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, 30 December 2008

A few pictures of home on a sunny summers day (and no, there is no snow- its summer)

Looking West from the top of La Roche (the highest point on the island) towards Willis Island. The base can be seen in the distance.

Home

Looking East, over Bird Sound- the 500m stretch of water that separates us from South Georgia itself.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

One month on Bird Island.

Somehow I seem to have been here a month already! At this time of year (midsummer, and therefore peak breeding season for most of the wildlife) we're outside collecting data/monitoring/checking nests of penguins and giant petrels every day, so there is little time for doing things like updating blogs or wondering where the time is going! The other field assistants on base are equally as busy with the albatross and seal work. There is certainly no time to worry about being bored or wanting to go home!

Wildlife update:

The base is situated on a flat beach in the middle of a breeding Antarctic fur seal colony. As the weeks have passed, we have watched the males come in from the sea and select territories on the beaches. The females follow a short while later, coming ashore to pup, joining one of the male's harems on the beach. In the last week, the number of new pups has dropped dramatically and the females are now all returning to sea, returning only every few days to feed their pups. The base is now surrounded by hundreds of small black angry pups. The males are still defending their beach spots, but the peak breeding is definitely over. The males fiercely defend their territories and we watched many fights between rival males as each attempted to establish its own territory.

The wandering albatrosses are settling down well and are just passed the peak laying period. There are still a handful of last year's chicks that have yet to fledge. These can be seen running up and down the meadows trying out their enormous wings, before they will finally take off and head out to see. Wanderers only breed every 2 years, so the birds returning to breed this year are not the parents of the chicks that are still to fledge. The stunning Grey headed albatrosses already have chicks, and the Black-browed albatrosses are incubating eggs which should hatch any day now.

My work is to monitor the giant petrels and the penguins and check on a few other species such as the blue-eyed shags. The macaroni penguin chicks started hatching this week; the Gentoo penguins had their chicks before I arrived. The young Macaroni's are like tiny grey balls of fluff and are very cute. The gentoo chicks are getting quite big now. The Northern giant petrel chicks are also getting big now, and are usually seen without the parent birds. The Southern giant petrels are just beginning to hatch. The giant petrel chicks are very cute from a distance, but vomit stinking fishy oil all over you if get too close.

That was just a quick summary of what's going on- I was meant to be writing about Christmas so I'll stop with the wildlife for a bit there!

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Merry Christmas!



Merry Christmas everyone. This is the gang i'm living/working with at the moment. They usually look a bit more normal than this so don't worry too much! :) Hope you all have a good Christmas. I will try and keep my blog updated more often in future. Thanks to you all for your nice Christmas emails, and best wishes for the new year. Lots of love Stacey. xxx

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Bird Island

The cargo tender was launched with the first load of cargo and set off out of sight around the headland, for the Bird Island base, which is in a little cove on the South side of the island. The rest of us packed up and got ready to leave the ship. The cargo tender returned after an hour or so, reporting that conditions at the jetty were good enough to unload the rest of the cargo. We all got into the tender, along with another load of cargo and headed into Bird Island.

We were greeted on the jetty by the current islanders (5, plus some of the BBC film crew who were working on a documentary and living at the base). Introductions were made, over bacon sandwiches (due to the 2 hour time difference between ships time and Bird Island time-meaning it was still only breakfast time for the people who had got off the ship). The day was spent unloading cargo, then the ship left to do some science work for a few days, and we were left on our new island. Fabrice, (the current Penguin/Giant Petrel assistant, who I will be working with and then taking over from at the end of the season) took me out for a quick walk up the hill to see Big Mac- one of my Macaroni penguin colonies. This is our biggest colony and contains around 40,000 pairs of nesting Macaroni's. The evening was spent getting to know each other and sorting out boxes.

The next day (24th Nov) was the anniversary of 50 years of science at Bird Island, so we had an entertaining evening watching videos of work done many years ago, whilst dressed up in the type of clothes worn 50 years ago. The seal work here involves marking pups with blonde hair dye for identification. Annually, the Bird Island staff also enjoy this, and by the end of the evening, all present on base were blonde.

The next few days were spent doing field work (I'll write about my job later), then the JCR returned from its science cruise for a second day of unloading cargo. Much time was spent rolling barrels of fuel from the cargo tender to the base, and rolling empty drums back. In the afternoon, the sun shone and lots of the crew and passengers from the JCR went out for a walk, up through the meadows where the wandering albatrosses are displaying, to the macaroni and grey headed albatross colonies. The beautiful weather and views dispelled the myth that it is always foggy or wet on Bird Island, and everyone left happy. In the evening, the JCR and its passengers left us, not due to return until after Christmas. It is great to finally have arrived!

