Once the ship had left (way back at the start of December) my first task was to set up my chinstrap and Adélie monitoring plots. This requires lugging 100 numbered bricks to each colony and putting one at each nest. Anything smaller than a brick, and the penguins will steal each other’s and move them around, which makes keeping track of them tricky! I visit my 200 nests every 2 days throughout the breeding season and use them to represent the species as a whole. So basically, if all my chinstrap study nests have finished laying eggs, I can assume that all the chinstraps on the island have laid too, and then know it is time to do my counts. For each species (Adelie and Chinstrap) I have large colonies around the island, and these will get 3 counts (an egg count, a chick count and a fledging count) during the season. I also do the same for the Gentoo penguins. The colonies are scattered around the island, which gives me lots of excuses to get out and about all over the island.
So when people ask me what I do, and I say I count penguins, it is strictly true. However, counting penguins only takes up a small part of my time. I also do a similar thing for the Blue eyed shags and giant petrels. I count the seals around the base every 2 days, and later in the season count every single seal on the island, I weigh the penguin chicks when they are ready to leave for the sea (to see how healthy they are). I collect penguin diet samples (vomit) and spend a lot of time in the lab sifting through it, extracting krill and fish otoliths (ear bones) which I then study down the microscope to see the age and sex of the krill and the species and size of fish. All of these tasks are part of Long Term Monitoring and Survey (LTMS) work- this data has been collected for years at Signy, and shows us long term trends in penguin/seal numbers and breeding success. The diet samples give us an idea of what is going on in the food web, as krill is the main food source for most large beasties down here and can help explain why the penguins might be having a bad/good year. Adding another year to this dataset is the main reason I am here.
When I am not doing all of this, I might be busy cooking (the daily cook makes the bread and cooks the evening meal), cleaning, or helping one of the visiting scientists with their work (such as helping Marie dig snow pits on the Gourlay glacier to take ice and snow samples, or attaching tracking devices to penguins, or collecting lake shrimps for scientists back in Cambridge).
Or if I’ve really finished all of that, occasionally I might update my blog!