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, 29 January 2015

Other wildlife

Contrary to popular belief, penguin counting is not my only role at Signy- I work with other species as well...

Snow petrels have to be one of my favourite birds of all.  These beautiful delicate little birds nest in cracks in the cliffs just behind the base and fly around in the evenings when there is less chance of being knocked out of the air and devoured by the skuas.  As my bedroom is at the end of the building, I can usually hear them calling to eachother through my bedroom wall at night.  A previous scientist attached tiny little tracking devices to these birds to see where they go to, and part of my work is to go round all of the nests to check for trackers, and retrieve any devices I can find.
 
Nesting snow petrel.

Blue-eyed shags also nest at Signy.  Like the penguins, I count the nests and chicks each year to see how they are doing in the long term.  As with the snow petrels, some of the birds had tracking devices attached last summer, this time to see how deep they are diving.  My role is to retrieve the devices this year.  The devices are tiny, and attached to small plastic leg rings, which are visible from quite a distance, making it easy to work out which ones to catch.  Unlike penguins, shags have the ability to fly and therefore are much harder to catch! 
 

Blue-eyed shags nesting.

Every 5 years a whole island Giant petrel survey is carried out to see how the population is doing.  These are large birds, that many people would consider ugly, but I am very fond of them, having worked closely with them during my time at Bird Island.  The giant petrel survey is good fun as it involves walking the entire Western side of the island, and visiting places that I don't usually get to visit.  The weather was gorgeous the day we did the survey- I think we overestimated how many clothes we needed to wear and underestimated the amount of sunscreen!
 

Giant petrels nesting in the boulders on the West coast.

As the season progresses, Signy gets increasingly large numbers of fur seals.  These are mainly young males and they can make moving around the island rather tricky as they are very agile and keen to bite.  Once a season, every seal on the island is counted.  This is no mean feat and requires everyone on the island to count separate areas, and takes at least two days.  Usually we count between 15 and 20 thousand fur seals, plus several hundred elephant seals, and a handful of leopard seals and weddell seals.
 
Fur seals that have to be negotiated every couple of days on my route to Gourlay.

Two days ago, we had another ship visit, the Protector, a British Naval ship.  Its visit was a very speedy affair compared to the Shackleton a couple of weeks ago, and the ship arrived and was gone again in 20 minutes.  The Protector dropped off three new scientists, bringing our numbers back up to 8 people on station.  They will now be with us til the end of the season.

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