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

South Georgia

On Friday 21st, the ship drew in alongside South Georgia and pulled in to the BAS base at King Edward Point (KEP). The sun broke through the clouds as we arrived, revealing stunning snowy peaked mountains and incredibly blue seas. The base at KEP is located close to the old whaling station at Grytviken. This is where all the tourist cruise ships call, to visit the whaling museum and Shackleton's grave, so there is a big jetty for ships to moor up at. The JCR docked and we all got off the boat and had a day out at KEP. As the JCR could unload directly onto the jetty, we were not needed for unloading cargo as this was done mechanically, so we were free to do what we wanted. We visited the church and whaling museum and ruins of the old whaling station, and walked out to Shackleton's grave and up one of the nearby hills. It was gorgeous and sunny and very beautiful. There was plenty of opportunity for photo's of king penguins (which only visit Bird Island in small numbers, so it was nice to see lots), gentoo penguins and huge elephant seals. I also got my first introduction to Antarctic fur seals, of which there are thousands on Bird Island. We spent the evening socialising with the BAS staff at KEP, who I had done much of my training in Cambridge with so it was very nice to see them. These had arrived in Antarctica about 10 days before we arrived, travelling down on the South Georgia fisheries patrol vessel instead of the JCR. The JCR spent the night docked at KEP and then set sail for Bird Island the following morning.

We sailed for one more day, and anchored just off Bird Island early the following morning, while the captain decided whether the sea was calm enough to transport cargo and people ashore.

The JCR is a scientific research vessel for BAS, but also delivers supplies and people to various bases in the Antarctic. At both Signy and KEP, people, kit, food, fuel and provisions were offloaded to the bases, and waste from the winter returned to the ship to be transported back to the mainland. The same was to be done at Bird Island, with me, and two others to be dropped off at Bird Island, and one of last years winterers to be picked up as he had reached the end of his contract as was returning to the UK. Due to the weather and sea conditions, Bird Island is the most difficult base to re-supply, and often the ship may have to anchor offshore and wait a few days before conditions are calm enough for unloading. Bird Island only has a small jetty so the JCR had to remain offshore, and the smaller cargo tender launched from it, and used to transport everything to base. Conditions need to be calm for this to be done safely.

The captain decided conditions were good enough, and gave the go-ahead for Bird Island.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Signy

Sorry to those who have been eagerly awaiting my update- I've been rushed off my feet ever since I arrived here! I finally arrived on Bird Island on 23rd November as originally planned. Here's what happened on the way:


Signy:


We started to see icebergs the day we arrived at Signy (Monday 17th November). Signy is another research base run British Antarctic Survey. Signy is located on the South Orkney Islands and is the furthest South I shall get on my trip to Bird Island. Signy is only open in the summer, so upon arrival on Monday morning, no one was quite sure what to expect, as it had been left unattended since last autumn. The base was fine and many of us were sent ashore to help dig snow from around the buildings and help transport kit and provisions into the base. The mechanics were busy getting the generators up and running to provide heating and fresh water to the base. At the end of the first day, everyone returned to the ship for the night. The following day, more digging and sorting kit saw the completion of the work on Signy. There was even enough time for a short trip in the cargo tender (the small boat, used to transfer kit/provisions between the JCR and the base) out to visit the breeding Chinstrap and Adelie penguin colony further along the coast. Leopard seals were patrolling the sea around the base of the colony, for any stray penguins that ventured into the sea. Blizzard conditions and leopard seals meant we couldn't land at the colony, but we go some fantastic close views from the boat. In the evening, we left Signy, and the 8 scientists/technical services staff who were staying for the summer. We then set sail North towards South Georgia, passing huge icebergs on the way for much of the evening. Signy was stunning- it looked like the true Antarctic; surrounded by massive icebergs, with its penguins, snowstorms and glaciers, and rocky peaks reaching up to the grey clouds above.

The next 2 days were spent on board the ship heading for South Georgia. Conditions varied but the sea was relatively calm for most of the time. Whales were sighted on a number of occasions, but none well enough to identify the species. The lovely white snow petrels that had been numerous around Signy faded away and were replaced by albatrosses the closer we got to South Georgia.