Merry Christmas to everyone at home! Some of you will have received this by email, but this is for those who's email address I don't have.
Have a lovely day!
Firstly, seasons greetings from the Signy Team.
Secondly, Happy Midwinter to anyone in the northern hemisphere. After a gorgeus day of sunshine, lovely clouds and ice...
...we were treated to a beautiful calm evening. This is how dark it was at midnight.
It is lovely having such long hours of daylight.
At Signy we are busy preparing for Christmas, but there are still a few bits of fieldwork to complete before then. The Adelie colonies are now quite busy as the ever growing chicks demand more and more food.
It always suprises me how quickly they grow!
Whilst out and about doing the whole island chinstrap penguin survey over the last week, we have visited most of the island. There were some rather nice views. These are Cape Petrels.
This is a large pile of Elephant seals.
Gentoo chicks (also growing very fast!).
And some peaks on the icecap.
I'll write about Christmas next time. Meanwhile, I wish everyone at home a lovely Christmas and best wishes for 2018.
The season is moving on- we have been here for almost a quarter of our time already. In another 10 days we'll have reached the longest day here. It doesn't really get dark at night much these days which is rather nice.
The wildlife is also busy progressing through the season. The Adelie penguins now have small chicks.
They are guarding these closely from predators like skuas and giant petrels.
The chinstraps nest about a month later than the Adelies.
They have just finished laying their eggs and now begin the process of incubating them.
We had a nice visitor one day to the beach in front of the station. This little Weddell seal came to visit and seemed very content snoozing on the beach.
Meanwhile, on station things moved on too and we had the second ship visit of the season- the RRS Ernest Shackleton, which called yesterday. It is too big to get to the jetty (so people and cargo are moved in small boats) but it has a shallow draft so can get much closer than our other ship, the James Clark Ross.
The Shackleton brought four new scientists. This bring the number of people on station up to eight, which is the maximum we can fit in. It feels much busier than it did til now as there were only 5 of us for the first part of the season. Claudia, who has been with us from the start but has now finished her science here, left on the ship. She has been collecting small crustaceans from the lakes and shorelines around the island. Here are the original team- Matt, Iain, Me, Catrin and Claudia.
(the orange boilersuits are not compulsary, but they are a firm favourite for wearing around and about- rather like wearing a duvet!)
This will now be the last ship we see until early February when there will be another change of personnel, who will join us for the remainder of the season. The next couple of months will be the busiest- there is much to do!
Happy Antarctica Day!
December 1st is Antarctica Day. This day celebrates the signing of the Antarctic Treaty on 1st December 1959. The Antarctic Treaty, signed by 48 nations is a perfect example of global cooperation between nations, designating the whole of Antarctica as a "natural reserve, devoted to peace and science". The treaty sets aside all claims of territorial ownership by the various nations, and prohibits military activities and mineral extraction. Conventions passed by the treaty nations protect the Antarctic as a whole, enhancing scientific discovery, monitoring the status of the continent and its wildlife (my job) and regulating fishing and tourism to sustainable levels. The treaty has resulted in successful cooperation between all nations, working together for the greater good and is as strong now as when it was first signed.
If you are interested, more information (an interesting read) can be found at https://www.bas.ac.uk/about/antarctica/the-antarctic-treaty/the-antarctic-treaty-explained/
It seems a shame to me that we can't use this as a model for the rest of the world!
We can't celebrate Antarctica Day without some penguins, so here are a few pictures. The Adelies are currently still incubating and the colonies are clean and tidy with each bird sitting on their nest of pebbles, patiently waiting for their eggs to hatch.
Its a long job, so snoozing is often a good way to pass the time...
Yesterday when I went to visit my study birds, it was exceedingly windy and the birds had all turned themselves round to face the wind. This made them look particularly neat and tidy.
From the front the Adelies look rather intimidating! Not something to be messed with. Especially the one in the middle of the picture!
The first egg was just showing signs of hatching yesterday with a pea-sized hole in the shell and a tiny beak showing through. It will hatch fully today- what better day to arrive into the world than on Antarctica Day!
