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, 19 June 2009

Winter Pictures

Home on a snowy morning.

Gentoo penguin in the snow.

Adult male Antarctic fur seal guarding the snow covered beach.

The base from North Valley.

Wandering albatross chick in the evening sunshine.

Nearly Midwinter

Again its been a month since I last wrote- I’m not going to bother apologising for not updating this regularly from now on, because I do exactly the same thing every month and still never get round to doing anything about it!

Somehow time has continued to pass at an alarming rate. Yesterday was the interview date for the two people taking over the seal and albatross field assistant positions for the next 2.5 year stints. Like me last year, they will do 3 months training in Cambridge from September, then come down to Bird Island in November for 3 summers and 2 winters. It’s frightening to think that this time next year it will be my job that is being advertised and I will be enjoying my second and final winter before my replacement arrives next November for their summer of training. It’s even more frightening to think that it’s been a full year since I was sitting in the office on Oronsay, being told on the phone that I had got the penguin field assistant job. By staggering the year of recruitment for the three field assistants, it means that there is always someone one base who has done the previous field season and the previous winter, and saves recruiting 3 new people one season and none the next.

It’s been a relatively relaxed month. With the last of my giant petrel chicks fledging last week, most of my fieldwork is now complete for this season. I am still taking Gentoo diet samples with Jose for his winter work so I still have the excuse to go out and about. There have been excuses for using the medical training I was given back in Cambridge, in both administering injections and doing a filling on one of Ewan’s teeth which have been good fun. I’ve also spent a lot of time in the lab, dissecting the pellets collected weekly over the summer from the Blue-eyed shags that nest on the cliffs. The shags regurgitate all the fish bones and otoliths (ear bones) and squid beaks and by collecting the pellets and dissecting them, these can be removed. Later, when I get round to it, I can use these to identify the squid and fish species that the birds have been eating.

This weekend is mid-winter. For us, this is the equivalent of Christmas. As Christmas falls mid-breeding season for us, celebrations tend to be a bit limited as we are all very busy. So we celebrate mid winter instead. We have already started receiving midwinter greetings photographs from other Antarctic bases of different nationalities around the world which is always nice to get. For us, this is a turning point in the year, the point when daylight starts to lengthen again. As no one is very busy, we have a full week off work and of celebrations, which will start on Sunday. Everyone is busy making a present for one other person on base to be presented on mid winters day (we picked names out of a hat a few weeks ago and are all secretly working away in various parts of the building). We are all looking forward to our week of fun.

We had a lovely couple of weeks of cold settled weather, where all the streams froze solid, and we had lots of snow. It was great to see the seals playing in it, pushing their noses into it and scampering across the beach to get enough momentum to slide on their bellies. Sadly a lot of it thawed when temperatures warmed to just above zero for a few days, but there will be much more to come.

Anyway, that’s enough for now, I’ve only got 2 days to go til midwinter and I still have some work to do on my midwinter present.