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.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Merry Christmas!


The Signy team: Jen, Matt, Iain, Gareth, Me, Rob and Hector (photo: Matt Jobson)

We had a very nice Christmas at Signy this year.  The weather for both Christmas Day and Boxing Day was lovely which meant we could make the most of not having to work.  On Christmas Day we had a big Christmas dinner, then set out to build a 12 foot snowman.  This turned out to be too high to reach to put a head on the top, so the snowman ended up being a snow pinacle (I guess to people with less imagination it could be considered just a large pile of snow), but it kept us entertained for a while.  Afterwards we spent some time skimming stones across the bay to hit the icebergs- icebergs are pretty slippery so if you can actually get your stone to bounce onto it, it will then skim across the top and into the sea on the other side (you have to realise we have no TV and pretty much no internet, and all our families and friends are on the other side of the planet, so we have to invent our own entertainment from the resources we have available!).  On Boxing Day it was warm enough to sit outside in tshirts without getting cold which was very pleasant.  At night we made the most of the weather and had a BBQ.  Over the two days we also managed to squeeze in an awful lot of turkey, mince pies, Christmas cake and trifle. 

Thankyou to everyone back home who sent me cards and little parcels to open at Christmas.  They are always much appreciated.   

Here are Christmas greetings from me and my penguins at Gourlay.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Mid December

Well, according to my diary it is nearly 4 weeks since we caught our first glimpse of Signy this season.  I can't believe where the time has gone.  The team at Signy has now settled in well and it really feels like home. 


Signy Base, with Coronation Island behind.

Everyone has been very busy- the tech team have been installing a new seal fence (to prevent the elephant seals taking over the base), getting our 3 new freezers up and running, and getting to grips with various new bits of machinery.  Next on the list for them is the installation of a brand new fire alarm system throughout the entire base.  Our field assistant has been checking out the icecap routes for crevasses to ensure it is safe for us to cross, training us all up in our snow and field skills and helping me and the other scientists with their work.  Jen and Gareth, our two scientists have been busy in the field measuring the intensity of light reflected from penguin poo as part of a project to try and identify/count penguins remotely using satellite photographs.


Adelie penguin colony, patiently waiting for their eggs to hatch.

I have been busy visiting my penguin nests to see how they are doing.  The Adelies are hatching fast and about three quarters of them now have chicks.  The chicks are gorgeous little balls of grey fluff when they first hatch, but this doesn't last long and they soon cover themselves in penguin poo and aren't half as endearing.  The chinstrap penguins are busy laying eggs.  I have spent a lot of time counting penguin eggs and chicks, and in addition have done a number of other tasks-removing and replacing temperature loggers that have been placed around the island over the winter, taking penguin blood samples, collecting shellfish samples, doing beach debris surveys and retrieving tracking devices from penguins.

The weather has been quite cold, and on a calm day the sea sometimes begins to freeze over.  This is great for pretty photographs, but makes it pretty chilly if you are outside working for long periods of time.


Pancake ice starting to form between the brash ice in the bay on a chilly morning.

Aside from work we have a nice social life on base.  We take it in turns to cook the evening meal which we all eat together.  On Saturday nights the chef of the day produces a special 3-course dinner then we have an evening of games (darts, cards, dominoes etc).  We have also started playing Bridge each week (usually on a Friday night).  Sunday and Wednesday nights are movie nights, and whoever is on cook for the day gets to choose what we watch.  As it is now almost mid summer it stays light til late in the evening, and some nights we are treated to a very nice sunset.

 
Sunset and the moon over Coronation Island.

I hope everyone back home is enjoying the countdown to Christmas.  Here we have managed to avoid the Christmas shopping rush, but we will be thinking about getting the trimmings up in the next week or so.  last week I made Christmas cakes, which are now sitting on the shelf maturing, ready for Christmas Day. 

Thats all for now.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Gourlay

For me, the first task of the season is to head over to my main penguin study site at Gourlay, which is about 45 minutes walk from Base.  I intensively monitor 100 chinstrap nests and 100 adelie nests here throughout the season, visiting them every couple of days, to obtain laying and hatching dates for each nest.  From this I can then tell when to do larger scale counts around the rest of the island.  To make sure I check the same nests each time, I have plastic nest marker bricks which have to be put out into the colonies at the start of the season.  Moving 200 bricks takes quite a long time as they are stored in our work huts over the winter, but it certainly keeps me fit!

Here are my numbered bricks waiting to be allocated nests...


Here are my chosen penguins with their bricks (they have to be this big to prevent the penguins stealing each others and swapping them around- which I'm sure they do deliberately to confuse me!).


When I walked across to Gourlay today I couldn't help feeling a tiny bit smug about life.  Here is why...  This is my commute to work.  You can just see the red flags marking the route.  My options are either to walk, or to ride on my childens plastic sledge to get there.  Not a traffic jam in sight! 


Upon arrival, this is my "office" at Gourlay...

This is the view from my office...

And this is one of my workmates...


In the evening I head back to a cosy warm base, a comfortable bed, and a tasty dinner made by whoever is the cook for the day.  Life could be much worse!  On Non-Gourlay days, I visit other areas of the island for various reasons, collecting samples, doing counts and surveys, or if it is blowing a gale and driving snow outside I might remain on base catching up with data entry and sometimes even updating my blog!