Firstly, thanks very much for all my Christmas emails and greetings. They are always lovely to receive when UK Christmas is so far away! I hope everyone had a nice Christmas and 2016 has started well.
It's been a busy few weeks here. Just before Christmas, the RRS James Clark Ross (the ship that we travelled down on) returned to Signy. It stayed for the day, refuelling the station. This involved pumping fuel from the ships tanks, into a big rubber flubber in the cargo tender, then bringing it to the jetty and pumping it back out again, into our large fuel shed. Here you can see the full flubber in the bottom of the tender waiting to be pumped ashore. We couldn't do this the day we arrived here as the bay was still frozen into the sea ice so we couldn't get the tender to the end of the jetty.
At the end of the day, the JCR left, taking away 4 of the Signy residents (who had finished their science), and exchanging them for 4 new ones. With only 8 of us on station at any one time, taking away half of them feels a bit odd to begin with but it is suprising how quickly the new faces settle in and become part of the Signy family. The ever changing group is just a normal part of life here.
Christmas followed only a couple of days later and we all took some time off to celebrate. On Christmas morning, some of us ventured out onto the Orwell Glacier to see if we could find any crevasses large enough to abseil into. We didn't find any quite big enough but it was a nice adventure anyway.
Afterwards we returned to base for a very large Christmas dinner. With roast turkey, christmas pudding, a tree and decorations, mince pies, christmas cake, and snow falling outside, our Christmas contained everything you would want it to, and we all enjoyed it.
Back at Gourlay, the penguins didn't seem to realise it was Christmas and continued busily rearing their chicks and going about their daily business. This meant that once Boxing Day was over I had to get back out to work to keep up with them. The Adelie chicks that were so tiny only a week ago are growing at a very rapid rate.
The Adelie breeding season is very short as their nest sites are under snow for most of the year. This means the chicks seem to grow visibly bigger on a daily basis. As soon as they are large enough to defend themselves from predatory skuas, the adults will stop guarding the chicks, and instead the chicks form creches, huddling together for warmth and protection. This allows both parents to spend the day at sea, searching for food to bring back to their chicks in the evenings.
The Skuas are also busy nesting, taking advantage of the abundant food supplies available to them in the form of penguin eggs and small chicks. While this may seem harsh, the skua chicks have to eat something, and I personally think they have to be one of the nicest chicks on the island.
Skuas are fiercely protective of their young, who unlike penguins, are very mobile as soon as they hatch. The parents will stay with the chicks as they explore their surroundings, defending them with and open-winged display of aggression.