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, 30 March 2009

Ship visits

I’ve finally managed to write again without having at least a month to write about! The Pharos came as planned on 13th March. We were sorry to see the Aki, Ken and Takashi (three of our summer scientists) leave as they had been with us since the start of January and it felt like we were losing part of the team. They had been doing all sorts of interesting science, including attaching tiny cameras to penguins, seals and albatrosses. The cameras worked both above and below water, taking pictures every few seconds. The resulting photographs were really interesting- we got lovely pictures of a penguin’s eye view of coming in to land at Big Mac and birds diving for and catching food. The scientists were replaced by Mark and Andy who will be with us until the JCR calls in mid April. The Pharos brought us lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, including two enormous watermelons and lots of lovely things like lettuces, grapes and plums and other things that you just take for granted at home. We stood in the fresh food store unpacking the boxes, eating things as we opened each box- it was a bit like Christmas, because you didn’t know what you were going to find in each box!

On the 13th we also had a visit from “Warship Clyde” (as it announced itself over the radio when sending its boats ashore). This is one of the Southern Ocean naval patrol ships and a few people on board came ashore for a few hours to see the wildlife.

Work wise, myself and Fabrice (the person who has done my job for the last 2.5 years and who is currently teaching me the ropes on how it is to be done for the next 2 years) have been busy taking blood samples from various bird species for isotope analysis, as well as checking the progress of our giant petrels on a weekly basis and also doing a bit of work with the penguins. The Northern Giant petrels are doing well- of the 250ish nests in the study area, 68 fledged this week. Its been pretty windy recently and the young birds can be seen on windy days trying out their wings, jumping up and down flapping when the wind blows. Sometimes they get a few centimetres off the ground before falling back down again. These ones will have to sit around for a few more days to use up a bit of fat so they are light enough to take off. I suspect we will have lost a lot more by this week’s weekly round which will be nice to see.

Next weekend if weather permits, we are expecting a Royal visit from Princess Anne. As a result, we have spent a bit of time scrubbing out the lab and the outside of the buildings to remove all the dirty marks that the seals have made rubbing around the buildings. If the weather is bad, she will be unable to get in, but fingers crossed for a nice day.

Only 3 weeks left til the JCR calls to take away half our people including Fabrice (meaning my job will be entirely mine and the 5 month handover is over), just leaving five of us for the winter. I’m quite looking forward to seeing what this will be like.

23rd Mar 2009.

My laptop had a bit of a fit so I didn’t manage to get that put up on my blog on the date I wrote it! Its now 30th March and I’m hoping for better luck this time-it means what I wrote is out of date now, so here’s what happened in the week in between:

The weather on the morning of the Royal visit was beautiful, so I went out and weighed some Albatross chicks with Derren, then returned to base. The ship arrived at 3pm and time before this was spent tidying up, making sure we had enough mugs and baking cakes. The weather went downhill a bit by late afternoon, and the Princess and her husband the Admiral Laurence were treated to a few flakes of snow when they went up to Wanderer Ridge to see the albatrosses on their little chicks. The ship carried the Royal party, plus some BAS people who had been doing lectures on the ship, plus some ex-bird islanders from many years ago, plus invited guests/or people who could afford to pay the cost of the trip. All in all, this totalled about 30 people; the most many of us have ever seen on Bird Island. The seals (and to a lesser extent, the base inhabitants!) didn’t seem to know what to make of it all. The guests were all taken up to see the Wanderers nesting on the ridge and then returned for a base tour, lots of drinking tea and polite conversation. It was great to meet the lovely people who had been working here 20 years ago; they all seemed delighted to be back and pleased to see the new base buildings, and how little the island had changed over the years. The day made a nice change to the usual fieldwork day!

Now back to our normal routine… down to the final 2 weeks before the last call of the ship and being abandoned for the winter. We run on GMT at all times, which now puts us an hour behind all of you back at home. I hope you are all looking forward to the joys of spring as the days here shorten and our breeding season draws to a close. We are looking forward to our share of the winter snow and the easing off of our workloads.

Monday, 9 March 2009

End of February

Yet again the weeks seem to have passed without me noticing and it's been another month since I last wrote anything… I'm not quite sure where all my time is going!

Since I wrote anything last month, there's been quite a lot going on with the wildlife here. The wandering Albatross chicks have just started to hatch. It is lovely to walk through the meadows and see the tiny chicks sitting in their huge nests, being guarded by their enormous parents. It takes 5 days for some of them to hatch fully; they have been incubated for 2.5 months before hatching. It will be a while yet before the parents leave them unguarded.

The fur seal pups are moulting their black puppy fur for gorgeous soft silvery grey coats. There are still lots of them playing/sleeping/lying around the base, growling in their funny little puppy ways when you walk past them.

The Macaroni penguin chicks have all just finished moulting their fluffy down for smart new coats of feathers. Last week, fully ready to face the big wide world, they left the colonies and jumped into the sea. They were very funny to watch- it took a few seconds for them to realise they were able to swim and dive. It will be a full year before we see any of them again, when they return to Bird Island for their annual moult.

The Northern Giant petrels are also coming along nicely- last week we ringed all of the chicks in the study area. We can expect to see some of them back in about 3 years time (well, not me- I shall have left by then, but whoever takes over from me) when they will return to think about breeding themselves. We will then be able to tell who they are/who their parents are etc by the ring number. The first chicks are just starting to fledge now.

I will try and get some pictures of all of that up on here sometime soon.

On base it's been fairly quiet… a couple of birthdays, but no major celebrations, as everyone has been busy working. We're expecting the Pharos (ship) next weekend, to bring us a new supply of fresh fruit and vegetables. This will be very welcome. We are looking forward to things like lettuce and bananas! The Pharos will take away three of our summer visiting scientists, and bring in two new visitors (technicians). We will then be 9 on base, with only 1 month to go until the JCR's last call, and the start of our winter isolation.

A couple of pictures

Natural Arch, with South Georgia in the background. A pretty place on a day like this! :)

Bird Sound: the 500m stretch of water that divides us from South Georgia itself. On a day like this, it looks almost close enough to swim across. It's definately not!!!