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.

Monday, 15 January 2018

Time Flies

Somehow it has already reached the middle of January without me noticing!  Work is very busy which makes the time fly.  Wednesday for us will be mid-season.  Last night for the first time we commented that it was starting to get dark at 10:30pm- it was the first time I've noticed that the nights are starting to draw in a bit, although we are almost a month past the longest day now so it is not suprising.  Hopefully that means you've started to notice the days getting a tiny bit longer in the UK!     

Over the weeks the Adelie penguins have been very busy feeding their ever growing chicks.  When the chicks get large enough to be left alone, both parents spend their days at sea fishing.  The chicks which now look like big balls of fluff, form creches, huddling together for warmth and protection.

On days when it is snowy or rainy the colonies are filthy from all the penguin guano and the chicks end up rather grubby!

The chicks are very mobile and very comical, providing endless entertainment.

A month behind the Adelies in their breeding cycle, the chinstraps have now just finished hatching.  The chicks are still quite small and are being guarded by their parents.  This one has two - on a cold day they bury their heads under their parents where it is warmest, and often just two bottoms can be seen! 


These two penguins were investigating a Weddell seal sleeping on the rocks.



The skuas have chicks now too.  Some of these are getting quite big - fed largely on a diet of eggs and baby penguins.  Young skuas are very mobile and start exploring their surroundings as soon as they hatch.  They are fiercely defended by their parents against anything that may harm them.

And to finish, here are a couple of pretty ice formations that had formed over a semi frozen stream last week.


Sunday, 7 January 2018

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to everyone back at home.

We had a white Christmas, but the sun shone too making it a very pleasant day.  We all enjoyed a good Christmas dinner.

Some of us had a walk out to the bottom of the glacier in the sunshine.

Christmas involved some tasty treats including mince pies, trifle, and a large Christmas cake, made and iced by me, but then cleverly finished by Catrin who did an excellent job of making marzipan sculptures to go on the top.

 Boxing Day some of us were back to work.  The days are long at this time of year, and the weather can be stunning.  The sun shone on our trip over the icecap to the west coast by skidoo. 

Nothing is prettier than the view across to Coronation island on a bright day. 

Some of the icebergs were looking particularly nice.

With temperatures just above zero and no wind, the green moss banks were snow free and it felt very summery!

A content looking Weddell seal was also enjoying the sun.

Things can change rapidly- the next morning we awoke to winter again.

The next couple of months are probably the busiest for me.  The Adelie and gentoo chicks are getting big, so there are tasks like chick weighing and fledgling counts to be done.  Meanwhile the chinstraps have started hatching and the fur seals, which also get counted, are starting to arrive.  There is much to be done!   

Monday, 25 December 2017

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to everyone at home!  Some of you will have received this by email, but this is for those who's email address I don't have.

Have a lovely day!

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Midsummer

Firstly, seasons greetings from the Signy Team.

Secondly, Happy Midwinter to anyone in the northern hemisphere.  After a gorgeus day of sunshine, lovely clouds and ice...

...we were treated to a beautiful calm evening.  This is how dark it was at midnight.

It is lovely having such long hours of daylight. 

At Signy we are busy preparing for Christmas, but there are still a few bits of fieldwork to complete before then.  The Adelie colonies are now quite busy as the ever growing chicks demand more and more food. 

It always suprises me how quickly they grow!

Whilst out and about doing the whole island chinstrap penguin survey over the last week, we have visited most of the island.  There were some rather nice views.  These are Cape Petrels.

This is a large pile of Elephant seals.

Gentoo chicks (also growing very fast!).

And some peaks on the icecap.

I'll write about Christmas next time.  Meanwhile, I wish everyone at home a lovely Christmas and best wishes for 2018.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Something different

At present I am very busy with fieldwork with a lot to squeeze in between now and Christmas.  This season, in addition to the usual long term monitoring work, we are conducting a whole island Chinstrap survey.  Although approximately 1500 birds are monitered every single year as part of the standard monitoring, in addition, every 10 years every bird on the island is counted.  This year we are also conducting this survey using a drone to investigate its potential for surveying inaccessible places in the future.  It is keeping us busy, but is fun to do.

The survey gets us out and about all over the island, to the little nooks and crannies that we don't usually visit.  We still have some pretty ice around.

Whilst out and about on the chinstrap survey, it has actually been the Adelies who have been the most photogenic as the chinstraps are just sitting dutifully on their eggs.  There is much more activity in the Adelie colonies.  The chicks are already suprisingly large!


This pair is almost too big to fit underneath its parent.  It is good to see many nests still with two chicks- in a really poor year they can only find enough food to rear one.


Whilst out surveying we came across something quite special.  Spot the odd one out! 


This Adelie is leucistic, meaning it has a pigment disorder resulting in a partial loss of pigmentation in its feathers.  This form of leucism is known as Isabellinism- where the bird has a uniform reduction in the pigment melanin all over, giving it a honey colour everywhere that should be black.  It has brownish toenails and an almost red beak.  It is not an albino, which would have no colour at all and pale eyes.


It looked perfectly happy with its fellow colony buddies.


Finally to finish, here is some more ice in the bay.


On base we are starting to prepare for Christmas.  We put the Christmas tree and decorations up yesterday and my Christmas cakes are maturing, waiting to be iced.  The temperatures are hovering around minus two- probably warmer than the UK at present!