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, 29 August 2010

Late winter...

I keep putting photographs on here but never get round to writing anything! I don’t seem to have written anything since Midwinter, so here is some writing to get people up to date with what’s going on now winter is starting to draw to a close.

Winter is plodding along nicely- the days are getting much longer and the sun shines directly onto the base again now which is nice to see. I have spent much of the winter in the lab measuring and sexing krill and fish otoliths (ear bones) from penguin diet samples collected over the summer. This is all finished now, and I am now writing the end of year report, analysing files from the penguin weighbridge (a platform which weighs Macaroni penguins as they cross it- the idea being that we can weigh them without having to disturb them), and updating the penguin “user manual” which is a full set of instructions of all the work that I do, for my replacement who will arrive in October.

We are currently down to only 3 on base as Mick went to the Falklands about 3 weeks ago to see the doctors, but they’re sending him back fit and healthy and he’s currently on the ship back to us. We are just waiting for calm enough seas for the ship to be able to launch the zodiac to drop him off! Today the waves are breaking into the entrance of the bay, so he won’t be coming back today. And the forecast is for a windy week, which means big seas, so he might be floating around for another week yet! It means the rest of us now do his work, which isn’t too time consuming as he isn’t very busy at this time of year. We do a daily leopard seal round for him, walking along the beaches, and photographing and measuring any seals, on land or in the water for the database. All the leopard seals have a unique pattern of spots so can be identified from photographs from previous years.

There’s more free time in winter for things like going out and taking pictures, or playing in the snow. Myself and Claudia went camping one night in the cave up on Cave Crag which is just behind the base. It was a lovely (but cold) moonlit night, and snowed later in the night, but it didn’t quite reach us tucked into the back of the cave. I am making a chessboard and a set of Bird Island chess pieces (little penguins and seals etc) in the workshop which keeps me amused on nasty days when it doesn’t look very appealing outside. Now I just need to learn to play chess… We also play scrabble and other games on the long winter’s nights and I am very slowly, and largely unsuccessfully, attempting to learn to play the guitar.

My next season’s field work begins on 10th September, with the start of the Giant petrel round- a daily walk around the study area, to map the birds breeding and get their ring numbers (they all have unique leg ring numbers so we know who is who). The Northern giant petrels should start laying around 16th September, and I need to check each nest daily to get the egg laying date. The daily round will continue until the end of November, as the Southern giant petrels start laying once the Northern’s stop. The penguin work will begin in October when the gentoo’s start nesting and the Macaroni’s return from their winter at sea. My replacement arrives in October to take on my job, and we then have a 5 month hand-over period for her to learn the tricks of the trade, before I leave Bird Island in at the end of March. Where did the last 2 years go to!!!

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Wandering albatross chick.

Isabelline Gentoo penguin (the grey one).

Leopard seal wondering if I look tasty.

Pancake ice on the sea.

Pintail ducks with ice on their backs.
South Georgia Pipit.

Claudia in the cave at Cave Crag, where we camped last night.

Kelp gulls and Pintails feeding.

August pictures

Leopard seal in the water.

Pancake ice.

Willis Islands from Bird Island, with giant petrels and a wadering albatross.

The cave at Cave Crag (where me and Claudia camped last night).

Gentoo's coming home for the night after a day at sea.