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.

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.

Sunday, 18 December 2016


There are only five of us at Signy this year.  This is a bit unusual as we have eight beds available on station and often all of them are full.  The number of people here depends on a couple of things- firstly, how many scientists have projects planned for the season, and then whether the ships travel itinery matches up with the scientists work plan and therefore whether the project is feasible.  We do have two more scientists joining us in January bringing us up to seven on station. 

Given the low numbers, a visit from a ship can suddenly seem a bit of a shock as the base transforms into a bustling hive of activity and people.  The feelings are rather mixed.  Part of you feels like your home is being invaded by tourists who wander through your living space, upsetting the fine balance of life that you have established with your fellow station members.  The other part of you is quite excited, for they bring great enthusiasm and excitement, and sometimes new people or supplies.

Last week two ships visited.  The first visit was from the Bark Europa.

The Bark Europa is a cruise ship with a difference.  Unlike modern cruise ships, with all their luxuries, the Europa is a tall ship, over 100 years old, that had sailed all the way from Ushuaia, Argentina, using only the power of the wind.  Originally a light ship, protecting a hazardous stretch of river in Germany, she was re-rigged as a Barque in the 1980's as a sail training ship.  The tourists onboard all muck in together, working alongside the crew and trainee sailers on their exciting voyage.

After a tour of our station, they kindly repaid the favour, allowing us onboard for a tour of their ship and a cup of tea.  There seemed to be an awful lot of ropes!  Here is me, Doug and Iain onboard.

Both inside and out the Europa is beautiful.  I suspect in a sea of icebergs, with all sails up, it must be quite a sight!  Later they set sail, heading south towards the Antarctic Peninsula.

A couple of days later, one of our own ships, the Ernest Shackleton, came to visit.  We awoke to find her parked almost on the doorstep!

The bay is too shallow for the Shackleton to reach the jetty, so they launched their small boats.  The Shackleton was dropping of our new Scientist Jes and taking away our generator mechanic Doug, who has been here since the start of the season.  It also brought us a new batch of fresh fruit and veg, and various bits of cargo.  Onboard this time were a group of people bound for Halley research station, and they came ashore to help with cargo and have a look around.  Again, we went onboard, this time for lunch and a chat with the captain and his crew. 

Once the ships had gone, normality resumed and we settled back into work.  The next ship we will see is the James Clark Ross (which we arrived on in November), around the end of January.