With the ship gone, it was time to settle in and start work. Within a few days of it leaving, the rest of the boxes were all unpacked and the research station was fully up and running. Everyone settled into their various roles and routines.
My first job was to head across to Gourlay to my penguin colonies there. This is where I do the majority of my monitoring work. It is about an hours walk from the research station. The Adelie penguins were here long before we were, and are already settled on eggs. These should start hatching any day now. For such a noisy bird, the colonies are suprisingly quiet at this stage.
There are a lot of Adelies at Gourlay...
It is important to try and work out what stage in the breeding season they are at, so I can conduct the rest of the seasons counts at the correct stages through the breeding season to enable them to be consistant over the years and therefore contribute to the longterm datasets. Their arrival times can vary by several weeks depending on a range of factors such as the amount of sea ice and the condition of the birds themselves. Once the eggs start to hatch, we will be able to determine when the eggs were laid.
Away from Gourlay, we had a day trip to Northpoint, which is (as expected) the northern most point of the island. This is where the gentoos nest. They were also settled on their eggs.
The Blue-eyed shags also nest at Northpoint. They have spent a lot of time neatly constructing nests and are just starting to lay eggs now. Being able to fly, they have the advantage of a wider choice of nesting materials and often build with seaweed. Their nests look much softer and more comfortable than those of the penguins!
There weren't many chinstraps around when we first arrived as they breed later in the season. The first males were just arriving, to defend their nest sites from rival males and start building a nice pile of pebbles, ready to impress their partners who arrive a few days later.
We have quite a lot of sea ice at present which looks particularly nice on a sunny day.
The sea ice constantly changes. As the wind direction and tides change, the sea ice moves around so every day is different. These penguins were in the bay at Foca Cove, which was full of sea ice when we visited.
Here is Claudia for scale...
We have been quite lucky with the weather so far, enjoying some beautiful sunny days and some lovely snow.
Back in the UK the clocks were put back an hour. For me this is time to migrate down to the Antarctic for the summer season, avoiding the long dark UK winters nights. This year I am returning as usual, to Signy Island in the South Orkney Islands. This season is significant as it will be my 10th summer season in Antarctica- an entire decade of penguins!
We flew from RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire late on Sunday night, via Cape Verde, and onwards to the Falkland Islands. We saw little of Cape Verde except the airport building, but it seemed a pleasantly warm place with temperatures reaching 25 degrees at 7am so I expect it was going to be a warm day! When we arrived in the Falklands we were transported by bus to the ship, the RRS James Clark Ross which was moored just outside Stanley. Everything happened quite fast this year so there wasn't time to get much sightseeing done in town before we set sail round to Mare Harbour on the other side of the island, where we took on fuel. Here there was time for a short walk out with my camera.
It is spring in the Falklands:
Everything is looking quite green (for the Falklands anyway!):
The vegetation is quite sparse with some bizarre plants:
There were some birds around. These Turkey Vultures were feeding on a dead goose.
This is a male black-throated or white-bridled finch:
We are now at sea, heading down towards Signy. Below you can see the ship heading away from the jetty as we left the Falklands:
The crossing has been largely uneventful, but a little bumpy which makes simple tasks somewhat tricky. It is difficult to sleep when sliding up and down the bunk, and even eating becomes hard when you have to chase your meal around the plate and prevent it from escaping.
This afternoon it has calmed down a bit and the journey is becoming more comfortable. It has started to snow and the temperature last time I checked was minus 7.2 degrees centigrade. With 25knot winds, this is starting to feel rather chilly! Good numbers of albatrosses have been following the ship for most of the journey:
They hardly ever flap their wings, instead gliding effortlessly and gracefully along behind the ship with seemingly no effort at all. I think they hope we are a fishing vessel that might throw them something tasty. They are notoriously difficult to get a decent photograph of when standing on the swaying deck of the ship! This was the best I could manage on this occasion:
We are due into Signy first thing tomorrow morning so if we are lucky we will awake to icebergs and the snowy peaks of the South Orkney Islands (or possibly dense icy fog!). It will then take us about 3 days to get us up and running and ready for the coming season.