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.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Albatrosses and penguins

The Grey-headed albatrosses have returned to breed.

One white-capped albatross breeds with the black-browed albatrosses. Its partner is a black-brow too.

The white-capped albatross.

Light-mantled sooty albatrosses have also retuned to breed.

And these were the first two of my macaroni penguins to return last week. They have been away at sea all winter. Soon Big Mac will contain around 80,000 birds!

Bits and bobs.

Ice formations on the grass.

Pectoral sandpiper- just visiting- made a nice change from the usual species!

One of my Northern giant petrels on her egg.
Black-browed albatross colony, with the base behind.

My field hut at the Little Mac penguin colony. Provides an ideal holiday home.

Icebergs and elephant seals

Ewan, Me, Derren and Jose on a passing iceberg (Ewan's picture)

A lesser spotted southern ocean Mermaid (photo as requested by Mr Bell).

First birth of the season- elephant seal pup with its mum (only hours old).

Male elephant seal bull who is guarding the female and pup.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Busy times...

I’ve just noticed how long ago it was since I last wrote anything for my blog. I’ve also got loads of pictures to put up on it which I also haven’t got round to doing. But writing this is at least a start!

Here things have got quite busy. Winter seems to be over and spring is nicely on its way. Two weeks ago, the fisheries protection ship came, bringing the first new people since the start of winter in April. It brought Dirk (my line manager) and Grant (an electrician) who are both here for a month to do various bits of work with us and on base. The ship also brought us the first fresh fruit and vegetables we have had since April, and the mailbag. The arrival of fruit, post and new people is always a bit exciting- a bit like Christmas, with lots of new and exciting things to open and eat. For a few days we enjoyed luxury items such as lettuce and tomatoes, grapes and bananas, but these have travelled a long way to get to us and never last long. We still have plenty of longer lasting fruit and veg that will keep until the next ship, which is only a few weeks away.

The snow has been melting fast. All that remains has been compacted down into hard icy lumps and the pretty whiteness has disappeared. We do still get the odd snow shower every now and again, but with temperatures hovering between –1 and +2 degrees, nothing lasts long. The warming temperatures have caused the sea ice way south of here to start melting and breaking up- this releases all of the big icebergs that have been trapped in it for the winter, some of which travel in our direction. If the wind/tides are right, these sometimes get grounded along our coastline, where they slowly break up into pieces, sometimes filling the bay with chunks of ice.

Some of us are now very busy out and about each day doing fieldwork. The days are getting much longer, often light until past 9pm. The grey-headed and black-browed albatrosses have returned to their colonies to breed. The macaroni penguins have started returning this week. The colony at Big Mac looks rather empty so far- I counted 55 individuals today. In a few weeks time, the colony will be quite different- with around 80,000 breeding birds (thankfully I don’t have to count them all when there are that many)! The gentoo penguins are gathering up piles of rocks to form into nests and the giant petrels are happily incubating their eggs. The first birth of the season was a tiny elephant seal pup, which arrived about a week ago. The fur seals will not return to breed for a few weeks yet, but soon the beach in front of the base will be full of males defending their harems of females and pups.

Only another two weeks before the JCR ship arrives to bring in our summer staff, increasing us to 10 people on base. Then we will all be busy working until April, enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of the vast quantities of wildlife that surrounds us everywhere we go on this tiny little island.