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.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Last call and the start of winter

Yet again I’ve got left behind with my blog- so much for the good intentions of writing each week! Another month has somehow passed, bringing my total to 5 months on Bird Island. Those 5 months spanned the main breeding season for most of the wildlife on the island, and I spent much of my time counting/weighing/measuring/monitoring my penguins and giant petrels, watching the season progressing and my young birds rapidly growing. The middle of April saw the beginning of the end. The last of the Northern giant petrel chicks fledged and we ringed the Southern giant petrels in preparation for them leaving in a few weeks time. The Macaroni penguins that had all returned to the colonies to moult started to leave in vast numbers. They will not return until next year. The young seal pups that have been playing on the beach ever since I arrived finally took to the sea leaving only a handful of the smallest ones left. The young grey-headed and black-browed albatrosses can also be seen perched on the edges of their nests, practicing flapping their wings in preparation for that perfect gust of wind that will see them launch into the air and fly away, not returning to the island until they are old enough to think about breeding themselves. The breeding season is nearly over. Only the wanderer chicks are still small- they will remain in their nests throughout the winter, not fledging until Christmas time.

The end of the season was also felt on base. On 13th April, the JCR called for the last time this season. It delivered a final instalment of fresh fruit and veg, a large load of frozen food (meat, frozen veg, butter, cheese etc), the mail bag, and Jose (a scientist who will be spending the winter with us studying penguins and albatrosses and their foraging behaviour and diet). The wintering staff were lucky enough to be taken onto the ship for lunch- it made a nice change to “go out”, and it was nice to see our little island from offshore instead of being on it. The ship took away all of our empty fuel drums and waste from the season. Most significantly, the leaving of the ship heralded the official start of winter as it also took away all of out summer scientists. This included Fabrice who I have been working with all summer and who has now handed over his job to me at the end of his 2.5 year stint here. The other summer staff also left, leaving just 5 of us for the winter. We do not expect another ship call now until November.

The departing of the ship and some very close friends and work colleagues left the 5 of us rather lost, rattling around in the suddenly very large and very empty base. We drowned our sorrows with lots of cake and the first official filling of the hot tub, where we spent a pleasant couple of hours, sitting in the warm water with snow falling around our shoulders. The next day, there were chunks of ice washing up on the beach and everywhere was covered with snow.

Since then, we’ve had periods of snow and ice, interspersed with warmer periods where everything starts to melt again. My fieldwork is much reduced- I now only have Southern giant petrels to monitor, but I’m also helping Jose with work on his Gentoo penguins and there is still plenty of opportunity for albatross work. My winter work will mainly consist of writing up the reports from the summer, and lab work, analysing the krill and otoliths collected from the penguin diet samples over the summer. Its nice to know there is time to play in the snow after our hectic summer. I am looking forward to learning to ski and snowboard!

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