I finally arrived at Signy on 18th December. Back in September, I had spent 3 days in Cambridge, learning what my job was to involve, with Mike, who was doing the job before me. Mike was at Signy when I arrived, and we had a one day handover, to get me up to speed before he left on the ship that I had arrived on. The first days were taken up with base inductions, getting to know people and learning how life works on the base. There are 7 of us on Signy this season, which will reduce to 6 at the next ship call in the middle of January.
Signy is further south that Bird Island and is therefore a bit colder. It seems to snow instead of rain, which is rather nice. The base is surrounded by a number of young male elephant seals, which appear to be noisy and smelly neighbours, but they are entertaining to watch and fairly harmless. The terrain is steep, with lots of rock and scree, and a large ice cap in the South East corner of the Island. This makes moving around the island a little tricky as there are two-person travel regulations for anywhere on or over the icecap for safety reasons, meaning its essential to find a spare person to take with you if you want to go somewhere to do some work.
My main penguin study site is on this side of the icecap and is a 45minute walk from base. My job is to continue the long term penguin and seal monitoring work on the island for the summer. This involves regularly monitoring 100 Adélie and 100 chinstrap penguin nests, which act as a representative sample for the whole island population, and allows me to work out when the chick/egg/fledging counts need to be done on the rest of the island. I also do regular seal counts, and work with other species including giant petrels, snow petrels, cape petrels, and blue-eyed shags.
The Adélie chicks are getting nice and fat- they are grey, but are currently very muddy from running around in the penguin colonies. The chinstraps have just started hatching and are almost pure white.
We spent Christmas in much the same way as people at home probably did: with Christmas lights and a big Christmas dinner, cake and pudding, mulled wine and mince pies and some Christmas movies. We were lucky enough to get a white Christmas (it snowed for most of the day) but sadly it was a bit too warm and didn’t settle. As it is the middle of the summer here it is the breeding season for the wildlife so we are all very busy and unable to take much of a break from working. New Year was nice too, and involved a big buffet tea, champagne and letting off a few flares.
I hope everyone had a good Christmas and I wish you all a Happy New Year for 2012.