie penguins have been keeping me busy.  All except the youngest few have now gone.  Here is one of the colonies just before they started to leave.  Most of the fluffy down has fallen out, leaving the blue/grey and white feathers underneath.



It always amazes me how the fledglings know what to do when the time comes to leave.  None of them have ever been near water before yet they hop down to the water, hang around for a while, then simply jump into the sea, flap around for a couple of seconds, dive underwater and vanish completely.  That is the last we see of them.  These three were about to leave- you can still see small amounts of fluffy down on top of the head of the middle one.



The adult adelies have also gone, heading South, down towards the Antarctic continent, where they will moult their worn feathers on the ice and grow new ones ready for the winter.  The colonies are very quiet without them.  The chinstrap colonies are still very busy and noisy.  The chinstrap chicks are now enormous balls of fluff, creched together for protection while both parents are at sea collecting food for them.  It will be a couple of weeks yet before they fledge.



It has been a warm summer this year, and most of the snow and ice has melted from the lower valleys and slopes.  This gives the mosses, lichens and algae a change to grow.  Some areas are suprisingly colourful and somewhat un-Antarctic looking!  Here are a few pictures from a sunny trip earlier in the week, to show that Antarctica isn't always a black and white frozen landscape.

A picnic in Three Lakes Valley



An assortment of mosses and lichens (I will not pretend to know which species they are)











A waterfall



And to finish, the Orwell Glacier in the sunshine

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Mid Season

Its got to the time of year where work takes up most of my waking hours.  Hence the lack of posts on the blog since Christmas!  Time is racing on- Tuesday is mid-season for us, half way through the 21 week season that we have at Signy.  At this time of year things are happening fast.  It may only be half way through the season for me but this is way past mid season for some of the wildlife. 

The Adelie chicks are the most advanced.  They are a month older than the chinstrap chicks.  The chicks are now big enough to defend themselves, and need a lot of food to sustain them.  This means both parents now spend the day at sea, catching food, returning in the evenings to feed them.  A few chicks have already started to moult their grey fluffy down, revealing their blue-grey feathers underneath.  It will only be a couple more weeks before the first chicks leave the colonies and jump into the sea for the first time, where they must learn to survive and hunt for themselves.

The gentoo chicks are also pretty big, and again are unguarded by their parents.  They are quite funny to watch as they run around in big mobs, falling over eachother and frightening themselves with anything that moves.  On snowy days, they usually end up filthy.

The chinstrap penguins have now finished hatching.  Some seem to have grown suprisingly fast this year and already look almost too big to fit under their parents; others are still very small.

Probably the most notable addition to Signy since Christmas are the Antarctic fur seals.  These arrive in ever increasing numbers from early January.  By late January they cover most of the low lying areas of ground.  They are nearly all young males, and come ashore to moult, spending their days lounging around and play-fighting with eachother.  Fur seals are rather like large angry dogs, and can move very fast.  They make walking around the island quite tricky because when sleeping they do a very good impression of being a rock, and it is easy to almost fall over them without noticing them.  Their reactions are very fast and they are capable of giving a very nasty bite.  Walking anywhere therefore now requires paying attention!  

The brown skua chicks have also hatched, although some of them are still quite small.  Skua chicks are very mobile, roaming around and exploring their surroundings from the day they emerge.  Their parents are never far away, and defend them fiercely from rival skuas and other predators. 

I've had very little time for taking photographs in the last couple of weeks, so most of todays photographs are kindly donated by Iain, our techie.   

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Time flies...

Well its been a good couple of weeks since I put anything on here.  Its been pretty busy.  First we celebrated Christmas.  We spent Christmas morning sledging down our 1km long snow slope.  This was a lot of fun, and was especially helped by using the skidoo to get us back to the top of the hill without any effort.  You can probably just make out two little black dots in the picture below, the lower one being two of us on the sledge, the upper being the skidoo, following us down the slope.

We had a traditional Christmas dinner of turkey and the trimmings.

Followed by some good Christmas desserts which I had been making in the previous days/weeks.

Work resumed as usual between Christmas and New Year.  New Year itself was busy as we had a ship visiting, dropping off our two new Scientists, Aqlima and Megumu (earlier than mentioned in my previous blog).  This brings us up to 7 on station which is nice because the place feels a bit busier (and tasks such as cooking, only come round once a week instead of every 5 days, which actually feels like it makes quite a difference).

Since New Year, we have had some beautiful weather with nice fluffy white snow, followed by big blue skies and swirling clouds.  We have had some fairly poor weather too, but the sunny days make better photographs!

Happy New Year to everyone back at home. 

Friday, 23 December 2016

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to everyone back home, from all of us (and the elephant seals!) at Signy.