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, 11 November 2010

Spring arrivals and more...

Day-old gentoo penguin chicks.

The North Stacks and North Cliffs on a sunny day.

Young wandering albatross practicing using his wings.

More little gentoo chicks.

Strange cloud formations over South Georgia.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Some writing to go with the pictures....

Yet again I have failed miserably to keep this up to date!

Spring has been progressing nicely here. The days are getting much longer which is refreshing after the long winter’s nights. The wildlife is all returning to the island to breed and all the field assistants are now spending long days in the field measuring, weighing, counting and monitoring their various study species.

For me, this is the giant petrels and the penguins. The Macaroni penguins started returning to the island in October, and the huge 80,000 strong colony at Big Mac is rapidly filling up. The males return first, to guard the nest spot they occupied the previous year, and the females follow a couple of weeks later. They are just arriving now. The gentoo penguins were early this year, and have been incubating eggs for a number of weeks now. The first tiny chicks were spotted yesterday and their little squeaks can now be heard throughout the colony as they beg for food. Many of the Gentoo’s have 2 eggs this year, which is a sign that they are in good condition and bodes well for a successful breeding season.

The fur seals have started returning this week too. This is a definite sign of the start of spring. The large males turn up first, and fight for territories on the beaches around the island. The beach upon which the base is situated is no exception, and this is therefore the start of the period where moving around outside the base requires accurate footing and a brave heart! The females should also start turning up any day now to pup. Soon the beach will again be full of the cries of the pups, the “hoof choof hoof choof” of the territorial males, and the calling of the females.

On 31st October, the BAS ship the James Clark Ross, arrived at Bird Island for first call. This is the first ship call of the season and they delivered us everything we will need for the coming year. This was quite a big operation this year, as we are having 2 new generators, some new sets of doors, a new set of batteries for the night time power supply, as well as all the food, beer, fuel, science kit and domestic supplies that will be needed for the coming year. More noticeable to the winterers was that the ship also delivered us 6 new staff. This brought numbers on base up to 10 people, which is quite a shock after only being four for the previous 7 months.

Two of the new staff were particularly significant to me… I have been the Winter Base Commander since February, and the arrival of the new Summer Base Commander meant I have now handed over the reins of responsibility to someone else. Although this position was a good experience for me, I found I was always conscious of the responsibility. Now I am left with a free feeling, knowing I am now no longer responsible for whatever may happen here! J The other significant arrival was Ruth. Ruth marks the beginning of the end of my time here, as she is the new penguin assistant, who has arrived to spend the summer with me learning the tricks of the trade, to continue the job after I leave. It’s hard to believe my time is almost up, and as we begin our work together I am constantly reminded of all the photographs I still mean to take, and all the places I still mean to re-visit! I still have nearly 5 months on the island, so there’s no need to panic yet, but I need to keep reminding myself that time is short and no opportunities should be passed by!

Spring returns to Bird Island

The Macaroni penguins are back, after spending the winter at sea.

Willis Islands from Top Meadow on a misty spring morning.

Light-mantled sooty albatross awaits the return of its mate.

The gentoo's have settled down to breed and are incubating their eggs.

The Black-browed albatrosses have also returned to their nesting sites.